I've been doing these retrospectives since 2011. In that time, there have been nominees that left me in awe, nominees whose inclusion baffled me, and entire categories where any of the options would be the right choice, so strong a lineup is it. Best Supporting Actress 1946 is the first time I've encountered a category that is the opposite. One can choose the best of this specific set of five, but how on earth did any of these five make it to the top of anyone's ballot?
What about Virginia Mayo in The Best Years of Our Lives? Margaret Rutherford in Blithe Spirit? Doris Dowling in The Blue Dahlia? Maria Casares in Children of Paradise? Spring Byington in Dragonwyck? Angela Lansbury or Virginia O'Brien in The Harvey Girls? Ruth Nelson in Humoresque? Gloria Grahame in It's a Wonderful Life? Constance Collier in Kitty? Madame Konstantin in Notorious? Glynis Johns in Vacation from Marriage? Hell, keep Gale Sondergaard, but honor her work in The Time of Their Lives instead! How did we wind up with....these?
Ethel Barrymore as Mrs. Warren
The Spiral Staircase
past winner, second of four nominations
The role: An invalid whose big-ass house serves as the central location for a dark and stormy night of murder and terror.
The performance: Knows when she's tired, in a prescripted haze, or when she's got her full faculties. Subtle slurring of certain consonants, a sentence breathy and vaguely spoken. You believe she was a bitch in heels when she was healthier, and you believe she could take on the whole town even bedridden, so strong is her presence. It seems a simple performance, and she demonstrates why you call in an expert to take on such a task.
Anne Baxter as Sophie Nelson-MacDonald
The Razor's Edge
first of two nominations; Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actress
The role: A friend of our penniless and spiritual hero, who marries a man she loves, loses him and their baby in an accident, somehow winds up a whore in a French bar, finds a new lease on life...and so on, and so on.
The performance: Hard to dislike this performance, no matter what the film tries to pull on her character. Baxter approaches every moment of this arc - from fun to bereaved, from drunk to sober and back - with the respect and dignity it deserves. She's not bellowing or snarling or overplaying, though I think it's an almost impossible character to play. She gets away with it because she underplays, because she respects the character.
Lillian Gish as Laura Belle McCanles
Duel in the Sun
first and only nomination
The role: The wife of a racist and cantankerous former senator who warmly takes in her second cousin's mixed-race daughter and proceeds to have her heart and spirit broken by everyone around her.
The performance: She's certainly there! The nomination is, I feel, for her legend - Gish, after all, had been a star since 1915 - though she exudes the warmth and good feeling the movie needs from her. I quite like Gish. Performance-wise, I don't get this nod.
Flora Robson as Angelique Briton
first and only nomination
The role: The surly maid to the half-Creole Clio Dulaine.
The performance: She's not bad, per se, but she's floundering, and probably wouldn't be if she didn't have to "play" Black. She may not commit the exact same sins as Olivier in Othello, she doesn't entirely avoid them, either, setting her face into one expression and rolling with it.
Gale Sondergaard as Lady Thiang
Anna and the King of Siam
past winner, second and final nomination
The role: One of the King of Siam's wives, main consort, mother to the prince and future king.
The performance: She's nominated for her monologue about her hopes for her son, the prince regent, her fears that they will come to naught, her resentment of Anna's presence. The monologue is great, but Sondergaard delivers it, and many of her other scenes, with a monotone that is supposed to convey restraint but is just flat. Perhaps it's the accent trouble, too. She's OK, just wish this was an Anna May Wong or...gosh, anyone else?
The winner was Anne Baxter, and at least she's not terrible or even miscast. Still, my own pick is a hair above, in my opinion:
THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE
Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Musical Score: Blue Skies, Centennial Summer, The Harvey Girls, The Jolson Story, and Night and Day.