My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress 1982: Sissy Spacek in "Missing"

Two years after her Oscar success with her starring role in Coal Miner’s Daughter, Sissy Spacek continued to impress the Academy with her role in the controversial 1982 movie Missing – the story about a woman and her father-in-law who look for her disappeared husband during times of uproar in an unnamed South American country during the 1970s. It’s a very intense, thrilling and provoking motion picture which reflects on political events but also uses its two protagonists to portray different believes and opinions about the world we live in and the necessity to join forces for a greater good.

In a role that could have been the stereotypical suffering and hysterical wife, both the script and Sissy Spacek took a welcoming choice by turning Beth Horman into a woman who is very competent in her own way, who knows how to handle different situations and circumstances but doesn’t deny her fear – for herself and, of course, her husband Charlie. Sissy Spacek, who is like a chameleon when it comes to slipping into her characters, crafts Beth as a very ordinary, average woman who believes in her own ideals even though it is never fully clear how strong these ideals really are and if they are the results of her own thinking and development or rather a shallow part of her own way of life. When Beth’s husband suddenly disappears and she has to face a bodiless machinery of bureaucracy, state terror and murder, she begins to understand that she can’t face the situation alone and needs the help of her father-in-law – a man who seems to symbolize everything that Beth dislikes about her old life in America.

The unlikely pairing of Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek is the biggest success in Missing – but for Sissy Spacek herself it also becomes her biggest challenge as Jack Lemmon provides an excellent and moving portrayal of a father desperate to find his son while seeing his own believes slowly destroyed. Sissy Spacek’s Beth is in a similar, yet very different situation. Her opinions about the higher levels of politics have always been negative and seem to be verified now, but at the same time it’s visible that there is also a loss of hope inside her character – up until now, everything seemed to have been a game for her, even though a dangerous one. When she walks through the city at night in the beginning, violating the curfew, witnessing acts of terror, she seems hardly scared at all. Sissy Spacek chose a very interesting approach by not using these scenes to show a wide display of fear and shock but rather laid the foundation for a very calm and practical character who can face actual problems very easy but who always looses all her strengths and abilities whenever she faces the rejection and cover-up of state ministries and bureaucrats. The word that could be best used to describe Beth is inconvenient. But this is not because she wants to be this way, rather she seems unable to control herself whenever she gets upset or angry – she very often talks too much, too loud and too inappropriately. There is a certain rudeness in her, coming from the fact that she openly rejects any kind of authority. But her inability to avoid the authorities, to push them aside in her search also sets a trap for her own character – she is unwilling to work with the people whom she blames for the disappearance of her husband but at the same time she can’t find him without their cooperation. Sissy Spacek shows with small gestures and moments how Beth is constantly fighting against her own character during the various talks with high officials – how she is holding on to her temper only to snap at some point. Beth is clearly a smart woman but very often her personality prevents her from achieving the results she would like – but also because she refuses to bend this personality and her own believes for any reason.

It’s confusing that despite her large presence in Missing and the importance of her character, Sissy Spacek remains a rather invisible performer. She certainly possesses the necessary screen presence to hold up to Jack Lemmon but it seems that very often her character is never seen as her own person but instead is mostly used to describe the character of Charlie and the events that lead up to his disappearance. Sissy Spacek’s Beth seems like a Greek chorus who constantly describes what has happened, what is happening and what might happen but rarely does she ever truly become an active part in the proceedings. She becomes the connection between her father-in-law Ed and this unknown country and she also starts as the connection between the viewer and the events but very soon Jack Lemmon takes over this role and Sissy Spacek becomes a follower who should be the leader and very often feels secondary in the proceedings. The most admirable aspect of Sissy Spacek’s work is the fact that she took a stock character, namely the suffering wife, and gave it her own unique interpretation but the script only allows her to go so far before she is pulled back by the structure of the story and overshadowed by Jack Lemmon’s overwhelming dominance.

Right from the beginning, Missing shows that it doesn’t only tell the story of an historical event but it also wants to show the clash of two believes – Beth who symbolizes a more open yet also insecure character and Ed who stands for more conventional values and self-assurance. And it’s this clash which becomes the motor of the story and provides the movie’s most interesting moments. It’s clear that Ed doesn’t approve Beth’s anti-establishment opinions – and he also doesn’t approve Beth herself. Both Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek show a team merged together by circumstances instead of free choice. While Jack Lemmon is given the movie’s most compelling and captivating character arc, Sissy Spacek finds her own way to add more layers to Beth than the screenplay suggests. She slowly shows how Beth gets used to this man who, even though he doesn’t agree with her views or her opinions, is still the only man she can trust and is on her side. Beth doesn’t try to change Ed or convince him of her own views – the situation is too serious for this kind of plot, but she influences him without even knowing that she does it. At the same time, Sissy Spacek demonstrates how Ed influences Beth by widening her interpretation of various moments that always seem to repeat themselves – frustration and anger, hope and fear. Over time, Ed and Beth behave more civil with each other, develop a relationship of mutual respect and understanding. They seems always bond together by circumstances – first by necessity, then by tragedy. It’s a subtle and realistic performance of a character that benefits a great deal from Sissy Spacek’s earthy and honest presence. She is an actress who can always fill her characters with an inner fire and inner strength, even when they appear rather calm and quiet on the outside. There is some unexpected quality in her characterization and if the script had given her more opportunities, than Beth might easily have become a very memorable character but it’s obvious that the movie makers saw the development of Ed Holman as the most important plot line.

