Thursday, April 16, 2020

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Day Three: Actress, 1956

Sometimes, it really is a coronation with four also-rans. That certainly seems to be the case with Ingrid Bergman's second Oscar triumph for Best Actress, not insignificant considering seven years prior, she was denounced on the Senate floor for having an affair with director Roberto Rossellini, bearing his child, and leaving her own family to wed him in Italy. Hollywood turned its back on her; now, having seen her play a downtrodden woman who may be the Russian princess Anastasia, it welcomed her back with open arms. The premiere was the hottest ticket in town, says Inside Oscar, and she went on to win Best Actress honors from both the New York Film Critics' Circle Awards and the Golden Globes, two of the only three precursor awards of that era. (I would count the National Board of Review as the other; they awarded Dorothy McGuire in Friendly Persuasion). The Oscar? An inevitability.

Funnily enough, all five nominated performances were adaptations of stage plays. Bergman was taking a role played by fellow Swede Viveca Lindfors. As the barely-legal bride of a Mississippi Delta cotton gin owner, Baby Doll's Carroll Baker was taking on a role previously played, albeit in a slightly different form, by Maureen Stapleton in the one-act play 27 Wagons Full of Cotton. Katharine Hepburn's spinster at the center of The Rainmaker was originated on Broadway by Geraldine Page. Deborah Kerr was lip-syncing throughout The King and I, but there was no getting the original actress: Tony-winning Gertrude Lawrence had died four years previously.

Only Nancy Kelly of The Bad Seed was adapting for the screen a role she had originated on stage; indeed, she had won the Tony for her role of a high-strung mother who realizes her little girl may, in fact, be a cold-blooded killer. It is also worth noting, I think, that she is the only nominee who received no citation from any other awards body. Stage or screen, it's a performance that seems to really click with actors.

Anyway, those are the roles. As for the performances:

Carroll Baker as Baby Doll Meighan
Baby Doll
first and only nomination; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Foreign Actress, Golden Globe nominee for Best Actress - Drama

Shocked this made it in, it's so far off Oscar's usual beaten path. Thank God it did! Baker is scandalously superb; she knows Baby Doll is a child playing at worldliness and wisdom and pride. She repeats the little she's confident of, and Baker lets us in on the insecurities behind her defensiveness, the unfulfilled fantasies manifested in playing the role of sex kitten - her look when Silva drives off...this is a girl who still hopes, yet a woman who knows disappointment. She's magnificent.

Ingrid Bergman as Anna Anderson
past winner, fifth of seven nominations; Golden Globe winner for Best Actress - Drama, NYFCC Awards winner for Best Actress

She is giving it her all in every scene, crying and shouting and coughing and getting weary. It's solid work, certainly buoyed by her beauty and charisma, but she's ultimately let down by a superficial script and a lack of romantic spark between her and Yul Brynner. Not to say there's no chemistry, it's just not romantic, and for the final scenes to work, that's an issue.

Katharine Hepburn as Lizzie Curry
The Rainmaker
past winner, seventh of twelve nominations; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Foreign Actress, Golden Globe nominee for Best Actress - Drama

Clearly too old for the part by at least 15 years, but oh, what a vibrant performance! who else could so convincingly play a brassy gal like Lizzie, who doesn't act as a lady "should," whose eyes shine with a perfect light when she sees herself reflected in Starbuck's own, who is both unapologetically herself and insecure about how she is? She's screamingly funny and gut-kickingly heartbreaking. Brazen, confident work.

Nancy Kelly as Christine Penmark
The Bad Seed
first and only nomination

From the moment we see her, Christine looks and sounds like she's on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Kelly follows the required beats of fragile domesticity shattering into guilt and horror, but the script delays her inevitable decision, leading her to drag out or replay beats long after they're finished, or else forcing her to reconcile her character's decisions with the woman she's already crafted. An unhinged performance undone by the people in charge.

Deborah Kerr as Anna Leonowens
The King and I
third of six nominations; Golden Globe winner for Best Actress - Musical/Comedy; NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Actress

Conveys the cultural, philosophical, and sexual tension between her and Yul Brynner's King - though, naturally, Kerr can do laced-up-hot-and-bothered in her sleep - her bosom heaves, honey! Still, it's a treat to watch her spar with him, to connect with the children, to dance, to lip-sync. It may not be her voice, but her expressions sell the hell out of "Hello, Young Lovers" and "Shall we Dance?".


As I've said, Bergman was unbeatable, and as I've noted above...that ain't how I see things. My vote goes to:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Motion Picture Story: The Brave One, The Eddy Duchin StoryThe Proud and the Beautiful and Umberto D. an explanation for why there's only four.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nancy Kelly was a nominee for Best Actress from the Laurel Awards