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Sunday
Jun282015

Smackdown 1948: Jean, Barbara, Claire, Ellen, and Agnes Moorehead

Presenting the Supporting Actresses of '48. A young writer, a drunken chanteuse, two spinster aunties, and a girl who never gets to the nunnery.

THE NOMINEES

1948 is so basic. A typical Best Supporting Actress shortlist looks almost exactly like this: an actress whose paid her dues finally getting a plum opportunity (hello usually uncredited Ellen Corby in I Remember Mama finally stepping into the limelight), a rapidly rising star (Jean Simmons in Hamlet, not her first attention grabbing role in the late 40s), a fresh ingenue in a popular picture (Meet Barbara Bel Geddes in I Remember Mama), and if you're lucky in a good year a couple of revered character actresses to class up the shortlist joint (Agnes Moorehead in Johnny Belinda and Claire Trevor in Key Largo). And within that mix you'll usually have a protagonist demoted to "supporting" and Best Picture heat helping at least a few of them find a seat at the table. All of that is true for 1948. What isn't so typical is a supporting actress winning on a picture's sole nomination and that happened here. Key Largo has aged well but Oscar didn't have any time for it back then outside of Trevor's drunk despair. The other three pictures had 24 nominations between them!

THIS MONTH'S PANELISTS

Here to talk about these five turns are screenwriter/author Abdi Nazemian ("The Walk in Closet"), film blogger Catherine Stebbins (Cinema Enthusiast), freelance journalist Joe Reid, film critic Tim Robey (The Telegraph), and your host Nathaniel R (The Film Experience). In addition to this write up we recorded a companion podcast  where we flesh out some of these thoughts and expound on the movies themselves.

Without further ado...

1948
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN 

 

BARBARA BEL GEDDES as "Katrin" in I Remember Mama
Synopsis: A teenager who dreams of being a writer finds source material in her immigrant mother
Stats: Then 26 yrs old, 2nd film, first and only nomination. 72 minutes of screen time (or 54% of running time). 

Abdi Nazemian: She carries much of the emotional life of the film, but I found the film unbearably sentimental (this from a man who loves Andy Hardy movies and Little Women). She lacks the unique quirks that young actors like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney brought to the same kinds of roles, and gives us a bland portrayal of adolescence. Of all the nominated actresses, she was given the most screen time, and did the least with it. 

Catherine Stebbins: One of these days I’ll figure out why I’m always so drawn to Bel Geddes. She has a lot of screen time as Katrin, given the unenviable task of holding up the film’s relentless episodic nostalgia. She is narrator, observer, worshiper, and an adult playing an adolescent. Katrin constantly looks at her mother, whether in the background or foreground, with reverent awe. Bel Geddes plays this with a partial cognizance that Katrin is in the gently reenacted memories of her past. ♥♥♥

Joe Reid: I can see how, if you were swept up in the homey charms of George Stevens' film, you'd want to throw accolades at Bel Geddes, who plays such an observant window onto the life of her saintly mother. Her hushed voice-over gets to the gauzy-memoir nature of the story effectively, but I'm not sure the performance ever gets much farther than doe-eyed wonderment.  ♥♥

Tim Robey: Saddled with just about the hoariest framing narration in film history, and doing little to lift it out of sanctified goo, Barbara has a near-impossible task here – making the terminally precious Katrin and her “gifted” (read: soporific) memoirs interesting. She can’t win, but we still need something more than a voice like tree sap to get us through this. In overegged close-ups she’s weirdly divorced from real-time engagement with her scenes, and every co-star seems faintly embarrassed about what to do with her. 

Nathaniel R: In the movie's crowded frames, you can often see just her hair or the back of her head; unfortunately her full closeups aren't that much more expressive, generally landing a single emotion. The narration is even stiffer like she's reading to a very small child from an immobile body cast. (The direction and screenplay all but force this stiff repetitiveness though, so it's not all on her) She aces warm awestruck looks at goddess Irene Dunne, but... I mean... who doesn't?  

Reader Write-Ins: "She is telling THEIR story, which she happens to be in. Therefore she is bland, quiet, blending to the background so others can showcase themselves." - Tom (Reader average: ♥♥¼)

Actress earns 10¼ ❤s 

four more actresses after the jump


ELLEN CORBY as "Aunt Trina" in I Remember Mama
Synopsis: A spinster aunt to a Norwegian family has surprising news - a marriage proposal. The family makes a fuss briefly and moves on... they've got their own drama, okay?
Stats: Then 37 yrs old, 2nd credited film role (but numerous bit parts before hand, first and only nomination. 29 minutes of screen time (or 22% of running time) 

