Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Oscar In Retrospect [aka The Virtually Inseperable]: Actress in a Leading Role 1950

Anne, Bette, Gloria, Judy - This particular jaunt through the Oscar archives concerns the actresses of 1950.

Before I go on however, I Firstly must concede to not having seen the fifth nominee, Eleanor Parker in Caged. I really don't know long it will be until I do see this film, given my online rental service doesn't have it (damn them). Nevertheless, the category already has enough talking points, so I'll gladly soldier on sans Parker.

Of the films mentioned here, All About Eve was the film I first saw, quite a while ago, and was later astonished to find the film's co-lead, Bette Davis did not win the Oscar (I'll get onto her later). So in a bid to at least try to understand this seemingly crazy decision, I ventured into seeing the 2 other nominees I was able to.

One of these, three-time Oscar nominee Gloria Swanson plays the ageing silent film star Norma Desmond, in Billy Wilder's noir classic, Sunset Boulevard. Norma believes she is still as famous as she once was, and so manipulates a young screenwriter into writing her a comeback role. Swanson is deliciously arrogant and painfully blinded by time, giving her a false perception of herself and the industry she so longs to get back to. It makes for a very dramatic final act, but Swanson has you hooked all the way.

In terms of Oscar races today, Swanson was surely the favourite to take home the prize, given her two critic awards, NBR prize, and win in the Globe (Drama) category. Clearly precursors didn't mean so much in those days, as Judy Holliday was the one that took home the coveted prize.

Holliday, an actress credited in just 10 films throughout her short career (she died of cancer at the age of 43), stars in Born Yesterday, a romantic comedy about a corrupt businessman and his wife's (Holliday) relationship with her etiquette tutor, played by William Holden. Holliday, perhaps somewhat typecast in her career, plays her dumb blonde trophy wife role with perfection. Her annoyingly brash New York accent pitched to perfection, her comic timing impeccable, Holliday is laugh-out-loud funny throughout, conveying her characters subtle realisation about what she wants from life with shimmering aplomb.

The fact that Davis didn't win the statuette then is now a much easier fact to acknowledge. Davis, regarded by many as the greatest ever, plays the now famous role of Margo Channing, whose presence as an established stage actress is threatened by her understudy, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter).

Co-lead and fellow nominee Anne Baxter plays the part of Eve, the girl with massive aspiration, and an adoration of idol Channing underplays the part a little, but nevertheless convinces. Her character is less of a bitch (Davis is pretty full on in that department) and more of a victim, at least of her own desperation. Baxter admirably sticks to the role she's given. After all, it's always the quiet ones, right? Davis typically is not so restrained. With the freedom to vent and vent some more, she explodes, sometimes with a tirade of verbal abuse, sometimes with a silent stare. If looks could kill, Davis would be locked up within ten minutes of this film. Darting from reel to reel with effortless glances, Davis knows that her most lethal weapon is her eyes, and duly stares out anyone in her way with raw, burning hatred. Sublime.

1950 Actress Ranking:
1. Bette Davis (All About Eve)
2. Judy Holliday (Born Yesterday)
3. Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard)
4. Anne Baxter (All About Eve)

Ok I'm done. Off to see what 1989's collection of female leads have to offer. See ya!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have seen those 4 women, too, and I would rank them like this:

1. Judy Holliday
2. Gloria Swanson
3. Bette Davis
4. Anne Baxter