My current Top 5

My current Top 5

7/23/2015

Best Actress Ranking - Update

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
3. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
4. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
5. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
6. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
7. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)
8. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
9. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
10. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)

11. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
12. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)
13. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
14. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
15. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
16. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
17. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
18. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
19. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
20. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)

21. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
22. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)
23. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
24. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
25. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
26. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

6/20/2015

Best Actress Ranking - Update

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
3. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
4. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
5. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
6. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
7. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)
8. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
9. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
10. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)

11. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
12. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)
13. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
14. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
15. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
16. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
17. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
18. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
19. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
20. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)

21. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
22. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
23. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
24. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
25. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

5/07/2015

Best Actress Ranking - Update

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
3. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
4. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
5. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
6. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
7. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)
8. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
9. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
10. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)

11. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
12. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
13. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
14. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
15. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
16. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
17. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
18. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
19. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
20. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)

21. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
22. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
23. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
24. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

4/25/2015

Best Actress Ranking - Update

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
3. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
4. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
5. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
6. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
7. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)
8. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
9. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
10. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)

11. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
12. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
13. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
14. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
15. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
16. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
17. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
18. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
19. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
20. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  

21. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
22. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
23. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

4/15/2015

Best Actress Ranking...Update!

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
3. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
4. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
5. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
6. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
7. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)
8. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
9. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
10. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)

11. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
12. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
13. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
14. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
15. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
16. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
17. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
18. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
19. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
20. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  

21. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
22. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

3/30/2015

My Best Actress Ranking...Update

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
3. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
4. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
5. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
6. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
7. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)
8. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
9. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
10. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)

11. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
12. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
13. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
14. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
15. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
16. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
17. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
18. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
19. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
20. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)

21. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

3/21/2015

My Best Actress ranking so far...Update!

Here is my first update. New performances will always be highlighted in bold. 

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
3. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
4. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
5. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
6. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
7. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)
8. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
9. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
10. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)

11. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
12. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
13. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
14. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
15. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
16. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
17. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
18. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
19. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
20. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

3/17/2015

My ranking of Best Actress so far...

Yes, I am not dead! :)

Well, I have told you a thousand times that I don't feel like writing reviews and that has not changed - but I still aim to one day rank all Best Actress nominees. So, I decided that I will simply update my ranking whenever I get the chance. As you will see below, I started completely new. I will add new performances in a random order. So, this is how my ranking looks like at the moment (as I said, I always pick the next performance based on what I feel like...):

1. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
2. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
3. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
4. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
5. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
6. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)
7. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
8. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
9. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)
10. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
11. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
12. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
13. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
14. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
15. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
16. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
17. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
18. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
19. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

12/30/2014

R.I.P. Luise...

What a sad day...Luise Rainer has passed away at the age of 104. May she rest in peace.

I don't think that I need to say anything else. I didn't know her personally, I only saw her work in a handful of movies she made before she left Hollywood again but I truly admired her. There is something about her that just made me love her and there is a reason why I judge performances with "Luises"...

And even though the occassion is very sad, I might as well use this post for a quick update. I know I haven't posted anything in ages but I am currently just not in the mood to write any reviews. I am at the moment re-watching and re-ranking the Best Actress nominees but I am soooo slow - seriously, it takes me weeks to put a new performance into the ranking, I am just not able to decide. So, everything is very slow here but I am certain that at one point I will start to write again...

Oh, but if you want to see something of me, then go over to the amazing blog http://afistfuloffilms.blogspot.de/ where I am part of the panel that judges all the two-time Best Actress winners.

