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)
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.
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.