My current Top 5

My current Top 5

12/29/2009

Best Actress 1956: Carroll Baker in "Baby Doll"

It’s hard to describe this performance. Baby Doll is some weird, but still fascinating movie. And that’s maybe also the best way to describe Carroll Baker’s performance: weird, but fascinating.

Baby Doll is also a movie that really shouldn’t work but somehow does. Again, exactly like the performance of Carroll Baker.

Her thumb-sucking, stupid, chaste but also lusty sex bomb is not a very deep or rich character, but Carroll Baker’s performance is so focused and memorable that you will never forget her.

It’s a performance that can also certainly be called “brave” considering the time the movie was made. I doubt that a character like Baby Doll had ever been seen before.

It's an interesting story about revenge and lust. When Archie Meighan burns down the cotton gin of his business rival Silva Vacarro, Vacarro comes to Meighan’s home to find some evidence and spends a day with Meighan’s wife, the 19-year old Baby Doll.

The scenes between Carroll Baker and Eli Wallach are the core of the movie. They are filled with so much sexual tension that the screen almost begins to burn. Carroll Baker’s is very good in expressing Baby Doll’s naiveté and her playfulness, but also her lusty side and her desire to experience. So far, Baby Doll never had any experience. She has been married to Archie for almost two years but they made an agreement that they wouldn’t consummate the marriage until her 20th birthday.

Baby Doll is mostly rotten and spoiled. She likes to tease but gets angry the moment Archie comes to close to her, she shouts and screams and she is also not the brightest kid in school. She seems like pure white trash, but in some scenes, Carroll Baker is able to show a little more depth to this character. She always keeps us guessing about the character’s intentions and her actions and is able to keep the viewer’s attention from start to finish. We see how she is fascinated and scared of Wallach at the same moment, but even in his meanest moments, she still seems drawn to him. It’s a childish behavior, a need for love and guidance that contrasts sharply and effectively with Carroll Baker’s sexy performance. Sometimes Baby Doll seems to be a young girl in a woman’s body and sometimes a grown woman in a child’s body. Carroll Baker is able to look like a little girl or a grown-up woman depending on the moment and the need of the script and it’s this constant change that makes her so fascinating. We are never aware how much this 19 year old girl really knows about her effect on men. Is she really just dumb or is she calculating? She seems like a young Blanche DuBois, depending on the kindness of strangers.

What’s most amazing about this performance is the fact that Carroll Baker is absolutely natural in this part. She never seems to be acting at all which is a big feat in a movie that normally would scream for overacting and melodramatic posing. Instead, all the giggles, the nervousness, the shyness, the flirting, the desire come across as very real.

It’s very nice to see Carroll Baker being able to lift the character of Baby Doll to a certain level of three-dimensionality because the writing surely doesn’t. Especially in the final scenes with Mildred Dunnock, she is able to add some welcome seriousness to her character that makes her seem much older than at the beginning of the movie, when we see her sleeping in a cradle, sucking her thumb.

It’s easy to see why this movie was such a scandal in the 50s. Today, probably no one would even bother to complain. But that doesn’t change the fact that Carroll Baker and Eli Wallach really turn on the heat, especially in their scene on the stairs. Their scenes together are surely something you don’t see very often.

Overall, it’s a very effective performance that gets

Best Actress 1956


The next year will be 1956 and the nominees were

Carroll Baker in Baby Doll

Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia

Katharine Hepburn in The Rainmaker

Nancy Kelly in The Bad Seed

Deborah Kerr in The King and I

11/29/2009

YOUR Best Actress of 1939!

Thanks to everyone who voted!

Here are the results of the poll for Best Actress 1939:

1. Vivien Leigh - Gone with the Wind (64 votes)

2. Greer Garson - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (2 votes)

3. Greta Garbo - Ninotchka (1 vote)

4. Bette Davis - Dark Victory & Irene Dunne - Love Affair (0 votes)

11/10/2009

YOUR Best Actress of 1940

Thanks to everyone who voted!

Here are the results of the poll for Best Actress 1940:

1. Ginger Rogers - Kitty Foyle (15 votes)

2. Joan Fontaine - Rebecca (9 votes)

3. Katharine Hepburn - The Philadelphia Story (8 votes)

4. Bette Davis - The Letter (1 vote)

5. Martha Scott - Our Town (0 votes)

11/09/2009

Best Actress 1939 - The resolution!

After having watched and reviewed all five nominated performances, it's time to pick the winner!


5. Irene Dunne in Love Affair

Irene Dunne gives an intelligent performance of a romantic character and her ability to combine drama with comedy turn Terry into a real human being but her chemistry with Charles Boyer is disappointing and the writing often lets her down.




Greer Garson is incredibly charming in the role of Kathy, the woman who gets Mr. Chipping out of his shell and turns him into a popular school master. Unfortunately, the part of Kathy is mostly a plot device and never turns into a three-dimensional character.



Greta Garbo's deadpan line deliveries and her stone-faced expression turn a stern Soviet Comrade into a hilarious character while her chemistry with Melvyn Douglas makes this movie a real classic.




Playing a rich, care-free young girl diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor, Bette Davis delivers one of the most moving performances ever put on the screen. All her talents are used to maximum effect in showing this strong-willed woman's acceptance of her own death.




Carrying the most famous movie of all time, Vivien Leigh delivers the best-known and most iconic performance in motion picture history that gets better with each viewing. She becomes one with Scarlett O'Hara, a character she was born to play and brings to life in the most unforgettable way.



Best Actress 1939: Greta Garbo in "Ninotchka"

Garbo laughs!

A slogan that is as fascinating today as it was 70 years ago.

In Ninotchka, the legendary Greta Garbo plays Nina Yakushova Ivanoff, a no-nonsense Russian Comrade doing Soviet business in Paris. But very soon, this stern and dutiful woman begins to be enchanted by Paris and a charming count played by Melvyn Douglas.

