My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress 1963: Rachel Roberts in "This Sporting Life"

Interestingly, three of the nominated actresses in 1963 had also taken home BAFTA awards for their performances. Leslie Caron won the prize for Best British Actress in 1963 and the next year, Rachel Roberts received the same award for her work in This Sporting Life while Patricia Neal took home the gold as Best Foreign Actress in Hud. For Rachel Roberts, it would be one of overall three BAFTAs she received during her career and her performance in This Sporting Life would also result in her first and final Oscar nomination. Her work as a young, repressed and bitter widow opposite Richard Harris was definitely a critically highlight in a career that would that would end tragically when Rachel Roberts killed herself in 1980, apparently out of misery and regret over her divorce from Rex Harrison. Harrison himself had also been nominated for an Oscar in 1964, making him and Rachel Roberts one of the few husband-and-wife-teams that scored nods in the same year. Rex Harrison would win an Oscar one year later for his signature role as Professor Henry Higgins in the musical My Fair Lady. And what about his wife? Does she have any signature part? The biggest problem with this question is certainly the fact that Rachel Roberts is not truly the kind of actress that is still largely remembered or praised. When it comes to high-profile British actresses from this time, there are many names that are mentioned much more easily and quickly and even among those actresses mostly referred to as ‘character actress’, others like Wendy Hiller enjoy a much higher reputation. Personally, I am also not too familiar with Rachel Roberts’s body of work – like most followers of the Academy Awards, I have seen her work in Murder on the Orient-Express even though I never watch it for this purpose. But even in the small part of Hildegard Schmidt, Rachel Roberts’s hard face, her cold and suspicious glances and her tight body movement left a lasting impression even if the role itself is a little bit of nothing. So, on paper, the combination of Rachel Robert’s cold screen presence and the part of Margaret Hammond, a cold, almost merciless, judgmental and depreciating young widow who still lives in the memories of the past while trying to handle her strange relationship to Frank Machin, an upcoming rugby player who rents one of her rooms, appears like a perfect match. But the right personality is certainly not the only important factor for a great performance. Nearly every character that Audrey Hepburn played was elevated by her radiant charm, poise and personality – but this does not mean that all of these performances were masterpieces. Margaret Hammond suits Rachel Roberts and vice versa – but what about the actual performance that results from this match?

In This Sporting Life, Rachel Robert faced some of the same obstacles Patricia Neal did in Hud – mostly the fact that her role often feels rather secondary compared to that of her male co-star. And if this wasn’t enough, both Paul Newman and Richard Harris dominated their movies with uncompromising, challenging, riveting and stark performances that haven’t lost a bit of their energetic and realistic appeal. Both actors crafted characters that defied conventions, that pushed the opinion of others aside and that spread an aura of pure sex, no matter how unappealing or off-putting they may appear. In This Sporting Life, Richard Harris may easily be confused with a young Marlon Brando, as not only his acting style but even his looks remind the viewer of Brando’s personality and electric screen presence. But Richard Harris never felt like a copy of Brando and instead found his own voice in his role and therefore gives a raw and powerful piece of work that matches the celebrated, brutal but also sensual and sensitive work of those new and realistic actors like Brando, Paul Newman, Montgomery Clift or James Dean at every step. Okay, but enough of Richard Harris for now. Because does this have any significance for Rachel Roberts’s work? Having a powerful co-star does not mean that the other actor cannot be equally impressive. Well, but a lot here simply depends on the writing – Patricia Neal faced a severely underwritten character in Alma Brown and even though she improved her material vastly by adding wisdom and experience to her role which made her performance a very satisfying experience, she was still constantly overshadowed by the work of those around her, mainly that of Paul Newman. Rachel Roberts also has the problem that This Sporting Life focuses most of its attention to the character of Frank but it also has to be said that her role is still significantly larger than that of Patricia Neal in Hud and that Mrs. Hammond also plays a much more central role in the structure of This Sporting Life than Alma Brown in Hud. Okay, but comparing Patricia Neal and Rachel Roberts here is basically rather pointless since this review is supposed to focus on Rachel Roberts – the ranking at the end of the year can do the comparison. But what’s still left to say is the fascination in comparing these two actresses attack these two similar and yet also different parts. Patricia Neal took a part that offered her pretty much nothing on paper and added various dimensions and inner brokenness to turn Alma into the complex and earthy creation she turned out to be. Rachel Roberts on the other hand was given much more by the script – Margaret Hammond suffers from the death of her husband, her inability to deal with a man like Frank and her unwillingness to change her life outside or inside. Because of this, Mrs. Hammond was rather already fully developed before Rachel Roberts became her and the actress therefore had to follow a stricter guideline in her characterization. But since the character of Margaret Hammond is certainly an extremely fascinating one and Rachel Roberts’s own screen presence already suited to the part so wonderfully and she not relied on this screen presence but crafted Margaret’s rejection, fear and hate with a strangely intriguing coldness, Rachel Roberts’s performance is much more memorable, spellbinding and exciting than it could have been by either an actress who didn’t suit the part so well or by Rachel Roberts herself if she had decided to simply rely on her personal effect in that role instead of creating Margaret beyond that.