Just like in Coal Miner’s Daughter two years earlier, Sissy Spacek again found a very simple way to create a complex woman. She not only has a very average quality in her looks, but also in the straight forwardness and directness of her acting. When Beth swears angrily or reacts in a combination of anger and spite, Sissy Spacek avoids every degradation of this woman – Beth may sometimes seem helpless, sometimes naïve, sometimes too out-of-place but never stupid or dishonest. It’s very easy to understand her frustration when her father-in-law rejects any kind of help she could offer – she feels that she knows this country and the people, that she understands and has insight while her father-in-law sees the world in a rather simple way that never interferes with his personal beliefs. When Jack Lemmon’s Ed slowly begins to learn about the realities in this country, Sissy Spacek doesn’t show any traces or arrogance or superiority in Beth for having always known what Ed is now beginning to see but she remains a supportive and understanding woman.

Sissy Spacek’s performance is one of the rare cases when the female lead doesn’t function as the emotional foundation of the story – Jack Lemmon’s worrying father is constantly overshadowing her worrying wife but the reason isn’t the quality of the performances but the structure of the story. Since Beth is more familiar with the realities of life right from the beginning, she doesn’t find herself in any too emotional situations but takes a rather accepting attitude even when she is still hoping. Because of the inner strength in Beth, Sissy Spacek’s performance works in great harmony with the increasing tension of the story – when she begins to show more signs of weakness, the seriousness of the situations begin to become more tangible than ever before. Her quiet and fearful plead in the big stadium, the hope that her husband might be among the people is a strong scene (even though moments later again overshadowed by Jack Lemmon’s performance). The most unforgettable moment in her performance comes when she sees the body of a close friend and slowly sinks to her knees, hopeless, helpless, unable to keep standing. It’s not a difficult or impressive moment since it’s a simple body movement but up to that scene Sissy Spacek has created Beth as a constant fighter and so this act of almost capitulation before the terror comes as a moment of shock and sadness for the viewer and probably Beth herself, too.

Sissy Spacek does a lot with a character that could have been very little but at the same time she is not able to overcome its limitations. She takes the part of the guide through the story with an admirable combination of strength and weakness and her chemistry with Jack Lemmon is very captivating but she very often feels trapped in the role of Beth and her own interpretation which both don’t allow her to fully explore her own acting talents. In the end, she gets


Best Actress 1982: Julie Andrews in "Victor/Victoria"

In some ways, Julie Andrews wasn’t only one of the biggest stars of the 60s – she was a phenomenon. My Fair Lady, the show that made her a star, was the biggest hit on Broadway and the soundtrack among the most successful ever. Over 100 million people had watched her in a TV production of Cinderella. Her performance in Disney’s classic Mary Poppins earned her an Oscar. And The Sound of Music not only brought her very close to a second one, but also turned her into a legend at the age of 30. So it’s rather surprising that she did hardly anything memorable after that. She continued to work but movies like The Graduate or Bonnie and Clyde already showed that the time of the sugarcoated musical-sweethearts was over – the upcoming decade wanted women like Jane Fonda, Faye Dunaway, Jill Clayburgh, Glenda Jackson or Ellen Burstyn. So, maybe it’s actually not that surprising that her image as the loveable, singing and magical nanny or the loveable, singing and Austrian nanny didn’t really help her in the 70s – not even showing her breasts did. But in 1982, Julie Andrews finally found a part that brought her back into the spotlight – because it allowed her to demonstrate all the qualities that made her such a delight in the 60s but she could also combine it with a sense of self-parody and sarcasm that fitted better to the new surroundings of a different time.

Victor/Victoria is an engaging, funny and playful farce that tells the story of a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. It juggles themes like gender roles, sexuality, jealousy, desperation, happiness but never in a way that turns it into a commentary on contemporary society but always in a very matter-of-fact way – Victor/Victoria is neither a great comedy, nor a great drama nor a great musical but the finished result it still extremely enjoyable. Just like all the characters in the story present a very devil-may-care-attitude and a disinterest in everything but besides themselves, Victor/Victoria also never tries to pretend to be more than it really is. And this beautifully reflected on Julie Andrews’s performance – she’s much more loose and free-spirited than in her other Oscar-winning roles. Her biggest achievement in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music was to take her parts much more serious than expected and that way helped to establish the credibility of their characters. In Victor/Victoria, she drops this sternness and seems to enjoy herself much more in a part that doesn’t ask her to be a role model or a beacon of morality – instead, she visibly has fun in this risky role and finds exactly the right balance between taking herself and her role too serious and not serious enough. Her very relaxed portrayal of a woman who is trying to earn a living and then finds herself in a complicated love affair fits perfectly into the style of the movie and also the other players of the cast – Victor/Victoria doesn’t focus itself on its leading lady but is always an ensemble movie that lives from its strong cast – a fact that Julie Andrews gladly realized and she never tries to outshine her cast-members but instead constantly puts the importance of the relationships in the foreground. Especially her chemistry with Robert Preston as her gay friend/agent/supposed lover is the highlight of the whole production.

Julie Andrews enters the story with her most distinctive feature – her singing voice. Her unique soprano can be heard already before her face appears for the first time. Is it believable that a woman with Victoria’s talents cannot find a job as a singer? Hardly, but hey, times are hard in the 30s and so Victoria’s life remains gloomy and hopeless. A wonderful little moment in Julie Andrews’s performance is the scene when Victoria sings a very high note at her audition and then needs to hold on to the wall, as if she has to recover first. But just a few moments later it becomes clear why Victoria lacks the strength to even sing – she’s out of a job and out of money. Weak and hungry, she tells her landlord that she would sleep with him for a meatball – and it becomes clearer than ever that Victoria Grant is definitely no Mary or Maria. Just like Julie Andrews allows herself to be more silly and dirty-minded, she also finds a more desperate and serious note in her performance. Essentially, she gives a performance that combines everything she is famous for but at the same time she constantly finds new shades about herself and more than once rejects and parodies her own image.