What amazes most when watching Ninotchka is how this could have been Greta Garbo’s first comedy. For years, she was Hollywood's queen of drama and suffering but here she shows that she was just as perfectly cast in a charming, light and romantic comedy.

The most hilarious parts of her performance are the early scenes when Nina is that humorless, grim and stone-faced Comrade, praising the Soviet Union and putting down the West.

Greta Garbo has such a perfect comedy timing that she can get laughs out of almost every line she is saying without even moving one muscle in her face. In fact, that static face is maybe the best thing about her.

She can deliver so many lines in the most amusing way without emphasizing the comedy but rather playing her part as natural as possible and that way making Nina totally funny. That’s the real talent of a great comedian! Garbo’s deadpan delivery of lines like “There are going to be fewer but better Russians” or “Who am I to cost the Russian people seven cows?” or that totally stone-faced expression on her face when she is watching Paris from the Eiffel Tower are just unforgettable.

Garbo also has wonderful chemistry with Melvyn Douglas and their first scenes together, when Nina is trying to resist him and asks him with her deep voice “Must you flirt?” are just as sweet as funny. The way Garbo keeps her strict behavior while kissing Douglas is wonderful and the ways she orders kim to kiss her with a decisive “Again!” is too good!

And who can forget the scene when she first meets Douglas’s butler and says “This man is very old. You shouldn’t make him work. Do you whip him?” and tells the butler “Go to bed, little father.” Garbo’s total seriousness in all these scenes turns them into comedy gold.

And the legendary “Garbo laughs!” scene doesn’t disappoint. It’s not just a laugh, it seems like something that has been inside of Nina for all her life and is finally allowed to get out. With this laugh, Nina becomes a new person.

Unfortunately, the movie now focuses more on the romantic part of the story and loses some of its comedy but romance (and later a little suffering) is nothing new to Garbo and so she also handles these scenes beautifully.

And all her later parts with Melvyn Douglas are just hopelessly romantic and it's a joy to watch these two together! Her process of “blossoming up” is played very naturally and very charmingly and makes Ninotchka one of the all-time classics.

Garbo laughs and so do we!

For this, she gets

11/04/2009

Best Actress 1939: Vivien Leigh in "Gone with the Wind"

What can there be said that hasn’t been said already?

Some performances are great. Some are fantastic. Some are considered to be the best of all time. Some are legendary.

And then there is Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind.

Scarlett O’Hara is easily the most iconic female character in motion picture history. And Vivien Leigh gives easily the most iconic female performance in motion picture history.

This is one of the cases when a performance isn’t even a performance anymore but turns into something so real and true that you don’t see an actress but only a character. Vivien Leigh and Scarlett O’Hara become one person.

Vivien Leigh’s acting is so modern that she gets better with each viewing. She is able to demonstrate all the layers of this rich and fascinating character. And of course the fact that she is stunningly beautiful helps, too…

What’s so flawless about this performance is that Vivien Leigh shows Scarlett as an always developing character. She is spoiled and manipulative and she will never lose these “qualities” but she grows during the war and the time after that. With the same determination she used to get every guy she wanted she fights her way back to Tara or runs a business. Scarlett is a force of nature.

But her determination and manipulations could also make her a very unlikable character but Vivien Leigh perfectly captures the Southern belle – she may be a bitch but she is so full of life and charme that we can understand why everyone is so fascinated by her, why everyone is drawn to her. Vivien makes us love and care about Scarlett despite the fact she is a woman who couldn't care less about her husband's death or anything else that doesn't have anything to do with her.

One also has to give Vivien credit for being the main reason why Gone with the Wind is the most famous movie ever. She is in 99% of this 3,5-hours epic, she has to carry this massive production on her shoulders. And boy, does she succeed!

Gone with the Wind is not only a story about love but also a woman fighting to survive, to get to the top. Vivien also captures all these parts of Scarlett.

She is such a dominant person that you can never take your eyes off her. All her scenes at Twelve Oaks, her flirting, her talk with Ashley and that wonderful moment when she is walking up the stairs while everyone else is celebrating the beginning of the war are so wonderful because Vivien is able to combine so many parts of Scarlett: her lying, her true feelings, her façade, her anger, her passion. Vivien inhabits this character like nobody else could have.

Sure, you can watch the old screen tests and see that Paulette Goddard would have been good, too, you can also see that she doesn’t bring that “something special” to the part like Vivien did. If anyone was ever born to play a role, it’s her.

Who can forget her "Oh yes, I will" when she decides to dance with Rhett Butler? Speaking of Rhett, Vivien's chemistry with Clark Gable is also wonderful. When they are married, they both perfectly show two people loving each other but both are too stubborn to admit their true feelings and their pride keeps them from real happiness.

But let's not forget Vivien's great chemistry with Olivia de Havilland which is also an important part of the movie. In fact, the relationship between Melanie and Scarlett may be the most interesting aspect of the whole movie and Vivien is perfect in showing her mixed feelings towards Melanie, her dislike and admiration at the same time.

Without any signs of overacting or theatrical posing, Vivien brings Scarlett to full life. Her devastating reaction to her mother's death, her burden of keeping Tara alive, her willingness to do anything to get money for the taxes - it's all unforgettable.

It is such a natural performance of a truly larger-than-life character that “Fidlee-dee-dee” seems to be the only word to describe it…I really give a damn!

So, for this most iconic performance, Vivien naturally gets

10/29/2009

Best Actress 1939: Irene Dunne in "Love Affair"

When one thinks of love that begins on a boat, the Empire State Building and a wheelchair, then mostly these thoughts come up: An Affair to Remember! Cary Grant! Deborah Kerr! Handkerchiefs!

The remake has clearly overshadowed the original from 1939 with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne who ironically, like Deborah Kerr, is one of Oscar’s biggest losers.

In Love Affair, Irene Dunne plays Terry McKay who falls in love with Charles Boyer’s French womanizer Michele Ferrante during a boat trip. They agree to meet on the top of the Empire State Building 6 months later but tragedy prevents Terry from making the appointment.

