Friday, August 31, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1956

The Contenders:

Ingrid Bergman: Anastasia (winner)
Carroll Baker: Baby Doll
Nancy Kelly: The Bad Seed
Deborah Kerr: The King and I
Katharine Hepburn: The Rainmaker

What’s Missing

For Best Actress, 1956 is the sort of year that doesn’t have a great deal of great actress performances in terms of what I have seen. I don’t love all of the nominees, but I also don’t have a lot of suggestions for replacements, at least in terms of performances that would legitimately be nominated. As much as I’d love to for science fiction to get love from the Academy, Dana Wynter was never going to get recognized for Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I can say exactly the same thing about Anne Francis in Forbidden Planet. Lauren Bacall in Written on the Wind was a possibility, though. I’d also suggest Barbara Rush in Bigger than Life even though that film is all about James Mason.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I seem to put Kate Hepburn toward the bottom of the list pretty often, and for The Rainmaker, a lot of the fault isn’t hers. The biggest problem is that she is terribly miscast in a movie that isn’t really that good. Hepburn is supposed to be a plain-Jane 30-ish woman. She was a lot closer to 50 in this case and, say what you will, she’d never pass for plain. Beyond that, it’s just not that good of a movie. I’d much rather have anyone from the previous paragraph here, because they all deserve it more, especially Barbara Rush.

4. The problem that Deborah Kerr has with The King and I is that despite her wardrobe of massive dresses, she is almost invisible compared with the force of nature that is Yul Brynner. I give Kerr a great deal of credit for being able to move in dresses that are roughly the size of Conestoga wagons, and she definitely has some great moments in the film. But really, the fact that she is capable of wearing dresses that would comfortably sleep six, while impressive, is not a skill worthy of an Oscar win.

3. I like The Bad Seed quite a bit, and the nomination of Nancy Kelly is a bit of a pleasant surprise. I don’t dislike this nomination entirely, but it’s also one that I can’t quite get entirely behind. What she has in her favor is that she gets better as the film goes on. Based on the movies I know from this year, I don’t hate her nomination. But she was always going to be a longshot in the best of years. And really, the most memorable character in the movie is played by Patty McCormack, and there’s no getting around that.

2. Carroll Baker’s turn in Baby Doll is one of those rare instances where someone is rightfully nominated for a character I have real issues with. Baby Doll is a weird sort of Lolita character, both innocent and purely sexual, alluring and infuriating. Baker is great in the role, and it’s one that would be hard for anyone else to accomplish. In a slightly different universe, I’d give her the win. In fact, the only reason I don’t is that I think despite her being the title character, this is very much a showcase for Eli Wallach.

My Choice

1. I can’t say that when I started watching Anastasia that I was completely sold on Ingrid Bergman’s performance. And then there comes a scene where she meets with her grandmother played by Helen Hayes, and I understood her nomination completely. It’s a magnificent performance. It could have easily been a scene that dropped into pure melodrama, and instead it is intense and dramatic, the sort of scene that demonstrates the power of two people at the height of their talent. It’s not often that I hand someone a statue for a single scene, but it’s definitely the case here.

Final Analysis


  1. I concur about Kate Hepburn and while I find The Bad Seed a fine floridly overripe melodrama I think Nancy Kelly’s performance is overly theatrical and keyed to high. Deborah Kerr is lovely in The King and I but as with many of her nominations she’s been seen to better advantage elsewhere.

    I didn’t care for Baby Doll at all but have to admit that Carroll Baker made the most of her role. She’d make a long list of ten for me but not a top five.

    That leaves Ingrid Bergman and from a historical perspective I’m glad she won since this anointing meant all was forgiven for her supposed “scandalous” behavior and her career restored to the importance it deserved. Out of the nominated five she was also the rightful winner and she is first-rate but in an open field she wouldn’t come out on top though she’s be the only one who would make my personal list.

    I think there were several deserving performances this year just not many that received a nomination.

    I love Written on the Wind and think Betty Bacall gets the job done well but I can’t see a nomination for a role where she is easily overshadowed by the two main supporting players. However Barbara Rush is an excellent suggestion though perhaps in supporting since as you say Bigger than Life is all about James Mason and everything she does is in support of his story. Either way she was overlooked.

    There are also two performances that premiered in their respective countries, France and England, in 1956 but didn’t reach these shores until ’57 & ’58-Brigitte Bardot in And God Created Woman and Virginia McKenna in A Town Like Alice. If either had been eligible they would have definitely been better inclusions than most of what made it.

    I’m a little surprised you didn’t mention Elizabeth Taylor in Giant (I’m also rather surprised she wasn’t nominated since she is who she is and the film was an enormous hit) she certainly much better in her film than either Hepburn or Kelly. I wouldn’t be tempted to give her the win but she was good enough for consideration. The same goes for Doris Day in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, though if she couldn’t get traction the previous year for Love Me or Leave Me I suppose her exclusion is less surprising.

    But there are two I suspect you might not have seen which are clear misses and which I recommend catching whenever you can. The first is Judy Holliday giving another of her magical comedic performances in The Solid Gold Cadillac. The other is Ann Sheridan never better than as the careworn, steadfast Bess Ballot in the little known but excellent slice of Americana Come Next Spring. It’s a small film, a passion project for its other star Steve Cochran (who is also nomination worthy in a slightly different role than his usual mobsters and villains) that its studio, Republic Pictures, mismarketed so neither stood a chance but she’d be my winner.

    1. I forgot one actress in a film that I think you being a Joseph Cotton fan might take particular interest in. It's Ruth Roman in The Bottom of the Bottle (a title that really doesn't make sense with the story except in a roundabout way). She's excellent in the film, the best of the lead trio actually-Van Johnson is the third, conveying through body language and expressions her frustrations with her troubled marriage. The thing is like Barbara Rush she skirts supporting since the main gist is the dynamic between brothers Cotton & Johnson but like Rush she's much better than some who made it in. A side note about the film-the movie is set in the desert and the couple's house is this amazing Frank Lloyd Wright inspired hacienda.

    2. As often tends to be the case, you've mentioned movies I don't know and should probably track down.

      I put Carroll Baker in second specifically because she's very memorable in a character that I dislike intensely, but I reiterate that it's Eli Wallach who remains the most memorable character of that film for me.

      I thought about Doris Day, but I'm not a huge fan of that film and I like her elsewhere a lot more. I'm also not a huge fan of Giant, and tend to remember only James Dean and Dennis Hopper from it, along with Rock Hudson calling his own grandson a wetback.

  2. I can't really argue with your picks though I might have gone with Carroll Baker by a slight edge. Want to echo Joel's recommendations of Virginia McKenna in A Town Like Alice and Ann Sheridan in Come Next Spring. Love both those movies and the performances.

    I thought everybody was acting way over the top in The Bad Seed - that's what makes it the sheer delight that it is! Agree Patty McCormick outshines Nancy Kelly as does Eileen Heckart in a clearly supporting role.

    1. Eileen Heckart's portrayal of the drunken Hortense is my favorite part of The Bad Seed.