Ingrid Bergman: The Bells of St. Mary’s
Gene Tierney: Leave Her to Heaven
Jennifer Jones: Love Letters
Joan Crawford: Mildred Pierce (winner)
Greer Garson: The Valley of Decision
In 1945, we’re dealing with a war-weary country for at least half of the year and one recovering from that war at the end. That makes for an interesting year, especially for Best Actress. There are going to be, almost by definition, better roles for women in a world where many of the men are at war. To start, I think if we wanted to give a nomination to Ingrid Bergman, we gave it to her for the wrong film—she belonged here more for Spellbound. My love of Barbara Stanwyck makes me almost contractually obligated to mention Christmas in Connecticut. I’d love to mention Arletty and Children of Paradise, but that movie earned its nomination the following year. Dorothy McGuire had two great performances in 1945 in The Spiral Staircase and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The last one I’d mention is Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter, but she wasn’t robbed of a nomination in 1945; she was robbed of an Oscar in 1946.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. No matter my thoughts about the movies in question, I don’t think there’s a year where Jennifer Jones was nominated and didn’t end up bottom of the pile for me. It’s a drum I’ve beaten over and over again and I’ll beat it again right now. Jones was a beautiful woman who loses all sex appeal the moment she opens her mouth. Jones was a wooden actress at best, and while Love Letters isn’t my least favorite movie of the five nominations, she is absolutely my least favorite performer and performance.
4. Given the opportunity to create my own list of five nominations, it’s unlikely that I would want to nominate Ingrid Bergman for this year, but if I did, it wouldn’t be for the derivative and sappy The Bells of St. Mary’s. I liked the first movie (Going My Way) a lot more than I expected, but the sequel is awful in a lot of ways, in large part because of where the plot goes. Bergman is probably the best part of the movie, but the role doesn’t allow her to do a great deal. Frankly, it’s a nomination I just don’t care for.
3. Without really trying to, I have somehow become a fan of Greer Garson over the course of writing this blog. There’s nothing particularly exciting about The Valley of Decision in my opinion, though, making her nomination one that is spotty at best, were I to create the list. Ultimately, it has the same problem as Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s. There’s not a great deal for Garson to do with this role, and while she is good (as she generally was), the whole movie comes across as flat and pretty uninteresting.
2. I absolutely love the nomination for Gene Tierney and Leave Her to Heaven. I like everything about this movie aside from the fact that the title makes it sound like it’s a drippy romance instead of a brutal and vicious noir. Tierney is as good a femme fatale as you’re going to find, and Leave Her to Heaven is one hell of a showcase for her. In a lesser year, she’d be a strong contender, and even in this year in an open field, she’s probably still coming in second in my opinion. It’s a case where I wish this had come out in a different year.
1. Say what you will about Joan Crawford in general, when she had material to work with, there was rarely anyone better. Mildred Pierce is probably her defining role, and you could do a hell of a lot worse than having this be your go-to. Crawford is everything she needs to be in this movie. She is tough and tender and completely sympathetic. It’s a masterclass of acting, and one of the great performances not just of its year but of the entire decade. Had Celia Johnson been eligible, we’d have a conversation, but without her in the mix, there is no competition.