Considering that most people think of Victor/Victoria as a musical and the fact it was actually turned into a Broadway show in the 90s, it is a little surprising that there are not really a lot of musical numbers in it. But whenever Julie Andrews is allowed to deliver a catchy tune, she reminds the viewer why she was such a popular musical actress at the beginning of her career. Her singing may actually be better than it ever was – she doesn’t have to overuse her soprano as she used to but is a lot more natural and joyful in her stage scenes. Especially her performance of ‘Le Jazz hot’ is a true show-stopper! And that final note? Let’s just say that Victoria certainly knows her do-re-mi!

Julie Andrews combines the more serious moments in which she shows Victoria’s true desperation with a very light style of over-the-top-comedy. Her scenes in the restaurant with Robert Preston are incredibly overdone but Julie Andrews is so charming and hilarious in these moments that it all works incredibly well. Victoria, a little bit like Maria, is a character who is both independent and dependent from the support of others. She is a rather nice, but at the same time outspoken and practical woman, surrounded by manipulating and mean characters and needs a guidance through her own life. In this case, it is her gay friend who also poses as her lover once Victoria has turned herself into Victor. Ah, yes, there is also the role-playing. To be honest, Julie Andrews is mostly shockingly unbelievable as a man. When she finishes ‘Le Jazz hot’ and takes off her wig, she is basically a woman with short hair. It’s hard to believe that everyone in the audience immediately thinks that she is actually a man. But there’s no use to blame Julie Andrews for this and she also gets some benefit for her believable acting in the more quiet scenes as a man – she finds an intriguing way to become almost ‘sexless’, an androgyny figure with a distinct way of delivering her lines and moving her body. But she unfortunately lacks a lot of the energy and entertainment in those scenes.

Is Julie Andrews sexy? It’s almost obscene to ask this question and when she exposes her breasts in S.O.B. it’s as uncomfortable as to watch your mother do that. Her wholesome image has turned Julie Andrews into a sweet sister, mother or grandmother – but certainly not a sex goddess. And, yes, she also isn’t either sexy nor erotic in Victor/Victoria so it becomes rather questionable when James Garner watches her on the stage with a sort of amazed, fascinated and turned-on look. But Julie Andrews gets some bonus – she may not be erotic but she’s incredibly exotic. She knows how to wear her over-the-top costumes and how to sell her numbers, she’s isn’t trying to be sexy but concentrates on the mysteriousness of this ‘man’ pretending to be a woman. It takes some effort to accept Julie Andrew’s success as a female impersonator – but once one has, it’s not hard to believe that Victoria/Victor becomes such an overnight sensation in Paris. Julie Andrews simply has all the qualities it needs.

On the movie star – character actress-scale, Julie Andrews always placed more on the movie star-side. Most of her performances depend on her own charisma and her strong voice and she rarely ever portrayed a truly challenging role. Victor/Victoria is no difference in this aspect. Victoria Grant needs Julie Andrews’s personality to become such a delight. But Julie Andrews is an actress who is in absolute control of her own image and abilities and knows how to use them to her biggest advantage. She may remove herself from her wholesome image but she never does anything that would be out of her comfort-zone. She is both grown-up and very childish in her part but she’s not perfect and often suffers from the fact that her role is very showy but at the same time lacks any depth or challenge. Her acting is both very controlled but also appears very spontaneous thanks to her comedic timing and lack of self-awareness. She crafts a character that serves the story more than the other way around but Julie Andrews’s magical screen presence helps her to achieve a memorable and captivating performance. For this, she gets

YOUR Best Actress of 1933

Here are the results of the poll:

1. May Robson - Lady for a Day (29 votes)

2. Katharine Hepburn - Morning Glory (27 votes)

3. Diana Wynyard - Cavalcade (9 votes)

Thanks to everyone for voting!


YOUR Best Actress of 1961

Here are the results of the poll:

1. Natalie Wood - Splendor in the Grass (25 votes)

2. Piper Laure - The Hustler & Sophia Loren - La Ciociara (22 votes)

3. Audrey Hepburn - Breakfast at Tiffany's (10 votes)

4. Geraldine Page - Summer and Smoke (8 votes)

Thanks to everyone for voting!


Best Actress 1982

The next year will be 1982 and the nominees were

Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria

Jessica Lange in Frances

Sissy Spacek in Missing

Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice

Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman


Best Actress 1933 - The resolution

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

3. Katharine Hepburn in Morning Glory 

While Katharine Hepburn is an actress that can usually express 1000 emotions at once, in Morning Glory she only emphasized the limitedness of her character instead of fighting against it. It’s a performance that is often disappointing, once captivating, sometimes adequate but never interesting.

While some positive aspects can be found in her work, Diana Wynyard’s performance combines a dated style of acting, an underwritten character that is more a plot device than anything else and an inability to make any true emotional impact. Just like her co-nominee Katharine Hepburn, she ended up delivering one of the most bland and lifeless performances in the history of this category.


It’s hard not to be moved by Apple Annie or feel happy for her in the end, but the character was changed too radically by May Robson and Frank Capra during the run of the story and the whole movie basically forgot about her in the second half. What could have been a wonderful and challenging role that way turned into a mixed performance that still impresses with its early scenes.

Best Actress 1933: Diana Wynyard in "Cavalcade"

Oscar host Will Rogers, who also gave out the awards in 1933, seemed to have a lot of fun with torturing the nominees that year. After having humiliated Frank Capra during the presentation of the Best Director Award, he called Best Actress nominees May Robson and Diana Wynyard on the stage and extensively praised their performances – only to announce afterwards that the winner was the absent Katharine Hepburn. Even though Diana Wynyard, who was mostly working on the British stage during her career, didn’t receive the award, her nomination still showed that, right from the start, the Academy had an enormous love for everything British. And with Cavalcade, they surely couldn’t ask for more – over 30 years of British history told in 100 minutes with a cast of British actors who portrayed both the British upper and lower class.

