My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress 1938: Bette Davis in "Jezebel"

After Dangerous won her an Oscar she mostly considered a ‘consolation price’ for not having been nominated for her star-marking performance in Of Human Bondage the year before, Bette Davis suffered the same fate Luise Rainer would suffer two years later – finding that an Oscar win was considered a good way by producers to take an acclaimed actress and give her weak material in the hope that critics would not notice the weakness because of the involvement of an Oscar-winning actress. Luise Rainer surrendered to this treatment and left Hollywood for good only a short time after she had become the first two-time winning actress in Oscar history (of course, her personal problems and dislike for the Hollywood way of life did not exactly encourage her to stay either…). Bette Davis also left Hollywood – but only to fight against the studio system that was forcing her to play parts she did not want and were not worth her talents as an actress. Even though she did not win the legal battle that followed her departure to Great Britain, she received better material nonetheless and would start a basically unparalleled streak of financial and critical successes which brought her a record five consecutive Best Actress nominations. At the beginning of this stood Jezebel, the movie that would win Bette Davis her second and final Oscar (it certainly must be wonderful to win two Oscars so early in your career but it can’t be much fun to receive unsuccessful nomination after unsuccessful nomination after that) for her portrayal of the head-strong, popular but also manipulative Southern Belle Julie Marsden.

Jezebel seems to be a movie that is always standing in the shadow of a much bigger, more spectacular and more famous saga of the old South that amazed the world one year later – Gone with the Wind. And yes, the comparisons are easy to make – a headstrong Southern belle who ruins the lives of many because of her selfish character, the love of her life who is married to another woman and the whole structure of the movie which puts the actions and doings of this woman into its center. Even David O. Selznick wrote to Jack Warner how unpleased he was about Jezebel since he saw it as a movie that featured a lot of scenes and characters similar to his upcoming Gone with the Wind. Well, he surely didn’t need to worry – until this day, Gone with the Wind is the classic of classics, a timeless masterpiece and while Jezebel surely has its fans and admirers, it doesn’t even come close to its ‘bigger brother’. And Vivien Leigh has also basically defined the character of the Southern Belle so strongly that hardly any other approach at this character has a chance to shine simply because the comparisons will always be made. But Bette Davis did, after all, attack this kind of role one year before Vivien Leigh did and even though Julie Marsden is no Scarlett O’Hara, Bette Davis was given very strong material and brought the character of Julie to life with a very impressive combination of fierce strength and tender loveliness. So maybe a comparison with Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara would not do Bette Davis’s performance any favors – but performances should only be judged on their own merit and considering that Bette Davis was entering the most celebrated period of her work, it’s no surprise that her performance is strong, memorable and captivating.

Bette Davis was an actress who could easily go overboard. She knew that she was different in her willingness to attack all her parts with uncompromising honesty and dedication – and she was very eager to make sure that everybody else knew so, too. That’s why very often her performances tend to go over-the-top because Bette Davis may have known what she could do but she did not really know how to use her gifts – she did not seem to have the instincts that told her when to hold back or when to decide that ‘less is more’. Instead, she always wanted to display that her characters are larger than life and that she had no problems to show her characters as unpleasant, appalling or plain shocking. This talent and this willingness of Bette Davis was both her greatest advantage and her greatest flaw – because in the hands of a director who was not able to handle Bette Davis and guide her in a way in which she used her instincts and talents without exaggerating them, her performances could easily enter the dangerous territory of incredibility, fulsomeness and overall rather resemble an out-of-control wild animal than a talented actress. Because of this, it was certainly a wonderful coincidence that Jezebel marked the beginning of Bette Davis’s collaboration with director William Wyler. Like few others, William Wyler knew how to handle Bette Davis and how to use all her talents and gifts for the advantage of the movie and the character she was playing. It might have often taken up to 50 take to get a scene right but Bette Davis apparently did not mind because she knew that he was guiding her the right way and therefore also respected his decisions. A less skilled director might easily have let Bette Davis ‘do her thing’ and considering the emotional structure of Julie Marsden, this might have led to an over-the-top and uncomfortable portrayal but the combination of Wyler and Davis turned out to be a wonderful success that they would repeat later with The Letter and The Little Foxes.

Jezebel is certainly a star-vehicle – Fay Bainter won a well-deserved Oscar for her supporting role as Julie’s worrying aunt but the whole movie is completely focused on its leading lady, highlighting her performance and her eyes at every possible moment and using the supporting cast as one huge vessel that only exists to feed her lines and let her character go through various different scenes of emotional intensity. But Bette Davis was indeed an actress who could carry such tasks – because in 1938 she already completed trusted her own talents and the strength of her own work. She knew what she could do and William Wyler helped her to do what would work. So many scenes are displayed with an intriguing subtlety by Bette Davis that works much better than any grand emotions would ever have – her reaction to Pres’s introduction of his wife which she only registers with a slightly surprised ‘Your wife?’ while everything is happening behind her eyes or her way of manipulating Pres to take her to the ball in her red dress by questioning his ability to defend her honor are moments that turn Julie into a very engaging character who is able to fascinate the audience despite her questionable actions. Bette Davis constructs Julie as a woman who is too confident of herself and constantly likes to tease those around her, especially Pres. She uses every chance to question his love or find new ways to test his devotion as if she is trying to make sure that she is always ahead of him, unwilling to become a ‘little wife’. Julie is a woman who is unable to control herself – she often reacts out of spite, out of anger or out of frustration. In this way, Jezebel often treats the central character in a rather disappointing way – everything about Jezebel seems to indicate that Julie is to blame for all that is happening and that she deserves every bit of misery in her life. But Bette Davis succeeds in showing Julie’s inner depth and how she is unable to stop herself, overestimating her own power and influence and that way keeps the character’s dignity and fascination alive. Bette Davis clearly has her fun with this role – maybe because Julie, too, likes to do what she feels is right and likes to test the limits of her own abilities. When she arrives late for her own party and then enters the room in her riding dress, it's a perfect symbiosis of character and actress loving what they do at this moment.

Bette Davis knows how to guide Julie through her many personal ups and downs. The look on her face when she enters the ball room and slowly changes from spiteful pride to real fear is done beautifully and her close-ups also turn this whole sequence into the movie’s most memorable moment. Her dance with Pres is basically the end of her life as it used to be – she gambled and she lost. She lost the respect of the town, her own power, her self-confidence and the love of her fiancée. The movie again may take too much pleasure in humiliating Julie at this moment but Bette Davis knows how to play the scene without letting Julie become a defeated victim of her own doings. And in the following scene she shows how Julie is again unwilling to bend her own character to prevent the inevitable break-up with Pres. Bette Davis especially knows how to combine the fake pride of Julie with her hurt feelings and desperation and that way makes the later scenes when she kneels in front of Pres and asks him to forgive her in an attempt to win him back both chilling and believable – Bette Davis has so far shown a lot of strength in Julie but also weakness and the recognition of her own flaws. But the vulnerability of Julie is never visible for a long time as the arrival of Pres with his new wife again turn her into the old, manipulating and short-tempered woman that has already ruined her own life once before. Bette Davis biggest accomplishment in the second half of Jezebel is that she never makes it unbelievable that Julie does indeed love Pres – the scene in the garden could easy have seemed like an attempt by a spoiled child to get a precious toy only because another child is playing with it. But Bette Davis always shows that, behind her strong pride and anger, Julie does act out of love and the hopelessness of her own situation. Moments like her singing with the slaves or her attempt to prevent a duel between two men only emphasize the impression that Julie is constantly acting both out of honesty and resentfulness.

