Friday, February 2, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1933

The Contenders:

Diana Wynyard: Cavalcade
May Robson: Lady for a Day
Katharine Hepburn: Morning Glory (winner)

What’s Missing

I’m going to make at least a part of the conclusion of this Oscar post not a mystery. I don’t really like any of the three nominations that we got here. There are other possibilities that, while less “serious” in terms of the ultimate film, are so much better than the three nominations we got. We can start with Jeanette MacDonald in Love Me Tonight, which was surprisingly charming, and was so in no small part because of her solid comic timing. Joan Blondell had a good year in 1933 with both Footlight Parade and Gold Diggers of 1933. I could say the exact same thing about Ruby Keeler. Even back in 1933, movies like King Kong didn’t get much Oscar love, which probably kept Fay Wray out of the running. It might be the themes of The Bitter Tea of General Yen that got Barbara Stanwyck overlooked. I have no such possible reason for the exclusion of Greta Garbo in Queen Christina.

Weeding through the Nominees

3. For whatever reason, 1933 was Cavalcade’s year. That’s the only reason I can think of that got a nomination for Diana Wynyard. Her role in Cavalcade seems to be standing in a posh room and talking about what is going on elsewhere in the world. It comes across as not merely staged, but as literally a stage production. It’s not improved by the fact that Wynyard is so stiff that she appears to have been starched. Perhaps it was necessary to nominate someone for an acting award for a movie that would win Best Picture. I don’t really know.

2. I’m not entirely sure how Kate Hepburn managed a nomination for Morning Glory, but I imagine in came from the third act when the movie gets quite a bit darker. Before this, Hepburn’s performance is a snapshot of what I tend to dislike about so many of her early roles. She’s so clearly swinging for the fences in everything she does, so she comes across as caricature. While she’s better at the end of the film because she’s reined in, I do not understand how she earned a nomination, let alone won an Oscar for this.

1. This makes May Robson the winner by process of elimination based on the nominations. Robson is fine in Lady for a Day, but there are some issues I have with the nomination. One is that there are huge chunks of the film without her in it. She’s clearly the central figure (the woman who is turned into a lady for a day), but in many parts, she’s secondary. A bigger issue for me is that the film blends both drama and comedy—except May Robson doesn’t. She takes no part in the comedy. It feels sometimes like she’s in a different movie.

My Choice

If I could, I’d rewrite the entire slate of nominations here, but the only person I’d talk about winning would be Garbo. Oh, I’d be happy to discuss both Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell. I’d be happy to smile and nod about Jeanette MacDonald and Fay Wray. I’d even be pleased to nominate my Golden Age of Hollywood girlfriend Barbara Stanwyck. But only Garbo really deserves to be talked about as Best Actress for 1933.

Final Analysis


  1. Just the three nominees is such a strange state of affairs particularly in a studio era that was churning out notable women's roles every which way.

    Diana Wynyard's acting style (and I've seen several of her films-she's always about the same) has not done well with the passage of time. I found Cavalcade a tremendous slog to wade through and when it was thankfully over I could barely remember she was in it. So right away off she goes.

    I love Kate Hepburn...but Morning Glory? Ugh! I mean Little Women was right there!! in the same year where she is immeasurably better. Why?

    I'm also a huge fan of May Robson, anytime I see her turn up in a film it improves immensely for me (fun fact-she's the only performer ever nominated for an Academy Award who was born during the Civil War albeit in Australia but still) and I like her in Lady for a Day but she's been better elsewhere. However in this trio she's my easy winner.

    Who is missing is almost limitless but I agree that Garbo should have been a major player (and probably winner for Queen Christina). I can't agree about Ruby Keeler who I think was a dreadful performer and I've never been crazy about Jeannette MacDonald but absolutely the divine Joan Blondell who was always underappreciated.

    Bitter Tea is one weird mind trip of a film and Stanwyck is terrific in it but I'd rather see her in the running for the wild Baby Face. She's a FORCE in that movie. There was also Miriam Hopkins in the impossibly salacious The Story of Temple Drake but it was so condemned even in its day (it along with Baby Face were two of the films that really fell into the censors sights and helped push through the Production Code) I'm sure that damned her chances for any sort of acknowledgement.

    There's Jean Harlow's genius shining bright in Bombshell but even at the time it was noted how close it played with the facts of her private life so that might have nudged it out. There is also Sylvia Sidney in Pick-Up, she gives a beautiful performance but the film was minor so that surely knocked it out of consideration. Less likely but still strong were the forgotten Wynne Gibson in Aggie Appleby, Maker of Men, Ruth Chatterton in Female or Clara Bow in her last film Hoop-La though by that time she was pretty much a pariah in town so she didn't have a prayer of consideration. And finally there was Laura Hope Crews's totally demented turn as a dragon of a mother in The Silver Cord which is riveting. Any or all of them deserved to be over the actual nominees.

  2. In terms of the nominees, we agree, except on Little Women, which I genuinely disliked, in no small part because of Hepburn's constant shrill yells of "Christopher Columbus!"

    I do like Ruby Keeler a bit, although she wasn't a great actress. With Jeanette MacDonald, the minute she starts singing I want her off the screen, but I rather like her otherwise--she has solid comic timing, and she was quite capable when given the chance. But yeah, we'll agree completely on Joan Blondell.

    As for your other suggestions, well, I haven't seen any of them.

    1. Well obviously I'd suggest seeing all of them but as ardent Barbara Stanwyck fan as you are you really should track down Baby Face. TCM runs it from time to time, she's just great in it.

      The Story of Temple Drake is based on the Faulkner story Sanctuary that is loaded with sexual depravity which the filmmakers put out front and center, and not shyly just look at the original poster on IMDB, leading it to being banned when the code went into full effect and not being readily available until Turner restored it in 2011. It was actually thought for a couple of decades to be lost because the studio had destroyed all copies as they did with the Joan Blondell/Mary Astor film Convention City.

  3. This was the Oscar Garbo should have one. She was excellent in Queen Christina and this year the competition, according to your review, not up to scratch. I can understand she did not win in 39 even if she was even better in Ninotchka.

    1. Right--I put Garbo second behind winner Vivien Leigh, who turned in probably the best performance, male or female, of the year in 1939.

      Giving Garbo the Oscar for Queen Christina would not have been a career Oscar masquerading as a competitive one.

  4. Mae West should have been nominated for "I'm No Angel" or "She Done Him Wrong" (two of the top grossing films of 1933 which helped save Paramount from bankruptcy), but her risqué material and insistence on working with Black actors were just too much for the academy to embrace.

    However, my vote would have gone to Barbara Stanwyck for her work with John Wayne.

    1. I'm really not a fan of She Done Him Wrong. I get why some would find it appealing, but it's not a movie I liked much.

      I'll never say no to more Stanwyck nominations.

    2. It's a real crime "Baby Face" wasn't nominated, but there's no way the crappy academy could have had this pre-code movie win a major award. However, John Wayne is a bit out of his element against the firebrand that is Stanwyck aka "Baby Face."

  5. Can't really add anything here since I have seen so little from this year, and none of the nominees. I will say that King Kong is one of the ones I have seen so Far Wray gets my vote by default.

    1. I rather like Fay Wray, and I love the original King Kong. I wouldn't have objected to seeing her nominated, although it would probably take five nominations for me to get her there.