The first moments of Rachel Roberts’s performance happen as memories of an injured Frank – even though he has such strong feelings for her, the first image of her that seems to come into his head is that of her rejecting, disapproving glances and of the shoes that she keeps by the fire side. Shoes that used to belong to her dead husband and which she still cleans and polishes as if he might walk through the door any moment. Like an evil ghost, Mrs. Hammond lingers in Frank’s mind and even his memories cannot change her character – she tells him that she is sick of him and that she and her two children will be better off without him and in the delivery of Rachel Roberts, there is no doubt that Margaret really means those words. She also states that she won’t pretend to be happy for him – that angry, constantly disapproving face that seems to have not seen a smile in years is as strong a part of her character as her desire to clean the shoes of her dead husband. And when Frank asks her if she doesn’t want to be happy, her answer is a stern ‘If I’m left alone, I am happy’. Especially this last line is delivered by Rachel Roberts without any exaggeration and she did not try to turn this single bit of dialogue into the central symbol of her character. Again, a comparison with Patricia Neal can help because both actresses thankfully resisted the temptation to fill various of their on-screen moments with big declarations or attempts to make their words appear more important than they truly are – instead, both women live in their roles and show that her moments on-screen may be the only time the audience gets to know them but in their own world, they have already experienced a lot without the audience. Rachel Roberts shows that Margaret Hammond is not limited to the world of This Sporting Life but demonstrates in her acting that she is also a product of earlier times. But surely the most fascinating aspect of this performance is the fact that Mrs. Hammond can never be truly explained or understood – did she turn into this bitter and cold woman after the death of her husband or was she already like this before? There are rumors that Mr. Hammond’s death was not an accident but actually a suicide – does she realize this, is this the reason for her behavior or was her behavior maybe the reason for the suicide? Rachel Roberts gives no answer to this but it’s clear that, even though she still cleans the shoes of her dead husband, she does not live in a parallel fantasy world in which she expects him to return any moment – it’s not even clear if there was really love between them or if Mrs. Hammond treated her husband with the same kind of annoyed anger as she treats Frank. Maybe it is just the memory of him that she truly cherishes, the thoughts of a time in which there was a father, a mother and two children – surely an ideal situation for a woman who so often feels embarrassed because of what the neighbors might say about her and Frank. Overall, Rachel Roberts beautifully succeeded in turning Mrs. Hammond into a woman who is very secluded, off-putting and often downright disdainful without making her unlikable or an unwelcome presence in This Sporting Life, which might even be her biggest achievement in this part. That she was able to captivate the audience for so long and turn her character into a kind of fascinating enigma while basically constantly telling Frank and the audience to leave her alone with a voice full of hate and anger is certainly a remarkable feat. Mrs. Hammond is the kind of woman who can destroy every bit of happiness in others – when Frank tells her about his new contract and how much money he received, Mrs. Hammond only needs one small comment to ruin this whole moment for him. And just as Rachel Roberts gives no reason to the question how Mrs. Hammond became like this, she also leaves it open why she keeps acting like this, why she apparently feels the need to destroy happiness, push Frank away and almost retire from all human contact. But again, Rachel Roberts did a beautiful job in creating Mrs. Hammond like such an almost unbearable woman without becoming unbearable.

Another highlight in Rachel Roberts’s work is her chemistry with Richard Harris. Both actors had a certainly very demanding task in crafting their own characters but also creating a believable relationship. Especially Rachel Roberts needed to work very carefully since her character basically loathes Frank and everything he stands for but also falls for him at some time – and she also had to make it believable that Frank would even want to get involved with her. Margaret tells Frank quite open that she does not care to see him play rugby, she does not want to go with him on a ride in his new car, she more than once tells him to go, that he makes her sick and what not – but for some strange reasons, the fact that Frank keeps trying to get involved with Margaret, that he wants her, does not seem unbelievable at all. Rachel Roberts is not a sex bomb and even downplays her looks in this role, so any kind of erotic attraction from his side is not the simple answer. Mrs. Hammond is also not the kind of woman who makes you want her by pushing you away. But there is a certain chemistry between these two actors and Rachel Roberts walked a very thin line between being completely unlikeable and unlikeable, but still appealing. Just like the character of Mrs. Hammond itself, the appeal of Rachel Roberts in this part is hard to explain but the relationship between Mrs. Hammond and Frank and the chemistry between Rachel Roberts and Richard Harris is strangely captivating and satisfying. When she finally decides to go to the country with Frank and her children, the viewer almost waits for her to destroy the happiness of the others but when she catches a ball and finally smiles, it’s almost a relieving moment. And Rachel Roberts again did not over-emphasize this smile as a fundamental change in Mrs. Hammond but instead showed that she can find a little happiness in her life without softening her character. When the relationship with Frank develops and Mrs. Hammond even puts her husband’s shoes away, Rachel Roberts lets her character even smile a bit more, talking about old times with her husband, making it again an enigma why she turned into such a stern and icy woman. But a relationship like the one between Mrs. Hammond and Frank is destined to be broken from the start and Rachel Roberts impressively displays how much Margaret hates herself for actually falling for him, how the embarrassment during a dinner in a fancy restaurant with Frank is hurting her inside and how she now hates herself even more for having given him a chance. And later, Rachel Roberts become immensely heartbreaking when she begs Frank to leave, packing his things while he hits her, trying to remove herself from him, fearful that he might again speak out about the rumor of the suicide, an accusation to which she replied with a shocked ‘You want to kill me?’ Rachel Roberts’s character and role may never be as prominent in This Sporting Life as that of Richard Harris but her powerful work certainly prevented her from being over-shadowed at any moment.

It’s a performance that mixes moments of pure intensity with shocking and heartbreaking images. Rachel Roberts can accuse Frank Harris of being a big ape and take a slap in the face outside of a church without any kind of emotional reaction. Very often, she moves her head away from Frank and the camera as if even the contact with the audience is too much for her but Rachel Roberts did not turn Mrs. Hammond into a lonely spinster nor a crazy woman who wallows in her own misery. It’s a very effective turn that leaves a lasting and hunting impression and for this she receives


Best Actress 1963: Leslie Caron in "The L-Shaped Room"

Leslie Caron had quite an impressive career start in the 50s – her first movie role was opposite Gene Kelly in the Best Picture winner An American in Paris and only 2 years later she would receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actress as a young, depressive girl who forms a strange relationship to a puppeteer in the musical drama Lili. After this, critical success became rather slim although she did star in another Best Picture winner, the musical Gigi. In this movie, just like in Lili, she played a young, inexperienced girl who needs a man to fulfill her own happiness. Finally, in 1963, Leslie Caron left her child-like image behind and starred as a young, unmarried and pregnant woman in the Black-and-White drama The L-Shaped Room. This controversial role is certainly as far removed as possible from the colorful, entertaining and sing-along world she had been mostly known for up to this point. And this time, critics were fully convinced and a win at the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs must have made her a strong competitor for the Oscar statuette. Today, Leslie Caron does not necessarily hold a reputation as a strong dramatic actress – not only is she mostly remembered for her musical roles because these movies still have a lasting appeal while movies like The L-Shaped Room are largely forgotten but it seems that people want to remember her for her parts as Nina, Lili or Gigi, as if the innocence and sweetness she portrayed in these roles are the only aspects of her personality and her abilities as an actress that are worth cherishing. Leslie Caron may not have the same irresistible screen presence as another actress who started her career in the 50s, Audrey Hepburn, and she also was not really able to turn these roles into showcases for her talent and dedication like Audrey did, but she did possess a certain charisma that helped her to pull of such rather empty and thin characters because these characters mostly needed charisma to become alive. In her most famous parts, Leslie Caron may never be outstanding in any way and a more skilled actress might have realized these roles with more depth but Leslie Caron also never disappointed and gave performances that were satisfying enough to either carry the picture or become an enjoyable part of it.