The ‘Southern Belle’ is certainly a great character for every actress. It allows her to be lovely and dangerous, honest and pretending, charming and repellent, fascinating and disappointing. And to make all this work, the actress needs to display a huge amount of personal strength and personality because she needs to make it understandable why this woman always gets away with her doings, why she always becomes the center of attention and why she can basically manipulate everyone the way she wants without hardly any consequences. Bette Davis certainly had this overpowering screen presence and she used it very wisely for the part of Julie – but sometimes she did not fully grasp the complexities and demands of the role. This means that she knew how to project the both manipulating and lovely woman and the structure of Jezebel turns Julie into an ‘outsider’ rather often as most people mostly see through her intentions but Bette Davis sometimes did not fully give reason to the still very important popularity of Julie Marsden. Even in her most relaxed and charming moments, Bette Davis’s Julie appears to be mostly acting, even looking down on those around her – while this is certainly true to her character, a bit more convincing joviality at this moment would have been needed. It seems that another comparison with Vivien Leigh is necessary – she perfectly understood how to create Scarlett O’Hara as a woman who is clearly playing with everyone around her but possessed all the necessary character traits to get away with it. Bette Davis’s own powerful screen presence sometimes seemed to get in the way of the delicacy of Julie Marsden.

But in the case of Bette Davis in Jezebel, these are complaints on a high level. Her overall take on this character is spellbinding, entertaining and unforgettable. Bette Davis’s mysterious screen personality may have prevented her from creating a complete Southern Belle but it turned other moments, even simple ones like walking into a bank, into movie magic. And because of her ability to show various different aspects in Julie’s character while also displaying an honest core, she was also able to make the final moments of Jezebel believable without turning them into hollow pathos. Her overall performance does not quite make the cut to a 4,5 but she gets as close to it as possible. So, her beautiful and enchanting performance receives a very strong


Best Actress 1938

The next year will be 1938 and the nominees were

Fay Bainter in White Banners

Bette Davis in Jezebel

Wendy Hiller in Pygmalion

Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette

Margaret Sullavan in Three Comrades


Best Actress 1944: The resolution

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

5. Bette Davis in Mr. Skeffington

In her attempt to turn Fanny into a charming and lovely socialite while also showing her many flaws, Bette Davis crafted a most unfortunate creation, rid of any appeal or logic and that way unable to carry such a long and character-driven story. She clearly saw the tasks she was given with this role but her way of bringing this character to live is often a failure and sometimes even unbearable.

Claudette Colbert gives an effective, charming, sometimes moving, sometimes humorous performance that isn’t necessarily a great achievement in acting but still a delightful and memorable pierce of work, especially considering how underwritten and underused the character of Anne Hilton actually is.

Greer Garson may not truly create something otherworldly in her performance but the sheer energy and naturalness she shows in this part is enough to praise her for having done so much with so little. There is warmth, wisdom and strength in her portrayal and she also combines the woman of the present-day scenes perfectly with the woman of the flashback scenes.

2. Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight

Ingrid Bergman found a wonderful way to use an acting style that is both modern and ‘old Hollywood’ to give a performance that remains constantly impressive because of both the technical outside and the emotional, three-dimensional inside. She turns Gaslight into a dark and suspenseful ride, fulfilling the tasks of the story while adding her own personality and screen presence to craft a powerful and lasting presence.


Barbara Stanwyck added the needed mysteriousness and eroticism to the role but she was not afraid to show a more vulgar and common side in her character which helped her to achieve a much more realistic and three-dimensional performance. She lies to the audience about Phyllis while telling them the truth at the same time. A very engaging, dangerous and spellbinding performance.

Best Actress 1944: Claudette Colbert in "Since you went Away"

Almost all reviews of Since you went Away compare Selznick’s American home front sage to the Best Picture winner of 1942, the British home front saga Mrs. Miniver. And why not? Both movies take a look at families during World War II and both feature a strong mother-figure who must hold her family together. The big difference are the circumstances that these families and women have to endure – Mrs. Miniver had her husband by her side but she had to worry about her oldest son who had joined the Royal Air Force and she also had to capture a German pilot in her kitchen and suffer through various air-rids before the movie is over. Claudette Colbert’s Anne Hilton on the other hand benefits from an ocean between her home and the European battlefields so there need to be no worries about Nazis in her kitchen or bombs above her head. But unlike Mrs. Miniver, Anne Hilton has to mourn the absence of her husband who has gone to fight in the war and left her with her two daughters. For a movie, the story of Mrs. Miniver certainly offers much more interesting aspects and plots since war is a much more real and tangible presence. Since you went Away focuses on the day-to-day life of a family without a husband and father and had to include various subplots that feel rather unnecessary very often but without them the movie could never have achieved the running time of 172 minutes – which probably would have upset David O. Selznick very much since a long running time can only mean epic and epic can only mean Oscar. But in 1944, Academy voters were looking for in another direction and instead of war they voted for singing priests and instead of a strong and caring mother they voted for a wife slowly driven insane by her husband.

Since you went Away is certainly an interesting movie that serves as a time capsule for the time it was made in and therefore is presented with a lot of honesty and realism while also adding an expected amount of sentimentality and patriotism. But even though, the story mostly lacks focus when it comes to what it wants to present and very often the movie shifts from a story about a family during war time to a teenage romance or a comedy and it mostly guides its character and cast through overly constructed plots and situations. There is also a reason why Since you went Away is not called 'Mrs. Hilton' – it is a much stronger ensemble movie than Mrs. Miniver and does not present the character of Anne Hilton as its true center. Rather, Since you went Away focuses on Jennifer Jones as the oldest daughter of the family and it also never gives Claudette Colbert the same dramatic opportunities and moments as Mrs. Miniver did for Greer Garson. This lack of true depth or character development made it necessary to cast an actress in the role of Anne Hilton with enough earthy charm and personality to prevent the character from dropping too far into the background. And Claudette Colbert was certainly the right kind of actress for this kind of part.

Ten years after she won an Oscar for her role in the legendary comedy It happened one Night, Claudette Colbert received her third and final Oscar nomination for the much more conventional part of Anne Hilton. This character certainly benefited from Claudette Colbert’s screen personality even though it did not allow her any truly grand steps as an actress. In her part, Claudette Colbert is mostly reduced to re-acting, very seldom is she allowed to anchor any moments of the story and whenever she does find herself in the center of attention it is mostly for obligatory dramatic scenes. She does handle those scenes well, no question about it, but they never help her to make a bigger impact on the overall storyline. But all this does not mean that Claudette Colbert is invisible in Since you went Away – her strong screen presence and talent as an actress certainly prevent this but as the movie goes on, she does became a more and more fleeting presence even though she uses every bit of her screen time wisely. Claudette Colbert’s biggest misfortune is that the part of Anne Hilton not only offers no true challenge for her but the structure of Since you went Away also works in a way that makes her absence never truly noticeable – Anne Hilton is not the kind of character one misses when she not onscreen, rather she comes and goes without any changes in the overall tone of the movie.

