Thursday, November 7, 2019

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Day Four: Best Supporting Actress, 1954

In both Damien Bona and Mason Wiley's Inside Oscar and John Harkness's The Academy Awards Handbook, the 1954 Best Supporting Actress race is heralded as the first instance of category fraud successfully resulting in a win.

At a time when the studio decided category placement, with no wiggle room for Academy members to decide for themselves (as when Kate Winslet won lead for The Reader when she was campaigned supporting), Columbia's decision to campaign Eva Marie Saint as supporting rather than lead was a surprise to many. It was also smart - it kept her out of the bloodbath happening between The Country Girl's Grace Kelly - named Best Actress of the Year by the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics' Circle and the Golden Globes (in the Drama category) - and A Star is Born's Judy Garland, giving a ferocious performance that netted her the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy. Saint's performance was earning her magazine covers and praise from critics and audiences, but as a newcomer making her film debut, a win, hell maybe even a nomination, seemed a far-off bet. So, Saint was declared Supporting....where she was nominated....and eventually....

And so was born one of Oscar's favorite traditions! From Tatum O'Neal to Viola Davis, Jack Albertson to Mahershala Ali, there's always at least one winner whose category placement seems...suspect. Then again, supporting is often in the eye of the beholder - I think Davis is absolutely supporting in Fences, and Saint's case is a little less clear-cut than its reputation would suggest.

Still. All that really matters is - does the performance deserve the gold? Let's talk about that, and more...

Nina Foch as Erica Martin
Executive Suite
first and only nomination; National Board of Review winner for Best Supporting Actress

Through simple gestures and glances (and one too on-the-nose one, but what are ya gonna do?), Foch presents a woman who's perfect for and at her job. Efficient, pleasant to work with, and seemingly unperturbable. You don't get much context outside of the office, and yet because of that, and the way Foch carries herself, you know Erica takes pride in her work but doesn't take it home.

Katy Jurado as SeƱora Devereaux
Broken Lance
first and only nomination

Does a lot with a role that could easily be forgettable. Her main purpose is to remain a tower of strength for her sons and husband, to make the latter more sympathetic. She does it all superbly, with little screentime or variance in cadence. Her shining moment is her first scene with Spencer Tracy, where she gets to be flirty, sexy, a perfect match for him.

Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle
On the Waterfront
first and only nomination; NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Actress

Usually I knock a star off for category fraud, but this is a borderline enough case. Besides, why be stingy with a performance this good? She's rough - you buy she was brought up on the waterfront; she's fiery - you believe the vengeful fury of a girl who's lost her brother; she's tender - the love story between her and Brando's Terry is just as romantic as it is hot.

Jan Sterling as Sally McKee
The High and the Mighty
first and only nomination; Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actress

Nobody in this movie gets very much to do, other than some moments and a dramatic monologue. Sterling's big scene is about being an aging beauty queen who's done being fake, presented in a single take as she cold creams her makeup off. She gives what the script asks of her, little more.

Claire Trevor as May Holst
The High and the Mighty
past winner, third and final nomination

Comic relief with one very brief showcase scene. Otherwise, you may forget she was even in this movie - I'm sure she did! Not bad, just a real nothing. A puzzle of a nomination. What kind of Academy viewing parties was The High and the Mighty throwing, exactly?

So, no perfect five-star rating, but still two incredible performances vying for my vote! Between the Oscar winner and the bridesmaid, my vote goes to...


Tomorrow, we wrap up the week with the nominees for Best Actor: Humphrey Bogart (The Caine Mutiny), Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront), Bing Crosby (The Country Girl), James Mason (A Star is Born) and Dan O'Herlihy (The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe)

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