6/11/2014

Best Actress 1928: Louise Dresser in 'A Ship comes in'

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was maybe created by only 36 members in 1927 but the names and statuses of these founding fathers undoubtedly gave this new organization a prestigious and influential feeling right from the start – actors and idols like Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford or Conrad Nagel, directors like Cecil B. DeMille, Frank Lloyd or Henry King and producers such as Sid Grauman, Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg or Jack and Harry Warner guaranteed not only a high level of visibility among Hollywood insiders but also the needed credibility and attention beyond the borders of the industry. Such a strong collection of well-known and respected personalities turned this new association into a powerful representation of the filmmaking community as a whole and gave it a legitimacy that would help to fulfill the intended and expected goals of founding father Louis B. Mayer – for him, the major concern for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was the conduct of labor disputes and the handling of different industry matters but he undoubtedly realized that the position of this organization in such matters would not only be strengthened by the involvement of powerful names but also by a powerful visibility that would create a severe desire by other members of Hollywood to become a part of this elite group, too, by one means or another. And so the different responsibilities of the Academy were primarily carried out in the background of a society that often only exists on a shallow surface – but in order to appeal to this society and its expectations, the Academy needed a distinct foreground that would nonetheless help to support its quiet or less obvious aims. And so the idea of a special award that would honor outstanding achievements in the craft of filmmaking arose and found its ultimate realization in the first presentation of the Academy Awards on May 16th, 1929. It was an inception that fulfilled various purposes – Louis B. Mayer apparently sensed that the awarding of different recognitions would help to keep a tight net of control around employees and artists as long as they believed that obedience and contractual performance would enable them to receive this honor at some point in their career themselves but the creation of this new award would also give this equally newly founded association the needed appeal and allure right from the start to create an aura of exclusivity and exceptionalism but most importantly influence and authority within its own industry. But to achieve these aims, the Academy needed to become a renown institution not only with those artists and performers it primarily addressed but also with audiences and movie fans around the entire country – and therefore used its first awards ceremony to honor a balance of respected and visible choices that would make their winners both popular and logical and in the end serve as the basis for its attraction in the years to come. The existence of two different categories for the best movie of the year was therefore only a consistent decision – the award for the Best Picture was given to the World War I drama Wings which starred one of the most popular female stars of the silent era as well as matinee idols Charles Rogers and Richard Arlen and appealed to audiences with a straight-forward story on patriotism, loyalty and duty and presented a stunning and groundbreaking re-creation of aerial battle sequences that gave the movie a distinct and almost epic atmosphere while the separate category for Best Unique and Artistic Production gave the new Academy the opportunity to also reward F. W. Murnau’s praised and expressionistic Sunrise that told a much smaller and more private tale but put it into an equally pioneering context of various cinematic innovations that influenced the art of filmmaking beyond the transition to talking pictures and stands as one of the greatest achievements from Hollywood’s silent era. These two awards were an opportunity for the Academy to reach out to a broader audience, attracting the attention of supporters of both movies to their ceremony and it also enabled Oscar voters to honor the different spectrums of silent storytelling, from restrained and poetic imagery that put the question of ‘how’ above ‘what’ and reduced the complexity of its tale without limiting the characters it presents, to a story that is much more strongly driven by its plot and lets its personalities influence the situation while integrating its technical values within the specific context of the story and its