Still, Claudette Colbert is a lovely and strong presence in Since you went Away and even though she may not be its emotional centre she still was able to craft a strong, loveable, caring and three-dimensional human being while gliding through the story with undeniable elegance and charm that helped her to add that little extra spark to Anne Hilton which also was visible in so many other of the characters she played. The husband of Anne Hilton, who is so sorely missed during the entire movie, is already gone when Since you went Away begins. In the movie’s first scene, Claudette Colbert shows Anne sorrows, worries and pains as she comes home after she said goodbye to her husband and has to face her house and her life without him. Claudette Colbert’s facial work in this moment is certainly excellent as she projects all the different emotions that Anne Hilton is experiencing at this moment but her voice-over during this scene is just a tad too melodramatic and sometimes rather distracts from the seriousness of the scene instead of emphasizing it. A crying scene when she is alone in her bedroom also does not truly work in the dramatic context it is supposed to do because her crying feels rather exaggerated, as if Claudette Colbert was still the spoiled Ellie Andrews, and the musical score also underlines the scene with a rather cheery melody as if the movie wants the audience to laugh about this woman because she is basically helpless without a man at her side.

Claudette Colbert improves her performance as the movie goes on, especially after Joseph Cotton entered it as a close friend who openly admits that he has more feelings than friendship. The plot itself may seem rather forced but Claudette Colbert and Joseph Cotton have a wonderful chemistry together and never exaggerate the drama in their scenes – instead, both actors treat their relationship with humor and dignity and the storyline allows Claudette Colbert to shine in what she does so well: be earthy, elegant, charming and real at the same time. She also works nicely with Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple as her daughters, playing the kind of mother a lot of children can only dream of – understanding, loving, guiding and full of joy and life. Especially her scenes with Jennifer Jones provide Claudette Colbert with various dramatic moments that contrast nicely with her otherwise charming and humorous work – when she has to tell her daughter some terrible news, Claudette Colbert manages to be just as moving as Jennifer Jones, showing a mother experiencing all the pain of her daughter at this moment.

So, Claudette Colbert is always strong whenever she is on the screen and actually asked to do something with her character but overall the part suffers from the conventional storytelling that does not see in Anne Hilton anything more than a wise and caring mother (even though the storyline with Joseph Cotton adds some welcome ‘pep’ to the proceedings) and presents her only with limited opportunities and challenges. Claudette Colbert knows how to craft her character and how to show a woman who is simultaneously missing her husband, organizing her family, charming an old friend, worrying about money and the future and must keep up a façade of strength and courage for the sake of her children. But all this happens mostly scene by scene, always depending on what the screenplay actually asks of her. Claudette Colbert does leave the movie on a high note, so – the scene when she discovers a Christmas present from her husband and is overcome with emotions, joy and sadness, is a wonderful example of old Hollywood melodrama done completely right.

Overall, Claudette Colbert gives an effective, charming, sometimes moving, sometimes humorous performance that isn’t necessarily a great achievement in acting but still a delightful and memorable pierce of work, especially considering how underwritten and underused Anne Hilton actually is. For all this, Claudette Colbert receives


Best Actress 1944: Bette Davis in "Mr. Skeffington"

In 1943, Bette Davis’s husband collapsed while he walked down a street and died a few days later. It was revealed that his death was caused by a skull fracture and Hollywood’s biggest star had to testify before an inquest about her knowledge of an incident that might have caused his injury. Various sources report that Bette Davis did not know of any incident while others mention that she stated that her husband fell down a stair some time ago. A definite answer was never found and an incidental death was declared. Bette Davis apparently wanted some time off after this personal tragedy but was convinced by Jack Warner to start on her next film, Mr. Skeffington. Filming was unsurprisingly not easy for her – or for anyone else. The famous temperament of Bette Davis was apparently on full mood during this production and her outbursts, demands and complaints caused a lot of tension on the set. Such emotional tension might often lead to the creation of a brilliant performance but critics were not fully convinced this time – the Academy might have given her another nod for her work but Mr. Skeffington marked the end of her era as Hollywood’s most celebrated and powerful actress. She did not receive another nomination during this decade and slowly lost more and more of her fame and appeal until All about Eve brought her back into the spotlight.

All about Eve is actually a good place to start this review. You might wonder why since this movie was shot 6 years after Mr. Skeffington. But All about Eve is such a legendary and well-known movie which almost everybody has seen in their lifetime while Mr. Skeffington is a rather forgotten piece of work. And so, for all those who have not seen Mr. Skeffington and want to know more about Bette Davis’s performance in it, let me paint you a picture with the help of Margo Channing. There is a very famous scene in All about Eve in which Margo Channing finds out that Eve Harrington had been made her understudy without her knowledge. Margo storms into the theatre – but pretends not to know anything about Eve nor about the fact that she arrived much too late. But Margo Channing, even though a great actress, cannot fool anyone – her chirpy voice, her exaggerated smile, her big eyes all make clear that this woman is only pretending at this moment when she says things like ‘What’s all over?’ or ‘Eve? My understudy? I had no idea.’ Well, imagine Bette Davis using this acting style for 145 minutes – and you have her performance in Mr. Skeffington.

Pauline Kael famously wrote about Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man that he was ‘humping one note on a piano for two hours and eleven minutes.’ This review also perfectly sums up Bette Davis’s performance in Mr. Skeffington – with one big difference. In her case, she is humping the same wrong note on the piano. In my review of Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie I wrote that, in order to create a very eccentric, unusual and unconventional character an actress constantly has to walk a thin line between authentic and implausible, between larger-than-life and exaggerated, between domineering and oppressive. And while Maggie Smith did all this wonderfully right, Bette Davis did all this shockingly wrong. It’s easy to see what she was trying to archive – her Fanny is an empty-headed socialite, a woman who has no thought in her head apart from worrying about her looks and her beauty but Bette Davis so completely overdid her interpretation that she is not even able to see the line separating character and caricature anymore. Of course, an ignorant and gold-digging socialite could certainly be played in many different ways but Bette Davis for some reason decided to show Fanny as a collection of wide eyes and a high-pitched voice that delivers every line with an exaggerated naivety and that way made herself completely unable to create this character as the woman that is described, presented and supposed to carry this story. ‘She always look so…extreme’ – words from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie but also very fitting for Bette Davis in Mr. Skeffington. But in the case of Maggie Smith they were used to describe a woman who does not fit into her conservative environment and were spoken by another movie character. In the case of Bette Davis they are spoken by me and they are not used to describe a character not fitting in but an actress not fitting in. I know that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder but it’s simply shocking how Bette Davis could look so appalling only two years after she had done Now, Voyager and showed the world for always what a unique beauty she truly was. In Mr. Skeffington, her whole look is so unexplainably off-putting, a combination of Bette Davis’s own way of presenting her character and a make-up team that must have either been blind or on a personal vendetta against Bette Davis. In Now, Voyager, I could have accepted other characters calling her the prettiest girl in town, in Mr. Skeffington these words are only the top of a mountain full of problems. Considering that Bette Davis looks like Baby Jane in some early parts of the movie it simply cannot be taken seriously when other women want to look like her and wonder how she keeps so beautiful. As I said, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and I don’t blame Bette Davis for her looks in this movie since she looked so incredibly beautiful two years earlier but I blame her for exaggerating her acting so much that even her looks suffered from it since her facial work in Mr. Skeffington is very often almost grotesque – again, it’s commendable that she did not present Fanny as the typical Southern-belle-character and was not afraid to show her emptiness and shallowness without even trying to make her appealing in any way but by showing the true nature of Fanny to the audience she forgot to show a more pleasing, charming and winning side in the context of Mr. Skeffington. A high-pitched voice and big eyes may project all the internal flaws of Fanny but they don’t help to turn her into the most sought-after girl in town.

