My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress Ranking - Update

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

My winning performances are higlighted in red.

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Jessica Lange in Frances (1982)
3. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
4. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
5. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
6. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
7. Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman (1978)
8. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
9. Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
10. Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise (1991)

11. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)
12. Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette (1938)
13. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
14. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
15. Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998)
16. Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
17. Simone Signoret in Room at the Top (1959)
18. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)
19. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
20. Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958)

21. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)
22. Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve (1957)
23. Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
24. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
25. Emily Watson in Hilary and Jackie (1998)
26. Julie Christie in Away from Her (2007)
27. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
28. Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark (1967)
29. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
30. Anne Baxter in All about Eve (1950)

31. Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown (1997)
32. Helen Hayes in The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1932)
33. Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978)
34. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
35. Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)
36. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
37. Joan Crawford in Sudden Fear (1952)
38. Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)
39. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
40. Marsha Mason in Chapter Two (1979)

41. Jane Wyman in The Yearling (1946)
42. Martha Scott in Our Town (1940)
43. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
44. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
45. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
46. Susan Hayward in My Foolish Heart (1949)
47. Eleanor Parker in Detective Story (1951)
48. Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
49. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)
50. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  

51. Mary Pickford in Coquette (1928-29)
52. Sissy Spacek in The River (1984)
53. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
54. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
55. Ruth Chatterton in Madame X (1928-29)
56. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

Joan Crawford as Myra Hudson in Sudden Fear

I have to confess that I have never been a true fan of Joan Crawford in the way I am a fan of Katharine Hepburn or (on a reduced level) Bette Davis. I respect Joan Crawford and I understand her important place in Hollywood history but I never get the urge to watch a movie because of her. With that out of the way, I will say that no matter what kind of movie it is, Joan Crawford is always completely watchable and entertaining, no matter what she does.

This is also true for Sudden Fear. If I don’t think that Joan Crawford was necessarily a truly great actress, I will say that she was undoubtedly a star of gigantic proportions. This was something that was visible in every single one of her performances – even in Trog, no matter how humiliating her role may be, you sense that you are watching someone special. She had that star-quality, that little something extra that made you take notice and recognize her as someone who was just on another level than most actors around her. Again, this is not necessarily due to her acting but simply her undeniable presence. But even if I maybe don’t see Joan Crawford as an amazing actress, I do agree with Bette Davis on one thing - that she was a professional. This is another thing that is always visible in her work – that you are seeing a pro who knows what she is doing at every second of the movie, who has prepared her character, thought-out every detail and every movement until it reached her own level of satisfaction. This is why her acting is always like a flat line for me – it constantly stays on the same level, a level that is entertaining and sometimes reaches a certain greatness and is never bad, but one that is also not truly exciting or engaging for me personally. Of course, all this might change in the future when I re-consider more of her work but for now I can say that while Joan Crawford never has truly bad acting moments in her work, I also never feel that I am watching something truly outstanding but rather a performance that is created thanks to her preparation and star power – and this is also true for Sudden Fear.

Sudden Fear is one of the „damsel in distress“ movies that appear in this category from time to time, similar to Sorry, Wrong Number or Wait until Dark, and maybe a bit to Gaslight or Suspiction but these movies depend less on suspense and shock than on psychological developments. In Sudden Fear, Joan Crawford plays Myra Hudson, a rich heiress and successful Broadway author who marries an unsuccessful actor only to find out that he and his former girlfriend plan to murder her. As a movie, Sudden Fear is no masterpiece but offers some satisfying suspense and good performances but its most intriguing aspect is that it not really starts as a suspense movie. Instead, the movie feels like a standard romantic melodrama for quite some time before Gloria Grahame’s bad girl shows up to steer everything in a completely different direction. Sudden Fear is obviously very much a product of its constructed plot (when Myra explains the mechanics of her dictating machine, you immediately know that this will be important later on) and the actors never give a real feeling of spontaneity but the whole things still works fine – mostly thanks for Joan Crawford’s central performance.

