Friday, July 20, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1952

The Contenders:

Shirley Booth: Come Back, Little Sheba
Julie Harris: The Member of the Wedding
Bette Davis: The Star
Joan Crawford: Sudden Fear
Susan Hayward: With a Song in My Heart

What’s Missing

Can I just erase the entire slate of nominees and replace it with my own? I really want to. Looking at the five nominees, I’m entirely unimpressed and I can easily make an entirely new slate that is so much better. Even considering Grace Kelly as supporting in High Noon, I have a full slate of nominees I like better than the actual list (so yes, I’m giving up the ending here). Lana Turner in The Bad and the Beautiful is worth discussing, as is Katharine Hepburn in Pat and Mike, even though I don’t like the film that much. I dislike Mary Kate in The Quiet Man, but I won’t take anything away from Maureen O’Hara’s performance. I’d have loved to have seen Jean Simmons mentioned for Angel Face. But really, the head scratcher for me is Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I genuinely disliked almost everything about The Member of the Wedding with the exception of the delightful Ethel Waters. I like Julie Harris just fine as an actress, and would happily argue for her for films like The Haunting. In The Member of the Wedding, I can’t get beyond the fact that she’s 27 playing 12. She’s so wildly miscast that I can’t honestly see anything other than the fact that she is so wildly miscast. I honestly don’t know how good her performance is because this shouldn’t be her role.

4. I like Susan Hayward, and I love when an actor plays violently against type. So why is bad girl portrayer Hayward in fourth place in the inspirational With a Song in My Heart? A big part of that is the movie, which is very drippy. A bigger part is that this is a case where Hayward was much better served staying in the sorts of roles that really worked for her. She’s the best part of the movie, but honestly, that’s not saying a great deal with this movie. This is not required viewing, and I’ll never sit down with it again. Hayward is good, even the best part of the film, but that's it.

3. I love me some Bette Davis, so I’m not a fan of putting her in third place, but that’s where The Star belongs in my opinion. The issue I have here is that The Star feels like little more than a rehashed version of Sunset Boulevard. This doesn’t make this a bad film, but it does mean that it all feels like I’ve been here before with it. And while Bette Davis was who she was, no one is going to outdo Gloria Swanson for that sort of role. Even Davis is going to be second-best in that competition.

2. I don’t have a great deal of memory of Come Back, Little Sheba, except for a couple of things. The first is that I didn’t really buy the age difference between Burt Lancaster and Shirley Booth. The second is that Shirley Booth, while desperately annoying through this film, was absolutely the best part of it. I can see how she would have won in this year—she’s a bit of a dark horse against Davis and Crawford, and that makes a good performance that much more attractive to a certain brand of voter. But she’s not where I would place my vote, even if I understand why she won.

1. Say what you will about Joan Crawford, but the woman could be compelling on the screen like almost no one else. When she’s the person who is being put in peril, be it physical or emotional, few people could be better. That’s exactly where we are with Sudden Fear. While the ending of this film ends up being far too much of a coincidence to really be bought, Crawford is great as the woman in danger who, rather than running about and fainting, decides to fight back. In an open field, she might barely earn a nomination from me, but given the five nominations, she’s where I’m putting my vote.

My Choices

I’d pretty much take anyone in my list over the five nominees, but my heart belongs to Debbie Reynolds even as some of the rest of me belongs to Jean Simmons. What the hell was the Academy thinking this year?

Final Analysis


  1. We feel similarly about this line-up. They’re all very fine actresses but this isn’t the best work of any of them.

    I am so completely with you on The Member of the Wedding. I waited so long to find it and sat down with great expectations but cripes was it a disappointment. It wasn’t so much that Julie Harris was far too old (though she certainly was) but her character was a hateful, grating horror. I barely made it through.

    The Star was another one that underwhelmed me, though not to the degree of Wedding. I thought the fact that the character Bette played was based on Joan Crawford was more interesting than the film. Bette did what she could but it’s nowhere near her best work. It didn’t help that the lead actor was Sterling Hayden an actor I find a dull lump most times.

    Come Back, Little Sheba a suffocatingly miserable viewing experience but Shirley was compelling in it. After it was over however I didn’t think the performance was the year’s best, not even the best Shirley gave in her brief feature career-that would be 1954’s About Mrs. Leslie.

    We’ll have to disagree about With a Song in My Heart. I love it, own it, and watch it frequently. But even with that and as marvelous as I think Susan Hayward is in it I wouldn’t nominate her for this particular performance, she would however be in my lineup of nominees for another film I’ll get to in a minute.

    So that leaves Crawford who wouldn’t be my ultimate choice in an open field but had she emerged victorious out of these choices I wouldn’t have complained. Sudden Fear has its share of “Oh come on!” moments but none in her performance, she’s always assured in her actions. As a side note if Gloria Grahame had to win a supporting actress Oscar this year (LOVE her but this should have been Jean Hagen’s year) she should have won for her work as Irene in this not the flyaway nothing part of Rosemary in The Bad and the Beautiful.

    As to who would have comprised a better group of nominees, unlike almost everyone I know The Quiet Man does nothing for me and I wasn’t terribly moved by Maureen O’Hara in it. Pat and Mike is a meh film from the team and while Hepburn is spirited I wouldn’t nominate her in a million years.

    Along with The Postman Always Rings Twice The Bad and the Beautiful is the other place where Lana Turner deserved to be in consideration for a nomination. She’s very good but she’d come in sixth on my list this time out. A big yes though for Jean Simmons (a much underappreciated actress) in Angel Face her glacial stillness masking her character's psychosis is chilling. Jean Hagen’s brilliance takes up so much of the oxygen in Singin’ in the Rain that it’s easy to miss just how charming and irresistible Debbie Reynolds is in the film. I think she was so new to film and the picture and her performance seen as Gene Kelly’s creation she was put aside.

    Others who you didn’t mention who were worthy. Simone Signoret is excellent as usual in Casque d’Or and Barbara Stanwyck makes you feel the fatigue and ennui of the worn out and bitter Mae in Clash by Night. But my top two contenders would be Susan Hayward as the no nonsense farm wife fighting fast money and Robert Mitchum’s influence for her husband in Lusty Men-a film loaded with fine work. My winner however would be Judy Holliday. Her fully lived-in interpretation of Florence in The Marrying Kind from happy-go-lucky young girl to careworn and exhausted wife is incredibly moving. She felt it was her best work on film and I’d agree. If you haven’t seen those two films I’d urge you to do so when you have the chance.

    So my five would be:

    Susan Hayward-The Lusty Men
    Judy Holliday-The Marrying Kind-Winner
    Simone Signoret-Casque d'Or
    Jean Simmons-Angel Face
    Barbara Stanwyck-Clash by Night

    1. Honestly, of your top five, I've only seen Angel Face. As always, I have work to do.

      Once again, Oscar gives us a disappointing lineup for what could have been a much better competition.

      My contention regarding Singin' in the Rain is that with An American in Paris winning the previous year, it was generally ignored. Jean Hagen is so good in it, so wonderfully ditzy and awful that it can be hard to see how charming everything else is. Debbie Reynolds is so magically good in it, and Donald O'Connor matches Kelly in all ways. But it just couldn't get anywhere with a Kelly film winning just 12 months previously.

  2. I love Debbie Reynolds but if I had a gun held to my head I’d go with Simone Signoret among the non-nominees. Not a Crawford fan and I’m happy with Booth’s win for a maddeningly heartbreaking performance.

    1. I can see that, although I probably should track down Signoret's film.

  3. Well, none of the five nominees are on the List, that should be telling...
    I vote for Debbie Reynolds as well.