Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Verdict -- Best Supporting Actress 1942

#5. Susan Peters in Random Harvest: Susan Peters delivers a star making performance, receiving this nomination as a vote of confidence from the Academy for her future career. Unfortunately, we never did get to see if she had the staying power to become one of the greats so instead this feels like a sad nomination. Still, this is a perfectly lovely performance in a very underwritten, one dimensional role and Peters acts it with a youthful energy and innocence that is perfect for the character. She gets points for elevating herself beyond the role, and that final scene is a fantastic one but it's not enough to fully justify this nomination. Still good, just not quite on an Oscar nomination level.

#4. Gladys Cooper in Now, Voyager: As Bette Davis's stern mother Mrs. Vale, Gladys Cooper has a wonderful presence in her film. After only a brief scenes her cold-hearted mother figure leaves a nasty cloud hanging over the rest of the film and Davis' Charlotte in particularly. However, those hints of a truly heartless mother figure are never really explored in the film, and though Cooper fights valiantly to humanize Mrs. Vale, the film just doesn't seem quite as interested in her. It's a stock part done very, very well but remains unfortunately lifeless and one-note.

#3. Teresa Wright in Mrs. Miniver: It's very difficult to achieve the level of serenity and lovability Teresa Wright achieves in the role of Carol Beldon, a normal and good-hearted young woman. It's a performance grounded in reality and carefully modulated to avoid melodrama or theatricality. Wright plays Carol with such subtle grace and steadfast emotions that you fall in love with her right alongside the Miniver family. Carol is a very simple character, but it's through Wright's wonderfully simple performance that she becomes the emotional core of her film and a lovely presence on screen.

#2. Agnes Moorehead in The Magnificent Ambersons: Undoubtedly the most complex and confounding performance of this bunch, Moorehead is in a different league than her competitors in a lot of ways. She's got the most interesting director and film backing her, and delivers a performance of near-operatic levels but somehow makes it (mostly) work. Fanny's deep, deep dissatisfaction with her life is so potent in Moorehead's hands, and every minute of her screen time is spent pouring that dissatisfaction onto the screen. She leaves a strong impact and is so fascinating to watch as the shrill Aunt Fanny.

#1. May Whitty in Mrs. Miniver: Though Agnes Moorehead's performance is clearly much more ambitious, I have to go with Dame May Whitty on sheer emotional impact. At first this part seems like a completely cliched one, with Whitty doling out wisecracks wonderfully and being adorably cantankerous. But the genius comes when she flips the performance on it's head with a series of emotional moments that are tragically nostalgic and impactful. Whitty toys with the expectations placed on these types of Maggie Smith-type characters and rises high above them. Deserves an Oscar nomination just for making me cry at a damn flower contest.

The Year in Review: Though the scores don't add up to as high as some of my other banner years, I truly liked all five of these performances on different levels and really enjoyed doing this vintage year. Peters and Cooper both deliver admirable performances trapped by the limitations of their parts, and even Teresa Wright suffers a bit from the same affliction, in her case the slightly one-note role of Carol Beldon. It's clear to see why Wright won the Oscar, she's absolutely luminous, tragic, and winning in Mrs. Miniver, clearly an Oscar favorite. Whitty and Moorehead could not give more opposite performances, but both are great in different ways and worthy choices in this solid year for Best Supporting Actress. I always love seeing a field with no truly bad performances. Up next is a year from one of the three full decades in which I have only reviewed one year (60s, 70s, 00s), but don't expect it too soon since I'm sticking with the method of reviewing all nominees before posting even the intro post.

