Monday, June 17, 2024

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Oscars 1941: Best Supporting Actress

1941's Best Supporting Actress lineup has all the category's favorites. You have not just one devoted mother, but two; not just one tragically good conscience, but two; of those two, one is a beautiful ingenue making a strong debut; and then you have the scene-stealing diva, who walks away with the prize:

Can't blame them. It's a role and performance that's better than the film it's in. Besides, Astor was a genuine star, and she had her role in The Maltese Falcon for viewers to consider, too. But even if it's not surprising, was it deserving? Let's talk:

Sara Allgood as Mrs. Beth Morgan
How Green Was My Valley
only nomination; National Board of Review's Best Acting of 1941

That she must telegraph deep love for her sons and husband is obvious, but Allgood must also silently telegraph resilience and strength of spirit so that, when she makes her late night appeal to the miners, when she recovers from the ice bath, and when she stands resolute against the tragedies her family must face, we already know she has it in her. Allgood accomplishes all this perfectly. She's a wonderful complement to Donald Crisp, too. They feel real.

Mary Astor as Sandra Kovak
The Great Lie
only win; National Board of Review's Best Acting of 1941 (also for The Maltese Falcon)

The best thing about Astor's performance of a spoiled, alcoholic concert pianist who despises Bette Davis is her dedication to making her unpleasant to be around. She is rude but spirited, you can see how she'd be a fun time during a night on the town, why marrying her sounds like it could be fun. I'm not sure I understand her change of heart - she's petty, but Astor doesn't play her as the type to try to get something she doesn't want just for revenge.

Patricia Collinge as Birdie Hubbard
The Little Foxes
only nomination; National Board of Review's Best Acting of 1941

Besides Regina, the most challenging character to play: how do you play this bag of nerves and strained manners without making her as silly as her in-laws believe her to be? Collinge's performance is perfect: here is a lady born to be mistress of a house, cursed to taken for granted by her own husband, shunted aside by family, left to fill her days with music and plenty of alcohol, trying very hard not to be openly bitter, but yearning to escape this cage... Collinge gives you tragedy without losing the comic beats, revealing elements of self-awareness in someone whose naivete has doomed her.

Teresa Wright as Alaxandra Giddens
The Little Foxes
first of three nominations

I think it's difficult to communicate genuine decency without coming off as cloying. Wright accomplishes this, however; you get the feeling it's a good thing she adores Aunt Birdie and is so close to Addie, otherwise she could go the way of Regina, she's got the spirit and the stones for it. You see this more in her scenes with Richard Carlson as David Hewitt: with him as foil, Wright gives you more of an idea of the stubborn Hubbard could be: pride, stubbornness and ignorance hidden by a veil of family loyalty.

Margaret Wycherly as Mother York
Sergeant York
only nomination

If you're going just by face, Wycherly's performance as a long-suffering but ever-loving mother is certainly enough to get to this spot. Adoration and resolve are communicated so clearly just with a glance or a turn of the head, dialogue becomes unnecessary. But dialogue she has, and Wycherly gives Mother York an odd manner of speech that rarely fluctuates. Maybe it's the accent? Gives the impression of a curiously one-note performance.


Astor took the Oscar, but my vote goes to:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Supporting Actor: Walter Brennan (Sergeant York), Charles Coburn (The Devil and Miss Jones), Donald Crisp (How Green Was My Valley), James Gleason (Here Comes Mr. Jordan), and Sydney Greenstreet (The Maltese Falcon).

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