Friday, August 10, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1955

The Contenders:

Susan Hayward: I’ll Cry Tomorrow
Eleanor Parker: Interrupted Melody
Jennifer Jones: Love is a Many-Splendored Thing
Anna Magnani: The Rose Tattoo (winner)
Katharine Hepburn: Summertime

What’s Missing

1955 is an odd year for Best Actress. I recognize the names of all five of the actresses and I like four of them well enough, but I disliked all of these movies either somewhat or completely. My highest rating for any of these on Letterboxd is 2 ½ stars. That’s not going to bode well for a winner I can stand behind with anything like authority. My love of Natalie Wood makes me want to suggest her in Rebel Without a Cause even if I think that’s more of a supporting role. I like Jean Simmons well enough, so I thought of Guys and Dolls…but I hate Guys and Dolls and I especially hate her role in it. Jane Wyman was nominated the previous year for the syrupy and dumb Magnificent Obsession when she would have been much more appropriately nominated for All that Heaven Allows. I’d give Doris Day some consideration for Love Me or Leave Me. But my heart in 1955 will belong to both Vera Clouzot and especially the great Simone Signoret for Les Diaboliques.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I said above that I like four of the actresses. I have never been shy in my dislike of Jennifer Jones. Jones was a supremely beautiful woman and a supremely talentless actress. The woman had a plank for an acting coach. She’s never been compelling in a role for me. The minute she opens her mouth, I don’t care. Add in the fact that this is a whitewashed role and that she lacks any chemistry with William Holden, and I spent most of this film wondering when it would end and why it was so long. She doesn’t belong here, and I question whether or not she ever did.

4. The only reason Eleanor Parker isn’t in fifth place here is the fact that I genuinely think that Jennifer Jones was a terrible actress. Parker was not a terrible actress, but if you only had Interrupted Melody to go on, you wouldn’t know that. Parker plays this role as if she is a girl just finishing puberty. Everything is either the height of wonderfulness or the bottom pit of despair. This film is at its worst when she’s not on stage singing. Even the person it was based on was disappointed in it.

3. I like Kate Hepburn well enough, but I didn’t think a great deal of Summertime. The main reason for this is that it wasn’t really made for me. This is a film made primarily for lonely women wanting a little romantic fantasy (unmarried middle-aged woman getting romanced in Venice) and secondarily for people who were interested in the travelogue aspects of the film. I’m neither of those things, and so Summertime felt entirely flat to me. Hepburn is fine, but given the people left out, I’m still not nominating her.

2. Susan Hayward is an actress I like very much, and I like the fact that she often plays women on the more dangerous end of the social spectrum. In I’ll Cry Tomorrow, she seems to be dancing to the same tune that earned her a nomination for Smash-Up, The Story of a Woman roughly a decade earlier. I like Hayward, but of her nominated roles across her Oscar history, I think this is my least favorite. That she’s still managed to end up in second place for me says more than anything else I can think of for this year.

1. What this means is that based on the five nominations, I end up agreeing with the Academy in giving the Oscar to Anna Magnani for The Rose Tattoo. I do genuinely think that her performance is the best of the nominations, although I didn’t love the movie. She was very much the best part of a film that got more and more depressing and weirder and sadder as it went on. So, while I liked the film less and less as it went on, I found Anna Magnani to be worth watching. This isn’t much of an endorsement, and it’s not where I’d go in an open field.

My Choice

In an open field, I’d probably keep Anna Magnani. I’d definitely want Doris Day here, though, and Jane Wyman as well, and both would likely rank higher for me. But really, my vote could only go to the great Simone Signoret, who was one of the greats of her generation regardless of the role. And in Les Diaboliques, she is wonderfully wicked. She’d be my winner, and I stand by this even though it might be argued that she’s more supporting than lead.

Final Analysis


  1. I completely, utterly and unequivocally am in agreement with you on Jennifer Jones as you know and in a career littered with inferior work this ghastly series of postures is one of the most awful. To answer your question in regards to her….no she never belonged in competition in any year and that she was there 5 (!!) times shows how powerful Selznick was.

    I was disappointed in Interrupted Melody too. A description of it sounds so compelling and with talents like Parker and Glenn Ford in the leads should have been an engrossing film but it was a slog and Eleanor was off her game nor was Ford at his best. I think the blame belongs to director Bernhardt who obviously didn’t have a handle on the material nor was he able to guide his players.

    I liked Summertime and Hepburn in it more than you seemed to but not enough to think she deserved a nomination for it. When I think of the film it’s the visuals I recall, that shouldn’t be the case for a nominated performance.

    Up to here I agree with your placement but I’d reverse your top two. It’s not just that I’m a bigger fan of Susan Hayward than Anna Magnani because both are superior actresses and both are very fine in their films. Nor that I like I’ll Cry Tomorrow more than Rose Tattoo (which outside of Magnani I borderline hated) I just found more in Hayward’s work than Magnani’s. I would have rather seen her win here than I Want to Live! Though honestly there are two of her unnominated performances, The President’s Lady and The Lusty Men, I would have chosen to award her for over any of her nominated work.
    I would however retain both Hayward and Magnani in an open field but ditch the other three very quickly.

    To open up the can of worms of who should be here that isn’t you named just about all the women who deserved consideration except Vivien Leigh in the original version of The Deep Blue Sea. She’s very good in a messy film and would duke it out with Magnani for fifth place on my list.

    While I think Simone Signoret was supporting in Diabolique and should definitely have made a strong showing in that field-there were several misses in that category as well-I question how the hell Parker, Hepburn and especially Jones made it in over Vera Clouzot, Jane Wyman and a never better Doris Day! With Clouzot it was surely the foreign language problem that shut her out and Doris probably suffered from not being an MGM home girl like Eleanor Parker was but Wyman? She was an Oscar darling in an enormously popular follow up to a big hit with the same team and a better performance in a finer film. Maybe it was the feeling of familiarity than cost her. A pity, I wouldn’t want her to win but she should have been nominated.

    My five would run this way in order of preference:

    Susan Hayward-I'll Cry Tomorrow-Winner
    Vera Clouzot-Diabolique
    Doris Day-Love Me or Leave Me (it pains me to put her in third, in many other years she’d be my winner)
    Jane Wyman-All That Heaven Allows
    Anna Magnani-The Rose Tattoo (though there are days I would put Vivien Leigh in The Deep Blue Sea here)

    1. I can honestly never tell when someone gives a lead performance versus a supporting one, and Oscar doesn't seem to be able to tell, either. So, while there's a part of me that agrees Simone Signoret should be in a supporting role for Les Diaboliques, Patricia Neal won for Hud with a performance that runs under 22 minutes and David Niven won for a performance running under 16 minutes in Separate Tables. So, based on that, I'm sticking with Signoret.

      That said, while my order will be different, I don't take much exception to your list of nominations.

  2. Oscar got it wrong! You got it right. Have not seen the Parker film.

    1. You're honestly fine without it. It could be really good, but it feels like adult people with pre-pubescent emotional lives.