development. These two specific Best Picture awards as well as the other different decisions of the Academy this year also served as a statement that Hollywood was looking ahead, recognizing artistic trends and innovative techniques but this first ceremony also displayed its eagerness to equally focus on the pioneers of its own history, honoring undeniable and popular talents that would add additional layers of creditability, modernness and artistic respect – one honorary award was given to The Jazz Singer which revolutionized the art of filmmaking and stood as the herald of a new era that the Academy welcomed with open arms while a second distinction was awarded to Charlie Chaplin, one of the true giants of the early days of cinema and its evolution so far. Both of these honorary awards elegantly fit into the overall strategy to create an association that appears to be understanding of the sentiments and thoughts of its members but also the wider audience it wants to attract – something that was also true for the two acting Oscars that were given out that night. The first Best Actor winner Emil Jannings was often considered one of the greatest actors of his generation and his award made it possible for the Academy to benefit from his artistic reputation as it created a strong bond between organization and artist, highlighting its ability to be ahead of its time, recognize the greats of the past and ultimately honor the outstanding achievements of the present even if his award did not turn into an investment in the future, too – the Suisse-born actor had already left Hollywood before the actual ceremony since his thick German accent denied him the chance to fulfill the transition into the imminent area of talking pictures but his selection brought credibility and reputation to this new organization nonetheless. And the same was also true for the first Best Actress winner Janet Gaynor who combined critical acclaim with a high level of popularity that made her both a highly respected star and audience favorite but unlike Emil Jannings seemed destined to find a much brighter future in Hollywood’s changed environment – after having starred for years in negligible parts without being credited, her youthful appeal and striking innocence on the screen turned her into a thought-after leading lady before she established herself as one of Hollywood’s most admired stars in 1928 when she appeared in a combination of critical and financial hits and consequently became the most visible and praised female presence of the year which made her a both popular and logical choice for the first Best Actress award that was handed out on May 16, 1929. But with its two acting awards, the Academy not only recognized two respected, beloved and visible personalities but again found a way to engage a wider audience by honoring them not only for a specific performance but rather their whole body of work during the eligible time period, pleasing the supporters of Sunrise, Street Angel, Seventh Heaven, The Last Command and The Way of all Flesh equally, avoiding any controversy in its first year for choosing a specific performance by Janet Gaynor or Emil Jannings over another one and further widening the range of the Academy among all the groups it wanted to address. Obviously this does not mean that the Academy only made decision that would carry a popular appeal but it was still careful to balance artistry with wider recognition, positioning itself right from the start with great effect even if it altered various of its own rules to create a tighter area of recognition and putting more value on their own decisions: the next year would only see one choice for the Best Picture of the year, maybe limiting the number of winners but consequently adding exclusivity to the award, and actors would from now on only be honored for one specific performance, shifting the focus from ‘performer of the year’ to ‘performance of the year’. These were steps of an organization still trying to find itself after gaining the interest of the industry in its first year and it now turned itself into an even more prestigious club (and maybe even stepped too far when it focused on too many insiders for recognition) but kept interest alive by no longer announcing the winners before the actual ceremony and over the years establishing a system of pre-determined nominees that would compete in a final round of voting, therefore still keeping its attraction for the supporters of different performances and movies and bringing different talents, styles, personalities and themes to its own ceremony and laying the foundation for its own development and characteristics for the years to come.