Abdi Nazemian: Plus: I’m obsessed with her face. Her expressive eyes always have a gleam in them, hinting at a rich emotional life within. Minus: The accent wears thin. Plus: She brings a dose of sly humor to balance out the film’s saccharine elements. Minus: She isn’t given any truly great scenes. Plus: Take a look at Oscar Homolka as Uncle Chris to see how much she could have overplayed the role. ♥♥♥

Catherine Stebbins: Grandma Walton does as much as can reasonably be expected with Aunt Trina. To her credit, Corby’s neurotic wispiness feels a bit more lived in and less overt than most of the film’s other performances. But she is given the most tiresome material in an endless sea of tiresome material (bills, cats, hospitals, dresser sets; the list goes on). While competent, she can’t elevate her quest for marriage with Mr. Thorkelson. Hell, even the other characters can't be bothered with her. ♥♥

Joe Reid:  If the mark of an effective supporting performance is that you'd happily watch a movie with their character as the lead, Corby certainly succeeds. As much as I admired Irene Dunne's central performance, I kept longing for a movie that didn't revere its main character so much. It does not revere Aunt Trina. She's flighty and nervous and kind of pathetic in relation to her pillar of a sister, but Corby plays her with a sweetness that never begs for sympathy. ♥♥♥♥

Tim Robey: Actressing quite literally at the edges in most shots, and mustering a birdlike persistence that pecks away at you, Corby makes good, darting impressions whenever she appears. Thanks to her, Aunt Trina is the rare character in I Remember Mama you want to spend more time with, not less. She gets a lovely last full-frame shot – almost her only one, unlike the barrage for Babs – and makes the most of this. But it feels like a consolation prize for very sporadic opportunities. ♥♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: Corby captures the plight of the nervous introvert in a loud family well. But despite sympathetic physical work, the movie doesn't know how to harness her but for comic asides. She's reduced to a mere foil to accentuate goodheartedness, bulldozing, and pettiness in others. But you do feel warmly for her by the end and that counts for a lot within the nostalgic memoir genre. ♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "I noticed myself missing Aunt Trina when she was off the screen." -Eoin (Reader average: ♥♥½)

Actress earns  17½ ❤s 

 

AGNES MOOREHEAD as "Aggie MacDonald" in Johnny Belinda
Synopsis: An overworked farmer's sister struggles to understand her deaf niece's troubles
Stats: Then 48 years old, 21st film, third of four nominations. 22½ minutes of screen time (or 22% of running time). 

Abdi Nazemian: Like I Remember Mama, this movie has “important picture” written all over it, but the actors rise above the politics of the film with affecting performances. Moorehead brings the right mix of bitterness and empathy to her role, and her brusque manner is very effective when juxtaposed to Wyman’s vulnerable and beautifully portrayed Belinda. She’s given a big character arc and an accent to pull off, and she does both admirably. ♥♥♥♥

Catherine Stebbins: The spinster aunt who shifts from untargeted callousness to fretful protector. The scene telegraphing this is Moorehead’s best, as she conveys immediate empathy and crushing sorrow. Otherwise, this is accent-led, largely surface-level work; a decent portrayal of an archetype (though she does have fun lurking around the frame a la ‘Hush, Hush’). It doesn’t help that Aggie’s relationship with Belinda is spoken of but never really shown. I personally preferred the yearning and ethically conflicted Jan Sterling as a potential nominee. ♥♥

Joe Reid: Just once in my life, I'd like to be able to travel back in time and have Agnes Moorehead yell at me. Just haul off and upbraid me in whatever cockamamie accent she prefers. While I'm inclined to believe that Jane Wyman won the Oscar for managing to resist tumbling right out into the Nova Scotian waters on the back of Moorehead's rolling 'R's, Aunt Aggie is still the most watchable thing on screen at all times. Astringency like hers is so welcome in a movie that seems determined to put its main character through the most predictable of paces.  ♥♥♥

Tim Robey: Agnes is – surprise! – Spinster Aunt Aggie, more or less her character for life. She’s always tough as old boots, and here tramps them indomitably through the Nova Scotia mud. At first it’s all bustling and charwork, then she gets her best scene revealing, not a heart of mush under this iron hide, but the next best cliché, loving anxiety. Handwringing, alas, dominates from there on, and while there’s no one else you’d rather be doing this, the role dribbles away on her. ♥♥ 

Nathaniel R:She's always a welcome sight but what surprised me in this totally typecast part was Agnes unflattering take on Aggies flashes of recognition, immediately waved away in choice hand-shaking gesture or quick busy work that she's understood Belinda's not such a "dummy" all along but just didn't have the patience for her / to admit it. Aggie's about face when the girl is in trouble "I've been so cross with her" totally lands against the odds.  ♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "I love her sour face!" -Peggy Sue  (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns  17 ❤s 

 

JEAN SIMMONS as "Ophelia" in Hamlet
Synopsis: A lady of the court is driven mad by the indecisive affections of a cruel Prince in the rotten state of Denmark.
Stats:  Then 19 years old, 12th film, first of two nominations. 28 minutes of screen time (or 18% of the running time). 