In The L-Shaped Room, Leslie Caron did not have her usual advantages – being sweet or innocent would neither help her in a Black-and-White drama nor would it be believable in this kind of role. Furthermore, she could only use her acting talents in this case – the movie itself did not help her by surrounding her with entertaining situations that would enable her to show her charm and appeal, may it be by singing a song with four puppets or dancing through her apartment with a bottle of Champagne. No, The L-Shaped Room completely depended on her ability to communicate her character’s fears and worries while showing how her interactions with various inhabitants of an old English house, in which her character rents an l-shaped room to live in during her pregnancy, slowly changes and strengthens her character without either exaggerating or downplaying this transformation. In her role, Leslie Caron had to find new ways to use her usual screen personality while redefining it at the same time. And while Leslie Caron may not be the greatest actress in movie history, she was always able to portray her character’s inner feelings and emotions with a surprisingly subtle facial work that could easily build a connection between her and the audience without making it appear as if she was acting for the audience. Leslie Caron could easily portray likeable heroines that become an easy object of affection for her male co-star or the viewer. This aspect certainly helped her to find the necessary appeal in Jane because even though the character may not resemble her usual parts, it still benefited from her way of appearing so naïve and child-like but also so practical, grown-up and experienced.

In the 1963 Best Actress line-up, Leslie Caron is the only nominee who truly had to carry her picture. Both Patricia Neal and Rachel Roberts faced slightly limited parts and also played second fiddle to their powerful male co-stars who were the real centre of Hud and This Sporting Life. Shirley MacLaine’s role in Irma La Douce was considerable longer but Billy Wilder’s direction made it very clear that he was only interested in providing a showcase for Jack Lemmon’s comedic talents and considered Shirley MacLaine as an obligatory necessity. And Natalie Wood played the female lead in a romantic comedy with serious undertones but a movie like this obviously also featured an equally important male lead. In this case, Leslie Caron’s performance stands out among the nominees this year but at the same it’s surprising that hers is by far the most ‘passive’ and reactive part out of the five contenders – Jane is a character that mostly reacts and listens, one who is influenced by her own journey of thoughts and experiences. Because of this, Leslie Caron needed to craft Jane with even more dedication because the character could easily have gotten lost in a movie that is actually about her. And Leslie Caron achieved this goal beautifully by presenting Jane as an ever-developing character – she did not present her with any clear ideas or thoughts of how Jane should behave or what she expects. Instead, she showed that Jane is a woman who has no idea about her future, about her life and her present – she is still developing her own feelings and thoughts about both her current situation and her life when her child will be born. In this way, she used her usual screen presence as a woman who is wondering about what life will bring her while denying the audience her usual sugar-coated approach to this material. Usually, Leslie Caron’s presence was mostly needed for some more emotional, maybe even superficial moments – even in her own star-vehicle Lili, the more dramatic depth was given to her co-star Mel Ferrer. But in The L-Shaped Room, it fell upon Leslie Caron to provide the dramatic arc of the story while her male co-star Tom Bell was the one to provide charm and sweetness.

In her role, Leslie Caron benefited the most from the fact that her movie takes such an unspectacular look at her personal situation – The L-Shaped Room never feels like a cheap attempt to ‘shock’ the audience of 1963 with an unmarried, pregnant woman nor like a voyeuristic look into the exciting life of a ‘girl in technical difficulties’, as Gregory Peck called it the Oscar ceremony that year. Instead, The L-Shaped Room is as subtle, quiet and straight-forward as possible (even though it does feature some occasional melodramatic moments) – it takes a completely ordinary approach at this extraordinary story, treating Jane with a welcoming distance that allows her to develop as an independent creation while also letting Leslie Caron’s performance work in beautiful harmony with this unspectacular style. Her simplicity in a part that could have been an over-the-top portrayal of worries, grief, regret, hope, love and desperation is beautiful to watch and by playing her role just as unspectacularly as the screenplay writes it, she creates an atmosphere that is neither overly tense nor tired but moves the picture along smoothly, with a touching quietness and captivation. Sadly, there are moments when Leslie Caron tends to become that cute, little girl again, may it be Gigi or Lili, who only wants to be loved by a man, especially when the screenplays asks her to show a more desperate side or when she is worrying about the whereabouts of Toby. In these moments, the effect of her work becomes somewhat less satisfying but Leslie Caron finds enough positive moments in her work as a compensation. Her big, dramatic speech to Toby at the top of the stairs is played with just the right mix of over-the-top and honest reality and her tears never feel forced and her voice never appears to be trying too hard. Overall, her chemistry with Tom Bell is one of the strongest aspects of The L-Shaped Room, no matter if the characters are fighting or lying in bed together. Unfortunately, the role of a man in Jane’s life is often too overemphasized in a movie that is actually about a woman trying to organize her life alone – an obligatory love story was probably wanted but not truly needed. Still, Leslie Caron did her best by never insisting that Jane is actually looking for a man. Instead, she seems to enjoy Toby’s presence and certainly feels an attraction towards him but she never truly wanted this relationship to develop the way it did – Jane likes the idea of being loved but sees herself alone. This way, Leslie Caron avoided to turn Jane into ‘the woman’ even though she does sometimes exaggerate her needs for affection.