This first Oscar ceremony showed that the Academy embraced performances that not only received critical praise but also won wide attention and acclaim by movie goers and industry insiders, too – in the Best Actress category, it honored a performer that combined a high level of visibility thanks to her appearances in three successful and acclaimed motion pictures but whose work also won loud praise and laudation by itself, too, making her a both popular and legitimate choice for this first award. It was an appropriate way to establish and warrant its own selections and the Academy would continue to appeal to the different target groups audiences, insiders and critics (though always to different degrees) when it acknowledged further giants of the screen like Mary Pickford, Norma Shearer and Marie Dressler who had all worked their way to the top of the industry and guaranteed the admiration of countless supporters and fans throughout the country. But even with this distinct focus on established stars or later on upcoming sensations like Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis, this new entity also constantly aimed to include achievements with less visibility or popularity – as an organization, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences aimed to recognize achievements only based on merit and worthiness, showing that popularity and talent, longevity and superiority don’t always go hand in hand and that outstanding artistic achievements can easily be overlooked by moviegoers, hidden within quickly forgotten motion pictures or too obscure for general mass appeal. And even if this goal often failed to be accomplished, it still stands as one of the Academy’s strongest principles and Oscar voters always aimed to include little-known or even completely unknown performers and artists in their line-ups, wanting to show that an organization of experts can find remarkable achievements that might otherwise have been ignored and award its distinction only based on talent and quality and that way win more legitimacy and respect for its decisions. Ultimately, it’s a concept that was rarely realized as Academy members were always influenced by trends as well as their own bias and industry connections but they still often found room for fameless names for whom the nomination (or win) would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience or the begin of sudden stimulation of their careers. And at its first ceremony, the Academy was already eager to display its ability to find hidden gems and recognize artistry in unlikely places and highlighting the work of unknown performers when they nominated a little-known, 51 year-old character-actress besides two of the most famous stars from the ceasing silent era in the Best Actress category. Looking only at her movie career, Louise Dresser could certainly be called a ‘late bloomer’ but the strong-willed performer from Indiana had been an entertainer and artist for almost her entire life after she ran away from her home at 16 to pursue a career on the stage before she made her movie debut at the age of 44 in The Glory of Clementina (but not as the title character). On the Broadway stage, she appeared in musical comedies and operettas and charmed audiences with her sophisticated elegance while she focused on her abilities as a noticeable character actress in her later movie work, most prominently playing Calamity Jane in Caught, Catherine the Great opposite Rudolph Valentino in The Eagle and later as Empress Elizabeth opposite Marlene Dietrich in The Scarlet Empress. It was an overall lasting and fulfilling career that crossed different genres and fields, included both silent pictures and talkies and allowed Louise Dresser to make the best out of the possibilities she was given and for which she had left her home many years ago – and that culminated with the ‘Citation of Merit’ that was given to her for her work in A Ship comes in during the first Academy Awards presentation in 1929. It was an honor that shed a sudden light on an actress that was mostly unknown to American movie audiences but her inclusion in the first Best Actress line-up did not change the course of her career or her overall legacy – her name remains mostly as obscure today as it was already in 1929 and Louise Dresser did not experience a new revival in her professional life, mostly because the Oscars were still in their first year and did not bring the kind of publicity and fame they would in the years to come. Louise Dresser was therefore not destined for a new and exciting career as 21-year old fellow nominee Janet Gaynor nor was she one of the biggest female stars on the big screen like 30-year old Gloria Swanson (whom Louise Dresser had supported in 1923’s lost Prodigal Daughters) and she continued to appear in various talkies, apparently not feeling the problems that many actors faced during this transition period, before she abandoned her screen work after her final appearance opposite Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray in Maid of Salem in 1937. Of course, the Oscars were not expected yet to truly change or approve careers and artistic choices and they had as little influence on Louise Dresser as they had on Janet Gaynor and Gloria Swanson who both would undoubtedly had continued their career paths the same way even without the Oscar statuette or their status as runner-up since they both benefitted from their fame and the popularity of their motion pictures more than this strange new award organization – two circumstances that Louise Dresser could not use to her advantage since A Ship comes in was basically as unfamiliar as the actress herself and couldn’t compete with the daring themes of Sadie Thompson, the artistic achievements of Sunrise and Seventh Heaven or the ongoing popularity of Janet Gaynor and Charles Ferrell in Street Angel. Instead, the movie came and went with little excitement or attention and the inclusion of Louise Dresser as one of the Best Actresses of the year consequently already raised a few surprised eyebrows in 1929 just as it does today and it poses the question if the Academy was successful in finding a hidden gem in her performance or if this new organization was still trying to really determine what it wanted to honor and what it truly considered the outstanding achievements of the year.