Irene Dunne is certainly one of the bright stars of Hollywood’s golden age. She brings warmth and humor to her characters, has a lovely singing voice and can combine comedy and drama with ease.

Her talent for witty one-liners and sarcasm are very well used at the beginning of the movie when Michele and Terry first meet. As every other woman in the world, she is enchanted by this famous Frenchman but she holds her own against him. She is playful and charming, out-spoken, a bit sassy but also honest and loving. Irene always shows Terry as a woman with brain and heart. She is a complete opposite to the visible arrogance of Michele and their unlikely pairing becomes even better because of that.

Despite the thin screenplay, Irene is able to make a full-flesh human being out of Terry, shown in so many scenes like when she says Michele that she doesn’t want to be seen with him anymore or the wonderful scenes with his grandmother.

Irene gives an intelligent performance of a romantic character which is no small feat.

Despite that, I am not blown away by her which is mostly the fault of the movie. The story seems very rushed, making Terry often a hard to understand character. They meet and without any real story they are already in love, they want to wait 6 months until they have taken care of things like their other relationships which is never shown, tragedy happens and the end follows. The speed of the movie somehow affects the performances and I must say that I never really see or feel any chemistry between Dunne and Boyer. Sadly, Irene is also not able to keep her character as interesting as it was in the first few minutes of her performances. After a while, she turns into an average love interest. And even though I love Dunne’s soprano, I think that she is seriously miscast as a night club entertainer.

After her accident, Dunne gets a little more to do and she handles her dramatic scenes like the one in the hospital beautifully. Also impressive is the scene in the theatre when Michele and Terry meet again for the first time since their boat trip. Irene convincingly shows Terry as a strong, good-natured woman who is never broken by her tragic fate. She never looses her lively personality and that way Irene Dunne is able to prevent the movie from becoming too sentimental. She never turns her scenes into schmaltz but instead stays true to Terry’s personality. I also like that she never tries to get the audience’s sympathy: Terry is strong and accepted her fate but she doesn’t do it in a ‘saintly’ way that makes her look like a tragic heroine.

She also has some nice close-ups during the scene with the children who sing about “wishes”.

And her final, famous scene is also done very nicely even if she is overshadowed by Charles Boyer (who, up to that moment, was rather disappointing, mainly because there is something so cold about him as an actor that makes it impossible for him to appear as a loving person).

Overall, Irene Dunne gives a lovely, romantic and intelligent performance that gets

10/28/2009

Best Actress 1939: Bette Davis in "Dark Victory"

When you have an actress of such talent and such a long list of great performances as Bette Davis, it is hard to point out the one crowning achievement. A lot of her performances are among the all-time greats, all wonderful in their own way, but one or two of them are “more equal” than the others. They are simply superior and represent the highpoints in the career of this great actress.

Dark Victory is one of those highpoints.

As Judith Traherne, a young heiress dying of a brain tumor, Bette gives one of the most moving performances ever put on the screen.

Dark Victory is technically a typical Hollywood weepie but in the hands of Bette Davis, it becomes a deeply moving and memorable experience. Her performance is ‘essential Bette Davis’: intense, strong, dominant, a force of nature. And it works wonders for this character.

Judith is a care-free young girl, partying ‘til dawn and sleeping ‘til the afternoon. But something is beginning to worry her: bad headaches come and go and suddenly, while riding her horse, her vision becomes unclear and she falls. She tries to treat it as nothing serious, but you can see that this is only a masque for hiding her fear. Judith, that care-free young girl, is getting scared of what’s happening to her.

Finally, she agrees to see a doctor. Again, she pretends to be bored and keeps treating everything as a joke, but again, Bette is wonderful in showing that Judith is simply afraid to face reality and the possibility of a serious illness. During that visit at the doctor, her problems become more obvious: she has trouble remembering things, she can’t stand bright light, she has trouble lightning a cigarette, her right hand is not able to feel anymore. Again, Judith tries to fight against everything, saying “I’m young and strong and nothing can touch me.“

I love the scene when she is visited by three doctors in her house and is having a party at the same moment. She keeps pretending to herself until the truth is revealed: an operation on her head is necessary. Judith’s reaction? “Suppose we just don’t talk about it anymore?“

But she finally agrees to that operation, but we learn, that is was no use…the diagnosis is negative. Judith has only a few more months left, then she will suddenly go blind and die some time later.

After Judith learns the truth, she goes through the various expected emotions: anger, fear, denial until she finally accepts her fate and decides to die with dignity.

It’s obvious that this is a role any actress would kill for. And Bette gets everything out of it. She carries this story wonderfully. While this could easily have turned into sentimental banality, Bette avoids this by making the story incredibly real. We feel for Judith and care about her. We know that her fate is coming but somehow we can’t believe it.

When Bette marries Dr. Steele and moves into the country, we see her happy – really happy. It is not the same superficial happiness she used to show when she was having parties. Now, it’s real joy. She knows that she will die soon, but she has accepted it and life with her husband is everything she could ever wish for. She is now happier than she ever was.

Up to that point, Bette Davis has already delivered a real tour-de-force. She has shown a young woman confronted with the worst possible situation, she has shown her suffering, she has shown her scared. But ultimately, Judith has grown a lot in just a few months, becoming almost a new person.

But it's the final minutes of Dark Victory that really leave an unforgettable impression. First, Judith’s realization that there are no clouds in front of the sun – it’s her eyes that loose their sight. What's so great bout Bette here is that she doesn't overdo it - she doesn't try to milk the scene for dramatic effect with big emotions, instead she shows Judith's strenght with quiet gestures. And then her final moving moments with her best friend and her husband until she walks up the stairs for the last time, prepared to die.

It’s a brilliant performance by Bette Davis. She goes through every possible emotion in this movie but always stays true to the character. All of Bette’s talents are used to maximum and so she gets

10/27/2009

Best Actress 1939: Greer Garson in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips"

Greer Garson and the Academy…one of the biggest love stories of all time. She received an Oscar nomination for her movie debut and was nominated 6 times in 7 years, 5 of them even in consecutive years.