Bette Davis obviously wanted to show the superficiality of Fanny and to her defense, the character as written does exist of nothing else than superficiality. When her brother tells her that he is going to Europe, her answer is only a wondering ‘But isn’t there a war going on there?’. It is an incredibly challenging task for an actress to play such an empty-minded character in a way that is captivating the audience and it becomes even more challenging when the character is such a collection of fussy mannerisms and theatrical eccentricities – Bette Davis clearly saw the tasks she was given with this role but her way of bringing this character to live is often a failure and sometimes even unbearable. I always come back to Maggie Smith’s Jean Brodie because she’s such a perfect example of how to do right what Bette Davis did wrong – Maggie Smith knew where to stop, she know how to project that exaggerated acting style for an entire movie without ever losing the reality of her character. Bette Davis on the other hand lost the battle almost right from the start – her way of flirting with all the men at a party or later acting all coquettish with Mr. Skeffington to save the honor of her brother rather resembles a 40-year old Julie Marsden acting like a 12-year old on drugs. In her attempt to turn Fanny into a charming and lovely socialite while also showing her many flaws Bette Davis crafted a most unfortunate creation, one rid of any appeal or logic and that way unable to carry such a long and character-driven story. The movie makes you wonder if Bette Davis had become a parody of herself by 1944 – the big eyes, the eccentric behavior or her high-pitched voice all seem to indicate that she is running on auto-pilot, trusting on the effect of her performance and keeping the same tone in her voice, the same look in her eyes and the same delivery of her lines for the entire movie without any shades or nuances.

Bette Davis’s flat interpretation of this woman almost always comes at the expense of any true drama or character development. This superficial performance may seem very appropriate for such a superficial character – but Bette Davis’s unappealing performance does not consist of any noteworthy emotional honesty or depth which, even a character like this, needs to project in order to become believable. Bette Davis’s performance remains artificial even when it is supposed to be real. The biggest compliment she can receive is that she is at least consistent in her work because this makes it clear that Bette Davis certainly had a very clear idea of who Fanny was and how she wanted to present her – but as mentioned in the beginning, the challenge of the part lies in the ability to make Fanny both real and artificial and Bette Davis did not find this balance in her performance. She can be applauded for her decision to not go the easy route with Fanny but she cannot be applauded for the way she tried to realize this difficult route.

The part of Fanny is certainly an interesting one and offers an actress a lot of challenges – she goes from a beautiful socialite to an ugly, disease-ridden lonely woman who recognizes the truly important things in life while going along. And a role like this usually fits Bette Davis like a glove and there are some instances when she actually does find a human being underneath her own performance – but all these moments happen so rarely and are simply overshadowed by the dominant grotesque nature of her work which makes Geraldine Page appear tic-less. The frustrating truth of Bette Davis’s performance is the fact that her instincts are so often right – she shows the ugly sides of a supposedly beautiful woman until she shows the beautiful sides of a supposedly ugly woman. Her performance also becomes much more mannered as the movie goes along and again it makes sense that Fanny tries to maintain her youth with a coquettish behavior but all of Bette Davis’s instincts are never turned into a performance that bring them to life. It can be said that everything Bette Davis did was part of her character but, as mentioned before, she crossed the thin line between ‘success’ and ‘failure’ far too often.

I thought for a long time about the possible rating for this performance. Performances that receive a three are called ‘unsatisfying’ while performances with a 2,5 are called ‘disappointing’. And while I admire Bette Davis for doing something different with this role, all the aspects mentioned in this review are certainly a reason to call this performance a big disappointment. So, the grade for Bette Davis’s work is


Best Actress 1944: Greer Garson in "Mrs. Parkington"

Somehow, Greer Garson always seems like a perfect product of the 40s. Very often she projected that typical, rather dated acting style from those years, a certain melodrama that dominates her performances and includes long stares into the open space, very controlled body movements, a posing in front of the camera and a tendency to milk every scene for dramatic effect. But Greer Garson had one, no two important advantages over other actresses from that era that helped her to become a product of her time while appearing strangely timeless, too – namely the ability to combine her acting style with a certain naturalism that enabled her to appear surprisingly fresh and spontaneous and a huge amount of charm that carried most of her work and made it possible for her not to rely only on her talent for melodrama but also to fill her character with poise, sweetness and dignity. She never had to rely on over-the-top crying scenes or hysteric breakdowns to command the screen – the phrase ‘less is more’ was certainly the credo of her acting performances. And this combination of charm, naturalism, subtlety and obvious melodrama resulted in performances that are almost always entertaining and lovely to look at even though they may never truly appear like truly grand achievements. From a modern point-of-view, most of her work may appear rather harmless and limited, even though also satisfying enough to make it understandable that she used to be such an Oscar darling during her reign. But more than her old-fashioned acting style it is the quality of her movies has damaged the reputation of Greer Garson over the years. By 1944, she would probably have been nominated for reading the phone book – even though she was clearly capable of more. But for an actress of her status it does seem confusing that she was so seldom cast in movies that truly deserved her. Next to her, Bette Davis is the only other actress to have received 5 consecutive nominations for Best Actress. But Bette Davis starred in Jezebel, Dark Victory, The Letter, The Little Foxes and Now, Voyager – all of them classics in their own way and hardly forgotten. Greer Garson made her Oscar-run with Blossoms in the Dust, Mrs. Miniver, Madame Curie, Mrs. Parkington and Valley of Decision. Mrs. Miniver is at least a winner of the Best Picture award, even though a rather forgotten one, but the rest of these movies are standard melodrama without any true recommendable features apart from its leading lady. This does not mean that these movies resemble pictures like Sophie’s Choice or Monster which are also average movies but with overpowering lead performances. A Greer-Garson-movie is always a rather dated, lifeless and unremarkable experience, even with Greer Garson’s charming presence. And these dated and unremarkable movies also did hardly ever offer this actress truly challenging parts but mostly let her do what she did best – be gracious, charming, shed some tears and hold her head in the right angle in front of the camera.

This all sounds maybe rather confusing. Was she a good actress or a bad actress? Well, the answer is easy: definitely a good actress but she’s always caught in her own limited range and never as great as one might expect her to be, considering her overall 7 Best Actress nods. And what about her role as Susie Parkington in the not very cleverly titled Mrs. Parkington? Well, the movie itself is the average Greer-Garson-vehicle – and even among them it is rather sub-standard but it also offers the wonderful realization that Greer Garson could truly rise above her material sometimes even when she still did not move herself outside her own comfort zone. Mrs. Parkington receives all its energy and emotional content from Greer Garson and she single-handedly prevents the movie from collapsing under its own melodrama and pretentiousness. Mrs. Parkington only exists to supply the leading actress with a flashy part and so it forgot everything else – from a well-written screenplay to an appealing supporting cast (with one exception) to any other interesting characters (again, with one exception). So basically, her performance should not differ very much from most of her other turns, Oscar-nominated or not. And in a lot of ways it doesn’t – but there is something about Greer Garson’s work in Mrs. Parkington that somehow comes together so beautifully entertaining, moving and captivating that she and her performance, even though in no way unique or a step out of her comfort zone, feels somehow more impressive than it usually does. Again, this does not mean that this performance will secure her a place among the all-time greats but she does project such an admirable character out of paper-thin writing that it feels hard to deny her a little more respect than usually.