It’s obviously impossible to speculate about the reasons for this honorary mention of Louise Dresser since the first Academy Awards happened in a time without any other acknowledgments for acting and as a complete self-contained process that is not at all comparable to the Oscars as they became in their later years – but it is easy to imagine that studio producers and other elite members of the Hollywood community were familiar with Louise Dresser’s Broadway fame, especially since the beginning of the sound era caused a wide search for acting talents from the stage who were already familiar with the concept of acting and talking at the same time, and were therefore eager to include some name from the East coast in their line-ups, too, a trend that would continue for years to come as the Academy Awards often embraced work and performers from the stage and that reached one of its early peaks with the award for the movie debut of Helen Hayes whose reputation as one the most important stage actress of her generation basically started the moment she appeared in front of live audiences for the first time. But beyond the idea of Louise Dresser as a maybe unknown but still respected performer that could add a certain amount of credibility to the line-up maybe also stood the idea of Louise Dresser’s role in A Ship comes in as an example of the different kind of female characters the Academy was eager to honor: Janet Gaynor in Sunrise already displayed that the suffering but loyal wife who stood by her husband through good, bad and truly bad times was always a welcome opportunity to show how the strength of marriage can overcome the largest obstacles and resonated very well with audiences and critics at the time – the year 1929 saw the beginning of the Great Depression that would assist the rise of fascist movements around the world, it saw a world that was unsure about the direction it wanted to take and stood right in the middle of a clash between established traditions and waves of new trends and development that changed the world forever. And movies, too, were caught between these processes, trying to obtain the time of silent pictures while slowly accepting the changing trends around them, handling themes that would soon be washed away by the Hays Code and presenting female characters that run the entire amount of human conditions from dangerous and sexually open women to loyal wives and supportive mothers who only lived for the well-being of their family. It was therefore a time that was characterized by its lack of clear focus and welcomed a look back at a time that was often considered ‘simpler’ and yet ‘better’ and that was shaped by clear guides and role allocations – and so the character of the supportive wife and mother might have had a special appeal to the voting committee of the Academy even if a role like this very often doesn’t offer the artistic freedom and challenges that allows an actress to go beyond the limitations of the script. It is therefore not surprising that Oscars and nominations were primarily given to more dimensional characters or often ‘fallen women’ who went through a greater variety of human emotions but from time to time the part of the suffering wife was included among those recognized by the Academy – especially if the script allowed a variety of different angles and a more realized personality of its own. In the case of both A Ship comes in and Sunrise, this does not seem to be true as the presented female characters were mostly defined by their relationship to their surroundings – Janet Gaynor’s characters was called The Wife in contrast to George O’Brien’s The Man which underlined how his character was allowed a personality based on his being while she only exists in her connection to him and can only be defined as part of him and not as a single unit. Similarly, Louise Dresser’s part in A Ship comes in is officially called Mrs. Pleznik but during the movie she is mostly referred to as ‘Mama’ – it’s a construct that finds Louise Dresser in the same place as Janet Gaynor as both played women who only seemed to find any justification for living at all by being recognized as part of a family and a larger whole. But even if the preconditions of these parts resembled each other they still were realized by different manners and different circumstances. Janet Gaynor’s part was put in the context of a much more lyrical and figurative world in which the characters existed to convey a certain style and theme while carrying the overall message with their realization of the roles as both symbols for a greater understanding and actual human beings who would behave as they do even without the constructed world around them – it was a task that Janet Gaynor fulfilled with poetic humanity and even if her Wife can easily appear as a weak and undecided character who accepts the behavior of her husband without interpreting her own fate and desires, she constantly makes it clear how her character actively chooses this life for herself and how her idea of forgiving the sins of her husband actually turns her into the stronger part of this marriage and Janet Gaynor’s own work and the focus of the story on the relationship between both characters keeps The Wife constantly in the foreground of the proceedings, allowing her to blossom the inner life of the part without compromising her position in Sunrise itself. Louise Dresser finds herself under different circumstances as A Ship comes in also tells a very personal story but tries to give a more realistic feeling, therefore not allowing the actress to use the limitations of her part to her advantage – most of all, A Ship comes in is a story of misunderstanding, confusion, inability to adopt and the process of getting accustomed to new surroundings as the Pleznik family learns about the traits of its new country (understanding that the President of the USA is not an Emperor), accepts new duties (sending their son into war), sees the danger of their naivety (as the father goes to jail for a crime he did not commit) or simply has to get used to their new way of life (especially learning the language of the USA) – but for Mrs. Pleznik, there is no process but only a definite state as A Ship comes in finds her as puzzled by everything around her at the end as it did at the beginning, English keeps eluding her still five years after she came to the USA and she keeps spending her life inside their little apartment without any true contact to the world around her and is mostly unable to comprehend the changes in her husband and her children as they get more and more accustomed to this new way of life. A character like this could be an interesting object of study and could offer different opportunities to take a closer look at alienation, the inability to accept a new reality and how this loneliness influences the inner personality but A Ship comes in never turns into this character study and hastily tells a story that lets many chances pass by and mostly focuses on the character of Mr. Pleznik who unwillingly gets involved in a crime that was committed by those people who don’t show the same kind of respect and admiration for their new homeland and regularly adds further incidents that influence the life of the Pleznik family – but within this story, Mrs. Pleznik always remains an almost ghostly presence, one who never actively participates in the happenings around her and even if this characterization of a devoted housewife certainly fits the presented time as well as the tradition of this family and her scenes of misunderstanding or inability to communicate offer the most memorable and touching moments of the story and Louise Dresser’s performance, the role of Mrs. Pleznik never offers any true chances to widen this characterization or create any complexity and therefore could only exist on a particular surface without ever gaining the trust of the screenplay or the attention of the movie that would allow Louise Dresser to display any further dimensions in her part.