Her Oscar-nominated debut was in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, a timeless classic about a teacher’s life at the Brookfield Boarding School.

Today, Greer Garson’s performance would surely be put in the Supporting category where she would probably have a good chance to win. But back then, the difference between Leading and Supporting was not screen time but rather “star” or “no star”. Stars were always lead, everyone else was supporting. And since MGM was destined to make Greer a star, no other category could have been accepted.

Overall, Goodbye, Mr. Chips rests on the shoulders of the amazing Robert Donat. No matter what people say, he is one of the most deserving winners ever in the Best Actor category for his wonderful, warm, funny and touching portrayal of Mr. Chipping.

At the beginning of the movie, we see him as a loveable old man, respected by colleagues and pupils alike. But when he rests in front of a fire, he starts dreaming and we are told the story of his life.

His start at the school was anything else than easy. Mr. Chipping is shy and insecure. The boys at the school have an easy time, playing tricks on him and making him look a fool in front of the headmaster. When Mr. Chipping realizes that he can only react with strict discipline, he alienates the children even more. Years later, Chipping is a lonely man, disliked by the pupils and not taken seriously by most of his colleagues. When it’s his time to become house master, he is ignored.

At this time in his life, the German teacher of the school convinces Chipping to join him on a trip through Austria that will change his life forever.

While he is climbing a mountain, fog comes along, making it impossible to go down again. And then he hears the voice of a woman. He starts to climb along in the fog, trying to find her. And then he meets that woman, sitting on a rock, smiling at him.

Greer Garson gives probably one of the most charming performances ever put on the screen. She is simply irresistible in the part of Kathy Ellis. She and Robert Donat have such great chemistry from the first moment they share the screen. The only word that can describe the two is “sweet”. They are just sweet together, so adorable. He is shy, but charming and she is lovely and full of life.

Greer Garson immediately establishes Kathy as a complete opposite to Chipping. She is not shy, quite the contrary, she is out-spoken, not afraid to get close to Chipping. She and another friend are bicycling through Austria, something Chipping finds rather shocking. He is old-fashioned and lives in a world of his own while she wants the vote and enjoy life. During their short time on the top of the mountain, we can see how they both fall in love right away but they’re both too British to admit it.

But later, their paths meet again in Vienna. Again, Greer Garson is just so charming every moment she is on the screen. At the end of the trip, she kisses him quickly goodbye and who can’t love the moment when he is running along her departing train, saying “Now you have to marry me!”

They do get married and now Greer’s character becomes of great importance: she changes Chipping and his life forever. She gets him out of his shell, makes him less shy and insecure. She simply charms everyone at his school, the other teachers, the children. Everyone loves her and she makes everyone love Chipping, too. She is the one who gives him the nickname “Chips”, she is the one who gets the idea to invite some of the pupils over for tea every Sunday. She gets him to be more open and to even make jokes in class. And he finally becomes house master, just as Kathy always expected him to.

Greer shows Kathy as a woman with never ending confidence in her husband. Her lovely smile and her warm voice lighten up the screen whenever we see her. When she leaves the movie much too soon, that bright light suddenly disappears but Chips is another man now, thanks to Kathy.

In playing Kathy, Greer Garson simply focused on the most important aspect of her character: her charm. Kathy is not really a character but rather a plot device who serves the story of Mr. Chipping. The script only asks her two things: to makes us believe that she would fall in love with Chipping and to be loveable and charming. She completly succeds in these two departments but sadly she doesn’t get much else to do. She does try to give Kathy some depths but the character only exists to change the main character of the movie. That’s why a nomination in the Supporting category would probably have been wiser. Kathy has no own life, we never learn anything about her character or her inner feelings. We always stay on her surface.

So, it’s a completely loveable and winning, but also very short performance of a sadly very two-dimensional character that gets

10/24/2009

Best Actress 1939


The next year will be 1939 and the nominees were

Bette Davis in Dark Victory

Irene Dunne in Love Affair

Greta Garbo in Ninotchka

Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind

Best Actress 1940 - The resolution!

After having watched and reviewed all five nominated performances, it's time to pick the winner!


5. Martha Scott in Our Town

Martha Scott clearly felt very comfortable in her role but there was nothing she could do nor that she was allowed to do to find any kind of woman in the thin creation that is Emily Webb. A beautiful performance, turned into an indecisive miscue by the screenplay and the direction.




Ginger gives a surprisingly strong performance in this dramatic role but the banality of the script makes it hard for her in this competition. Still, Ginger carries the movie beautifully.



A typical, intense and strong performance from the great Bette Davis. After one of the greatest openings ever her character keeps us fascinated until the dark end.




Katharine Hepburn does everything right in a part that fits her like a glove. Her combination of drama and comedy is a joy to watch and her chemistry with Cary Grant and James Stewart makes this movie one of the all-time classics.




Joan is pitch-perfect as the young second Mrs. de Winter who is haunted by the memory of her predecessor. She creates a fascinating character, always tense, always insecure. A flawless performance that carries one of the greatest movies of all time.