Mrs. Parkington, as mentioned before, is neither the height of sophistication nor of entertainment. It does what so many movies during the 40s did – tell the story of a woman’s life in flashbacks while the present challenges her with various serious problems and situations. Mrs. Parkington – the movie and the character – ask a lot of Greer Garson; she has to be a young, poor girl working in her mother's guest house who marries a wealthy Major from whom she begins to distance herself until she realizes in the end that she indeed loves him. All this while the present-day Susie has to deal with her spoiled children who certainly did not turn out the way she probably hoped they would have. The movie also covers a large part of Susie’s life – from her days as a young woman to an old grandmother. Yes, it is indeed a showy role and Greer Garson plays it with her usual mix of freshness and old-fashioned posing but still with a stronger emphasis on her natural and charming side than her melodramatic one. When Greer Garson first enters the movie, in her old-woman make-up, the whole performance basically depends on the first few seconds of her work – is she convincing and that way invites the audience to follow her story or does it all appear too unconvincing to be anything else than preposterous? Thankfully Greer Garson did everything right in this first moment – the way she nods at her family which is waiting for her downstairs is so different from her usual graceful self and in just a few moments communicates the feelings of a proud, loveable and lively woman, a woman who undoubtedly looks back at a long and eventful life. Greer Garson captured the spirit of this woman so well in this moment that she creates the foundation of everything to follow in this single scene.

In Mrs. Parkington, Greer Garson certainly faces one of the most curious dilemmas in movie history: she manages to be both too young and too old for her role. But as just mentioned, she solves the dilemma of the old Susie Parkington extremely well – there is warmth, wisdom and strength in her portrayal and she also combines the woman of the present-day scenes perfectly with the woman of the flashback scenes. There are obvious moments when the audience certainly has to wonder how her children could turn out to be such problems but Greer Garson manages to show that Susie is wondering the same, too, and therefore does not need to give an answer because there is none. Greer Garson’s performance does not work quite as well during her early flashback scenes – her age is far too visible in these moments and she sometimes simply lacks credibility as an unsophisticated woman growing up in the middle of nowhere. But Greer Garson again is much more relaxed, open and honest in her portrayal than usual – she does not speak for a long time after the inevitable Walter Pidgeon appeard but the lusty and fascinated looks she is throwing at him make her intentions perfectly clear. Greer Garson also did not overdo these scenes – she did not try to copy girlish charm or teenaged attraction but kept her characterization very low-key. The biggest problems in Greer Garson’s performance come during the early scenes with Walter Pidgeon but she is not to be blamed for them – in Pidgeon, she has an impossibly pompous screen partner, playing a purely despicable character. During what is certainly supposed to be a romantic scene when they are both talking at night on a balcony, they hear a man slap his wife which only causes Parkington to say ‘Ah, he must love her very much’ before he asks Susie if she would like to be thrashed by him. Even Greer Garson seems to be lost in this scene. Later, things get even worse when Susie’s mother dies – a death for which Parkington could be indirectly blamed. But Greer Garson reacts to the news of her mother’s death only with a stern look without any emotional content. But maybe she cannot believe that the script is actually forcing her to listen to Parkington trying to cheer her up by telling her she must come to New York with him. Again, maybe Greer Garson’s lost expression is her inability to find any kind of emotional outlet for a horrible scene like this and it’s hard to blame her but she could have at least tried…Later, she suddenly finds an unexpected shining moment among this insulting plotline. The scene in which Parkington proposes to her is again almost offensive but her delivery of the line ‘Oh, Major Parkington’, which is basically her agreement to his proposal, is as good as it gets under the circumstances, maybe even better. She finds the right amount of surprise, delight, doubt and fear in this short sentence without any sentimental exaggeration.

Later, the chemistry between both actors improves especially because they never play the love between their characters as something pure, unique and eternal – instead, they give a realistic portrayal of a marriage that was half out of love and halt out of convenience while these two different personalities get used to each other. Greer Garson also shows the growth in Susie with slow, logical steps – it’s an inevitable process as Susie needs to find her place in New York’s society and deal with the behavior of her husband which is causing unhappiness and ruin around them. Her sad, painful looks during a ruined dinner party and later the scene when she leaves him because she cannot stand his behavior anymore are done very movingly by Greer Garson. Overall, it’s very impressive to watch how she takes Susie from the naïve, inexperienced girl to a woman who takes her life into her own hands, intervened with the scenes of a wise and loving grandmother.

Greer Garson’s chemistry with Walter Pidgeon may sometimes lack the necessary spark and plausibility but she always works extremely well with Agnes Mooreheard – the aforementioned exception to the unimpressive supporting cast. As a French aristocrat, she gives new life and energy into the movie whenever the two leads lack too much of it. In her relationship to the Baroness, Greer Garson again shows a constant growth in Susie – first, she does not know if she can trust this woman who used to be an important part in the life of her husband and then, step by step, develops a true and meaningful friendship with her.

Greer Garson may not truly create something otherworldly in her performance but the sheer energy and naturalness she shows in this part is enough to praise her for having done so much with so little. The way she constantly blows her hair out her face is maybe a simple and banal characteristic that often comes at the expense of more important emotional reactions but she does it with so much vitality and so often contrasts with her usual screen personality while never leaving her comfort zone that it’s quite simply much more intriguing and entertaining than expected. The audience certainly wonders how a woman who found so much strength insider herself during the run of the movie could accept such behavior from her children – and so the final scene of Mrs. Parkington, when the older Susie suddenly finds her youthful spirit again and decides to act the way she thinks is best, brings the whole character of Susie to full circle. For all this, Greer Garson receives


YOUR Best Actress of 1975

Here are the results of the poll:

1. Isabelle Adjani - L'Histoire d'Adèle H. (30 votes)

2. Louise Fletcher - One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (20 votes)

3. Glenda Jackson - Hedda (7 votes)

4. Ann-Margret - Tommy (5 votes)

5. Carole Kane - Hester Street (1 vote)

Thanks to everyone for voting!

Best Actress 1944: Barbara Stanwyck in "Double Indemnity"

The trivia regarding Barbara Stanwyck’s participation in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity is certainly one of the most interesting and well-known in Hollywood-history. After the actress expressed her doubts about the role since it was so different from the characters she usually played, Billy Wilder simply asked her ‘Well, are you a mouse or an actress?’ Definitely a wonderful question that should have been asked much more often in the old days of Hollywood when so many actors and actresses were afraid to play roles outside of their carefully constructed screen image. And so, Barbara Stanwyck said yes to what would become the signature performance of her career in Hollywood’s most famous film-noir.

Barbara Stanwyck is an actress who doesn’t have the same lasting effect as other actresses from her era, like Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn or Ingrid Bergman. But the reason is not that she didn’t offer the same amount of talent – because, oh, she did! – but because there was never something truly ‘Barbara-Stanwyck’-like about her. Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn had such strong personalities which they brought to every role they played – no matter how deeply they sunk into their parts, their performances are always a ‘Bette-Davis-performance’ or a ‘Katharine-Hepburn-performance’. This does not mean that they couldn’t disappear into their parts – because, oh, they did – but it means that they always left their mark on the characters they played. Barbara Stanwyck was different simply because she lacked that strong, unmistakable screen presence – don’t get me wrong, she possessed a lot of strength on the screen but she never felt truly unique or one-of-a-kind. Because of this, she was able to disappear into her parts like very few actresses from her time did – she could be a supportive mother, a sassy moll, a terrified murder victim or a cold, manipulative femme fatale. Of course, the success of all these performances varied – some are strong, some are weak – but Barbara Stanwyck always became one with the character she was playing. There is a reason why so many people can easily imitate Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn or Ingrid Bergman – but how would you imitate Barbara Stanwyck? And so Barbara Stanwyck might have been nervous about playing a role like Phyllis Dietrichson, a cold woman convincing an insurance salesman to help her kill her husband, but it was no surprise that she was fully up to the task adjusting her own acting style to the character she was playing and the movie she was appearing in. Well, but how did she use this ability in regards to actually crafting and playing this character?