But apart from Tom Bell, Leslie Caron also works well with the other players of The L-Shaped Room. Since the journey of Jane is influenced so much by the other characters she meets in the little house, Leslie Caron always has to step back a little while those characters and actors get their little moment in the sunlight but Leslie Caron did her best to show that Jane is not only listening to their words but is actually also touched and influenced by them. This way, the journey of Jane turned into the journey of a woman who finds new ideas for her life but who also remains the same person she was before. During her stay, Jane accepts certain ideas while remaining strong about her own. She may have used this little, l-shaped room to retreat from the world but she used it to develop and face this world again. Leslie Caron shows Jane as a woman who tries to hide her fears and who does not have any illusions about her live but who is still a little puzzled by it. When she decides to keep the baby or shows Jane’s happiness when she realizes that she did not lose it, Leslie Caron never portrays these worries as grander than they really are – her Jane never tries to become a symbol of lost hopes or regret of the past. In this way, Leslie Caron succeeded the same way Patricia Neal succeeded in Hud – by focusing on the character instead of trying to go for more. And especially in the scenes opposite the father of her unborn child, Leslie Caron crafts Jane with a refreshing individualism – Jane neither wants to apologize for her behavior nor does she expect any support in this moment, from the father or the audience. Instead, she is very honest as a woman expecting nothing.

In this very emotional performance, Leslie Caron gives a quiet and subtle piece of work that may be limited by the way her character was written but is also much more memorable than any exaggerated overacting would have been. What the character of Jane may miss in mystery, depth or really captivating qualities, Leslie Caron makes up by finding beauty in the ordinary. For all of this, she receives

YOUR Best Actress of 1951

Here are the results of the poll:

1. Vivien Leigh - A Streetcar named Desire (43 votes)

2. Katharine Hepburn - The African Queen (6 votes)

3. Shelley Winters - A Place in the Sun (2 votes)

4. Eleanor Parker - Detective Story (1 vote)

5. Jane Wyman - The Blue Veil (0 votes)

Thanks to everyone for voting!


Best Actress 1963: Patricia Neal in "Hud"

Ah, the never-ending debate…leading or supporting? Even I have had various discussions about this topic on this blog already but the simple truth is that there is no truth. Everybody will see the input and influence of a performance differently, everybody has different criteria for the definition of ‘leading’ and ‘supporting’ and everybody has quite simply a different opinion overall. So, my opinions on Patricia Neal’s Oscar-winning turn as Alma Brown, the lonely and earthy housekeeper in Hud: slight borderline case with a strong tendency for supporting. I used to call this a clear supporting performance in the past – and for good reasons. I still insist that, if the film makers had wanted to, the part of Alma Brown could have been left on the cutting room floor without affecting the overall plot of the movie. The whole story of Hud circles around Paul Newman, Melvyn Douglas and Brandon De Wilde with Patricia Neal providing some more emotional moments from time to time but she never does either become a part of the main storyline nor does she ever get her own. She is Paul Newman’s object of affection and as such written surprisingly thin. But somehow, Patricia Neal’s screen presence and her unique take on this character help her to achieve a level of visibility in Hud that other actresses might have missed and her status as the only female presence in this modern Western somehow makes her classification as Leading Actress more understandable. In the end, it’s all relative – the Golden Globes nominated her as Supporting Actress (but the winner was Margaret Rutherford for The V.I.P.s which has to make Patricia Neal’s win truly unique – has there ever been another Best Actress winner at the Oscars who lost the Golden Globe as Supporting Actress for the same performance?) while the critics in New York, the National Board of Review and the BAFTAs awarded her in the leading category. So, even though I would probably still put her in the supporting category if I could decide the category placement myself, her entry as leading actress does make enough sense. But: what about the performance? I often complained that if an actress is not given enough material to build on, material that presents her with a developed character and allows her to find additional depth and aspects herself, it is very hard for her to compete with other, more fully realized performances in this category. After all, Vivien Leigh had probably over three hours of screen time in Gone with the Wind, plus a demanding character that goes through various transformations while Patricia Neal has maybe 20 minutes of screen time and is given a character that only exists to reject Hud’s sexual advances. How can they compare? Well, to sum it up: Patricia Neal does suffer from the thin writing and the fact that Hud creates its own world that Alma Brown is barely touching at all – but it’s also the truth that it’s all about quality and not quantity and one critic was certainly right when he stated that Patricia Neal fully realized all of the part’s potentials, no matter how small or scattered they may be.

As Alma Brown, Patricia Neal had to fight hard to make her presence noteworthy and to let her character truly become a part of Hud instead of an occasional addition. And for this fight, Patricia Neal chose a very intriguing approach that does not include any scene-stealing, overacting or exaggerating – instead, her performance is one of the most straight-forward, subtle and low-key pieces of work this category has ever seen. There are no big break-downs, no big scenes, no big emotions. Alma Brown is one of the most calm, relaxed, wise and unflashy creations in movie history, a woman who breathes and lives but does not overwhelm the audience. It’s an extremely interesting and unique approach to a part that could have been played in a thousand different ways and that could have invited countless actresses to try to leave a big impression as desperately as possible – but by not trying to make any big impression at all, Patricia Neal found a way to create Alma as a woman who escapes the usual logic of characters like these and she underlined the script’s writing by showing Alma as an outsider by choice but making her a part of Hud by her behavior and interactions with the other cast-members. Her Alma is fascinatingly mysterious and yet very familiar, she is neither a very deep nor a very complex character but she benefits a great deal from Patricia Neal’s interpretation which is able to suggest a whole life beyond Hud, a journey that Alma has gone through and that will continue long after the movie has ended. Because of a lack of an own plotline by the script, Patricia Neal had only herself to rely on and her acting choices, even though not always able to truly overcome the limits of her character, made it possible for her to leave a distinct mark on her role and the movie and she was able to add various layers beyond the surface of Alma, added only by her own interpretation. Patricia Neal showed that she did not truly need a script to help her – because while her work with her dialogue is very intriguing, it’s mostly her unspoken scenes that truly turn Alma into a the memorable character she turned out to be: little looks at Paul Newman, short moments of doubt or regret, decisions of strength played with a certain vulnerability or little gestures of joy that make her interactions with Paul Newman so tense and yet so relaxed.

