Wednesday, May 11, 2022

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1950: Supporting Actress

A bit of business first: somehow, I neglected to mention the non-Oscar awardage for films nominated for the Music Awards, the Writing Awards and Director. If you revisit those pages, you'll see such info.

Now, on to the business at hand: Best Supporting Actress. An exquisite lineup. For Celeste Holm, it was the last of a series of nominations; for Thelma Ritter, it was the first of many. Hope Emerson, Josephine Hull, and Nancy Olson were one-and-dones, but from that trio came the night's Oscar winner:

All five gave great performances in fine films. Emerson as the butch matron in an all-female prison, Holm as the playwright's wife and best friend to the grande dame of the stage, Hull as the worried wealthy widow whose brother's mental state is an embarrassment, Olson as the script reader who wants to be a screenwriter, Ritter as the former vaudevillian turned dresser/housekeeper/assistant who sees her position threatened by Anne Baxter! Nothin' but riches I tells ya! Let's discuss:

Hope Emerson as Evelyn Harper
first and only nomination

A towering figure already (she's 6'2"), Emerson embraces the delicious maliciousness of prison matron Harper and creates a domineering, sadistic monster. There's pleasure in her power, the smirk when she brags about her night out, the directness with which she tells the new girls they'll get special benefits if they do whatever she wants, the flash in her eyes when her anger turns to violence. Don't mess with Harper. It's the least complex character here, frankly, but it's probably the most accomplished performance: she is fearsome.

Celeste Holm as Karen Richards
All About Eve
past winner, third and final nomination

Look, Karen's a tough character to play: convinced of her own goodness, seems to genuinely dislike her best friend, bitter about her position as "the showbiz wife," way too conspiratorial with Eve. It's not that it strains credulity, but how do you play someone who, on paper, is so frustrating, such a buzzkill, such a ninny? Well, Holm does it, and dammit, she's almost likable doing so. She sets the events in motion, and Holm shows us how someone who's not always trying to do the right thing, but trying to carve out her own thing, can be too credulous.
Josephine Hull as Veta Louise Dowd Simmons
first and only nomination; Golden Globe nominee for Best Supporting Actress

You gotta see it to believe it. Impossible portrayal of a daffy lady, somehow managing to top herself in hysterical crying with each subsequent scene, despite risking being completely believe it. Her hysterical state is played less for comedic effect than it is a believable portrayal of someone trying to outrun the voice of truth they hear in their heads. Reluctance, frustration, fear of family madness, genuine good intentions: she gets it all to play, and she does it - to the hilt!

Nancy Olson as Betty Schaefer
Sunset Blvd.
first and only nomination

From her first entrance, shows she's up to the task of this atypical love interest: confident in her opinions, direct without being rude, embarrassed without regrets. Does it make total sense that she and Joe fall for each other? Olson makes it so: this is an intellectual romance, one between creatives who work together and learn to respect each other, and Olson shows you the gradation from writing partners to potential lovers. I don't know, man, could you resist falling in love with Betty Schaefer?

Thelma Ritter as Birdie
All About Eve
first of six nominations; Golden Globe nominee for Best Supporting Actress

When the narrative (well, Eve Harrington) pushes her out, we miss her. She talked so much sense, and from the mouth of Thelma Ritter, every line was a stitch. She makes a meal of lines like "Everything but the dogs snapping at her rear end," and communicates years of intimacy (and a lifetime's worth of told-you-so's) with just a look. 

Oscar's crowned queen Hull was deserving, but so, too, were Emerson and Ritter. Alas, I have but one vote. It goes to:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Actor: Louis Calhern (The Magnificent Yankee), José Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac), William Holden (Sunset Blvd.), James Stewart (Harvey), and Spencer Tracy (Father of the Bride).

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