Double Indemnity is a movie that not necessarily makes it easy for the actors appearing in it. The script follows a very clever idea but it suffers from the fact that the dialogue is sometimes almost unbearably exaggerated in the way it constantly presents clever one-liners, double entendres, tough talk and much, much more. On top of that, the characters in Double Indemnity rather resemble a cardboard, missing true life and recognizable humanity. So, the screenplay of Double Indemnity could easy have ruined the entire experience – if there hadn’t been an outstanding director and actors who were able to give the characters the life and depth they missed on the page. Billy Wilder created the perfect atmosphere to make the story of Phyllis Dietrichson and Walter Neff believable – that undeniable ‘film noir’-atmosphere, an aura that isn’t real but a stylized creation. And if a director is able to achieve the tasks the screenplay has given him, then it results in a perfect symbiosis – and then also the screenplay, that exaggerated, undeveloped screenplay, turns into something wonderful. The trick is that only if the atmosphere of a film noir has been successfully created the screenplay can unfold its magic – if the director is not up to the task, everything will only seem like a cheap melodrama from the 40s instead of a timeless classic. Well, as mentioned before, Billy Wilder was certainly up to the task of creating this unique world of Double Indemnity – so what about the actors? Were they able to take their thin characters and play them in a way that turned them into human beings that are both real but simultaneously just as surreal as their environment? Thankfully yes. Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson both perfectly understood their material, the screenplay’s guidelines and Billy Wilder’s vision and that way delivered very strong performances that wonderfully contributed to the success of the movie. And, of course, Barbara Stanwyck did so, too.

In her work, Barbara Stanwyck perfectly combined the realism of her own acting with a very stylized approach – everything about her, from the way she uses her eyes right down to the movement of her body, works together to create a woman that can be seen as both: realistic and surreal, able to stand as a rational creation while appearing to be something right out of a dark fairy tale. With her performance, she was able to combine the need for realism to carry the plot with the need for stylized substance to carry the style of the movie. Phyllis Dietrichson is a character that can exist in the world of Double Indemnity just as well as in a more realistic, authentic context. But even beyond that, she inserted various different interpretations into Phyllis Dietrichson and was able to project them all the same time. She never tried to turn this woman into something extraordinary, a cold-blooded symbol of evil, but instead always keeps her extremely ordinary, even appalling as the story moves along. She is not an elegant and mysterious Lady McBeth but rather a spoiled and lazy woman who wants her own comfort above everything else. And it’s thrilling to see how Barbara Stanwyck gives reason after reason why this woman should neither be trusted nor be admired while also turning her into an endlessly fascinating creation. The fact that Barbara Stanwyck could make this woman completely common and unique at the same time is surely a grand achievement that helped to turn Double Indemnity into such a classic. Because Barbara Stanwyck does not only present these two point-of-views on her character at the same time, but she also develops them both as the movie moves forward. Phyllis Dietrichson may appear extremely fascinating at first but the more one watches her, the more she turns into a repellent creation – but mysteriously Barbara Stanwyck herself remains strangely unaffected by that. Phyllis Dietrichson may appear common and loathly but Barbara Stanwyck always remains completely watchable and captivating as she has complete control over Phyllis, her transformation into her and her distance from her. This is also shown by Barbara Stanwyck’s ability to make Phyllis so incredibly…ungifted. When she fist tries to seduce Walter or especially during her scene at the insurance agency after the death of her husband, it becomes clear that Phyllis is not a woman who can hide her true feelings completely. Her complaints about the treatment she receives at the agency are done by Barbara Stanwyck with a brilliant double-meaning as she acts in a way that always makes it clear that Phyllis is hiding something but this is only clear because the audience knows the truth. At the same time, she tries her best to be as convincing as possible at this moment but it's understandable if the character of Edward G. Robinson senses that something is not right. Barbara Stanwyck manages to always make Phyllis an amateur, maybe a very gifted one but still an amateur, an impatient woman trying her best to get her wishes fulfilled but often too simple and obvious, unable to deliver all the necessary techniques for the aims she wants to achieve. She doesn’t make her intentions a secret when she meets Walter as Barbara Stanwyck shows that Phyllis is naïve enough to believe that she could either fool Walter or win him over in a few seconds. Everything about her Phyllis seems like a cover – but there isn’t much underneath it. Barbara Stanwyck is not afraid to show how empty Phyllis Dietrichson really is. Phyllis isn’t a woman that is trying to hide the deeper truth inside her because there is not much depth or truth inside of her. Barbara Stanwyck lets Phyllis become much more authentic whenever she is acting according to her own instincts, free from danger, judgment or even view – her facial work during the scene in which she is hiding behind a door is an outstanding sight that perfectly mirrors the tension of the scene while somehow also showing how much Phyllis is enjoying this moment, the thrill of the danger and the intimacy of the crime that bound her together with Walter.

As already mentioned, the screenplay offers the biggest obstacle for Barbara Stanwyck – not only is the character of Phyllis strangely underdeveloped and presented as a woman that only exists to hate her husband but Double Indemnity also puts her into various situations that could easily destroy almost any performance. A lot of times movies want to make the audience believe that two people could fall in love at first sight – by now, this cliché has been presented so many times in so many different movies that it somehow became believable. But Double Indemnity asks of Barbara Stanwyck not only to make Fred MacMacMurray’s Walter fall in love with her but becomes obsessed with her and accept her proposal to kill her husband – all pretty much during the first scenes of the movie. No actress should be able to make such a plot believable – but if the story lacks credibility here, Barbara Stanwyck does not. She does not try to make the premise of the plot believable at this point but instead focuses on the interconnection between herself and Fred MacMurray. And again, both actors are able to completely merge in the atmosphere of their movie and that way create a credibility in their story that a lot of actors would have failed to do. Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis is not sexy in the traditional meaning of the word – the horrible wig, the strangely cut cloths, her hardened face that never appears truly soft all create a woman that is almost rid of any true admirable features but Barbara Stanwyck managed to find a level of mature eroticism in Phyllis that allowed her to make everything about her plausible. She doesn't need to be sexy because she is actually much mure. She and Fred MacMurray basically turned the first half of Double Indemnity in one long sexual act – from their foreplay to their first intimacies to the growing heat and tension of the plot. And if their plan develops like an sexual intercourse, then Barbara Stanwyck’s face during the scene in the car tells very clearly when Phyllis reaches her climax. That little smile, that satisfied look in her eyes, that complete pleasure, projected with so much subtlety, is an unforgettable moment. During the whole movie, Barbara Stanwyck knows how to use her face most effectively to display desire, sneer, hate and lust. With this, she always underlines the tension of Double Indemnity perfectly.

It’s easy to see why this performance became a role model for all femme fatales to follow while never having been copied – Barbara Stanwyck added the needed mysteriousness and eroticism to the role but she was not afraid to show a more vulgar and common side in her character which helped her to achieve a much more realistic and three-dimensional performance. She lies to the audience about Phyllis while telling them the truth at the same time. A very engaging, dangerous and spellbinding performance that receives


Best Actress 1944: Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight"

Even though Ingrid Bergman did not win an Oscar for her work during 1945, this year was always considered the peak of her Hollywood career. Her work in The Bells of St. Mary’s, Spellbound and Saratoga Trunk only further cemented her reputation as Hollywood’s biggest and most celebrated star. But in some ways, 1944 was the essential Ingrid-Bergman-year. After her roles as Lisa in the Best-Picture-winner Casablanca and as Maria in the movie version of Ernest Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell tolls failed to win her the golden statuette in 1943, she probably would have won for any kind of role in 1944 as Academy members must have been dying to honour her for her talent, her charming personality and her status as one of Hollywood’s most shining stars. But in 1944, Ingrid Bergman did not just offer any kind of role to the Oscar voters but probably one of the showiest in movie history as a woman who is haunted by the dark memories of her aunt’s murder and then slowly starting to lose her mind after she moved into her aunt’s old home. Very seldom must an Oscar win have been such a done deal as in this case – the combination of Ingrid Bergman’s popularity and the nature of her role made her an easy Oscar winner and it’s hard to imagine that past champions Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis and Greer Garson or the Oscar-less Barbara Stanwyck had a true chance for the win.