A Ship comes in is a movie that celebrates patriotism and the USA by presenting a family that come to this country to find a better life and even if they have to endure hardship and personal tragedies never question the virtues of this country and how it gave them more than they could ever ask for – still, it’s a very quiet and personal execution without any grand exaggerations and the story also never turns the Plezniks into a symbol of immigration itself but tells their own and unique tale without overemphasizing the events in their lives for a greater meaning. In a similar way, Louise Dresser’s Mrs. Pleznik remains a singular creation that doesn’t stand in a symbolic context like Janet Gaynor’s Wife in Sunrise – but this lack of greater context also denied Louise Dresser the opportunity to ever step out of the shadows of the other characters and plot points even if the emotions of Mrs. Pleznik sometimes remind the viewers about her honest dedication to her family and stand as the strongest constant of the story. When A Ship comes in introduces Mrs. Pleznik for the first time during their arrival on a boat in America and right before the health inspection that will decide if they are allowed to leave the ship and start their new life, Louise Dresser already shows the main sentiments that constantly shape her existence – a certain state of worry that something or someone might harm her family, a sense of duty to the demands of her husband and the determination to do all she can for the sake of her children. Still, those features are always explained and referenced by the story itself more than Louise Dresser since the camera only occasionally focuses on her and gives her the chance to explore Mrs. Pleznik’s motives and ideas. After this opening scene, Mrs. Pleznik’s life happens almost completely inside the new apartment of the family and Louise Dresser only appears whenever the script specifically asks for her character’s appearance, denying her the chance to create a logic flow in her role and instead only gives her the chance to craft single moments and scenes that maybe do present a coherent picture of Mrs. Pleznik but also underline the one-dimensionality of her personality. But even if these limitations are constantly visible, Louise Dresser does the most she can with the role itself – her face displays an ongoing honesty of her emotions, displaying her worries and happiness with open expressions as she feels joy over the new job of her husband or a sense of gloom whenever someone unknown knocks on their door. The actress also disappears into the part of Mrs. Pleznik without any false vanity and builds a strong and believable relationship with all her co-stars, creating especially moving moments at the end when her husband returns and she simply hugs him with silent tears, displaying the deep affection between these two characters and she always retreats to her feelings of comfort and familiarity that ask her to do the best she can for the sake of her children and her husband – Mrs. Pleznik never denies her own simplicity or her secondary role in her family and Louise Dresser’s performance is expressive enough to generate a feeling of despair and loneliness that never leaves any doubt about the sincerity of her emotions. Like Janet Gaynor’s Wife in Sunrise, Mrs. Pleznik is a mostly passive creation but where Janet Gaynor was able to give her character a strong basis and a strength that ultimately turned The Wife into the most deciding force of the story, Louise Dresser unfortunately had to surrender to the passiveness of the role – when her son gets home, beaten up by other kids in his schools, Mrs. Pleznik is allowed a shocked expression but leaves it to her husband to approach and comfort him. It’s a role allocation that certainly makes sense in the context of the story but leaves Louise Dresser with little to do in moments like this – she is therefore much more memorable whenever A Ship comes in actually focuses on her character’s inner turmoil, even if it is again shaped by inability to express it clearly. She is especially moving when she realizes that her son is pondering the idea to join the army – Mrs. Pleznik is again unable to comprehend how her family is changing around her, feeling at home in this country that is still so strange to her and can only see the danger that he will get himself into if he actually decides to fight for the USA and even if Louise Dresser herself is still not allowed to do more than grab the shoulders of Mrs. Pleznik’s son in maternal love and fear, she still assures the audience that, despite her apparent weakness, she is the loving and gentle force that holds this family together and also makes it clear how much her son really loves her, too. She later repeats these moving images when her son appears in his uniform for the first time – his father is certainly full of pride over his son and his decision but both already sense the sorrow they will bring over Mrs. Pleznik, making the scene about her even before she enters the frame, again underlining that even if Mrs. Pleznik doesn’t have a large physical presence in the proceedings, she still leaves a lasting impression simply with her honest feelings and loving support as she, often with slight confusion or downright puzzlement watches her family become ‘American’ while she doesn’t really understand any of it. She movingly dedicates this scene to the love of a mother as she is almost afraid to touch her son and lets Mrs. Plaznik, despite her imposing physique, appear strangely delicate, letting her inner state of mind influence her body language – even if she slightly exaggerates a last outburst of emotions just as she later equally overdoes a scene in which her husband tries to cheer her up and she goes along with it, giving fake hysteric laughs that only proof that Louise Dresser is always stronger whenever she is asked to retreat into the insecurity of Mrs. Pleznik’s own mind. This insecurity also highlights the strongest moments of Louise Dresser’s performance which both arise from Mrs. Pleznik’s alienation from the world around her – when she wants to plead in front of a court that sentences her husband for a crime he did not commit, she suddenly becomes alive with desperation, even more so because the judge cannot understand her and she to beg her little daughter to translate her hopeless begging. And later, she receives a telegram about the fate of her son and again has to ask her children to help her with the meaning of the text – and when her daughter breaks down crying, Mrs. Pleznik again can only desperately beg to be informed about what has happened and what everyone understands except for her. It’s an internal and external distance that kept her away from life itself that ultimately distanced her from her family, too, and Louise Dresser manages to make these sudden tragedies strangely devastating despite the fact that her character had barely ever established itself before during the running time of A Ship comes in.

