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Introducing... The Supporting Actresses of 1941

The next Supporting Actress Smackdown hits this coming Saturday and you can still vote as part of the panel. Your votes count toward the outcome since one of the panelists spots is for the readers! We'll look at How Green Was My Valley for Best Shot late tonight but for now, it's another edition of "Introducing..." How do we first meet these 1941 characters who will then grant their actresses the honor of becoming Academy Awards Nominees? Was the direction, music and lighting already helping to single these ladies out for honors?

Here's how they're introduced in their films...

Good morning."

Teresa Wright as "Alexandra" in The Little Foxes
Arrival: 2 minutes She's the first character we meet in this drama about greed, and a feuding cotton mill family in the early 20th century. We see her riding in her horse driven carriage with her housekeeper and as they ride she says good morning to three men and flirts (sort of) with the last, a handome gent who calls her "Xan." They've apparently known each other for quite some time since he talks to her about petticoats and underskirts (shameless!) before teasing her that she's too old now for him to say these things to her. We glean that she is touchy about her family and just getting used to the fact that she's viewed as a young woman now, and not a child. It's worth noting that this is Teresa Wright's film debut (she was 23) so it's the first scene in which movieogers ever saw her. She was an instant darling of Hollywood, immediately cast in everything. The "It Girl" of 41/42 if you will. But will this performance hold more than Pretty Young Thing to crush on...? 

Who was ya sayin' it werrr? Who was ya sayin' it werrrr?

Margaret Wycherley as "Mother York" in Sergeant York
Arrival: Immediately. She's the first congregation member we see at church as the crowd sings a hymn before the pastor's sermon (King of Supporting Actor Oscar Trivia, Walter Brennan). We aren't properly introduced, though, until 05:45 when the service is interrupted by drunk gunfire and the men speculate about who it was that shot the tree. Director Howard Hawks underlines this entrance in just about every way he can. The crowd literally parts to the sound of her questioning voice. She repeats her dialogue and walks toward the camera as the cacophony of noise gives way to reverent underscoring. Mother Earth, Widow of the Top Lands coming through! "Saint York" would be an appropriate title. Will there be more to the performance than respected earth widow? We shall see...

Mary Astor as "Sandra Kovaks" in The Great Lie
Arrival: 4:21 She's sound asleep  in the middle of the day. But everything we've seen and heard in the first four minutes is about her.  We already know she's an important concert pianist (opening credits), an impulsive newlywed, and her maid just hates her. Will Astor live up to all this diva hype and IF the movie is all about her, why is she a "supporting actress"? Stay tuned for more when the star wakes up... hopefully in time for the Smackdown this Saturday. 

Good morning, darling!"

Patricia Collinge as "Birdie" in The Little Foxes
Arrival: 4:25 Morning errands completed, Alexandra (Teresa Wright) parks her carriage at home and greats her Aunt Birdie, seen in long shot or obstructed views at first, peering down from an upstairs window.  She's just recovered from a headache and immediately gets fussy about the evening festivities to come, offering to help Xan with her piano rehearsal. But the focus is always on Xan in these first five minutes, until of course Xan's mother enters, shouting from a high perch on the balcony across the yard that they all stop their "vulgar shouting" immediately pulling all the focus up to her. As BETTE DAVIS does. How is Collinge going to wrestle any attention away from her... or will the Oscar nomination be from the trying...?

[No Dialogue. Men singing in unison as they march home.]

Sara Allgood as "Mrs Morgan" in How Green Was My Valley
Arrival: 4:30. In the opening narrated prologue, John Ford cues us into the ritualistic daily patterns of this one- industry village. As the townsmen leave the coal mine at the end of their working day, Mrs Morgan is on the lookout for her husband and her five strapping boys. She'll sit and collect their earnings in her apron, before sending them off to wash themselves before dinner. In keeping with the theme of community that permeates the movie, no one in this opening sequence (narrated by the youngest brother - Roddy McDowall as a boy, Irving Pichel as an adult in voiceover) is given much in the way of individualized attention but viewed through the prism of their place in the collective. Allgood doesn't get any dialogue for the first ten minutes but in her physicality and laughter we see warmth, busybodyness, and love for her sons. Will Allgood bring yet more layers.

We shall see in the Smackdown...

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Reader Comments (9)

Is this the earliest collectively that all of the supporting actresses have shown up in a movie? I feel like this could be a record.

May 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Right? It's like they are all the first character introduced practically.

May 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I'm so excited for Hit Me With Your Best Shot this week! I really want to know what everyone has to say about How Green Was My Valley

May 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterConrado

I revisited How Green Was My Valley a couple nights ago and, alas, both Allgood and the film dropped somewhat in my estimation (I used to love the movie - now merely like it a lot). On the other hand all of the other 1941 supp. actresses/films improved richly with a second viewing.

Feels like it's pretty rare that each of the films nominated in this particular category is so strong and worth watching beyond individual strenuous performances. Good year.

And once again: The Little Foxes. Wow.

May 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Love these introductions. I might even give a chance to Sergeant York.

May 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I really want to watch The Little Foxes! How I love vicious bitches in the movies..

May 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercraver

Teresa Wright reminds me of early Anne Hathaway. Yay for The Little Foxes.

Peggy Sue--not a fan of Sergeant York and could never understand the love for it or Gary Cooper's performance. But, worth a watch just to cross an Oscar winner off your list.

May 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Sergeant York was definitely a tough sit for me. I really enjoyed the other three films, though (I hadn't seen any of them before).

May 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I thought Sergeant York was okay, although Cooper was far better in Pride of the Yankees, but it took far too long to get where it was going. Margaret Wycherly is at the bottom of my choices for supporting actress, not because she was bad but the part was a nothing. Incredible she got the tip for this yet her Ma Jarrett in White Heat was ignored.

May 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

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