Worthy Non-Contenders:
Anne Baxter in The Magnificent Ambersons

Every Supporting Actress Nominee Ranked:
  1. Patty Duke in "The Miracle Worker" (1962)
  2. Dorothy Malone in "Written on the Wind" (1956)
  3. Thelma Ritter in "Pickup on South Street" (1953)
  4. Catherine Zeta-Jones in "Chicago" (2002)
  5. Linda Hunt in "The Year of Living Dangerously" (1983)
  6. Anna Paquin in "The Piano" (1993)
  7. Meryl Streep in "Adaptation." (2002)
  8. Cher in "Silkwood" (1983)
  9. Eileen Heckart in "The Bad Seed" (1956)
  10. Emma Thompson in "In the Name of the Father" (1993)
  11. Julianne Moore in "Boogie Nights" (1997) 
  12. Ellen Burstyn in "The Last Picture Show" (1971)
  13. Oprah Winfrey in "The Color Purple" (1985)
  14. May Whitty in "Mrs. Miniver" (1942)
  15. Patty McCormack in "The Bad Seed" (1956)
  16. Claire Trevor in "Dead End" (1937)
  17. Agnes Moorehead in "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942)
  18. May Whitty in "Night Must Fall" (1937)
  19. Margaret Avery in "The Color Purple" (1985)
  20. Mildred Dunnock in "Baby Doll" (1956)
  21. Julianne Moore in "The Hours" (2002)
  22. Kathy Bates in "About Schmidt" (2002)
  23. Angela Lansbury in "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962)
  24. Ethel Waters in "Pinky" (1949)
  25. Amy Madigan in "Twice in a Lifetime" (1985)
  26. Meg Tilly in "Agnes of God" (1985)
  27. Teresa Wright in "Mrs. Miniver" (1942)
  28. Gloria Stuart in "Titanic" (1997)
  29. Alfre Woodard in "Cross Creek" (1983)
  30. Barbara Harris in "Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?" (1971)
  31. Geraldine Page in "Hondo" (1953)
  32. Anne Shirley in "Stella Dallas" (1937)
  33. Amy Irving in "Yentl" (1983)
  34. Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential" (1997)
  35. Shirley Knight in "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962)
  36. Cloris Leachman in "The Last Picture Show" (1971)
  37. Margaret Leighton in "The Go-Between" (1971)
  38. Rosie Perez in "Fearless" (1993)
  39. Mercedes McCambridge in "All the King's Men" (1949)
  40. Joan Cusack in "In & Out" (1997)
  41. Anjelica Huston in "Prizzi's Honor" (1985)
  42. Ann-Margret in "Carnal Knowledge" (1971)
  43. Gladys Cooper in "Now, Voyager" (1942)
  44. Donna Reed in "From Here to Eternity" (1953)
  45. Glenn Close in "The Big Chill" (1983)
  46. Susan Peters in "Random Harvest" (1942)
  47. Alice Brady in "In Old Chicago" (1937)
  48. Mary Badham in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962) 
  49. Holly Hunter in "The Firm" (1993)
  50. Queen Latifah in "Chicago" (2002)
  51. Celeste Holm in "Come to the Stable" (1949)
  52. Ethel Barrymore in "Pinky" (1949)
  53. Minnie Driver in "Good Will Hunting" (1997)
  54. Thelma Ritter in "Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962) 
  55. Winona Ryder in "The Age of Innocence" (1993)
  56. Grace Kelly in "Mogambo" (1953)
  57. Mercedes McCambridge in "Giant" (1956)
  58. Marjorie Rambeau in "Torch Song" (1953) 
  59. Elsa Lanchester in "Come to the Stable" (1949)
  60. Andrea Leeds in  "Stage Door" (1937)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Susan Peters in Random Harvest

Susan Peters received her only Oscar nomination for her performance as Kitty Chiclet in Mervyn LeRoy's Random Harvest. Unfortunately, Susan Peters is mostly known nowadays (if mentioned at all) as a tragic Hollywood story after a 1945 hunting accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. Before the accident she was being groomed as a major star at MGM following her nomination for this film and a few other parts, but of course Hollywood didn't known what to do with a wheelchair-bound actress and Peters career fizzled out until she died at age 31 from what was essentially anorexia. It's a sad story for sure, especially considering how luminous she is in the role of Kitty in Random Harvest.

The film is a romantic drama about a man, "John Smith" (Oscar-nominated Ronald Colman) who loses his memory during World War I and falls in love with a singer who helps him make peace with his lost memories. After him and the woman, Paula (Greer Garson) get married and have a child he is hit by a car and suddenly regains the memory of his real life as Charles Rainier but simultaneously loses all of his memories of Paula and their time spent together. Peters enters as Kitty, Charles' step-niece who has a huge crush on him and eventually becomes engaged to him. However, Paula has found work as Charles' secretary and is determined to get him to remember their time together. It's a terribly overwrought film that is a little dull but still has a nice romantic glow whenever Garson and Colman are onscreen together.

Susan Peters has a tough job with the role of Kitty, having to traverse the film's drastic jumping around in time that forces her to age from a teen to a grown woman in what amounts to a few minutes onscreen. She's also got a really creepy romance, with vaguely incestuous undertones and a whopping 30 year age difference between her and Colman. It's a testament to Peters that she manages to make all of these aspects substantially less creepy (though not completely), through her charisma and charm. She's very convincing as a teenager, nicely expressing Kitty's childish crush on her uncle and her youthful confidence. She does absolutely all of the heavy lifting in the Charles/Kitty relationship, convincing us that the Kitty would be attracted to her uncle's romanticized mystique. She's not given a whole lot of time to develop a romance, since essentially two scenes in Kitty and Charles are engaged but Peters pulls it off with teenage aplomb and ardent forcefulness.

Because the performance is essentially three brief sequences, Peters has to work hard at showing the amount of maturity that Kitty has achieved in her second and third sequences. She definitely pulls it off, showing a more sophisticated and mature Kitty who has kept the torch going for her uncle over many years and maintains the determination to marry him. After the first two sequences featured, respectively, a teenage Kitty telling her uncle they will get married and a grown up Kitty getting him to propose to her, Peters is finally given a more emotional moment in her third and final scene. While her and Charles are picking hymns for their upcoming wedding they happen up the one that he and Paula got married to and Kitty recognizes that Charles still loves someone else. It's a beautifully acted moment, as we get a close-up on Kitty's face as her expression of giddy excitement changes to confusion and bewilderment to finally disappointment. Peters acts the scene with maturity and skill, having maneuvered Kitty to this place in only a few scenes. Her goodbye to Charles is touching and very noble, something the audience wouldn't have expected from the slightly annoying and petulant teen at the very beginning.