In her first moment on the screen, Patricia Neal already demonstrated how unexpected her interpretation of Alma Brown is – her delivery of the line ‘He parked right on my flower bed’ after the arrival of Hud lacks all the emotions that usually would accompany a line like this: hidden pain or suffering, regret, a secret longing, everything that could help an actress to tell all the untold secrets of Alma Brown in one second. Patricia Neal instead delivered the line without any of these emotions and stated it in a very matter-of-fact way, with maybe a slight annoyance but still a tone that expressed even an acceptance of his behavior since she already knows what to expect of him. And when she later asks him why he chose to park exactly on her flowers, her voice again speaks with clear composure that is not trying to hide any deeper feelings but again shows how well she knows Hud and men like him. In her first interactions with Paul Newman, Patricia Neal also lays the foundation of their relationship – her Alma Brown is a woman who clearly enjoys all his stories about the countless women he goes to bed with, who likes his behavior and apparently never thinks of herself as an object of affection but rather someone who prefers to meet Hud on the same level when it comes to their private lives. This way, Patricia Neal also underlined that Alma knows her position as housekeeper in the Bannon household but neither in this position nor as a woman she is willing to put herself under Hud’s influence and charm. During her later scenes, Patricia Neal slowly shows how much Alma has been shaped by the life she led so far – the dialogue about her past is only minimal but her facial acting and the way she speaks her lines make it clear that Alma is a woman who experienced a great deal during her life so far, good and bad. The way Alma behaves around the household, as the only woman in a world of men, demonstrates that she is already used to this life kind of life. Patricia Neal crafted Alma as a woman who has her own philosophy, her own wisdom and the strength to live her life accordingly to it. She is not a saint nor a mysterious creature that came out of nowhere – instead, she is very much a part of her environment, earthy and real, transcendent and not at once. Patricia Neal turned Alma into a real three-dimensional human being, a woman who possesses the toughness she needs in a world like this, the no-nonsense attitude that helps her to keep her strength and her dignity but also the joyful spirit that allows her to always enjoy life, no matter how little it may offer to her.

Since Alma is mostly written as a female counterpart for Hud, Patricia Neal’s scenes opposite Paul Newman (which are most of them) are the most important factor in her work. She could have easily suffered the same fate Eleanor Parker in Detective Story or Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun did 12 years earlier – playing characters that are only seen as important as long as they provide a storyline for the central male character. But Patricia Neal did not fall under this pressure but instead was able to craft Alma Brown as a woman who clearly exists independently from Hud and this way prevented her from turning into a plot device that only exists to give Paul Newman more screen time. Her chemistry with Paul Newman is the most deciding aspect of her work and both actors did their best to combine a certain level of mutual indifference, respect, friendship and clear sexual interest to achieve a wonderful and captivating chemistry. In various little moments, Patricia Neal shows that Alma is a woman who cares more about Hud than she should and who sometimes thinks about him in a way that is different from their moments of relaxed honesty as she sometimes seems to enjoy the idea of being an object of affection to him. But she can also suffers from his constant insults, disinterest and behavior like everybody else. The look on her face as she is doing the dishes, a look completely rid of any emotions which again underlines Patricia Neal’s straight-forwardness in the part, tells how easily Hud can hurt her, despite Alma’s own protectiveness. And so, despite her longing for him she keeps her distance. Or better: she keeps him at distance. Her slight annoyance after one of Hud’s rather unsubtle advances on the porch or her delivery of the line ‘Way over’ when Hud, obviously drunk, again tries to make a pass at her in the kitchen, show that there are no illusions in Alma’s life and that her own experience and her own wisdom prevent her from surrendering to her physical desires. And the scene when she talks to him in her little house, after having quickly removed her underwear that was hanging outside to dry, shows an almost burning passion between these two without ever losing the subtlety of the character – her smiles, her eyes all tell of a certain longing while her words are trying to keep Hud at a distance. It’s mostly this relaxed, open but sexually filled atmosphere between Patricia Neal and Paul Newman that is one of the most fascinating aspects of Hud.

Patricia Neal’s performance is a beautiful example of a dedicated realism on the screen but also of an actress taking an underwritten and thin part and filling it with life thanks to her own acting, her own personality and her ability to use her material to craft the idea of a whole world beyond the written word. Of course, this beautiful portrayal still exists inside the possibilities of Patricia Neal’s work – it’s easy to praise an actress for doing so much with so little but it does not change the fact that this ‘little’ is still holding her back in a certain way. She certainly succeeded in the role but this success is just as limited as the role itself. Still, Patricia Neal used her limited screen time and material very wisely and was able to create a memorable, three-dimensional character by completely focusing on the realism of Alma Brown’s life, her present and her past, a woman who does not spend her life thinking about what could be but only about what is. She brought a wonderfully sad, longing quality to her part and that way took it much further than the screenplay allowed. In her final scenes, her sudden tears are such a start contrast to her earlier characterization that the effect is overwhelming for a short moment until Alma again turns into the woman she used to be. Her husky voice and her body language all show a certain sexuality behind her tough façade, but also a lot loneliness and the trace of a hard life, a relaxed and self-assured but still doubting woman who more than once suffers from her own wisdom, her own choices to remain at a distance to her environment and protect herself against being hurt again. And even during her final talk with Hud, in which she again shows that she knows men like him and that the only thing she can do now is leave, Patricia Neal delivers her lines in which Alma finally tells Hud that she did have some sexual interests in him, again so completely straight-forward and without trying to turn them into anything noteworthy that Alma leaves the movie just as quietly and incidentally as she entered it. So, for her unique and captivating approach to this part, she receives


Best Actress 1963

The next year will be 1963 and the nominees were

Leslie Caron in The L-Shaped Room

Shirley MacLaine in Irma La Douce

Patricia Neal in Hud

Rachel Roberts in This Sporting Life

Natalie Wood in Love with the Proper Stranger


And Vivien makes two...