Gaslight is a movie that wants to be a lot – a psychological thriller, a crime story, a love story, a character study, a domestic drama, sometimes even a comedy. Such a mix of many different genres could usually leave actors rather helpless about what they are actually supposed to do with their character, especially if the movie itself doesn’t know how to handle its different genres. But thankfully Gaslight is a masterful and perfectly realized piece of work, a movie that develops like a slow nightmare, becoming more and more surreal and threatening as the story movies along. A lot of this is owed to George Cukor’s direction and the dark and gloomy atmosphere with which Number 9, Thornton Square, has been created but most of all, Gaslight is a character-driven story in which the tone and the mood of the story almost completely depend on the performances by the two central actors. And among these two central actors, it is Ingrid Bergman who really lifts Gaslight to such a high level of excellence, developing a co-dependence in which she constantly benefits from the strong material she is given while creating a feeling of desperation, helplessness and lost innocence that haunts and improves the entire movie from start to finish. In her performance, she does not only serve the tension of Gaslight but also develops something beneath the suspense, a believable character, a true and honest creation that fits into the aura of the movie but beyond that also exists as an independent foundation for a less suspenseful and more authentic and human focus. In other words, her character is not only a flat device in service of the movie’s aims but became a full circle, complete from all angles. Ingrid Bergman created Paula Alquist as a woman who is much more than a scared, fearful and obedient creature – thanks to her strong screen presence, her performance became very dominant despite the nature of the role and that way she turned the fight of Paul Alquist, her fight against her own mind, into a much more intriguing, shocking and memorable odyssey than other actresses might have. The 1940 version of Gaslight showed that the role of Paula may be extremely showy but this does not mean that a performance automatically turns into something special – Diana Wynyard’s mousy, hectic, lost and often weak performance feels too calculated, too pale and too uninterested, even for a character who is basically all these things. Ingrid Bergman on the other hand filled her performance with a vast amount of energy, even in Paula’s weakest moments, and always kept a tight grip on her and her intentions – it may be a calculated performance in some parts but Ingrid Bergman’s acting style always feels so spontaneous, so ‘in-the-moment’ and so unaffected that she is never in danger of appearing like the puppet master who is pulling Paula’s strings, leaving this role to Charles Boyer as her husband.

The role of Paula demands of Ingrid Bergman to give a performance that is both very emotional but also very technical. And she manages not only to succeed in both parts but also combine them. Her wide eyes, her fearful whisper, the panic slowly creeping into her eyes when she begins to hear footsteps above her head are all done masterfully but these technical aspects never turn her performance into a masque because she always makes Paula’s emotions perfectly clear – not only her fear, but also her doubt, her search for explanation and ultimately her growing suspicion. With small steps, Ingrid Bergman shows how Paula slowly changes from fearing the past to fearing an unknown present and finally to fearing a very well-known person. When Joseph Cotton’s character tells her that she knows very well who is making the noise above her, Ingrid Bergman doesn’t let Paula react with fierce disbelief but rather a helpless denial, a last try to hide the truth she already knows because just as much as she fears her own decline she also fears the consequences of the truth since it would smash her life into pieces and shows that everything she used to believe was only a lie. In this way, Ingrid Bergman does not forget that Gaslight is not only the story of a woman who believes that she is going insane but also the story of a false marriage, of misused trust and betrayal. In all these aspects, Ingrid Bergman has a wonderful screen partner in Charles Boyer with whom she also shares just the right chemistry – what starts as love soon becomes a child-like dependence, mistrust, suspicion, fear and even hate. Of course, Charles Boyer’s performance never makes it a secret what is going on in Number 9, Thornton Place, which was a very wise decision not only by him but also by the screenplay since it gives the story a psychologically much more interesting angle - Gaslight never asks ‘Who?’ but instead focuses on Paula’s personal battle for survival and the loss of love she is experiencing.

Right from the start, Ingrid Bergman’s performance creates the suspension of Gaslight – even though her acting style never feels calculated, she still has a lot of control over her character. And she uses this to demonstrate how Paula is constantly suffering from the memories of her aunt’s murder and how these memories slowly begin to torture her. During the first half of the movie, Ingrid Bergman beautifully demonstrates how Paul is trying to find a different life even though she is unable to forget the past, still sensing that her past is not finished with her. Later, Ingrid Bergman shows a certain change in Paula, she seems to become more relaxed as happiness and love begin to fill her life. And then, step by step, she again changes her – first, she develops a certain nervousness, a shyness that prevents her from leaving the house she both fears and loves as it offers her security but is haunting her at the same time. Paula is caught in a vicious circle in which she is constantly being told that she is losing her mind until she believes it, too. It could be very easy to dismiss Paula as a character simply because she comes from a time when a woman could be such an easy and almost willing victim for a man simply because she believes his words more than her own thoughts – but Ingrid Bergman’s performance makes it almost impossible not to be absorbed by Paula’s fate.

Ingrid Bergman also made the admirable choice not to let Paula appear like a deer caught in a trap to win the audience’s sympathy. She lets Paula’s fears and terrors always be very private since they happen so secluded in the privateness of her own home. She also never lets Paula appear weak by nature – she actually shows that there is a lot of strength in her but she is being mentally attacked exactly at her one single weakness, her fear of her house and the memories she has of it. Because of this, her final confrontation scene is easily the highpoint in her whole performance simply because it sums up everything about Paula so perfectly. The combination of Ingrid Bergman’s technical strength with her emotional clarity creates a fascinating finale to this exhausting journey.

In this performance, Ingrid Bergman did a lot more than rely of the effects of her technical brilliance. She gave a reason to Paula’s actions and fears, makes it understandable why she fears her maid and even begins to doubt herself. Nothing that Paula apparently does makes any sense and so it’s only logical to see her struggling with her illogical actions. Ingrid Bergman underlines this with a lot of acting choices that might be expected but are still thrilling to watch – her break-down at the piano party, her inability to read a book as she keeps hearing the voice of her husband in her head, her quiet walk, her half-closed eyes, her own voice that turns more and more into a whisper as she herself turns into a mere shadow of herself – it’s all done with marvellous determination that is equally shocking, entertaining, fascinating and worrying. She runs a vast scale of emotions, often in just a few seconds – she can change between begging her husband like a child not leave her only to explode with fear just a few moments later, she can laugh and dance like a little girl only to be terrorized by the thought of having taken down a picture from the wall the next moment. Ingrid Bergman took a very passive part and turned it into the motor of the story – nothing that Paula does seems to be by her own will but she is still the most deciding character in the movie thanks to Ingrid Bergman’s ability to give a fervid characterization of such an introvert woman.