Abdi Nazemian: Olivier’s wife Vivien Leigh played Ophelia opposite her husband onstage, and I couldn’t help but wish she had brought her brilliant madness to the film. Simmons is often compelling, but I found myself spending more time thinking about her hair than her performance. Did she bleach it to emulate Hamlet? What is the Freudian symbolism behind the braided loops around each side of her face that loosen as she goes mad? Why did her agent approve those bangs? ♥♥

Catherine Stebbins: Has this doll-like Ophelia ever left the castle grounds? Despite the high rating, I’m still mulling over this performance, having grown up with Bonham-Carter’s dodgy-eyed interpretation, and being more taken with Olivier’s immortal visualization of Simmons (she drifts, floats, and sobs towards and away from the camera) than her intentional contribution. Olivier regards her little as a scene partner, but she holds her own as an unstudied ingénue among capital A Actors, admirably avoiding hysterics by depicting lunacy like an ethereal lost ghost. ♥♥♥♥

Joe Reid: There are ways to make the Ophelia character interesting in a production of Hamlet, but I'm not sure Olivier was all that concerned with that. Obviously the text gives the character a lot of attention, but the movie is content to show her in a series of prostrate poses and doe-eyed reaction shots. Simmons is utterly beautiful in that very Old Hollywood way, but I never really got beyond that with her performance. 

Tim Robey: Difficulty bonus here, as all agree Ophelia’s a total bitch to play. Big props for how unmannered Simmons is: she wrings a remarkable amount of spontaneity even from the flower-strewing mad scenes, and hasn’t pre-conceptualised her playing into floaty abstraction. After a pause-heavy start, she keeps getting better, paving the way for meltdown with her Act 3 collapse on the steps, then seeming to dip in and out of her right mind with a sing-song musicality. A movingly persuasive take on a poisoned-chalice role. ♥♥♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: Soft you now, whilst approaching this fair role... Simmons absorbs that in full floating around her scenes as something less than corporal in the first half. This makes her more physical haunted pacing in the second half, weirdly impactful. That said, the Madness is less felt than Acted. She's a great visual presence but just as Ophelia is less pawn-like in the royal machinations than collateral damage, Simmons work isn't a true match for the difficulty of Shakespeare's words and the forcefulness of Olivier's direction. ♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "She clearly shows Ophelia’s warring emotions not just running across her face but in her entire body language." -jjnxn (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns  17 ❤s 

CLAIRE TREVOR as "Gaye Dawn" in Key Largo
Synopsis: An alcoholic singer travels with her gangster beau into trouble in the Florida Keys.
Stats: Then 38 yrs old, 49th film, 2nd of three nominations in this category. 28 minutes of screen time (or 28% of running time). 

Abdi Nazemian: Stunning. Trevor nails every moment, elevating what could’ve been a cliché role into a brutal portrait of addiction and desperation. She connects to her fellow actors, and her neurotic melancholy is an especially perfect contrast to Bacall’s stoic confidence. As for her big scene, which involves a heartbreaking song and a descent into madness (along with Bogie enabling her alcoholism in an act of old-school altruism), let’s just say this is an Ophelia worthy of Shakespeare.  ♥♥♥♥♥

Catherine Stebbins: Nestled between ‘just-one-more-drink-Johnny’, ‘thanks fella’, and lots of sidelining is the justly famous scene that single-handedly won her the Oscar. Trevor was thrown into "Moanin Low" with no warning, and it's the only time she escapes the trappings of the thankless lush. It’s a showy scene but she never plays into that impulse. It is instead Gaye’s sincere attempt to recapture something lost within her, pretending to perform in the past so she doesn’t have to face the humiliation of the present. ♥♥♥

Joe Reid: The character of the faded beauty is an easy mark for this crowd, I suspect, but Trevor brings such a life to the role that I'm not going to feel too guilty for falling for it. She basically does Ophelia better than Ophelia, if Ophelia got to perform a sad/sultry number to an unfeeling Hamlet. She's instantly a figure of pity and sympathy, but Trevor does great work to make her a presence instead of a void..  ♥♥♥♥♥

Tim Robey: Wobblier than you’d think, with as many excessive gestures as apt ones. Trevor won for a gift-wrapped stinko-moll routine that sometimes plays like a Madeline Kahn parody of itself. She’s better in her comedowns, and gets it together fine for standout moments. But it’s such a ‘featured turn’, in such a dated way, and feels like a thoroughly comfort-zone performance. She’s also strangely absent for long ensemble stretches, as if only getting out of the dressing room for inserts was worth her while. ♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: Gaye would be a "type" in lesser hands but Trevor is deliciously invested. Gaye’s not just a washed up drunken floozy, she's this exact drunken floozy. In a performance full of film-stealing opportunities, her pitiable outsider doesn't pull focus so much as yearn to be part of the ensemble (after securing her next drink of course). Absolute favorite bit: that staccato scream with head-turning double take - so incredibly specific. She can't believe what she's seeing and that no one is screaming with her. ♥♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "Her performance as an alcoholic rivals that of Ray Milland's in The Lost Weekend for sheer realism and sympathy." -Sean (Reader average: ♥♥♥♥)

