Friday, April 17, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1951

The Contenders:

Katharine Hepburn: The African Queen
Jane Wyman: The Blue Veil
Eleanor Parker: Detective Story
Shelley Winters: A Place in the Sun
Vivien Leigh: A Streetcar Named Desire (winner)

What’s Missing

There are a few changes I’d like to make for Best Actress of 1951. We can start with the continued Oscar snub of Ida Lupino. On Dangerous Ground isn’t a great film, but she’s clearly the best part of it. As I’ve said over and over, horror and science fiction were regularly ignored in this era for Oscar, which means Patricia Neal got frosted for The Day the Earth Stood Still. Jane Russell never got a lot of respect, but perhaps she could have for His Kind of Woman! Sirocco is lesser Bogart, but I rather like Marta Toren in it. The same could be said of Peggy Dow in Bright Victory (that it’s lesser, not lesser Bogart). I’ve long been a fan of Joan Greenwood, and I would have loved for her to show up for The Man in the White Suit. Shelley Winters was nominated for A Place in the Sun, but Elizabeth Taylor could have been as well. Finally, I’m not the world’s biggest Ava Gardner fan, but she was definitely snubbed for Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It might be controversial, but I genuinely dislike The African Queen, and a large part of that is that I genuinely dislike Katharine Hepburn’s character in it as well as her performance. I like Kate more often than not, and I tend to like her more and more the longer she gets in her career, but this is absolutely an exception. All she does is act prim and eventually exist as half of a romance that absolutely doesn’t work. Why was she nominated? Probably because she’s Katharine Hepburn and not because the role or performance deserved it.

4. The best thing I can say about The Blue Veil is that I didn’t immediately remember just how dripping and maudlin this movie is. Jane Wyman is a fine actress who I like in general, but not as much when she is something so clearly and obviously manipulative. Don’t get me wrong here—this movie is meant to grab onto your heartstrings and pluck them mercilessly if you let it. Wyman is honestly fine, but the role doesn’t deserve any consideration, and honestly, neither did she. If anyone did, it was her makeup artist.

3. Eleanor Parker is very good in Detective Story, but it’s a very strange nomination in my opinion. It feels like another case of category fraud, but it’s fraud in the wrong way. Parker probably could have been nominated in a supporting role instead. At the very least, she feels like more of a supporting role next to the dominant and dominating performance of Kirk Douglas in the lead. Don’t get me wrong—Parker is good enough that even in what feels like an inflated nomination, she deserves to be third.

2. In a lot of other years, Shelley Winters would be a lock for me for a poignant and moving performance in A Place in the Sun. For whatever reason, Winters made a lot of her career playing these women who were used and tossed aside. She was great as the woman no one really wanted, a role that she played over and over. This is probably the greatest incarnation of that role in her career, and had this performance happened in a lot of other years, I wouldn’t hesitate to give her the statue. It’s just the wrong year for her.

My Choice

1. Vivien Leigh is my winner for a monumental performance in A Streetcar Named Desire. You could easily argue that Brando was robbed for his performance and just as easily make the case that the fact that Leigh is just as memorable in hers makes the case for her. This is the definitive performance of one of the classic roles in American theater. No one will play this role like Leigh, and no one will ever play this role without referring to her in one way or another. It’s a defining moment of her career and in cinema, and she deserved to win.

Final Analysis


  1. I liked The African Queen. Sorry it didn't work for you. I just saw A Place in the Sun last year as Shelley Winters was incredible. A Streetcar Named Desire is still in my never-ending watch list. There are a couple of performances from foreign films that I should think should've been in consideration such as Anita Bjork for Miss Julie and Setsuko Hara for Early Summer.

    1. I don't know where The African Queen stands in general with people. I know there are others who feel about it the way I do--it's probably my least favorite significant Bogart movie I've seen.

      Early Summer is one I still need to see.

  2. It's not even close. Kathryn Beaumont was robbed. Of course, the Academy were idiots for not nominating the girl behind two of Disney's most endearing films. Without Kathryn Beaumont who knows how Alice and Wendy would have turned out. Too bad "Alice" wasn't live action b/c she was both Alice and Wendy as you can judge for yourself at 2:17:

    1. I don't know that we'll ever get to the point where a vocal performance is taken as being of the same importance as a physical performance. I've long been an advocate for a "Best Vocal Performance" Oscar.

  3. This one is clearly Vivien Leigh's win. That movie stands out as one of the great actor's movies and every one involved stood out.

  4. There really should have been no other winner than Vivien Leigh this year. The performance is at another level of incisive perception into her character that is rarely achieved, from what I've read came at great personal cost to her psyche. Though she should have been in competition at least once more (for Waterloo Bridge and probably should have won there as well) what a legacy she left behind with Scarlett O'Hara and Blanche DuBois and that in both times in play she was the only sensible winner.

    Of the other nominees my breakdown would match yours, I might flip Jane and Kate or maybe not but both would be last place finishers. I like both women and both have given award level performances just not these.

    The whole lead and supporting actresses categories were screwy this year. Eleanor Parker did belong in support and I would have sworn until I saw the line-up that Shelley Winters had been nominated for supporting actress for Alice Tripp. Her part is key but not only is she gone from the film for a goodly portion but she's never a focus (her death is but she's not) in the way Elizabeth Taylor's Angela is. And yet Thelma Ritter who dominates The Mating Season and is at the very least a co-lead with Gene Tierney (though the film is her story and more or less from her point of view) is in supporting (where she should have won!) So very confused and confusing.

    If Jane Russell was ever going to compete it would have been in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes though she is appealing in His Kind of Woman. Liz Taylor should have been a shoo-in for A Place in the Sun but perhaps both her beauty and youth (still being seen as the child star she had been) got in her way. Ava Gardner's beauty undoubtedly hindered her being taken seriously each time she should have been in the conversation but I only have vague memories of Pandora. A big yes to Ida Lupino, always taken for granted, for On Dangerous Ground. And Thelma Ritter should have been in here somewhere for either Mating Season or The Model and the Marriage Broker.

    None of them would have dissuaded me from choosing Vivien Leigh but it would have been a tighter race.

    1. When I think there is a clear winner, as there is in this case, dumping some nominations for some others is entirely about making the list a better one. Not much could sway me from Vivien Leigh for this year and that performance, but we can make 2-5 a much better collection of names and performances. While she's absolutely my winner, it's a relatively weak class when my numbers 2 and 3 could be argued as supporting performances.