Friday, September 21, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1957

The Contenders:

Deborah Kerr: Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
Lana Turner: Peyton Place
Elizabeth Taylor: Raintree County
Joanne Woodward: The Three Faces of Eve (winner)
Anna Magnani: Wild is the Wind

What’s Missing

This feels like a down year for this category, and in truth, my favorite movies from 1957 seem to be fairly male-centric. Films like The Bridge on the River Kwai and 12 Angry Men are virtually without women in them at all. It takes a little digging to find some performances I’d like to have here. Isuzu Yamada is speaking the wrong language and is probably in too small a role in Throne of Blood for a nomination. For Giulietta Masina, it would just be the language that’s a problem in Nights of Cabiria. Marlene Dietrich’s role in Witness for the Prosecution is a good one and I’m a little surprised that she’s not here. Lauren Bacall’s turn in Designing Woman may have just been too frivolous for the Academy. If I could add only a single person, it would be Patricia Neal for A Face in the Crowd. And before you tell me I forgot Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember, I didn’t.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Deborah Kerr being here for Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is mind-boggling for two reasons. The first is that this movie, for good or ill, belongs not to Kerr but to Robert Mitchum. The second is that Deborah Kerr, if she was going to be nominated, probably should have been nominated for An Affair to Remember. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have nominated her for either role, but I especially would not have nominated her for this, where her only real function was to be as sanctimonious as possible.

4. I’m not sure I buy Elizabeth Taylor’s nomination, either. This one feels like it could potentially be category fraud. This is from a time when a nomination as a supporting actor was career suicide from a lead actor, though, which may explain why Taylor was nominated here despite being absent from the film for long periods. Taylor feels like she is trying to pick the bones of Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara. I don’t buy it. Taylor was a fine actress when she had good material. She didn’t here.

3. I don’t have a massive objection to Lana Turner’s nomination for Peyton Place, except to say that it gets kind of lost in the mix for me. Peyton Place had nine nominations, five of which were for acting performances. That being the case, picking out one is difficult for me, and probably is the reason that Lana Turner doesn’t move higher than third for me and also one of the determining factors in her not winning this Oscar. I might have felt differently in 1957, but Peyton Place--daring for its time—is pretty tame now.

2. I didn’t love Wild is the Wind, although I didn’t hate it. My biggest problem with it was that I found it boring and featured a far-too-flamboyant performance from Anthony Quinn. The exception to this opinion is the wonderful presence of Anna Magnani, an actress I love watching in almost anything. She is absolutely the only reason to watch this film, and anything good in the movie comes from her. She picks this slow, turgid story up and carries it on her back as far as she can. It’s impressive, since it makes something not worth watching actually worth watching.

My Choice

1. I agree with Oscar’s pick fewer than three times in ten, but this is one of those rare cases. Joanne Woodward was a mere 27 when this film was made and it was just her third role, and yet she absolutely dominates the screen in a difficult triple role. It’s immediately obvious which of the three personalities she is inhabited by at all times, even when she’s not speaking. It’s fair to say that I think The Three Faces of Eve is a movie that is less than the sum of its parts. A big chunk of the reason why is because of just how good Woodward is in this role.

Final Analysis


  1. I don’t think I disliked Heaven Knows Mr. Allison as much as you but even with that it is Mitchum’s picture (so where the hell was his nomination?) and Deborah Kerr shouldn’t have been nominated nor for An Affair to Remember which gets by on the sheer star power of the leads. That’s a special gift but not worth an Oscar or even a nod for one.

    I don’t understand how Elizabeth Taylor received a nomination for Raintree County, don’t even get me started on BUtterfield 8-though the pain of that one is diminished by the fact that Liz didn’t think she should have been nominated either, and not for her far better role and performance in Giant. She’s breathtaking and gives an enjoyably florid performance but it’s not a signature role for her-and yeah she’s a supporting character. She probably got in on a wave of goodwill for saving Montgomery Clift’s life after his car crash.

    Same goes for Lana Turner snubbed for The Bad and the Beautiful and The Postman Always Rings Twice and tipped for this overheated hootenanny where she is clearly overshadowed by Hope Lange.

    I agree about Anna Magnani’s power to make just about anything watchable and that holds true for Wild is the Wind but I wouldn’t have nominated her.

    So absolutely out of these five it had to go to Joanne Woodward. The picture has dated but her work remains immediate. In an open field she wouldn’t be my choice for the win but she’d be runner-up.

    There are several performances I’d love to include-Maria Schell in Le Notti Bianche, Tatyana Samoylova in The Cranes are Flying and maybe Ingrid Thulin (she might be more supporting) in Wild Strawberries but although all were released in ’57 none showed up in the States until later years.

    I agree that Marlene Dietrich is a huge miss but like Liz she’s really a supporting character who emerges at key points. She’s sensational though and if I had my way she would have won in support.

    I guess Audrey Hepburn in Love in the Afternoon could have been considered a player but I don’t like that film very much and she’s been better elsewhere.

    But really the huge miss is Patricia Neal’s absolutely tremendous work in A Face in the Crowd. She’s be my winner.

    Out of the five actual nominees only Joanne Woodward is someone I’d retain. My list would run this way:

    Dorothy Malone-The Tarnished Angels
    Giulietta Masina-Nights of Cabiria
    Patricia Neal-A Face in the Crowd-Winner
    Ruth Roman-5 Steps to Danger
    Joanne Woodward-The Three Faces of Eve

    1. Five Steps to Danger is a great choice! I don't think I ever would have come up with it on my own.

    2. I think ultimately that you and I have our top two positions flipped. Neal would be my runner-up in an open field, and not by a great deal.

  2. Patricia Neal certainly deserved a nomination. I also love White NIghts but the movie belongs to Mastroianni and not Schell. In an open field, I would go with Masina to win. I hated Raintree County and Taylor's character was one of the reasons.

    1. I have a little trouble voting for Masina, which has nothing to do with her--I genuinely dislike Fellini.

  3. Raintree County is based on a book about Henry County, Indiana, where I grew up. My parents grew up there, too, in different parts of the county. The county seat, New Castle, is the main town (though I don't remember what it was called in the movie). My mother grew up in New Castle and remembered that when she was a teenage, the studio had a special showing in one of the local theaters.

    I finally saw the movie a few years ago. I sure wish it was a better movie.

    My mother remembers all the hoohah and the publicity and she also remembers the special showing … but she can't remember if she went or not. The only reason she remembers the movie itself is that she watches TCM a lot and saw it fairly recently.

    1. I agree--I sure wish it was a better movie.

      Probably unfairly, I tend to get New Castle mixed up with Greencastle, which is on the opposite side of Indianapolis.