Saturday, June 11, 2022

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1935: Actress

The New York Critics gave their Best Actress award to Greta Garbo for Anna Karenina. She was not nominated at the Academy Awards (which I think is fine, she's weirdly too self-consciously Garbo in that film), something which surely surprised everyone once they realized a number of ties in the voting process led to six official nominees. No write-ins received enough votes to be mentioned. All there were to mention were these six:

Elisabeth Bergner as Gemma Jones
Escape Me Never
first and only nomination

A penniless, ruined woman pretends to be a schoolgirl to get into a tour of a wealthy household; she winds up meeting the family and charming them; she weds one of the sons; years later, the husband tires of her as his brother falls in love with her. The best thing about this movie is the trivia: Bergner's co-star so loved the work and her character, he named his daughter after the protagonist...yes, that Gemma Jones, from Sense and Sensibility, God's Country, and Poirot: Five Little Pigs. How is Bergner? Oh, how I loved watching her. Luckily the whole film is on her level, the PERFORMANCE in this MELODRAMA fits right at home with everything else.

Claudette Colbert as Dr. Jane Everest
Private Worlds
previous winner, second of three nominations

Private Worlds is about a mental health clinic with two star psychiatrists, a married man and a single woman - with no romantic feelings towards each other! They're more liberal about how they deal with their patients, especially Colbert's Dr. Jane Everest, who fearlessly tends to even the male patients! Complications arise when a new head of hospital is appointed, somewhat more conservative than they, and Dr. Everest falls in love with him. That's the plot, but how's the performance? Honey, if you've seen Colbert in anything, you need not ask: there's not a false note to be seen, no overplaying, just existing as Dr. Everest would. Love it, love her.

Bette Davis as Joyce Heath

God bless her, she's giving her all to play Joyce Heath, the washed-up actress who manipulates men into destroying their lives, her latest conquest being a successful architect who runs into her in a bar, despite his engagement to a society dame and her marriage to a man who won't accept rejection. She can deliver the hell out of a line, as we know, but there's no saving this sickeningly purple dialogue and sexist plotting. Serviceable not-quite-salvation of absolute bullshit!

Katharine Hepburn as Alice Adams
Alice Adams

The only nominee representing a Best Picture nominee, and the only one that I'm aware of to be endorsed by a fellow nominee (Bette Davis called it the performance of the year). She plays Alice, a middle-class gal bordering on broke who makes moves to try to better herself in local society, beautifully. Because Alice aspires to a better life, we see that, but she can't help but be instinctively herself, which is to say unpolished, which is to say Weird, and Hepburn plays her idiosyncrasies so that they come out fluidly, mid-monologue, not calculated (when she is calculated, it's too obvious to take seriously) or all-caps UNIQUE but in the way that people, well, can't quite help themselves. They talk and talk and mid-talk they're hearing and kicking themselves but they keep going. Hepburn really nails that, right down to the sudden action in her eyes when she knows she's Too Much.

Miriam Hopkins as Becky Sharp
Becky Sharp
first and only nomination

An adaptation of Vanity Fair, in which the titular Becky Sharp schemes and charms her way through British society. OK! As you may know from past years, I love Hopkins as an actress, and she's wonderful here. What a way she has with a bitchy line reading, a sly glance, an impatient look as the world around her goes to war, inconveniencing her own plans for upward mobility. She surely deserves some sort of comeuppance...but why? Through Hopkins, we see how her manipulativeness is but a reflection of society's own gross soul.

Merle Oberon as Kitty Vane
The Dark Angel
first and only nomination

Like Laughton, she's delivered much better performances in much better films (The Scarlet Pimpernel and Folies Bergère, both 1935 releases, are worthier). And yet such a statement is a testament to her talent, because she's very winning here as a woman who's grown up the playmate of brothers, falls for one, then marries the other once the other one is declared KIA in the trenches (and yet! he survived, he's just blinded and ashamed). She's not given much to do once the film focuses on the blind man's self-pity and subsequent career as a children's novelist (some stories really do feel like the result of a pitch delivered in a flop-sweat panic), but she's very winning in her role and, it must be said (for this is what stars are made of), beautiful to a degree that should drive men and women mad.

The Academy gave the win to Bette Davis, and even she didn't like that. She felt it was a makeup for her not winning the year before for Of Human Bondage. I don't know about that (yet), but I disagree with the final result. My vote goes to:


Tomorrow, the twelve nominees for Best Picture: Alice Adams, Broadway Melody of 1936, Captain Blood, David CopperfieldThe Informer, The Lives of a Bengal LancerA Midsummer Night's Dream, Les MiserablesMutiny on the Bounty, Naughty Marietta, Ruggles of Red Gap, and Top Hat.

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