Monday, November 18, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1945

The Contenders:

Ingrid Bergman: The Bells of St. Mary’s
Gene Tierney: Leave Her to Heaven
Jennifer Jones: Love Letters
Joan Crawford: Mildred Pierce (winner)
Greer Garson: The Valley of Decision

What’s Missing

In 1945, we’re dealing with a war-weary country for at least half of the year and one recovering from that war at the end. That makes for an interesting year, especially for Best Actress. There are going to be, almost by definition, better roles for women in a world where many of the men are at war. To start, I think if we wanted to give a nomination to Ingrid Bergman, we gave it to her for the wrong film—she belonged here more for Spellbound. My love of Barbara Stanwyck makes me almost contractually obligated to mention Christmas in Connecticut. I’d love to mention Arletty and Children of Paradise, but that movie earned its nomination the following year. Dorothy McGuire had two great performances in 1945 in The Spiral Staircase and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The last one I’d mention is Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter, but she wasn’t robbed of a nomination in 1945; she was robbed of an Oscar in 1946.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. No matter my thoughts about the movies in question, I don’t think there’s a year where Jennifer Jones was nominated and didn’t end up bottom of the pile for me. It’s a drum I’ve beaten over and over again and I’ll beat it again right now. Jones was a beautiful woman who loses all sex appeal the moment she opens her mouth. Jones was a wooden actress at best, and while Love Letters isn’t my least favorite movie of the five nominations, she is absolutely my least favorite performer and performance.

4. Given the opportunity to create my own list of five nominations, it’s unlikely that I would want to nominate Ingrid Bergman for this year, but if I did, it wouldn’t be for the derivative and sappy The Bells of St. Mary’s. I liked the first movie (Going My Way) a lot more than I expected, but the sequel is awful in a lot of ways, in large part because of where the plot goes. Bergman is probably the best part of the movie, but the role doesn’t allow her to do a great deal. Frankly, it’s a nomination I just don’t care for.

3. Without really trying to, I have somehow become a fan of Greer Garson over the course of writing this blog. There’s nothing particularly exciting about The Valley of Decision in my opinion, though, making her nomination one that is spotty at best, were I to create the list. Ultimately, it has the same problem as Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s. There’s not a great deal for Garson to do with this role, and while she is good (as she generally was), the whole movie comes across as flat and pretty uninteresting.

2. I absolutely love the nomination for Gene Tierney and Leave Her to Heaven. I like everything about this movie aside from the fact that the title makes it sound like it’s a drippy romance instead of a brutal and vicious noir. Tierney is as good a femme fatale as you’re going to find, and Leave Her to Heaven is one hell of a showcase for her. In a lesser year, she’d be a strong contender, and even in this year in an open field, she’s probably still coming in second in my opinion. It’s a case where I wish this had come out in a different year.

My Choice

1. Say what you will about Joan Crawford in general, when she had material to work with, there was rarely anyone better. Mildred Pierce is probably her defining role, and you could do a hell of a lot worse than having this be your go-to. Crawford is everything she needs to be in this movie. She is tough and tender and completely sympathetic. It’s a masterclass of acting, and one of the great performances not just of its year but of the entire decade. Had Celia Johnson been eligible, we’d have a conversation, but without her in the mix, there is no competition.

Final Analysis


  1. You said all there is to say about Jones in any of her films but Love Letters is one of the better ones she appeared in. Too bad they didn’t cast Linda Darnell (of course she was busy being a noir goddess this year in Fallen Angel and Hangover Square) or Vivien Leigh then it would have really been something.

    I love The Bells of St. Mary and Ingrid Bergman in it, despite the fact (or maybe because) it’s sappy and even precious at times. I have to be in the mood for it but when I am I find it delightful. All that said I don’t think the nomination was warranted, nor would I place her for Spellbound. It’s one of the Hitchcocks that doesn’t do much for me.

    I don’t hold the same affection for Valley of Decision but I do love Greer Garson. Again I don’t really think the nomination is earned over some of those who were left out but she’s good as she always was.

    I agree that in another year Gene Tierney could very well have taken the prize for Leave Her to Heaven. I don’t love the movie as much as you, which has more to do with Jeanne Crain than anything else but Gene plays the soulless Ellen just right.

    But out of these five it can’t be anyone but Crawford. She sat out nearly two years of filmmaking after her labeling as box office poison and departure from MGM then signing with Warners waiting for the right property to resurrect her career and she couldn’t have chosen better. It’s such a perfect fit it seems incredible how many hands it passed through before she was offered the role.

    Now for who wasn’t in and should have been. I adore both Barbara Stanwyck and Christmas in Connecticut (it’s my #2 fave Christmas after White Christmas) but like Ingrid and Bells I don’t think it rates an Oscar nomination. Dorothy McGuire did have a great 1945 but I think Spiral Staircase came out in ’46. Still she could have been in for either Tree Grows in Brooklyn or The Enchanted Cottage-two radically different characters. There’s also Wendy Hiller in I Know Where I’m Going, a film I didn’t love but she was strong in it. Judy Garland deserved consideration for the non-musical The Clock and perhaps Ann Todd in The Seventh Veil. But the biggest and most egregious slight is Joan Bennett as the rapacious and venal Kitty March in Scarlet Street. In an open field I’d rip that Oscar right out of Joan C’s hands (though she’d be my runner-up) and put in Joan B’s.

    1. Scarlet Street is probably the biggest pre-1950 hole in my viewing. I really should get to it. I didn't love The Seventh Veil much, so Ann Todd would be a hard sell for me.

      I'm honestly not sure on the release date of The Spiral Staircase. Wikipedia lists it as a 1946 film, but Letterboxd has it tagged as 1945. I tend to defer to Letterboxd in general.

  2. Honestly, I would've gone with Celia Johnson for Brief Encounter with Anna Mangani in the runner-up for Rome, Open City. I would also make mention for Wendy Hiller in I Know Where I'm Going with Joan Crawford's performance in Mildred Pierce somewhere in the top 5.

    1. I agree in principle about Celia Johnson, but she was literally nominated the next year--and she was my pick for 1946. Rome, Open City got its nomination the following year as well.

      Not a fan of I Know Where I'm Going! or Hiller's performance in it.

  3. Crawford in Mildred Pierce is a win in almost any year. This is a diva at her peak.

    1. I agree. It's a good year and honestly a pretty good era for the category.