Monday, February 6, 2017

Oscar, Oscar, Oscar II: Texas Blood Money

One of the reasons why I love Danny Peary’s Alternate Oscars so much is that in his book, he singles out for Academy Award trophies motion picture actresses who rightfully should have taken home prizes.  Here are a few of the creative choices that are my absolute favorites:

1928-29: Lillian Gish for The Wind

1929-30: Louise Brooks for Pandora’s Box

1936: Jean Harlow for Libeled Lady

1940: Rosalind Russell for His Girl Friday

1941: Barbara Stanwyck for Ball of Fire

1942: Carole Lombard for To Be or Not to Be

1943: Jean Arthur for The More the Merrier

1945: Joan Bennett for Scarlet Street

1947: Deborah Kerr for Black Narcissus

1953: Gloria Grahame for The Big Heat

1959: Marilyn Monroe for Some Like It Hot

1963: Leslie Caron for The L-Shaped Room

1968: Tuesday Weld for Pretty Poison

1969: Shirley Knight for The Rain People

1980: Ellen Burstyn for Resurrection (her second, to go with Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore)

1991: Lili Taylor for Dogfight

Overall, I firmly believe that many of Peary’s “alternate” Oscars are miles and away better picks than the ones that were handed out in real-life.  Danny also relieves a few winners of their cumbersome trophies: both Shirley Booth and Jessica Tandy, he argues, were better known for their work on stage and therefore their Academy Award victories have a bit of a tarnish.  (He makes the same argument with Helen Hayes—who won in 1931-32 for The Sin of Madelon Claudet—but I’m of the opinion she just won the prize for the wrong movie: she’s fantastic in 1934’s What Every Woman Knows.  I’m guessing until he releases a book that addresses Best Supporting Oscars Helen can keep her statuette for Airport.)

In addition, the future Princess of Monaco forfeits her Oscar for The Country Girl (1954).  I don’t have to tell you that Peary agrees with most people that that statuette should have been Judy Garland’s and Judy’s alone…though if you’d like to argue about it in the comments section, I’ll have ClassicBecky (the muse for this article) hold our coats.  (Remember that Groucho Marx sent Judy his regrets, stating her loss at the Awards “was a bigger robbery than Brink’s.”)  At the time Danny wrote the book, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences hadn’t bestowed Oscars on two of my bête noires—Julia Roberts and Gwyneth Paltrow—so I’ll include them in this paragraph of “WTF, Academy?”

I had a lengthy list of actresses who won Oscars for the wrong movies…but I did a little pruning so I could provide a tidy ten:

Marie Dressler – Marie is one of those actresses that makes me tear up every time she does a serious scene—I even get misty when I watch the movies she’s in with Polly Moran, and they’re supposed to be comedies.  Dressler was a sentimental favorite the year she won a Best Actress Oscar for Min and Bill (1930) …but I think she’s even better in the underrated Emma (1932).  I’d even argue in favor of her work in Dinner at Eight (1933), though that might be considered more of a supporting turn.

Katharine Hepburn – Kate is still the champ when it comes to the Best Actress category; she won four trophies (she was nominated twelve times…but Meryl Streep has her beat on that score with 16) for Morning Glory (1933), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), and (ugh) On Golden Pond (1981).  Wrong on all counts.  The films for which she received nominations are better choices; if Hepburn is to win all that Oscar largesse I’d personally prefer it be for Alice Adams (1935—AO pick), The African Queen (1951), Summertime (1955), and The Rainmaker (1956—Kate’s second AO).  As for the movies Hepburn didn’t get noms for, Sylvia Scarlett (1935) and Holiday (1938) surely must be on the list.

Bette Davis – When Bette won the first of her two Oscars in 1936 for Dangerous (1935), it was widely accepted that that trophy was for her superior performance the previous year in Of Human Bondage (1934—AO’s choice)—a role that did get nominated via a write-in campaign when both Warner Brothers and RKO refused to submit Bette’s name for a certified nom.  She’d win a second statuette for Jezebel (1938), and while I could be persuaded that she keeps that one, any of the other films for which she received nominations would be better substitutes for the first one (Dangerous simply isn’t that great): The Letter (1940—my pick), The Little Foxes (1941), All About Eve (1950), and The Star (1952).  (I also have soft spots for Marked Woman [1937] and The Catered Affair [1956].)

