Wendy Hiller’s win for Best Supporting Actress is another proof that, sometimes, the Academy likes to honour performances that are completely unspectacular and simple at the first look – there’s no big emotional outburst, no children to chose between, no horrible death to mourn. Instead, Wendy Hiller beautifully showed how powerful subtlety can be.
Wendy Hiller plays Pat Cooper, the owner of a little hotel at the English shore who finds herself in love triangle with Burt Lancaster and Rita Hayworth.
What’s so beautiful about this performance is how wonderful it looks when Wendy Hiller simply does some normal work: the way she walks around the hotel, checking if everything is alright, always being nice to the guests – in a few scenes, Wendy Hiller turns Pat Cooper into a symbol of efficiency.
But then his ex-wife, Rita Hayworth checks in at the hotel and wants him back, too. Pat seems to see her defeat already, telling John: ‘I always knew in my heart that you were still in love with her.’ Pat Cooper is a woman who doesn’t want to show her feelings and finds herself very quick in a difficult conflict: she has to be nice to her rival who is, after all, a guest in her own house and in whom she sees the pain and the sorrow over John while she also has to take care of the other problems in the house (especially concerning a delicate incident with Major Pollack) and during all this she also has to try to find a way how to organize her own feelings. When one of the guests tells her that she in an ‘alone-type’, Pat replies ‘I’m very glad you think so perhaps even gladder than you realize.’
Wendy Hiller plays Pat as the kind of woman everyone comes to with their problems because they know that if anyone is able to help them, it’s her– even John, who is after all her fiancé, later comes to her and wants to get some advice about his ex-wife. And Pat, being the woman she is, sees that he and his ex-wife are still meant for each other and helps them to see it, too – with the same efficiency she uses to run her house.
It’s a performance that shows how much can often be hidden underneath what may seem simple at first.