Monday, October 28, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1943

The Contenders:

Joan Fontaine: The Constant Nymph
Ingrid Bergman: For Whom the Bell Tolls
Greer Garson: Madame Curie
Jean Arthur: The More the Merrier
Jennifer Jones: The Song of Bernadette (winner)

What’s Missing

As is often the case, there is some real room for improvement on our nominations for Best Actress, especially in the case where the most wooden of leading ladies walked away with an Oscar. I realize that a film like I Walked with a Zombie is never going to get a nomination, but I love Frances Dee in that film and would love to see her get some recognition. The same can be said of a flighty little comedy like The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and Betty Hutton. Both Bette Davis and Claudette Colbert were always potentially in the mix, even with lesser performances like Watch on the Rhine and So Proudly We Hail respectively. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp wasn’t much of a hit at the time, which probably left out Deborah Kerr and her triple role. Finally, I realize that Hitchcock was always hit or miss with the Academy, but Teresa Wright deserved some love for Shadow of a Doubt.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I am always disappointed with Jennifer Jones the minute she opens her mouth. I freely admit that she was gorgeous and exotic and she seemed like her acting coach was a 2x4. I would have been satisfied had she never won an Oscar and never been nominated, but of all of her wooden performances, that she won for a complete glurgefest like The Song of Bernadette is insult to injury. This is a sappy movie, and, since Jones is her typical wooden self, a sappy performance. I hate that she won.

4. I often like Ingrid Bergman, but I dislike her role in For Whom the Bell Tolls with the heat of one thousand white-hot suns. This is the quintessential role that demonstrates that Hemingway couldn’t write a female character to save his life. Oh, she’s fine and confident and competent initially, but the minute a man shows up, she’s immediately dependent on him for everything and hopeless without him. It’s infuriating and stupid, and hopelessly dated, even for 1943. Ingrid deserved better, and so did Oscar voters.

3. Almost in spite of myself I didn’t hate Joan Fontaine in The Constant Nymph, but that’s more about Fontaine’s performance than the role. This is a case where part of the problem is the maudlin nature of the film and part of the problem is that it is straight-up creepy. We’re to believe that Fontaine’s character (who is all of 14) has a mature romantic relationship...with her sister’s husband. It feels like pederasty and something akin to incest and we’re supposed to think it’s dreamy and romantic instead of just creepy.

2. The biggest problem with Jean Arthur’s performance in The More the Merrier is that she is acting across from Charles Coburn, who is absolutely the best, second-best, and third-best part of the film. Arthur is her typical on-screen goofball self who is generally capable of charming even the sternest audience, but she never gets a chance to do it because all eyes are always on Charles Coburn, who rightly won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this role. It’s not Arthur’s fault that she’s upstaged, but she’s upstaged.

My Choice

1. This leaves me with Greer Garson for Madame Curie, and I’m okay with that. Considering I took Garson’s Oscar from her the last time I touched this category, I’m fine with giving her this one, and it’s for a performance that deserves it. Sure, the movie is slow, but Garson plays Marie Curie with dignity and skill. I’d love to have a closer race with some other nominations—Deborah Kerr and Teresa Wright especially—but Garson’s measured performance is one that is effective in no small part because it is done in earnest but without histrionics.

Final Analysis


  1. I haven't seen a lot of films that year though I would've had Deborah Kerr for Best Supporting Actress for The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp while I think Joan Fontaine would be my pick for Best Actress but for Jane Eyre.

    1. Kerr probably could be placed in the Supporting category, but since she played three roles, I figured I'd bump her.

  2. That Jones won burns me as well even with what isn’t the strongest lineup there is no way that should have happened!

    I agree about Ingrid’s part-why, why, why isn’t she here for Casablanca? While Greer was as ever the best part of Madame Curie that movie bored me so much it might be hard for me to judge her work fairly but I wouldn’t nominate her. Joan Fontaine was as fine as the role allowed in Constant Nymph but the whole idea that we were supposed to buy her at any point as a 14 year old when she’s clearly a decade beyond that starts her off at an insurmountable disadvantage even if the film was better. I would have rather seen her here for Jane Eyre though I don’t necessarily think she should have been up for that either since Orson Welles’s Rochester is the showpiece performance in that film.

    Which puts Jean Arthur on top but my reservations about a win for her are the same as yours. Everyone in the film is eclipsed by Charles Coburn.

    What makes all this so frustrating is that it could have been a decent list with no problem. Firstly Ingrid is nominated for the wrong film, had she been in the running for Ilsa Lund along with the other women already in place she would be my easy winner. But in an open field she would be there but not come out on top.

    I think Bette Davis ran a better chance to score a nomination for Old Acquaintance rather than Watch on the Rhine but neither are really inimitable. I love Gene Tierney in Heaven Can Wait but she’s probably supporting. Likewise Margaret Sullavan is compelling in Cry Havoc but while she’s top billed the film is an ensemble piece.

    But Betty Hutton absolutely belonged in the mix for Miracle of Morgan’s Creek along with Ingrid in Casablanca plus I’d add:

    Mabel Paige in Someone to Remember-a small sentimental picture that her performance makes memorable.
    Ida Lupino’s diamond hard climber in The Hard Way
    And the person who should have been the winner hands down, Teresa Wright in Shadow of a Doubt.

    1. Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca is a miss on my part; she should absolutely be named in the top paragraph.

      We'll disagree on Madame Curie, which I think we did on my original review. I find it a fascinating film and I love that it stresses the science, which many early films do not.