Well, it has finally happend! Meryl got company! Who thought that Vivien Leigh would be the first actress on this blog to tie Meryl Streep as the most-honored winner? Both actresses now have two wins to their names. It should also be noted that both received their wins for performances with perfect grades.
Will anybody join them in the future? Or even top them? Oscar Queens Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis are surley eager for another win. Kate may have won once but also lost for the 6th time now. And Bette is probably very angry that she, too, like Vivien and Meryl, has given two performances that received a perfect grade but lost both times anyway.
Who knows what the future will bring...

But for now, congratulations to Vivien Leigh!

Best Actress 1951: The resolution

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

It’s easy to imagine that this whole performance could have been much more satisfying and actually overcome the limitations of the writing if Eleanor Parker had actually dared to leave her own comfort zone and invest all the possibilities the character offered despite these obvious limitations – but she unfortunately played it too easy overall and reduced her character to a variety of different teary-eyed reaction shots.

Shelley Winters does suffer from the sheer fact that she simply could not turn Alice Tripp into more than what George Stevens would allow her (and this is rather little) and often Alice also does feel too one-dimensional in her attempts to get George to marry her, but if Alice is a plot device, then Shelley Winters made sure that she would at least be a beautifully realized one.

Jane Wyman suffered from her weak material and very often limits her performance to two different facial expressions but within these limitations she crafted a touching piece of work that is saved by her decision to remain realistic while highlighting the sentimentality of the story and her strong final moments.

2. Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen

Katharine Hepburn has seldom been so deliciously entertaining, so wonderfully amusing and so dramatically heartbreaking in one movie. Rose Sayer is certainly not a very deep or complex character but there is still something almost magical about watching Katharine Hepburn bring her to such splendid life.

Vivien Leigh gave a performance that dug so deeply in this character’s mind and portrayed such unforgettable moments that it is one of a few movie performances that can truly be called a work of art, that serves the movie it is set in while also existing in its own universe, proofing once and for all the greatness of her talent and standing as a symbol for movie acting at its finest.

Best Actress 1951: Vivien Leigh in "A Streetcar named Desire"

‘She brought everything I intended to the role and even much more than I had dared dream of.’ Is there really anything else to be said? If Tennessee Williams praises a performance of his most famous female character in a movie based on his most famous play with such clear words, then there cannot be any doubt that the actress in question has done a job that surpasses usual indicators of quality and reached a level of excellence that can only rarely be seen on the screen and offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everyone involved – the playwright who watches as his words become reality, the audience which becomes deeper and deeper involved into this unsettling and yet so fascinating characterization and the actress herself who leaves an everlasting imprint in the history books of movie acting. And even more astonishing in this case is the fact that the actress in question had already done the same thing 12 years earlier on exactly that same, almost unreachable level of excellence. It’s one of the most famous movie facts of all time that British actress Vivien Leigh secured two of the most famous American female movie characters of all time – first the coquettish, beautiful and manipulative Southern Belle Scarlett O’Hara in Hollywood’s most famous epic Gone with the Wind and in 1951 the faded, delusional and mentally breaking Southern Belle Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar named Desire. Her work as Scarlett O’Hara is probably the single most famous motion picture performance of all time, a legendary case of actress and role fitting together so perfectly that even the thought of another performer in this part seems completely absurd. In this role, she twirled the screen and forever defined the character of the Southern Belle, making her Scarlett selfish and loveable, mean-spirited and delightful, empty and deep. The normal path for Vivien Leigh after this astonishing work should have been the way it was until 1950 – a career of several movie and stage roles that helped her go on proving her seriousness of her craft that would never again reach that same level of complexity and perfection. But in 1951, Vivien Leigh suddenly returned to the Oscars with a performance that would, as perplexing at is may seem, make her Scarlett O’Hara ‘only’ the second-greatest piece of work she had ever done. Her Blanche DuBois is a creation that haunts and hurts the viewer, a woman who so shatteringly walks down a road of self-destruction while being pushed down this road at the same time and she portrayed this slow, drawn-out mental break-down with a delicacy and heartbreaking anguish that is almost peerless among her craft.

Interestingly, director Elia Kazan apparently did not think as much of Vivien Leigh as Tennessee Williams did – he talked about her as an actress small talent but whose vast determination would have made her crawl through broken glass if she had thought it would help her performance. Well, Elia Kazan is maybe not the best judge in this case – or to put it better, not the most neutral judge. I’m sure that, among the method actors who slowly conquered the acting world, Gone with the Wind was seen as the highpoint of triviality and melodramatic movie acting from those melodramatic days of old Hollywood and Vivien Leigh, with her past as Scarlett O’Hara, certainly did not fit Kazan’s own criteria for great actors – he surely had much more admiration for Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden who had all originated their parts in A Streetcar named Desire on the Broadway stage and Kazan was surely not too pleased when the studio insisted to replace Jessica Tandy, who originated the role of Blanche on the Broadway stage and won a Tony for it, with Vivien Leigh, who was considered a bigger box-office drawn than the unknown Tandy. But Elia Kazan’s criticism as well as his ‘compliment’ on her determination feels rather difficult to be taken seriously – of course, everybody is entitled to his/her opinion but a performance like that of Vivien Leigh cannot only be explained with determination. A lot of actors and actresses display enormous amounts of determination and while this is certainly a very important ingredient for a truly outstanding performance, it cannot replace the necessary talent and abilities. And also: didn’t Vivien Leigh disappear more into the role of Blanche DuBois than her method-acting cast mates? She famously later blamed her performance as Blanche DuBois for causing her own mental problems, she felt that the role tipped her over the edge, grabbed her and never let her go again. It’s maybe the opposite of the acting style of Brando, Hunter and Malden who used their own personality first before finding themselves in their roles and later leaving it again – but Vivien Leigh’s own personal problems made her performance as Blanche DuBois just the same irreplaceable meeting of actress and part as it was 12 years earlier with her and Scarlett O’Hara, even if the consequences resulted in such a personal tragedy. But it’s not difficult to imagine Vivien Leigh being hunted by Blanche DuBois for the rest of her life – she seemed to go so deep into this character that she not only played her, but understood her, felt like her, suffered like her and slowly feel into the darkness of her own mind. It’s basically impossible to think that Vivien Leigh stopped being Blanche DuBois at the end of the day and became her again the next morning – such a level of abandoning one’s own personality can only be explained with a complete surrender to the part one is playing and letting it take over every aspect of one’s own existence. Of course, Blanche DuBois was not completely new to Vivien Leigh – she had already played the role on the London stage under the direction of her husband Laurence Olivier, a run that surely was the beginning of her own connection to this tormented soul and helped her to perfect her understanding in the movie version that would follow.