Joan Crawford might not be the most interesting female character in Sudden Fear (that honour belongs to Gloria Graham whose line delivery “Keeps the circulation going” is probably also the best moment in the movie) but as the potential victim turned revenger, Joan Crawford is the central character whom the audience follows along and who needs to be interesting enough to have the sympathies on her side. And here, Joan Crawford’s afore-mentioned star power comes into play. As she knows just how to play every single emotion and build the character of Myra, her fight for her life remains engaging until the end even if her most interesting work as an actress comes in the first half of the movie.

Myra meets her new husband when he is an actor in her new play. During rehearsal, she has him fired as he is not her “idea of a romantic leading man”. In what is probably the most inspired idea of the script, Myra doesn’t see the romance in his performance but then falls in love with him later during a train ride and is seduced by Lester using the words from her play – the very words she had condemned unconvincing when he was saying them on the stage.

The most interesting part of Joan’s performance during the first romantic half of the movie is that she hints as something that the movie doesn’t – the obvious age difference between Myra and Lester. Joan Crawford was 15 years older than Jack Palance and this is also obvious from their locks. The movie never mentions this fact nor does any other character. But Joan Crawford communicates in her performance that Myra is aware of this age difference and she adds a certain desperation to her performance, the fear of losing Lester while constantly being in awe that he actually chose her. This is certainly the most impressive part of Joan Crawford’s performance and one that deserves all admiration for being only added by her work alone and also for not letting any vanity get in her way.

When the suspense part of the movie kicks in, Joan’s performance unfortunately loses some of its fascination even if that part includes the most obvious “acting” and is probably the reason why the Academy decided to include Joan Crawford in its line-up. The most famous moment of the movie is most likely the scene when Myra realises that her husband and his lover plan to kill her when they accidentally recorded their whole plan on her dictating machine. What follows is a long, wordless scene in which Myra reacts to the recording with every conceivable emotion, going from disbelief to heartbreak to pure fear – I’m also impressed that the movie so openly suggests that Myra has to throw-up after having listened to the recording (how many glamorous movie stars of the past have thrown-up on screen?). Again, the scene works because Joan knows how to keep the attention of the viewer – a less interesting screen personality might lose the ability to keep the viewer looking at her silent reactions after a couple of minutes but not Joan Crawford. Sudden Fear is actually a throw-back to the beginning of Joan’s career in silent movies because it very often almost feels like a silent movie. Scenes of Joan Crawford lying awake in bed, searching through the house of her husband’s lover, seeing her own image in a mirror and realising what she wants to do, sweating with terror as she is hiding in a closet again only work because Joan Crawford is such a strong screen presence.

What I mostly appreciate about Joan Crawford’s work after the found out the true intentions of her husband is that she not only relies on the fear in her acting but also adds an element of shame, connecting her work to the desperation earlier. When she throws out the pillow of her husband and looks at the other side of the bed, you realize that Myra is condemning herself for having allowed herself to fall for this man and share her bed with him.

I know all of my praise so far might make it hard to understand why I didn’t place her higher. First of all, even if Joan does invest very strongly to make Myra a three-dimensional person, she loses most of the interesting aspects of her work once she starts her fight for her life. While she again handles every technical aspect of the part very well, portraying fear and terror very believably, it always has a sense of “old Hollywood” and she never reaches the same level of true desperation and believable anguish as nominee Audrey Hepburn did in Wait until Dark. Also, she does sometimes surrender to the melodrama of the movie (scenes such as dictating her “romantic” will or listening to Lester reciting her “romantic” lines just feel a bit too much) and she is unfortunately over-the-top when she hears the voice of Lester in her head, covering her ears with her hands, her eyes so wide that they almost fall out of her head. Again, I am very open to praising the obvious preparation that went into this performance and the technical precision that realised it but even with all the thought-out details in her work, Joan Crawford’s work is still held back by the limits of a movie that mostly exists to create tension and suspense and not a true heroine. The praise therefore happens on a limited level, complimenting an actress for having nothing and turning it into something worthwhile.