Monday, December 23, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1949

The Contenders:

Loretta Young: Come to the Stable
Deborah Kerr: Edward, My Son
Olivia de Havilland: The Heiress (winner)
Susan Hayward: My Foolish Heart
Jeanne Crain: Pinky

What’s Missing

What an odd year for Best Actress 1949 was! It seems like such a strange collection of nominees that there almost has to be a way to improve upon it. Truthfully, I’m not sure anyone in A Letter to Three Wives should be considered leading, but a nomination for Jeanne Crain here, Linda Darnell and Ann Sothern would be worth talking about. I’d also love to talk about Joan Greenwood in Kind Hearts and Coronets, the only person capable of shifting focus from Alec Guinness. I think Anne Sheridan merits some thought for the rather sweet I Was a Male War Bride, and we might bring up Joanne Dru for All the King’s Men. Finally, while I didn’t love Adam’s Rib, I know I’m in the minority, and Katherine Hepburn was always at least a little in contention for a nomination.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. This set of nominations is a run for the bottom, and it wasn’t until I really sat down and thought about it that I decided to stick Loretta Young on the bottom of the dogpile with Come to the Stable. I have to admit that part of this is probably the nature of the film, which is reprehensibly corny and glurgy. This is a movie that, if made today, would come from PureFlix. Anyway, as bad as the movie is, I ended up putting Young on the bottom of the pile because she also doesn’t really do anything with the role. I have no idea why she is here or why this movie earned seven nominations.

4. Loretta Young’s main competition for the bottom spot was Deborah Kerr in Edward, My Son. This is another movie without much in the way of redeeming qualities about it. In fact, while Kerr is fine in the second half of the movie, she’s a complete non-entity for the entire first half, making this half of a good performance. It’s only the fact that Young gives essentially none of a good performance that keeps Kerr out of the basement. This is a film only worth watching for the absolute completist and no one else.

3. Susan Hayward makes as much as she can of her role in My Foolish Heart, but once again we have a film and a performance that really shouldn’t be anywhere near an Oscar stage. I like Susan Hayward as a general rule, and she does absolutely as much as she can with this role, but there is nothing for her to latch onto. It’s dripping with melodrama and the sort of thing that is almost embarrassing to watch. She does with it as much as she can, but there’s no good reason that she should have been nominated for this role.

2. This means that Jeanne Crain’s performance in Pinky where she, graced with flaming red hair and born of Irish Catholic parents, played a black nurse. Wrap your head around this, realizing that this is a film that could only work in black-and-white because, in color, it would be even more patently ridiculous. The truth is that the story is kind of interesting, though, at least a lot more interesting than the films already mentioned, and while Crain is ridiculous playing a black (albeit very light) woman, she does with it more than she should have been able to do.

My Choice

1. This was so clearly Olivia de Havilland’s Oscar for The Heiress that I can’t imagine anyone else nominated got a single vote. In a year filled with melodrama and cheese, de Havilland gives a performance that is filled with nuance and pathos. It’s some of her best work made even more noteworthy because of her willingness to play an extremely unglamorous role. In a lot of years, she would be a strong contender with this performance. In 1949, she is so far the runaway winner that she can’t see anyone else in the rest of the pack.

Final Analysis


  1. I haven't seen a lot of films from that year yet based on my list, I would've had Setsuko Hara for Best Actress for Late Spring by Yasujiro Ozu as my pick with Kathleen Byron as a runner-up for The Small Back Room by Powell/Pressburger.

  2. What I don’t understand is how in a year with so many terrific female performances we ended up with this list!

    In my opinion Loretta Young never gave a performance that merited a nomination let alone a win especially after the precode period when she became ever more mechanical, but for this puerile movie and cloying noxious performance? Just yuck.

    I could say the same for Jeanne Crain though I like her better but her performance style was always on the stiff side. Completely wrong in Pinky-the nomination was for the notoriety of the film rather than her work-and the weakest of the trio in Three Wives.

    I love Deborah Kerr but Edward, My Son is the least deserved of her six nominations. You’re right about her in the first half but I found the whole film such a mess I didn’t think she was that special in the second part nor was anyone else.

    I’m an even bigger fan of Susan Hayward but I’d say the same for her nomination in My Foolish Heart. She’s very good but the role doesn’t warrant her getting in here over the women who were left out. Restricted to this lineup though she’d still come in second for me.

    But frankly this is a year where they could have just skipped the nomination process totally and handed Olivia de Havilland the prize for her untouchable work in The Heiress. Her performance is just so textured and deep, it’s one of the very best wins in the category’s history.

    No matter who was competing I couldn’t imagine anyone else being more deserving than Olivia, tough for me to say in the year when my girl Linda Darnell gave one of her best if not the best performance of her career, but the lineup could certainly be improved.

    I’d throw out the entire list excepting de Havilland and start from scratch with Linda Darnell as the runner up (Ann Sothern is really worthy in Three Wives too-Jeanne Crain is not-it was probably the strength and balance of their roles that cost all of them nominations but Linda & Paul Douglas are just a cut above and she was robbed). Followed by Lizabeth Scott in Too Late for Tears and then Yvonne de Carlo in Criss Cross with the fifth slot falling to one of these five women:

    Sothern in A Letter to Three Wives

    Joan Bennett in The Reckless Moment-if I recall correctly you weren’t a fan of the film but Joan is certainly better than several of the nominated performances.

    Ann Sheridan in I Was a Male War Bride-Comedy gold

    Silvana Mangano in Bitter Rice-Earthy and memorable.

    Or the great and shamefully underappreciated Audrey Totter who gave three excellent performances this year in Alias Nick Beal, The Set-Up and Tension though the first two almost skirt supporting.

    Again the winner could be no one but Olivia de Havilland but any of these would have made it a more intriguing race.

  3. If Setsuko Hara couldn't win, Oscar was surely right!

  4. No Patricia Neal or Hedy Lamarr make for a mighty poor group, but the source material of the two films weren't/aren't exactly favorites of the Hollywood elite. However, the only actress who may have been more striking on screen that year would have been a young Angela Lansbury (Semadar). Funny how I first came to know her thanks to my grandmother watching "Murder, She Wrote."