10 years after A Streetcar named Desire, another movie version of a Tennessee Williams play would again lead the playwright to extensive praise of an actress – but while Geraldine Page’s acting style was more that of a machine that could produce every single human emotion with exact precision, Vivien Leigh portrayed Blanche DuBois with much more emotional closeness that allowed her to completely fit into the form of her character while Geraldine Page preferred to control her characters from a distance. Overall, Vivien Leigh’s acting style is probably the biggest key to her success in this role – yes, there is melodrama in her performance which would make it easy to dismiss her work next to the raw brutality and sensitivity of Marlon Brando and the warm earthiness of Kim Hunter but this melodrama so wonderfully clashes with everything around her that it only helps to increase the loneliness of this woman, her cherishing of days gone by, her inability to cope with the people and reasons that confront her and the intensity of her growing isolation, mentally and physically. Stanley may be called a survivor of the Stone Age by Blanche but Marlon Brando was able to fill his role with an amount of tenderness and child-like dependence that naturally worked in perfect harmony with his brutality, roughness and cruelty and resulted in a performance that is a landmark in pure human force on the screen. Vivien Leigh crafted her own tour-de-force differently, turning Blanche into a passive creature, a woman who is shifted and influenced by the characters around her, who retreats herself more and more into her own mind even though it’s the most dangerous place for her to be. The clash of these two acting styles, these two completely different actors and characters and their chemistry of hate, rejection but also sexual lust is the driving force of A Streetcar named Desire. Vivien Leigh is the antithesis to Marlon Brando just as much as Blanche DuBois is the antithesis to Stanley Kowalski. Today, A Streetcar named Desire is often referred to as a ‘Marlon Brando movie’ but for me, it’s Vivien Leigh who carries the picture and has to handle one of the most challenging parts ever written and in which she not only plays but also evokes all different kind of emotions. Very few other performances are able to pull the viewer so completely into their own misery until the pain and desperation felt on the screen seems to be felt by everyone watching it. But Vivien Leigh portrayed the mental breakdown and humiliation of Blanche DuBois not only on this emotional, but also on an intellectual and psychological level.

Just like Blanche appears out of thick fog at the beginning of A Streetcar named Desire on the movie screen, she also seems to appear out of another world in the environment of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Her delivery of the line ‘Can this be her home’ shows how unable Blanche is to connect to her new surroundings and how she prefers to live in a world of memories, good and bad. Blanche was looking for a kind of security that she will never find here. For the entire movie, Vivien Leigh sustains this aura of inexplicability, of mysteriousness, even when her character has been stripped down of all secrets, of all privacy and all dignity. By focusing on these effects of Blanche, Vivien Leigh was able to create her desperation and helplessness without making it too obvious. Her performance never turns into a display of ‘Look what I can do!’ but instead she fulfilled the task of working with the realism that this movie version demands and the delicacy and otherworldliness of the character of Blanche. Blanche DuBois may want magic instead of realism – Vivien Leigh gave us both, the realism of a harrowing break-down and the magic of a performance was able to realize it with almost poetic beauty that brings absolute justice to the writing of Tennessee Williams and the character of Blanche. She can be real and surreal at the same moment – walking around in the dark, laughing about liquor while trying to prevent Mitch from speaking the truth he came to say, yelling at him for a short moment before she becomes a desperate girl again and creates a moment that is almost like an imaginary dream that unwillingly pulls the viewer more and more inside. Like so many heroines in his plays, Blanche is destroyed by both her own longings and the actions of the people around her. In the case of Blanche, it is never clear if she is truly a victim or an offender – she is exposed to the mental and physical abuse of Stanley which pushed her already delicate condition further and further into a state of madness but she also looks back at a past of sexual behavior that may have been caused by her inability to cope with the memory of her husband’s death but also does not excuse an affair with a pupil. In her interpretation, Vivien Leigh may overall have gone the ‘sympathy road’, playing Blanche mostly as a desperate victim (Jessica Lange’s Blanche DuBois showed her sexual interest in Stanley in various scenes in which Vivien Leigh played her with fearful shame) but this interpretation is in no way easier than another one might have been and Vivien Leigh was brave enough to find some moments in her work in which she leaves it open for everyone to decide how much sympathy and understanding she truly deserves. Blanche is clearly a manipulative woman who tries to lie her way out of her own memories and into the lives of Stella and Mitch. Also, her fake attitude that she has built for herself, that cheerful, high-pitched naïve little girl that dreams to be a Southern Belle is often hard to take and makes it even understandable that Stanley would not want her in the house. Blanche’s arrival destroys the balance that has existed in the marriage of Stella and Stanley as her behavior affects everyone around her and almost even takes everyone down with her. In this way, Vivien Leigh did not corner the other performances of the movie but every character is allowed to develop its own intentions and thoughts.

Vivien Leigh does thankfully not exaggerate the dreams of a Southern Belle. Her Blanche DuBois is not a successor of Scarlett O’Hara – in A Streetcar named Desire, Vivien Leigh demonstrates beautifully how Blanche uses the masque of that cheerful woman to hide all the overwhelming worries to haunt her constantly. This way, she did not turn into a squeaky, fake and unbearable creation like Mary Pickford’s Norma Besant in Coquette but instead made it clear that any melodrama or stylized approach is part of her characterization and not of her performance. The fact that both of Vivien Leigh’s Oscar-winning portrayals are some kind of Southern Belles would make it easy to see Blanche DuBois as an alter ego of Scarlett O’Hara but where Scarlett O’Hara had the strength to adjust herself to a new life, to new circumstances and situations, Blanche DuBois is exactly the opposite as she cannot leave the past behind, lets it haunt and torture her, influence her actions and finally break her. The suicide of her love, a deed she indirectly provoked, has destroyed something inside her but she does not use her fantasies to escape reality but rather becomes dominated by her past, constantly hearing the music that was playing when her husband killed himself, waiting desperately for the shot to make it stop. It’s hard to imagine Scarlett O’Hara being so completely affected by anything that happens in her life. Scarlett O’Hara also existed in a different world of plantations and Southern gallantry while Blanche DuBois comes to life in a small, Black-and-White character study in which Vivien Leigh receives no support from opulent costumes, a sweeping score or fancy Art Direction – in A Streetcar named Desire, she has nothing but herself to rely on.