The role of Mrs. Pleznik, a woman who is almost without any real opinion and mostly be defined by not understanding at all, certainly benefits from Louise Dresser’s external and internal realization but it is easy to imagine that most actresses of her generation would have achieved the same results in this part. Louise Dresser surrendered to the limitations of the part even if those limitations served the story well – it is not necessary to see Louise Dresser’s face when Mrs. Pleznik buys a funeral wreath since her defeated body language is already enough but the effect of scenes like this is mostly based on Mrs. Pleznik’s character itself and not Louise Dresser’s actual performance which mostly became a vessel for the limitations of the role without adding any shades or depth herself. She is certainly a good vessel for this task and she also fulfills the demands of silent pictures with precise focus but she certainly lacks the life, the poetic clarity, the vibrancy and mysteriousness of many other celebrated performances from the silent era that were able to constantly pose and answer questions about their characters, added depth and complexity with a single look or possessed a magic screen presence that made words unnecessary in the end. Louise Dresser’s performance in A Ship comes in unfortunately lacks these qualities as the movie holds her back too strongly and while she meets the demands of silent pictures with her expressive face she also to surrender to them at the same time since the alienation of Mrs. Pleznik often gets lost in the proceedings – it is easy to imagine that a talking picture might have had better use of the character and could have given her more opportunities to emphasize her distance from her new country. But overall, Louise Dresser also does not inhabit a personality on the screen that would put more emphasis on Mrs. Pleznik by itself – Louise Dresser would have needed a stronger role to truly shine just like Mrs. Pleznik would have needed an actress with a more visible personality and strength to truly shine. The Academy can certainly be applauded for casting a light on a mostly unknown character actress but considering the small number of performers who were acknowledged by the Academy for silent pictures, her performance does feel far too neglectable and nondescript to be highlighted by this specific honor. Janet Gaynor’s role in Sunrise was, despite certain similarities, memorable and loud. Louise Dresser, despite some moving displays of motherly love, unfortunately remained as silent as the movie that surrounds her.