In her Oscar-nominated role as Jane Marryot Diana Wynyard belonged to the upper class of the story – her character symbolizes the wife and mother of the time, supportive and strong, but also very feminine and constantly worried about the changes in the world and her own life and family. Cavalcade is a largely forgotten winner of the Best Picture Oscar and looking back on it, the movie suffers from a lot of serious problems that range from the static direction to the unimaginative presentation of the various historical events that touch the two families to the mostly wooden and heavily dated acting, which also includes Diana Wynyard’s central performance. Even though she was primarily a stage actress, her work doesn’t suffer from any over-the-top theatrics or exaggerated facial work that was meant for the last row of the second balcony – in this aspect, her work can even be called subtle but she unfortunately still lacks any feeling for the camera or movie acting as a whole. She may not be over-the-top but she is incredibly mannered and affected with a propensity to that melodramatic and artificial acting style from the 30s and 40s. Most of her body movements feel very forced, not calculated, but still very unnatural and without any true feeling behind them. But her most distracting acting choice is done with her eyes – whenever a scene calls for any sort of emotional reaction, may it be sorrow, shock, thoughtfulness, determination, anger or anxiety, she turns her head away from her scene partner and performs a long, wide-eyed stare into either the open space above the camera or the floor beneath the camera. It remains unclear if Diana Wynyard was actually one of the X-Men and tried to use her laser-eyes, if she was keeping her eyes on a midge or if this was simple her panacea for every emotion of Jane Marryot, but she keeps doing it at every possible situation. It’s a very enigmatic face that she keeps in these scenes and it provides endless possibilities of interpretation what her character might feel in these moments but it all simply seems as if neither Jane nor Diana Wynyard were feeling anything at all and that this was the only way for the actress to express her character’s feelings and thoughts. While this might have worked well on a stage, the camera is less forgiving in these cases, especially when they run through the entire performance. At the end, it is simply a very dated acting choice which Diana Wynyard apparently picked to express her inner emotions but at the same time it completely distracts from every single expression in her performance.

To be fair, Diana Wynyard probably knew that she needed some kind of gimmick to not completely get lost in Frank Lloyd’s vision of British history and sequence of war, shipwreck and more war – maybe she told Mama Rose before the shooting ‘Me, I stare and I stare and I stare, stare, stare…but I do it with finesse!’…Who knows. Anyway, the problem that Diana Wynyard faces is that Cavalcade isn’t a movie that tells the story of a family – it only wants to tell the story of various historic events and needs some leitmotif for this purpose. So, all the characters in this story are used mostly as plot devices who have to jump from one event to the other without ever really having a chance to become true, three-dimensional characters since apart from their relation to these historic events, they never are allowed to develop in any way. In the case of Diana Wynyard this means that all she gets to do is either worry about her husband who is at war or about her son who is at war while aging during the process…not really the most exciting or thankful part imaginable. Frank Lloyd also keeps such a distance from the characters to place them in the wide image of his history lessons that no actor has the chance to really create anything lasting or touching. The characters always stay far away from the viewer especially because they are thrown in and out of the story always depending on who is needed at this time in Britain’s history. The death of characters is always completely without every moving effect because they never either became true characters at all or made any emotional connection to the audience. The marriages of Jane and Robert Marryot and of their servants Ellen and Alfred never really make their way into the story – yes, they are married but does it matter if one of them would die? Not really…especially in the case of Jane Marryot, Frank Lloyd’s direction and the screenplay take a rather shocking attitude because this mother of two sons has to endure a lifetime of suffering but it becomes clear that the deaths of her children are only put into the story for some dramatic effect. Somebody probably thought it was a great idea to have a scene on the Titanic, so, why not put one in and let somebody die? And hey, there should also be a scene that tells the viewers that war is tough, so why not let somebody else die, too? The effect these events have on the central character is never shown and Diana Wynyard never gets the chance to display any, apart from a little breakdown in her apartment (after having reacted with a stare into open space first).

So, Diana Wynyard has to fight against a movie that may put her as the central character but is never interested in her as a person but only as a projection of historic events and she also has to fight against a screenplay that never gives her the chance to craft a real character out of Jane Marryot. Unfortunately for her, she lacks the screen presence and the ability to win that fight. Maybe her constant stares were actually looks of accusation and anger at the director behind the camera for having put her in such a hopeless situation…
All this may have sounded very negative and there is surely no reason to deny that Diana Wynyard a) performs very wooden and dated and b) is lost in an underwritten part but what about her actual presence in the movie as it is? She was not able to improve her material or the presentation of her character but she at least succeeded in going along with it. Diana Wynyard doesn’t stand out of the story and impresses with any acting choices but there are still enough moments where her presence and her performance are sufficient. Even though she is surprisingly bland and lifeless most of the time, for some strange reason she is still the only breath of fresh air and when Cavalcade drops her character in the second half of the story to focus on her son, the whole movies becomes even slower and more uninteresting. She accepts her tasks as the suffering wife and mother and, even though unable to build a true emotional foundation, sometimes projects some moving and touching scenes. Especially her anger and desperation, when her husband is at war and a man outside her house keeps playing cheerful music, is done very well and she suddenly becomes very alive and forgets about the open space. She also interacts very well with the child actors of Cavalcade – Diana Wynyard may not have been able to really connect with Clive Brook as the husband but she embraced her role as a symbol of maternal love quite effectively. But overall it seems that the effectiveness of her acting also depends a lot on the structure of her scenes – whenever her character is low and suffers, her stares become much more effective which is probably rather because of the overall impact of the story instead of her acting style. What should also be mentioned in her favor is her ability to age very graceful and, more important, believably. The make-up may do most of the job in this case but Diana Wynyard still fits her line delivery and body movements very subtly to the age of her character. Overall, she slides through the pictures with a definite sense of grace and style and she certainly fits well into the Victorian environment – if only she had slid with a little more life and less melodrama…