This is a perfectly lovely performance by Susan Peters, even if for the most part Kitty Chiclet is nothing more than a prop of a part that is meant to illustrate how attractive and charming Ronald Colman's character is. Peters tackles the role with charm and transitions the performance very well, but is essentially stuck by the part nonetheless. This nomination feels more like a "star is born" nomination than anything else, because I would very much have liked to see how Peters' career turned out after this lovely breakthrough. 3/5 Thelmas.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Agnes Moorehead in The Magnificent Ambersons

Agnes Moorehead received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Aunt Fanny Minafer in Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons. Orson Welles' follow-up to Citizen Kane holds an interesting place in film history, regarded as simultaneously a masterpiece and the prime example of studio interference ruining the director's vision. It certainly is a film with astonishing visuals and a compelling narrative, focusing on the decay of the Amberson family at the hands of the spoiled rotten George Amberson. The entire family is filled with engaging characters, perhaps no more so than Agnes Moorehead's Fanny Minafer. Fanny is the spinster aunt of George (Tim Holt), who the rest of the family seems to pick on somewhat, most often to her despair or discomfort. She has very little in her life besides her family and her cooking, and she pines for the handsome Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten), who only has eyes for her sister-in-law Isabel (Dolores Costello). Many posit that Moorehead is the lead of the film, but I can't agree considering she spends most of the film lingering in the background and gets only a few choice scenes to focus solely on her. But man are those scenes something.

The Magnificent Ambersons maintains a very heightened and melodramatic tone throughout the film and in its performances, but man does Agnes Moorehead take it to another level completely. She dives so fully into the despair of her character in each and every scene, making Fanny a larger than life character with a theatricality that borders on chewing scenery. Everything about this performance, to me, starts with the voice Moorehead uses. It alone explains so much of the character, her high pitched squeaky voice that gets even more shrill and unbearable whenever Fanny gets angry, most often with George. Her relationship with her nephew is a highly contentious one, as the two spend a good deal of the film quarreling and interrogating one another. George knows just what to say in order to get rise out of Fanny, recognizing immediately her attraction towards Morgan and calling her out for it. The scenes between Holt and Moorehead are always very entertaining, as Holt badgers her with questions and insults and Moorehead hams it up with her shrill and expressive reactions. Moorehead shows the very fragile shell that surrounds Fanny, and in her performance allows the audience to wait on pins and needles for her complete and total breakdown to occur. And boy does it.

But before that breakdown occurs, Moorehead creeps around the background showing the complete and utter devastation she feels with her life, and just how sad and broken down this woman truly is. Orson Welles clearly loved to fix the camera on Moorehead, and even in scenes in which she is not featured or talking the camera constantly swoops by her and we get a brief but stark glance at Fanny's fragile emotional state. When Isbel's husband dies we see that the melancholy on Fanny's face is beyond just sadness for her brothers death--it's sadness that Isabel now is an option for Morgan to choose. As Morgan talks to Fanny and Isabel about how grateful he is for their long and loyal friendship without once even looking at Fanny, we see just how resentful and bitter Fanny is towards Isabel from the despondent look on Moorehead's face. It all builds to the eventual final breakdown in the boiler room after the family is officially without financial support anymore. It's a scene that is often regarded as one of the greatest bits of actressing of all time, but I wouldn't go quite that far. What Moorehead does give us is the final straw in the loneliness and plain depression of Fanny Minafer, and she lets it all out in a raw and emotional outburst. It's a scene that borderlines on chewing scenery (as does the rest of Moorehead's performance, really) but manages to do so without completely isolating the audience. All of the emotional turmoil building within Fanny bursts and you as the audience understand.

In all of her theatrical glory, Agnes Moorehead is nothing but completely memorable and starkly emotional in the role of Fanny Minafer. Moorehead toes the line of overacting, but for most of the performance plays with a larger than life acting style that completely complements her character. Fanny Minafer has the same over the top dramatic qualities of a great theatrical role, and Moorehead recognizes it and adapts it well enough to a theatrical style. However, there are a few things that limit and hold her back in the film--most notably the injudicious cutting of Welles' film. There really is something missing from Fanny's story that by the end of the film you feel dissatisfied. For one, her relationship with both her brother and sister-in-law is never fully detailed, nor really is her relationship with anyone outside of George. The resentments growing underneath between Isabel and Fanny feel ripe for a few good scenes. But most of all, the ending tacked on by the studio after they disliked the original, sadder ending just completely undermines her character. The entire point of Fanny as a character was to serve as a tragic example of spinsterhood, and by giving her something of a happy ending where she is at peace with both George and Morgan dulls the impact and weakens the film (and Moorehead's performance) overall. Many seem to just completely disregard this ending, however, but it's still annoying.

Overall, Agnes Moorehead gives an eminently memorable and enjoyable performance as Fanny Minafer. She dominates the screen whenever she is on it and blasts so much emotion onto the screen in such a forceful way you can't help but be captivated by her. It's not a perfect performance, and it always walks the line between overacting and annoyance but does so almost beautifully so. A wonderful performance that could have been even greater without the interference of the studio. 4.5/5 Thelmas.