Overall, Ingrid Bergman found a wonderful way to use an acting style that is both modern and ‘old Hollywood’ to give a performance that remains constantly impressive because of both the technical outside and the emotional, three-dimensional inside. She turns Gaslight into a dark and suspenseful ride, fulfilling the tasks of the story while adding her own personality and screen presence to craft a powerful and lasting presence. For this she receives


Best Actress 1944

The next year will be 1944 and the nominees were

Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight

Claudette Colbert in Since you went Away

Bette Davis in Mr. Skeffington

Greer Garson in Mrs. Parkington

Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity

The ranking of the judged performances so far...

5 new performances enter the ranking of the Best Actress nominees!

Here is how I rank the 133 judged performances so far (new additions in bold):

Best of the Best

01. Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves (1996)
02. Marion Cotillard in La Môme (2007)
03. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
04. Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice (1982)
05. Jessica Lange in Frances (1982)
06. Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)
07. Luise Rainer in The Good Earth (1937)
08. Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday (1950)
09. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
10. Meryl Streep in A Cry in the Dark (1988)
11. Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
12. Bette Davis in All about Eve (1950)
13. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
14. Joan Fontaine in Rebecca (1940)
15. Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake (2004)
16. Judy Garland in A Star is Born (1954)
17. Katharine Hepburn in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
18. Bette Davis in Dark Victory (1939)

Really Fantastic

19. Brenda Blethyn in Secrets and Lies (1996)
20. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
21. Frances McDormand in Fargo (1996)
22. Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998)
23. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
24. Louise Fletcher in One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
25. Isabelle Adjani in L'Histoire d'Adèle H. (1975)


26. Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby (2004)
27. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
28. Sophia Loren in La Ciociara (1961)
29. Ingrid Bergman in Höstsonaten (1978)
30. Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman (1978)
31. Audrey Hepburn in The Nun's Story (1959)
32. Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass (1961)
33. Elizabeth Hartman in A Patch of Blue (1965)
34. Julie Christie in McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
35. Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
36. Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple (1985)
37. Annette Bening in Being Julia (2004)
38. Catalina Sandino Moreno in Maria Full of Grace (2004)
39. Glenda Jackson in Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
40. Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story (1940)
41. Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge! (2001)
42. Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
43. Kristin Scott Thomas in The English Patient (1996)

Really Great

44. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)
45. Simone Signoret in Room at the Top (1959)
46. Kate Winslet in The Reader (2008)
47. Renée Zellweger in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
48. Eleanor Parker in Caged (1950)
49. Sissy Spacek in In the Bedroom (2001)
50. Fernanda Montenegro in Central do Brasil (1998)
51. Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist (1988)
52. Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
53. Laura Linney in The Savages (2007)
54. Greta Garbo in Camille (1937)
55. Julie Christie in Darling (1965)
56. Jane Fonda in They shoot Horses, don't they? (1969)


57. Jessica Lange in Sweet Dreams (1985)
58. Deborah Kerr in The King and I (1956)
59. Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married (2008)
60. Carroll Baker in Baby Doll (1956)
61. Grace Kelly in The Country Girl (1954)
62. Susan Hayward in Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947)
63. Jodie Foster in The Accused (1988)
64. Geraldine Page in Interiors (1978)
65. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
66. Rosalind Russell in Mourning Becomes Electra (1947)
67. Glenda Jackson in Hedda (1975)
68. Samantha Eggar in The Collector (1965)
69. Emily Watson in Hilary and Jackie (1998)
70. Bette Davis in The Letter (1940)
71. Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle (1940)
72. Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love (1998)
73. Ellen Page in Juno (2007)
74. Julie Christie in Away from Her (2007)
75. Jean Simmons in The Happy Ending (1969)
76. Meryl Streep in Doubt (2008)
77. Bette Davis in Now, Voyager (1942)
78. Halle Berry in Monster's Ball (2001)
79. Meryl Streep in Out of Africa (1985)
80. Piper Laurie in The Hustler (1961)
81. Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth (1937)
82. Geneviève Bujold in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)
83. Liza Minnelli in The Sterile Cuckoo (1969)
84. Geraldine Page in Summer and Smoke (1961)
85. Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria (1982)
86. Judi Dench in Iris (2001)

Very Good

87. Greer Garson in Mrs. Miniver (1942)
88. Melissa Leo in Frozen River (2008)
89. Joan Crawford in Possessed (1947)
90. Jane Fonda in Klute (1971)
91. Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)
92. Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday (1953)
93. Carole Kane in Hester Street (1975)
94. Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)


95. Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina (1954)
96. Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones (1954)
97. Simone Signoret in Ship of Fools (1965)
98. Sissy Spacek in Missing (1982)
99. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
100. Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
101. Maggie McNamara in The Moon is Blue (1953)
102. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)
103. Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year (1942)
104. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
105. Anne Baxter in All about Eve (1950)
106. Janet Gaynor in A Star is Born (1937)
107. Leslie Caron in Lili (1953)
108. Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark (1967)
109. Angelina Jolie in Changeling (2008)
110. May Robson in Lady for a Day (1933)
111. Irene Dunne in Love Affair (1939)
112. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
113. Janet Suzman in Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)
114. Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia (1956)
115. Jane Wyman in Magnificent Obsession (1954)
116. Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas (1937)


117. Ava Gardener in Mogambo (1953)
118. Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
119. Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
120. Anne Bancroft in Agnes of God (1985)
121. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
122. Nancy Kelly in The Bad Seed (1956)
123. Rosalind Russell in My Sister Eileen (1942)
124. Loretta Young in The Farmer's Daughter (1947)
125. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who's coming to dinner (1967)
126. Martha Scott in Our Town (1940)
127. Ann-Margret in Tommy (1975)
128. Katharine Hepburn in The Rainmaker (1956)


129. Dorothy McGuire in Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
130. Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978)
131. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1933)
132. Katharine Hepburn in Morning Glory (1933)


133. Melanie Griffith in Working Girl (1988)

Best Actress 1975 - The resolution

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

Ann-Margret is bad, she’s good, she’s memorable, she’s forgettable, she jumps from one scene to another without any creation of a character but still comes out as the most recommendable aspect of Tommy at the end. Hardly any other performance is so confusing and makes it so hard to rate for the sheer awfulness that surrounds it, the sheer over-the-topness that almost destroys is and the sheer dedication that saves it.

Carole Kane plays Gitl with the right amount of silence and self-confidence but Hester Street is such a small frame for her work that it constantly seems to hold her down. But she still guides Gitl through her process of growing independence from her husband with a beautiful amount of emotional confusion and fills the limitations of her role beautifully.

Glenda Jackson may be harmed both by the limits of her movie and the limits of her acting which never explored the full character of Hedda but focused mainly on her sinister side but the results are still strangely satisfying, mainly because of Glenda Jackson's own screen presence and impressive talents which allowed her to give an exciting and memorable performance.

2. Isabelle Adjani in L'Histoire d'Adèle H.

Isabelle Adjani gave a brilliant and haunting performance that stands as one of the most memorable and effective displays of human downfall ever presented. She never tried to hide the limitations of her role but instead presented Adèle’s constant lies, her almost rational way of inventing stories, her growing obsession and loss of stability as a thrilling journey which she realized with a subtle and provoking piece of work.

Louise Fletcher turned Nurse Ratched into a force to be reckoned with without making it noticeable, letting all the evil happen behind her stone-faced façade. This way she let her become a thrilling enigma, a woman whose thoughts and intentions always remain in the dark and are therefore impossible to grasp. It may be that Louise Fletcher benefited from the way the character was written and presented but it's still her presence, her face, her voice and her ability to show so much with so little that brought Nurse Ratched to live and made her an everlasting part of movie history.