So, while some positive aspects can be found in her work, Diana Wynyard’s performance combines a dated style of acting, an underwritten character that is more a plot device than anything else and an inability to make any true emotional impact. Just like her co-nominee Katharine Hepburn, she ended up delivering one of the most bland and lifeless performances in the history of this category and so she can’t get more than

Best Actress 1933: May Robson in "Lady for a Day"

1933 was a good year for Frank Capra. His comedy-drama Lady for Day, a sentimental tale about a woman called ‘Apple Annie’ and a group of gangsters who help her to pass off as a rich society lady, was a success with critics and the public alike and became the first Columbia Pictures release to be nominated for Best Picture. But what probably remains the most famous bit of trivia in Oscar history is the famous incident when, during the Awards ceremony, Oscar host Will Rogers opened the envelope for Best Director and said ‘Come on up and get it, Frank!’ which made Frank Capra jump up with joy and run to the stage until he realized that the winner was Frank Lloyd for Cavalcade.

This little incident, probably the most embarrassing in Oscar history, even outshines the fact that 75-year old May Robson became the oldest acting nominee at this point and would also hold that record for quite a while (later, she would support the woman who beat her at the Oscars, Katharine Hepburn, in the classic comedy Bringing Up Baby). May Robson had mostly acted on the stage up to that point and Frank Capra, who actually wanted Marie Dressler for the part, later appreciated the fact she was a stranger to the public and so easier to accept as a poor woman who sells apples on the streets.

Lady for a Day is a movie with that unmistakable Capra-touch, especially in the second half of the story. This Capra-touch will later harm May Robson’s performance in many ways because she spend the first half of the picture to craft a believable and, despite her rough appearance and behavior, charming character who unfortunately gets lost during the run of the movie – in more than one ways. The supporting players of the story all do nice work but none of them stands out and at the end, Lady for a Day is a nice, harmless and entertaining story that could have given its leading lady a better part overall but at the same time gave May Robson a lot of opportunities to shine in little moments.

Right from the beginning, May Robson disappears into the part of Annie and shows with a strong voice and a decisive body language that she is a real survivor on the streets of New York, a tough, no-nonsense woman who knows her way around and who knows how to take care of herself (and probably would reject any help that came her way). At the same time, she can change between furious outbursts and being a nice, little lady is just a few seconds – probably without noticing it herself. May Robson demonstrates that Annie has completely adjusted herself to this life and she knows how to get the most advantage out of every situation. And May Robson also thankfully never tries to turn Annie’s true character into this nice, little lady – this is only a way for her to get what she wants but in her heart, Annie is a stubborn, rough and often downright rude woman who doesn’t want anyone to love her, or even like her. It’s an intriguing characterization by May Robson who constantly chose to avoid the easy route and found a perfect way, unlike Katharine Hepburn in Morning Glory, to create a woman who almost bursts of unlikable characteristics but becomes strangely fascinating and, yes, likeable at the same time. In her hands, Annie becomes the kind of woman who pushes everyone away and doesn’t let anybody come to close to her, physically and emotionally, but one can’t help but like her anyway. This is also thanks to the fact that May Robson found the right amount of comedy and drama in her performance – she doesn’t want to be funny or charming but her way of acting her angry outbursts or snotty remarks is still very entertaining and sometimes wonderfully humorous. On top of that, there is also a constant feeling of drunkenness in her performance which not only underlines the true character of Apple Annie but in the work of May Robson also adds to the three-dimensionality of this woman. So, in her first scenes, May Robson does some wonderful work and adds a lot of different emotions and characteristics into the character of Apple Annie which helps to provide either the necessary comedy – or the heartbreaking moments of reality in the following scenes.

Because slowly it becomes clear that, underneath the dirty face and dowdy clothes, there actually is the obligatory woman with the heart of gold – but only in one way: in regards to the well-being of her daughter. This daughter is being raised in Europe and Apple Annie is doing her best to give her a life of wealth and comfort – but at the same time she doesn’t want her to know that her mother is living on the streets, selling apples, and so she invented a story to make her daughter believe that she is living in a luxury hotel in New York City. Again, May Robson doesn’t use these scenes to evoke any sympathy in her character and make the audience say with teary eyes ‘Oh look, she’s a nice woman, after all!’, instead, she keeps the hotheaded character alive and shows that the love for her daughter and her tough character go hand-in-hand and don’t cover each other. This becomes especially clear in a very memorable scene in the lobby of the hotel Annie is supposed to live in. So far, an employee of the hotel had taken the letters that her daughter sent and gave them to Annie but when he got fired she has to get the letter herself. The way she walks into the lobby somehow resembles the way Bette Davis would later walk into a bank in Jezebel – with a combination of strong determination and non-caring attitude, the eyes only on her goal and nothing else. These scenes are the highlight in May Robson’s performance as she is able to combine various different feelings and emotions in only a few moments. There is a heartbreaking quality to her work when she begs for her daughter’s letter but at the same time she can be almost frightening in her determination and her request and then she even finds room for a little comedy when she runs behind the boy who is carrying the letters away – all done with the help of her strong voice that can constantly change its tone and volume. It’s a scene that displays both the character of Apple Annie and May Robson’s understanding of her.

