Monday, May 20, 2024

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Oscar 1940: Best Supporting Actress

All first-timers, only one of whom would return; four from Best Picture nominees, three with Best Actor-nominated co-stars; three mothers, one housekeeper, and the coolest chick you've met. These are the nominees for Best Supporting Actress:

Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers
only nomination

Mrs. Danvers was devoted to the first Mrs. De Winter, obsessed, intensely so. Anderson's rigid posture, even tone, and blank expressions clue us in as to why Maxim would keep this woman on when she's no longer necessary, and not just because she's the head housekeeper; she makes it very clear that she is in control of the household, that she is not to be crossed. Anderson becomes animated when it comes to her favorite subject: the late Rebecca. Suddenly she is quick, her speech frenetic, throwing open closets and draws and picking up hairbrushes to demonstrate the perfection of her former mistress. Anderson plays the obsession with more than a hint of knowing camp - I think she knows that Mrs. Danvers teeters on the ridiculous, but since she's usually so in control, what could be ridiculous is instead intimidating, frightening.

Jane Darwell as Ma Joad
The Grapes of Wrath
only nomination; National Board Review honoree for Best Acting

You could almost pass her off as a lead, so great is her impact on the story, lingering long after the film ends. It helps that she, too, gets a wonderful speech at the end, a speech that in many hands could have felt mawkish, but Darwell has done the work to get us to know Ma. She silently got rid of a lifetime of keepsakes and left her home. She shared what little food she had with children in the Hooverville, a good deed she executes almost irritably. She watches the family around her falling apart and carries the weight on her shoulders, you see it in her face, in her body. But that final message is one of hope, unexpected as that may be, and she really sounds like she's thinking about what she's trying to say, as though she believes it more the more she says it. It's a great performance.

Ruth Hussey as Elizabeth "Liz" Imbrie
The Philadelphia Story
only nomination

First, I just want to say that I much prefer what they do with this role in High Society. Second, Hussey's terrific as the photographer who, with Mike, has arrived to exclusively cover the wedding for a magazine whose editor is blackmailing the family. Liz innocent, of course. Hussey makes Liz genuinely cool, effortless in her presence on screen and chemistry with co-stars. I can't quite put a finger on why, but you want to be her best friend. 

Barbara O'Neil as Duchesse de Praslin
All This, and Heaven Too
only nomination

O'Neil plays the wronged wife whose suspicions of romance between her husband and the new governess are not completely unfounded, but as the film makes clear she fucking suuuuuucks. O'Neil attacks this role, embracing the role of uber bitch with a ridiculous callousness towards her children and hilarious condescension to her "lessers." It's inspired, the only breath of life in this stodgy film.

Marjorie Rambeau as Mamie Adams
Primrose Path

The unlikeliest role here: she's a mother of two who supports her family through prostitution, a career she learned from her mother. Mamie doesn't really apologize for her career, though she admits that her marriage and her life are not what she had hoped they'd be, but when her daughter Ellie May wants more, she encourages it, the only member of the family who really does. Because, and here's the bit that Rambeau plays, she loves her children and wants them to be happy, whatever path they choose. I think it's terrific that she gets to play a sex worker who treats her work like work, something she leaves when she gets home; I think it's great she knows when to play "normal family," even if no one else in her family is willing to. You see that she's the strong one, the one who's kept them together, even if it's unorthodox. Rambeau doesn't condescend, doesn't judge. She's funny and heartbreaking, but not in the expected ways.


The Oscar went to Darwell, a great performance. But my vote goes to:


Tomorrow, the nine nominees for Best Original Song: Down Argentine Way's "Down Argentine Way", Hit Parade of 1941's "Who Am I?", Music in My Heart's "It's a Blue World", Pinocchio's "When You Wish Upon a Star", Rhythm on the River's "Only Forever", Second Chorus's "Love of My Life", Spring Parade's "Waltzing the Clouds", Strike Up the Band's "Our Love Affair" and You'll Find Out's "I/d Know You Anywhere."

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