Playing a character so close to the edge of sanity, almost near a mental breakdown is incredibly hard to pull off without over-acting or doing a collection of ‘crazy tics’. And so, Vivien Leigh has to be applauded even more for letting everything she is doing appear so natural while emphasizing every single emotion Blanche is feeling and experiencing. Her delicate appearance perfectly matches Blanche’s fragility while her voice helps her wonderfully to express the different states of minds she is experiencing. She can pronounce her own name with a tone that seems to come right from the graveyard in which almost all of her family members have retired and she can laugh during her date with Mitch in the most girlish giggle. With all this, she found the harrowing core in what could have been an exaggerated portrayal. She combines the naivety of a lost girl with the self-assurance of a lustful woman – her Blanche is stuck somewhere in her own development, unable to become her own person. She can throw Mitch out of the apartment by exposing a scream that is half anger and half fear, she can appear almost like a dark ghost out of the worst nightmare when she recounts to Mitch about her downfall while leaving the viewer puzzled if they should feel their heart break out of pity or feel their heart stop out of anxiety. Vivien Leigh also finds constantly new nuances in Blanche, breaking down when Cola is spilled on her dress and later angrily pushing her sister away who tries to comfort her after Stanley shouted at her. A scene of her seducing a young man/boy is as disturbing as it is painful and Vivien Leigh portrays the constant spiral downwards which is Blanche’s life with a straight-forwardness that catches all her illusions and fears. This also underlines the fact that Blanche is, essentially, a very straight-forward role that clearly tells an actress what to do and how to do it (unlike Stanley who leaves more room for interpretation) – but the role itself is already so demanding that even with the guidance of Tennessee Williams’s words, a failure could come very easily. The scene in which Vivien Leigh discusses the loss of her old home with Stanley, presenting him letters from lawyers and then fighting with him for the old lovers of her husband shows how completely she lost herself in the role, finding Blanche in every body movement and line delivery. When she talks about her past with her husband and the night he killed himself, Vivien Leigh shows Blanche completely lost in her own thoughts, overwhelmed by her memories while also appearing to be having waited for years to share these moments with somebody, anybody. Who is Blanche? Who does she want to be? These questions seem never clearly answered – Blanche may say that she never lied in her heart but does this not mostly mean that she never lied to herself? This is certainly true because the masque that she has build only exists to fool others but never herself. Blanche always exposes little bits of truth whenever she is forced to, hoping to receive affection and acceptance in return. Vivien Leigh also constantly acts these two Blanches – one on the outside whom she expresses with her body, face and voice and one on the inside who listens to imaginary musical pieces and is always tormented by her own doings and thoughts whom she expresses only with her eyes.

Blanche says that she wants Mitch very much and later even begs him to marry her. But it’s always rather doubtful if Blanche is really looking for this kind of love or if this is a last attempt by her to escape her old life even though it only fastens her circle of destruction and self-destruction – or if she is truly able to even feel this kind of love anymore. It seems that for her, everything is better than that music inside her head but her body mostly appears like an empty shell with a dead soul living inside. ‘Death…the opposite is desire’, Blanche expresses. She may have lived a life of desire for a long time but she did not only take the streetcar named desire but also one called ‘Cemetery’ and the apartment of Stanley and Stella will be place at which she will be crushed like a flower. She has build a cage for herself in her own mind but also in this apartment which secures her from the outside world, from the woman selling flowers for the death but also keeps her locked inside with Stanley whose unwillingness to understand her and his willingness to torture her will finally break her completely. Her final scenes are among the most disturbing displays of human humiliation ever presented – the way she hides behind the curtain like a scared animal and then tries to fight against the nurse while howling like a wounded animal show how much of her dignity and self-understanding as a human being have been taken away from her. At one point, Stella accuses Stanley that men like him have destroyed Blanche and forced her to change but when she delivers her famous last line ‘I have always depended on the kindness of strangers’, it becomes clear that she was destroyed by all sorts of men, by her own deeds, by words, by actions and much more because she existed in her own world that simply had to collide with the harsh reality of her life some day. Blanche may cheerfully hum ‘Paper Moon’, a song about believe, make-believe and the closeness of reality and illusion – but for her, this make-believe cannot last.

Many actresses have played the role of Blanche DuBois. So it’s maybe wrong to say that only Vivien Leigh could play her but it’s certainly not wrong to say that nobody can ever top her. Her Blanche is a mysterious, pathetic, lovely, charming, appealing, tragic, fragile, hopeless and helpless creation that has stood the test of time in the most glorious way. At the end, the viewers feel as if they have known her all her life, to watch her fall and being violated felt too unbearable to remain at a distance and Vivien Leigh gives one of the few performances that make the viewers feel actually helpless but the truth is that we hardly know anything at all about her. She leaves the movie with just as many questions as she entered it and even though Vivien Leigh showed that Blanche was constantly pushed further and further to the edge of her own mind while walking towards it at the same time, she still did not gave an answer to all the mysteries that surround her. She’s a woman who lived behind a thin veil of illusions until these illusions were crashed and destroyed and led her to be unable to separate between them and reality anymore. In realizing all this, Vivien Leigh gave a performance that dug so deeply in this character’s mind and portrayed such unforgettable moments, that it is one of a few movie performances that can truly be called a work of art, that serves the movie it is set in while also existing in its own universe, proofing once and for all the greatness of her talent and standing as a symbol for movie acting at its finest. So it no surprise that for all her talent, determination, willingness, honesty, helplessness, desperation, fear, panic, happiness, suffering and incomparable excellence, Vivien Leigh receives