The main storyline of Lady for a Day begins when Annie learns from the letter that her daughter is engaged and finally wants to visit her mother in New York. Again, May Robson displays some very heartbreaking scenes, especially her little breakdown at the sidewalk and it becomes even more clear that she is always knowing how to use her scenes – some are to create heartbreaking moments, some are for laughs (especially when she is drunk and her achievement in these scenes becomes even more laudable when compared to most other performers in these early years who would use drunk scenes either for over-the-top comedy or over-the-top drama while May Robson finds a surprisingly subtle way to express them). She also shows that Annie has never been proud of lying to her daughter and feels rather ashamed for it. In these scenes she allows Annie to show a weaker side of her character, a helplessness and the recognition that she can’t deal with this problem alone.

Up to this moment, May Robson has done some very beautiful, moving and funny work and while she never truly needed to carry the picture herself because Lady for a Day also gave various scenes to her gangster-friends, she still managed to become the most interesting aspect of the story. If anything has been working against her so far it’s the limitedness of the character which didn’t allow her to fully display all the possibilities of her talent but she nonetheless did the best she could with the material she was given.
But what follows now is maybe the most shocking case of a movie almost completely dropping its central character that can ever be seen in a motion picture. After Annie’s friends decide to help her and make it possible for her to get a room in the hotel and get her new cloths and turn her into a lady for a day, the character of Annie gets pushed so far into the background that she almost stops to exist. From this moment on, the movie almost completely focuses on the gangsters and how they have to work very hard to keep the charade alive – the movie now gets the famous Capra-touch and shows the importance of friendship and how a group of people that would normally never be expected to be kind and gentle, do their best to help a stubborn, old lady. It’s as if Gone with the Wind would only be about Ashley and Melanie in the second half and let Scarlett drop in from time to time.

During the scene in which they all discuss how to help Annie, May Robson gets to deliver some very moving close-ups that combine a feeling of desperation, shame, fear and disbelief but she isn’t allowed to say a single word and it will be quite some time before May Robson gets to open her mouth again. The unfortunate thing from now on this that not only Lady for a Day seems to forget about its central character – even May Robson loses her connection to her. The transformation of Apple Annie into a sophisticated society lady could have provided endless opportunities for both comedy and drama but in Lady for a Day, the process takes place off-screen and happens apparently in a few hours. In these few hours, not only Annie’s exterior has changed but also her complete character. Suddenly, her loud voice and temperamental behavior are gone and what remains is a true lady. Sure, May Robson does find some moments to show the insecurity in this transformed Annie but overall, she finds no way to connect these two extremes of her character and her earlier interpretation also never would have suggested that such a classy lady was hidden somewhere inside Apple Annie. It’s very unfortunate that both the movie and May Robson so totally forget the old Annie – Lady for a Day now only focuses on the gangsters while May Robson focuses on the new Annie. And while she does these new scenes with a wonderful mixture of grace and loveliness, they are a disappointment nonetheless because they came simply too sudden and are too extreme.

May Robson does use her remaining scenes to shine – only in a different way. Her quiet thankfulness after she has been turned into a lady is very moving but it would have been a more consistent performance if she hadn’t let her exterior influence her acting choices too much and that way lost the spirit of Annie. This, combined with her disappearance in the second half of the picture, make it impossible for her to live up to the great moments at the beginning of her performance. From this moment on, it became a performance of wasted opportunities, both by Capra and by Robson. Even the scenes with her daughter, which are after all the main reason for the whole storyline, feel very rushed and apart from a moving meeting at the piers and a short conversation later in the hotel they never truly share the screen or show any true connection between them. May Robson shows a lot of dignity and quiet strength, especially at the end when she almost confesses her lies, but she mostly feels misdirected in these moments since all these characteristics had never been visible before. May Robson is good in these moments, no doubt about that, but it doesn’t feel right.

It’s hard not to be moved by Apple Annie or feel happy for her in the end, but the character was changed too radically by May Robson and Frank Capra and the whole movie basically forgot about her in the second half. What could have been a wonderful and challenging role that way turned into a mixed performance that still impresses with its early scenes. Overall, May Robson gets


Best Actress 1933: Katharine Hepburn in "Morning Glory"

There is something very special, almost magical about watching the movie that stands at the beginning of Katharine Hepburn’s incomparable career. Morning Glory was only her third film but Katharine Hepburn belongs to the remarkable group of actors and actresses who made an overwhelming impression right at the beginning of their career – in 1932, she gave her highly acclaimed debut in A Bill of Divorcement and her distinctive features, her sharp face and her always visible touch of arrogance and aloofness made her appear almost as exotic and fascinating as Greta Garbo. For Katharine Hepburn, everything seemed to have come very easy – fame, praise and Oscars. 1933 would be the beginning of a love affair that lasted almost 50 years when she would receive her fourth award for On Golden Pond – a record that even Meryl Streep couldn’t match (yet). All this makes the beginning of her career even more fascinating. It shows how she was able right from the start to create this famous screen presence, a combination of strong personality and awe-inspiring talent that helped her get to the top right away and stay there for the rest of her life. Her combination of A Bill of Divorcement, Morning Glory, Christopher Strong and Little Women turned her into one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and not even her noticed presumptuousness and her unwillingness to play the existing rules of the game, which made her also highly suspect in the eyes of fans and colleagues and would turn her into ‘box-office-poison’ very soon, would ever change that. Katharine Hepburn did it her way – all her life.