Joan Fontaine – Joan’s Best Actress Oscar win in 1942 was for Suspicion (1941) …and in the case with Bette Davis, was considered a consolation prize for losing out the previous year with her nomination for Rebecca (1940).  Rebecca is a much better showcase for Fontaine, as is The Constant Nymph (1943), her third and final AA nomination.  But I agree with Danny Peary that Fontaine’s performance in Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) is the one for which she should have been able to put the prize on her mantle.

Ingrid Bergman – The legendary actress would win three Oscars during her career: a second Best Actress prize for Anastasia (1956), and a Supporting Actress trophy for Murder on the Orient Express (1974).  I’ve not seen Anastasia, a “cinematic vegetable” I hope to get around to one of these days, but as far as her Best Actress Oscar goes I think Ingrid’s turns in either Casablanca (1942) or Notorious (1946) are superior to her work in Gaslight (1944).

Jane Wyman – After Wyman won her Oscar for Johnny Belinda (1948), her husband (future U.S. President Ronald Reagan) joked during their contentious divorce that he should name the film as “co-respondent.”  I personally think Wyman’s win for Belinda was one of the weakest choices in the history of the Oscars, particularly since she’s so much better in the earlier The Yearling (1946—she was nominated for this) and the later All That Heaven Allows (1955).  (Of the two, I’d go with Heaven…even though I’m still convinced the best acting Janie ever did was her wicked homage to Reagan’s second wife as Angela Channing on TV’s Falcon Crest.)

Judy Holliday – Holliday’s win for her superb comic turn in Born Yesterday (1950) is kind of going to violate my long-standing gripe with the Academy that they’re prejudiced against comedy performances.  But I cannot deny (and Peary feels the same in Oscars) that Judy was at her very best in the underrated The Marrying Kind (1952), a film that deserves more attention that it usually gets.

Audrey Hepburn – I’m also going to agree with Danny that rather than receive an Oscar for Roman Holiday (1953), the lovely Audrey gives a far better performance in another neglected film, Two for the Road (1967).  (I also have a soft spot for The Nun’s Story [1959].)

Joanne Woodward – Woodward’s Best Actress Oscar win for The Three Faces of Eve (1957) is copacetic with Peary in Alternate Oscars…but truth be told, it’s a movie I’ve just never warmed up to.  My personal fave among Joanne’s performances is in Rachel, Rachel (1968); she was nominated for that as well as the underrated Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973).

Sissy Spacek – Peary gives Sissy two statuettes in AO: one for Carrie (1976), and the other for the underrated Raggedy Man (1981—not the strongest of motion pictures, but Spacek is phenomenal in it).  Either of these is a better choice than her celebrated turn in Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980); I’d also go with Missing (1982—what can I say; I love this movie and was crushed when it lost Best Picture to Gandhi) or The Long Walk Home (1990), the movie that inspired these two Oscar-themed posts in the first place.


Caftan Woman said...

I don't quite grasp Peary's idea of the Oscars for gals better known for their stage career as being "tarnished", but okay. I can't argue with any of his alternate choices.

I agree with you that the Great Kate was awarded for the wrong films, but it's their trophy, not mine to give away. Her Morning Glory win is the one that truly irks me. I'd have tossed it May Robson's way.

I have to say that I haven't paid much attention to the Oscars since sometime in the 80s. Only watched them once during that time to see Seth MacFarlane host and, according to sages on the internet, I was not supposed to enjoy his routines as much as I did. Ho-hum.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

I don't quite grasp Peary's idea of the Oscars for gals better known for their stage career as being "tarnished", but okay. I can't argue with any of his alternate choices.

Well, in all fairness I'm kind of putting words in his mouth. He didn't so much say "tarnished" as hint that those winners should have taken a back seat to contenders who really moviemaking their show business priority. Mea culpa if I caused any damage to his rep.