Best Actress 1940: Martha Scott in "Our Town"

It’s always interesting to find one nominee among the five contenders for Best Actress whose name is not as familiar today anymore as it maybe used to be when the nominations were first announced. Because the level or popularity of a certain performance is certainly in no way an indication for its quality and, who knows, maybe some underseen gem is hiding behind this unknown name. Expectations are completely open when neither the actress nor her acting style nor her movie are truly familiar. And in a line-up that included Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Joan Fontaine and Ginger Rogers, the fifth nominee Martha Scott can easily be called ‘the forgotten nominee’. To be fair, she is not a truly forgotten nominee like other names this category has seen (Maggie McNamara? Ann Harding? Diana Wynyard?) – she played Charlton Heston’s mother in two of Hollywood most well-known epics, The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, and acted on the stage, on the screen and on TV. Maybe it is because of the fact that her competitors were such still famous actresses that her name just automatically appears to be unfitting. And, of course, 1940 also offered what many consider the career-height of another Hollywood legend, Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday – her omission is often mentioned as one of the Academy’s biggest oversight and if she had been included, this line-up would truly have consisted of five legendary actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age. This omission makes Martha Scott’s nomination even more interesting – clearly her entrance into the world of motion pictures was extremely well-regarded in 1940 – Martha Scott is a prime example for an actress who may have lost her popularity over the years but made a large impression during the beginning of her career. She created the part of Emily Webb in the Pulitzer Prize winning play Our Town and later reprised the role when the play was turned into a movie in 1940. Maybe the fact that the movie stayed very close to the original play was the reason why newcomer Martha Scott was able to accompany the role of Emily to the screen instead of being pushed aside for an already established film actress. And casting a stage-performer who has already achieved a high reputation for her or his performance in a later movie version can often add credibility and a high level of critical respect (prime examples are Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday, Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker, Jose Ferrer in Cyrano de Bergerac or Shirley Booth in Come back, little Sheba who all won Oscars for their efforts) and sometimes the exclusion of a stage performer can even result in a lot of criticism or even outrage (with Julie Andrews omission for the role of Eliza Dolittle in the movie version of My Fair Lady probably being the most famous example). Martha Scott would probably fall somewhere in the middle of all this – surely there would have been few complaints if an actress like Olivia de Havilland or Ginger Rogers had taken over the part in the movie version and in fact, many other actresses were tested before Martha Scott was finally considered for the role, but at the same time she had already connected herself with the name of Emily Webb strongly enough to make her casting something of a logical choice and an anticipated star-making sensation. Well, the sensation lasted only one Oscar season but she was, after all, the only cast-member to receive an Oscar nomination despite a supporting cast of such seasoned veterans like Fay Bainter, Beulah Bondi or Thomas Mitchell. So, choosing Martha Scott for the role of Emily did add respectability to the production and was therefore clearing a risk that paid off – and in the case of Martha Scott, it was not only her mostly unknown name that presented a risk but also the fact that she had never acted on the screen before. Our Town marked Martha Scott’s movie debut and it’s well-known that movie acting and stage acting are worlds apart. And just because a certain performer is successful on the stage does not guarantee the same level of success for the screen. Is the actor or actress able to adjust the acting for the camera or is he or she acting for the last row of the second balcony instead?

So far, there has been very little talk of Martha Scott’s actual performance. Why? Is it a very hard performance to write about? Yes, it actually is. Again – why? Did she not succeed to transfer her acting style from the stage to the screen? Luckily, this is one aspect of her performance that cannot be criticized – Martha Scott made the transfer to the screen with a beautiful subtlety and played her part with a touching and lovely restraint that suits both the style and the message of the movie.  So, her work does not need to hide behind that of fellow nominee Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story who also reprised her own stage role without any sign of stage acting (but of course, Katharine Hepburn had the advantage of having already established herself as a screen actress of first class). No, the problems cannot be found here – Martha Scott clearly had an intuitive understanding for the film camera right away and played her part with a very honest quietness that is much different from the quietness that can be found in a stage performers. In this aspect, her performance shines and it shines much brighter than that of the cast members around her – Martha Scott easily established herself as the most interesting cast member of Our Town, mainly because her role allowed her to be a silent flow that goes along with the story instead of appearing to interrupt it like the supporting cast does. And Martha Scott also feels truly genuine in crafting Emily Webb – her quietness, her shyness but also her determination to succeed in school, this typical presentation of a young, American girl who is well-behaved, likeable, beautiful, bright, charming and responsible comes across as very natural and believable in her performance.
So, with this early praise, why is it hard to write about this performance?

Maybe it is because of the fact that Martha Scott always remains more admirable for what she is than for what she does. Yes, she establishes the character of Emily Webb beautifully – but after this, she has nowhere to go, neither with the role nor with her characterization. What surprises about Our Town is what little presence Martha Scott is during the first 50 minutes of the movie. She is barely on the screen and mostly reduced to some little conversations with William Holden who is playing the boy next door and with whom she slowly falls in love. Martha Scott knows how to portray this youthful and frightened discovery of love and she is always believable as a young teenager but it’s hard to find a moment in her performance that goes beyond the surface of this underdeveloped character. I mentioned before that Martha Scott is the most interesting cast member – that is true but mainly because the other parts are even less developed and present even less depth and complexity. Emily Webb is never really a person but rather a symbol and always open to interpretation – and therefore Martha Scott plays her too harmless, without any edges or interesting angles, as straight-forward as possible, never truly developing any kind of personality to constantly keep her like a white piece of paper on which the viewer can write his or her own thoughts on this woman. So, her performance is charming and lovely to look at but it’s almost impossible to find any true character – Emily falls in love with George, she talks to him a few times and gets married. All this happens in a couple of scenes stretched out over the storyline. Again, she does all this fine – when she asks her mother if she is pretty or helps George with his homework at night, she shows Emily’s natural simplicity but this simplicity also affects her performance in too many ways. Emily is barely a character and no scene shows any development – or even a foundation for any possible development. A later scene in which she meets George in a Soda shop and they talk about their plans for the future and slowly realize their feelings for each other again gives Martha Scott the possibility to display Emily’s innocence but again – it’s all too simple, an almost lifeless presentation because there is almost no life inside Emily.

Martha Scott uses her screen time wisely and despite all the obstacles is able to make Emily a lasting character despite her limited appearances and character but this is mostly due to the fact that, in the limited surrounding of Our Town, Emily is the only person to ever achieve any kind of visibility. Because of this, her performance is strangely touching and completely unremarkable at the same time, a bizarre example for ‘wanting more’ from an actress but not getting it. In some cases, the viewers want more because of the strength of the performance or the character but in some cases, they only want more because the performance feels so incomplete and narrow. Unfortunately for Martha Scott, the latter is the truth. She does the most she is allowed to do but this is just too little – both because the screenplay simply sees Emily, despite her intelligence and dreams, as a woman who, even though not ready to get married, only exists to eventually do get married, and because the structure of the movie asks her to be as flat and pale as possible to prevent her from pushing the character in any kind of direction. Martha Scott cannot be blamed for any of the flaws in her work – but this doesn’t change the fact that everything in Our Town is constantly holding her back.