Because of that, Morning Glory certainly holds a strong fascination for every fan and Oscar follower. Because even though 1933 was ‘her’ year, her win for Best Actress was still an unpopular surprise among Academy members since this newcomer lacked all the visible kindness of other winners before her and she surely didn’t possess the sweetness of other successful newcomers who would later win in this category, like Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews or Marlee Matlin. But it was probably this novelty and imparity that made it so impossible for voters to ignore her even though she constantly ignored them. Looking back on the race, it seems perhaps surprising that she wasn’t competing with her most famous part from that year – as Joe in George Cukor’s Little Women. But in some ways, Morning Glory was simply the perfect vehicle to carry this new and exciting star to Oscar gold since she played a new and exciting actress who is hoping for her big break and becomes an overnight sensation on Broadway – Oscar couldn’t ask for a better chance. Besides being new and exciting, this actress named Eva Lovelace seemed to have been a true alter ego of Katharine Hepburn at this stage of her life – she’s young, talented and arrogant. It’s an interesting combination of actress and part because Eva Lovelace seems to inhabit everything that Katharine Hepburn was and still is famous for. So, it must have seemed very logical to reward her for a role that seemed both mirror her own situation and character but also took a darker look at the price of success and showed the vulnerability behind the self-assurance of these young actresses – Eva and Kate.

So, the question after watching Morning Glory is: what went wrong? On paper, it seems to have all the ingredients for a captivating look behind the glamour of show business and at the arrival of a new star, but unfortunately, all these interesting aspects came together in a shockingly banal, lifeless and bland story. And even more shocking: Katharine Hepburn’s performance is just as banal, lifeless and bland. In the part of Eva Lovelace, she lacks everything that usually makes her such a delightful and entertaining screen presence – charm, honest confidence, poise, appeal and, most importantly, the ability to turn every material into gold. If Morning Glory hadn’t starred Katharine Hepburn, it would have disappeared from the face of earth. And even with Katharine Hepburn it surely wouldn’t have been remembered and it can only be attributed to her Oscar win that the film still exists. The problems of Morning Glory can be found in almost every aspect – the script, the character of Eva and the performance of Katharine Hepburn. Morning Glory isn’t the typical backstage-drama it proclaims to be. Actually, there is hardly any backstage or drama. The only clichéd part of the plot is the obligatory diva who leaves the show on opening night and so makes way for the unknown Eva to become an overnight sensation. Before these scenes, the whole story barely touches the theatre world because Eva Lovelace isn’t part of this world herself yet. She’s an unknown, still willing to take lessons, hoping to find a job. Like A Star is Born in 1937, Morning Glory presents a hopeful, naïve young actress at its center and never really concerns itself with the question if this young actress even has the talent to fulfill her dreams. At the same time, the movie takes a surprisingly unconcerned view on its main character – it doesn’t really care who Eva Lovelace is and instead focuses on who she wants to be. Acting seems to be her main goal but somehow this is a largely absent topic even though everybody constantly talks about it – at the beginning, Morning Glory focuses on her ambitions, in the middle it shows how these ambitions were crushed and at the end how they are fulfilled but it’s done in such a rushed way that never connects the character and the story that it becomes almost aimless in it’s presentation. Granted, with only 70 minutes of running time there may have been not enough room to fully develop the characters and the story but even these 70 minutes are spend very unwisely and a much better movie easily could have been made with this running time. The movie focuses on Eva Lovelace as its main character but at the same time it so often drops her or pushes her to the side even when she is actually in the center of a scene that it’s impossible for the viewer to follow the intentions of the story – are we supposed to admire Eva, pity her, hate her, love her? This doesn’t mean that the movie leaves room for interpretation – it actually makes it very clear that we should love Eva but unfortunately neither the script nor Katharine Hepburn give any reason why we should.

The biggest problem can be found in Katharine Hepburn’s characterization of this aspiring young actress. The character could have been played with a certain childlike naivety but Katharine Hepburn is too self-aware to portray such a woman and that way she tried to cover Eva’s single-mindedness with an overwhelming amount of arrogance. She invests her with nothing else but an incredibly monotonous and annoying voice that goes non-stop and never changes its tone for any emotional connection. It’s a voice that is certainly filled with the right amount of self-assurance but she isn’t able to use her usual strengths, especially her dominance of the screen, to her advantage but instead loses the character of Eva and the viewer’s interest in her before she even tries to find them. Especially the introduction of Eva is working against the actress playing her – the first part of Morning Glory takes place in the office of an agent and the room in front of his office where Eva is waiting, hoping to get some attention. Different characters come and go and even though it’s clear that Eva is the central character, Morning Glory gives just as much time and space to its underdeveloped supporting players. Because of this, Katharine Hepburn spends the first 30 minutes sitting around, delivering her unappealing lines with an unappealing voice and mannerism from time to time and waiting. The right actress might have been able to get a tighter grip on the part and create a more captivating character but Katharine Hepburn only underlines the static natures of the scenes with a characterization that lacks every bit of life or passion. Morning Glory faces the problem that it’s a story that wants to be different from the usual movies from this genre. Usually, the young and aspiring actress is personified innocence, delicate and helpless, waiting for her big chance. In this case, Eva Lovelace is rather the opposite. She almost bursts with arrogance and self-assurance and instead of presenting her inspiring way up the ladder of success, Morning Glory actually seems to enjoy to destroy her self-assurance by denying her the big break in the middle and humiliate her at an important party and later she even begins a futureless, and in the plot of the movie needless, affair with an older man. In this way, Katharine Hepburn’s early characterization makes sense and there is no denying that she shows a change in Eva – at the end of the movie, she has learned quite a few lessons, in both her professional and her private life, the arrogance is (mostly) gone but what still remains is Katharine Hepburn’s lifelessness and her inability to lift her underwritten character to a higher level. It’s obvious that it’s a thought through performance and that Katharine Hepburn knows what she wants to express but the problem with this performance is how she expressed it. Like Bette Davis in her early work, Katharine Hepburn didn’t quite know how to project the novelty of herself and that way exaggerated everything that was so new and unusual about her. She doesn’t know, as she would later in The Philadelphia Story or Woman of the Year, how to project the arrogance of her character without making her unlikable or loosing the interest of the viewers. In the case of Morning Glory, she glides through the scenes with too much room between herself and her character. Neither Eva nor Katharine seem to be really interested in this story.