So, her nomination for Best Actress is, in some ways, a head scratcher. But what probably explains it is her final scene, the only one in which she truly becomes the center of attention. After she has given birth to a child, Emily apparently died and watches as a ghost over her family and herself when she was a teenager, remembering the joy of living and taking over the part of the movie’s conscience, telling the viewers to notice the beauty of life while living, finding fulfillment in the little things that shape our daily existence. Martha Scott handles those strange scenes beautifully as she finds the right way to play this long monologue, realistically and yet strangely unearthly. But she also suffers in this scene – playwright Thornton Wilder apparently not only wanted to put the weight of the play and his own ideas onto Emily’s shoulders but rather the weight of the whole world. Just like the rest of the movie, Martha Scott is not truly to blame for all these shortcomings as she succeeded in creating a strangely lost and helpless feeling but the heavy-handed monologue she is given only feels powerful while it lasts but becomes strangely unsatisfying when it is over.

Martha Scott clearly felt very comfortable in her role but there was nothing she could do nor that she was allowed to do to find any kind of woman in the thin creation that is Emily Webb. A beautiful performance, turned into an indecisive miscue by the screenplay and the direction. It’s frustrating to see an obviously talented performer being held back so strongly but her dedication and success in the dreamlike final sequence help her to receive


Best Actress 1940: Katharine Hepburn in "The Philadelphia Story"

After having been declared ‘box-office poison’, Katharine Hepburn returned to the stage and regained respect and popularity in the comedy The Philadelphia Story. The central part of Tracy Lord was written especially for Katharine Hepburn so it is no surprise that she also reprised the role in the movie version directed by her good friend George Cukor. The success of the movie reconciled Katharine Hepburn with Hollywood and brought her her third Oscar nomination.

The Philadelphia Story is a classic screwball comedy that tells the story of Tracy Lord, a spoiled heiress who is getting ready for her second marriage but suddenly finds herself with her ex-husband and two reporters in her home and suddenly the question of “Who marries whom?” isn’t as easy to answer as it was before…

Like every screwball comedy, The Philadelphia Story shows the never ending fight of the sexes with witty dialogue and fast deliveries. Kate may have played the part on Broadway for a while before she did the film version but thankfully she was already an experienced movie actress at the time so that she was able to transfer her performance from stage to screen without the typical ‘stage-acting’ that can be seen in so many other performances that were originated in that medium. Katharine Hepburn is absolutely flawless in her part and she was one of the few actresses who was able to shine in both drama and comedy and in The Philadelphia Story she could combine these two with wonderful effect.

Katharine often brought a certain kind of superiority (maybe even arrogance) to her film roles and this never worked better than here. At the beginning, Kate shows Tracy as a very secure woman, totally confident of herself and, yes, maybe even arrogant. When her fiancée talks about reporters, she simply answers “Not in my house”. He has to remind her that it will be “our house”. Katharine shows that Tracy is not only confident but also very decisive – about her own life but also about everybody else’s. She sees the world in her own way, her truth is an universal truth and she has problems not only to accept, but even to recognize other people’s point of views. Katharine Hepburn is wonderfully able to show these sides of Tracy but she never forgets to also invest her with a wide sense of comedy. Her sarcastic line delivery, her way of laughing at her own character without ridiculing her are some of Kate’s most precious talents.

Even though The Philadelphia Story is a classic and a real gem, it is not flawless, especially because of a dated script that blames Tracy for apparently everything, even her father’s affair and it’s frustrating to see Tracy even accept that her demanding and strong personality is to blame for her emotional distance to other people. But Katharine Hepburn is still wonderful enough in the part to help overlook these facts and enjoy the amazing chemistry between her, Cary Grant and James Stewart. And even though the transformation in Tracy’s character may have been motivated by rather dubious reasons, it is still magnificent to see Katharine Hepburn show how she begins to doubt herself and see things differently. In the night before the wedding, due to a lot of liquor, everything sort of seems to fall out of place for Tracy but that way everything turns out for the better. Katharine Hepburn is wonderful in those scenes opposite James Stewart when they are talking after the party and he tells her that she is not made out of bronze, but a living and passionate human being.

In every minute of The Philadelphia Story, Katharine Hepburn shows both the dramatic and the humorous aspects of the story. Her incredibly talent for comedy is certainly the most visible in the scenes when she decides to make a ‘show’ for a pair of reporters and behave just the way they expect her to behave. Her non-stop talking, her arrogance, her ability to ask more questions than the reporters is hilarious to watch. And who can forget her “Oh, j’espère bien que ce n’est pas les smallpox!”? Or when James Stewart talks about his friends and she says with her fantastic sarcastic voice “Of whom you have many, I’m sure!”

Katharine Hepburn gives a wonderful, layered and multidimensional performance that, as fantastic as it is, never overshadows the work of her amazing co-stars. The Philadelphia Story may be a Katharine-Hepburn-movie but it’s also an ensemble piece and everybody is able to shine in the most magnificent way.

In a part that fits her like a glove, Katharine Hepburn gives on of her greatest and most iconic performances for which she gets

10/23/2009

Best Actress 1940: Joan Fontaine in "Rebecca"

Before 1940, Joan Fontaine was mostly known as the younger sister of Olivia de Havilland but she was able to outdo a lot of well-known actresses – including her older sister – for the part of the shy, young and inexperienced bride of Maxim de Winter, the owner of a wonderful country house called Manderlay in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Rebecca.

Joan Fontaine’s character is not Maxim’s first wife, but his second. The first Mrs. de Winter is never shown – she drowned in the sea after her boat overturned. But her presence is everywhere. Even after her death, she is still felt at every moment in every room of the house. Her things are still used, her name ‘Rebecca’ is mentioned constantly. Everyone describes her as a woman of tremendous beauty, style, wit, grace and charm. She was worshipped by everyone who knew her and it seems sure that Maxim de Winter will never be able to get over her death.

Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. de Winter pales in comparison – she is shy, unsure of everything and completely lost in her new life as the landlady of Manderly. She doesn’t possess any of the qualities of Rebecca – beauty, style, grace, a talent for socializing and all the other things that made her so unforgettable. As Mrs. Denvers, her devoted housekeeper says: “She knew everyone that mattered. Everyone loved her.” Most of all, this young bride is too desperate to be accepted by everyone. Especially her husband. Like everyone else, she, too, believes that he will never get over Rebecca’s death. Her self-esteem is much too low to think of herself as a loveable and charming woman.

Joan Fontaine’s character is always in Rebecca’s shadow. It goes so far that the character doesn’t even has a name – she is only known as “The second Mrs. de Winter”. Nothing more.

This character is not easy to play. She begins as a young girl, insecure of herself and too shy. When she meets Maxim de Winter, she immediately falls in love with him – he is strong, he is secure, he can give her the lead she needs in life. But she not only gets a husband – she gets a new life, too. She was only a companion (that is to say, a better servant) for a rich woman and now she is thrown into a new world – the world of Manderly. For a shy girl like herself, nothing worse could have happened. She is not able to handle such a big estate, she can’t communicate with rich and confident people who expect her to be one of her own and who can’t hide their disappointment when they see this mousy little girl. She knows that she is watched and judged and always compared to Rebecca. She finally tells her husband: “What a slap in the eye I must have been to them then. I suppose that's why you married me, cause you knew I was dull and gauche and inexperienced.”

The second Mrs. de Winter is even afraid of the servants who judge her just as everybody else. She always knows that she doesn’t really belong here, she is always asking herself if Maxim really loves her or if he is just trying to forget Rebecca.

Rebecca.

More than anything, Joan Fontaine’s character is afraid of her memory. That overwhelming memory that is everywhere in the house. So strong is it that Joan Fontaine’s character even fears to lose her own husband to that memory.

During these parts of the movie, Joan Fontaine does masterful work. She is the viewer’s guide through the movie. Everything is seen through her eyes, everything is experienced with her. Her shy behavior, her fear, her loneliness – Joan Fontaine does everything in the most natural way without ever losing the audience’s sympathy. How easy would it have been to overplay the annoying aspects of the character but Joan Fontaine avoids all that and makes her a real, honest and, most important, understandable heroine who is caught in a strange world. Her performance adds a lot to the tension of the movie and helps to create the always felt suspension.

But the character is not static. She is an ever growing person. She learns, she tries to fit in. But it’s the famous scene in the cottage on the shore that shows how fully Joan Fontaine understands her character. When she learns the truth about Max and Rebecca, not only the whole direction of the movie changes – also the second Mrs. de Winter does. When Max tells her that he never loved Rebecca, Joan Fontaine reacts with a combination of shock and relief. Suddenly, her biggest fear is gone – Max really loves her and he never loved Rebecca. Now, that she is finally sure of that love, she is not willing to let the past haunt her anymore and destroy her happiness. Now, she is willing to fight. Suddenly, Max becomes the weak person and his new wife has to take the lead. As he tells her: “It's gone forever, that funny young, lost look I loved won't ever come back. I killed that when I told you about Rebecca. It's gone. In a few hours, you've grown so much older.“ Joan is wonderfully able to show that shift in character without making it seem too sudden or unbelievable – she is always in full control of her scenes without appearing calculating or over-rehearsed.

Joan Fontaine creates a truly fascinating character, always tense, always insecure. A flawless performance that carries one of the greatest movies of all time and for this, she gets

Best Actress 1940: Ginger Rogers in "Kitty Foyle"

Ginger Rogers received the only Oscar nominations of her career – and won the award – for her role as the title character in Kitty Foyle, a white-collar working girl trying to make her way in the world and caught between two men.

With Kitty Foyle, Ginger Rogers proved that she could just as easily handle drama as comedies and musicals and it’s surprising that her natural talent for dramatic parts hadn’t been discovered earlier.

Kitty Foyle is mostly told as a flashback. Ginger’s Kitty has the opportunity to run away with the love of her life, Wyn Strafford, who is from a rich family – and married. The fact that he offers Kitty the possibility to become his mistress and that Kitty actually agrees with this is certainly shocking considering the time the movie was made. But right after she agreed to Wyn’s offer, Kitty’s conscience starts to talk to her – in the form of her mirror image.
Kitty begins to think about her future and her past and how they are interweaved. What lessons can she learn from her life so far to decide what’s best for her future?

Kitty grew up alone with her sick father who may have had a weak body but whose spirit was never broken and he always taught Kitty one thing: that she is just as good as everybody else – the rich people in Philadelphia whom she admires are in no way better than her and that she can achieve anything she wants. Ginger Rogers shows her closeness to her father and the things he taught her by making Kitty a very strong and self-confident character who isn’t afraid to open her mouth and say what’s on her mind. She makes Kitty a pretty no-nonsense character who knows who she is and that she is worth just as much as everyone else.

Ginger Rogers is able to survive a very mediocre movie with a dated, sometimes silly and over-the-top script and deliver a strong and memorable performance that carries the movie beautifully and makes even the most awkward scenes work. She is also able to turn Kitty into her own person – the story basically tells the viewer that Kitty isn’t worth anything without a man by her side but Ginger Rogers still creates a Kitty that isn’t defined by men but who only defines herself.