The problem in the character of Eva is the fact that she is arrogant and too sure of herself even though she doesn’t have any real acting experience to prove it but at the same time she is able to capture the attention of various people with her (supposed) charm and noteworthiness. Unfortunately Katharine Hepburn didn’t find this balance in her performance. And she not only neglected the charming part of her performance, she also almost forgot about Eva as an aspiring actress, too. In Shakespeare in Love, Gwyneth Paltrow was able to display this burning desire to become an actress, the longing for the stage and her love for poetry with a beautiful simplicity and believable passion. Of course, Eva Lovelace and Viola de Lesseps are two completely different characters and it’s the goal of Shakespeare in Love to portray Viola with the utmost sweetness and kindness while Morning Glory aims for a different goal but still – in all her speeches about acting and the stage, Katharine Hepburn is so robot-like, so rid of every true emotion and too focused on Eva’s arrogance that she loses all possibilities she could have found in her character. When she walks around the entrance hall of the agency at the beginning and looks of the pictures of famous actresses, she seems only to be there with her body but not her mind. But even an arrogant character needs to be portrayed in a way that evokes a feeling in the viewer, may it be understanding, annoyance or dislike. Unfortunately, Katharine Hepburn’s approach to the part lacks every emotion and that way she did nothing but evoke boredom and disinterest and it’s hard to understand why everybody around her doesn’t react in the same way. So, Katharine Hepburn might have taken a more difficult route when she decided not to win any sympathy in her portrayal but at the same time she also took a wrong route when she placed her characterization too far out of the context of the story.

Because of the structure of the scene which makes Eva Lovelace an almost unnoticed presence and Katharine Hepburn’s monotonous performance, the introduction of the character fails completely and when Morning Glory finally shifts its focus on her, Katharine Hepburn still plays her scenes with too much boredom and lack of spirit to overcome the first negative impressions. In the middle part of the story, Eva seems to have come to the lowest level of her life and it’s not clear if she has enough money to eat or rent a room but it’s mentioned shortly that her first job was a big failure. But the movie finally puts Eva Lovelace, the actress, in the center during a party when she is drunk and decides to play scenes from Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet for the party crowd. These scenes are certainly beautiful to watch and Katharine Hepburn’s soft delivery and delicate touch comes surprisingly sudden especially because she has showed in the minutes before that playing drunk isn’t very easy and made it look rather ridiculous. But in these few moments, Katharine Hepburn suddenly shows the abilities inside herself and inside Eva. The whole moment could have been too out-of-context, appear lost in the middle of the party scene but her recital of Shakespeare’s poetry is so earnest and so beautiful that it makes sense that everybody stops talking and others fall in love with her at this moment. Instead of using the scene for comedic effect, Katharine Hepburn risked a lot and succeeded by doing this scene straight-forward – that way, it became almost the only time she made the right choice in her interpretation.

Katharine Hepburn made an intellectual approach to the role which does make sense in some ways since Eva Lovelace is a very self-aware character but she completely forget every single emotion for her part. Even her teary break-down in her dressing room before her performance is incredibly ineffective because she rushes her lines with such hurry and at this point of the story, it’s hard to tell if anybody even cares about Eva’s fate anymore. And considering how much time the movie gave to rather unimportant or overlong scenes, the final solution is done in a very rushed way and Katharine Hepburn constantly looses against the weaknesses of the script and the direction. Janet Gaynor may have faced similar problems in A Star is Born but she was still able to get more out of her material and she also succeeded in her chemistry with her co-stars and carried the romantic part of her storyline with ease. Katharine Hepburn unfortunately never really connects with any of her co-stars and also the private experiences of her character fail to become memorable which is more the fault of the screenplay that seemed to have felt the need for some dirt, too, and threw in the love affair without any reason. These complaints are certainly not meant as a suggestion that an actress like Janet Gaynor might have been more appropriate for the part. Her natural sweetness would have been lost among the snobby dialogue and it certainly would have been hard to portray Eva as written in a more positive and captivating light – but that’s the challenge of the role and Katharine Hepburn wasn’t up to it at this point in her career. Only in the moments when Eva is at her lowest does Katharine Hepburn find moments to impress – her quiet walk out of the apartment the next day, her talk to Fairbanks, Jr. where she begins to see herself in a different light and her quiet, accepting reaction to the break-up of the affair in her dressing room after her big success on Broadway are done very memorable and if her whole performance had been on this level, Eva Lovelace might actually have become a very intriguing character but as it is, they are only loose moments of occasional adequacy almost lost in an overall ineffective portrayal.

While Katharine Hepburn is an actress that can usually express 1000 emotions at once, she emphasized the limitedness of the character in Morning Glory instead of fighting against it. Her interpretation makes it seem as if she couldn’t care less about the character she plays or the movie she is in – so why should the viewer care? This way, the whole movie basically collapses because if the central character isn’t able to carry the story and provide the journey to follow, what else can the audience follow? It’s neither a star-making performance nor a promised yet unfulfilled, instead it’s a disappointing prologue to one of the greatest careers in Hollywood history. At the end, Eva happily proclaims that she doesn’t mind the possibility of being only a morning glory that comes and goes. ‘I’m not afraid!’, she shouts. ‘I don’t care’, I want to answer. In her recital of Hamlet, Katharine Hepburn asked ‘to be or not to be’. It seems, that for herself, she decided not to be this time. It’s a performance that is often disappointing, once captivating, sometimes adequate but never interesting. Overall, it’s one of the most uninspired entrances in the history of this category and for this she gets