Still, love and men are the center of Kitty’s life which is a story of love found and lost with Wyn and of love found and lost with Mark, a doctor who is crazy about Kitty but she is never as crazy about him as she is about Wyn. Ginger’s chemistry with her co-stars works very well and Ginger is able to get the most out of her character. She never overdoes the dramatic moments of the script but keeps her performance very subtle and in tone with her character. What works best about this performance is that Ginger Roger never tries to get the audience’s sympathy but instead shows her as a woman who will never give up – and who doesn’t care about what others think..

Ginger Rogers’s best scenes come when her character is at it’s lowest: when she has to defend her marriage with Wyn to his parents or decides to have a baby without a man or when she hears some terrible news in a hospital. Ginger portrays the low points in Kitty’s life beautifully without ever forgetting that Kitty is a fighter who is never beaten but always keeps going according to her own rules. The greatest and most unforgettable moment in her performance comes when she meets Wyn’s new wife and his little son who could have been hers: the look on her face, full of heartbreaking sadness and memories of a lost life, is just wonderful but again Ginger Rogers doesn’t rest on the sentimentality of the moment but instead uses it to show the growth in her character.

Ginger Rogers certainly proved her talent with her performance even though the weakness of the movie more than once harms the overall effect of her work. Still, she makes Kitty a loveable, sassy, out-spoken and honest character with a big heart and also a lot of pride and for this, she gets

10/20/2009

Best Actress 1940: Bette Davis in "The Letter"

By 1939, Bette Davis had already won two Oscars for her work in Dangerous and Jezebel, but her most memorable and celebrated screen performances were yet to come. In 1940, the perennial nominee received her fourth nominations for her work as Leslie Crosbie in William Wyler’s The Letter.

Leslie Crosbie – a strong, manipulating, passionate woman – is a perfect part for Bette Davis and her strong screen presence, her no-nonsense approach to the role and her talent as an actress of unusual determination work perfectly together.

In this part, she also has one of the greatest opening scenes ever – Leslie walks out of her house and shots a man, one time, two times, three times and more. Bette’s face in this scene is wonderful – apparently rid of any emotion and at the same time full of them. It’s impossible to say what Leslie is feeling at the moment when she shoots and a few seconds later, when she looks at the dead body. Right from the start, Bette Davis’s interpretation of Leslie gives an endless array of questions and she refuses to open her up until the right moment.

The Letter is a classic, very well-made melodrama from the 40s and Bette Davis, as usually with these types of roles, sinks her teeth into the material and gives a typical strong and dominant performance with her effective eyes and her characteristic voice. When she is telling about what happened before she shot the man, her whole monologue is a clear combination of learned lines and instinctive expressions – again it’s impossible to tell if Leslie is telling the truth or hiding a dark secret.

The Letter is set in the hot, sultry atmosphere of Malaya – an atmosphere that also influences the acting characters. Bette Davis mixes the apparently cold and efficient woman she is playing with a certain sexuality and sensuality that is never obvious but always hidden. She also effectively shows the constant tension in Leslie’s character – her way of walking up and down, her never-ending needle work, her way of talking (carefully planned words that seems spontaneous, always on the alert about the reactions of her opposite), it all displays a woman who is knowing more than she admits and does her best to keep it that way.

Bette Davis’s performance seems a bit too artificial in the first parts of the movie but this serves the character of Leslie well who is mostly pretending in these scenes. But the more the script tells the audience about the true events in that tragic night, the more Bette Davis opens Leslie and changes her characterization – her acting becomes more honest and real and at the same time, she begins to show that Leslie’s strong and apparently easygoing character is only a façade to hide her hurt feelings and her fear of being exposed.

Even though Bette’s performance sometimes still seems a little too forced, too strong for its own good and too melodramatic (it’s hard to tell how many times she sits in a chair and then suddenly begins to shake and then dramatically turns around to hide her face between her arm and the back of the chair), it serves the script well and adds to the overall quality of the movie even though she sometimes is overshadowed by her supporting cast. Especially in the scenes opposite of Gale Sondergaard, who is hilariously miscast and incredibly perfect at the same time, Bette Davis wisely holds her own acting back and lets Gale dominate the scene. It’s especially in these moments that Bette also shows a surprisingly soft side in Leslie – her pleading and begging look at Gale, her fear of that little piece of writing that could expose the truth, never seems fake or calculated, instead, Leslie’s instincts to survive are at full display.

Also the later moments in her performance show this soft, fearful side. The most unforgettable moment comes when Leslie leaves the court room, smiling with relief until she suddenly sees her nemesis and her face becomes frozen with fear. Bette Davis constantly keeps the suspension of the movie going and is able to create a central character who can carry the movie and bring the audience on her side despite her doings and flaws.

Only her final moments are again too over-dramatic and Bette Davis relies too much on her talent to make over-the-top moments entertaining instead of trying to maintain the subtlety of the character that she had displayed so effectively before.

Still, it’s a wonderful performance from one of the great actresses that gets

10/16/2009

5 Luises...

I must admit that little Luise Rainer is an actress who has a special place in my heart. She may not have been the greatest actress ever but her Oscar wins were well deserved.

And the fact that she was the first actress to win two Oscars really makes her some kind of role model in this category.

So, to honor her, I will give out "Luises" to grade other performances. A performance can get a maximum of 5 Luises and a minimum of 0,5!

Who will get 5 of them?


10/15/2009

Best Actress 1940


The first year will be 1940 and the nominees were

Bette Davis in The Letter

Joan Fontaine in Rebecca

Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story

Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle

Martha Scott in Our Town

10/14/2009

Hello everybody!

I have been interested in the Oscars for a long time now and I am active on a lot of Oscar boards, so I just thought I could start my own blog. I will mostly do rankings of Oscar winners or profiles of certain years or reviews of Oscar winning movies/performances. I will probably start with a ranking of the Supporting Actress winners since I have done that already on a different website, so no extra work! :-) But I still need to see Penelope Cruz, so I will wait until then. I don't know how often I'm gonna post here because I am very busy at the moment, but I will try my best to add something new from time to time! Auf Wiedersehen!