Actress earns 23 ❤s 

The Oscar Went To... Claire Trevor
AND THE SMACKDOWN GIVES HER ANOTHER ROUND OF APPLAUSE

Claire Trevor receiving her Oscar from Edmund Gwenn who had won the year before for Miracle on 34th Street

Would you have chosen similarly?

Want more? Listen to the companion podcast - 42 minutes of conversation about the movies of 1948, these four and others. For context we also looked back at 1948 highlight lists, discussed all five character introductions in that movies, introductions being a peculiar fascination of your host. Five more 1948 films we looked back on: The Red ShoesLetter From an Unknown Woman,the animated shorts of the yearTreasure of the Sierra Madre and Sorry Wrong Number

Thank you for attending! 
Please do share it on facebook or twitter. Previous Smackdowns ICYMI: 1941195219641968, 1973, 19791980, 1989, and 2003. (Before that 30+ Smackdowns were hosted @ StinkyLulu's old site.) IN JULY WE'RE DOING 1995

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Reader Comments (31)

Abdi's comments about Jean Simmons are hilarious. I was noting the hair throughout...especially those unfortunate bangs.

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterrob

Loved Trevoe esp her snubbed 82 performance

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

@Joe Reid- I want to see the Aunt Trina movie too!

My ballot:
I really don't remember much about this movie after I watched it. Everything was serviceable but not memorable. Moorehead included. It was a good performance, she hits the marks she needed, but that was it. Nothing stood out. It is like an average student getting a B on a test. Everyone expected it and nothing was overly impressive. That is how I feel about the performance. Not to say she is bad, just just good. Just good is not enough to merit hearts from me.
2 hearts

Jean Simmons- Hamlet
Oh how I wish she was nominated for Elmer Gantry. I could write paragraphs about that one. As it is, she was nominated for Hamlet. I don't like the play at all and I am glad Olivier excised some of the longer scenes for his movie. I am not a real Shakespeare connoisseur- I don't know if she is saying the words with the correct cadence for example, but Simmons does seem to be trying to make this work. Ophelia really only has 3 emotions to play- love, sorrow, and then madness. Simmons is good but quite frankly eclipsed by Eileen Herlie. I am still surprised that no one wanted to mention Herlie for awards that year. But Simmons was new and bright and shiny. She was good but not the best in her movie.
2.5 hearts

Ellen Corby- I Remember Mama
Corby has a throw away part that she makes work. She plays the youngest sister, who is so insecure that she threatens to jump in the river if her other sisters laugh at her. She is used to being laughed at, to being brushed aside. This consistent treatment has turned her into a cowering stammering mouse. But Corby lets us see her heart. She wants to be accepted by her family. Little flashes of pain and panic cross her face. But Corby's face is best used when she meets her husband, an also insecure mortician. Their last scene together is wonderful. He expresses that he loves her truly, that he would do anything for her. Corby's face lights up. After all this suffering she has found someone who would worship the ground she walks on. There is also a bit of a surprise- she wasn't expecting to be loved that much. I imagine there is a sweet short film about their awkward meeting, courtship, and marriage somewhere. And if I want to see the character in their own movie, then the actress did something right.
3 hearts

Barbara Bel Geddes- I Remember Mama
However, I don't think I could sit through a movie about Katrin. Barbara is playing the narrator, which means she has to be less interesting then the characters around her. She is telling THEIR story, which she happens to be in. Therefore she is bland, quiet, blending to the background so others can showcase themselves. It doesn't them that she shares most of her scenes with Dunne- giving her best performance. or Homolka who just scenery chews everything. Barbara doesn't seem to be trying to make her character interesting but just be a story teller.
1.5 hearts

Claire Trevor- Key Largo
Much will be made for her singing scene, but what really gets me is right before she sings. At first she tries to get out of it :"Without any accompaniment? Can I have the drink first?" Then she talks about the gowns, the lights, and the pageantry. Almost saying imagine me with all of this and you can see how good I was. But all that is stripped away. Trevor is performing without anything to distract the others, so they will only focus on her. That scene is what got her over the top. Plus Gaye Dawn is not like any other character in a traditional gangster movie. Bogart is playing the stereotypical conflicted hero who we all know will win, Robinson is playing another Robinson part, his henchmen are all interchangeable, and Bacall has a threadbare part. But Trevor stands out. Gaye is not the typical moll. At first she seems like a barely functioning alcoholic, then we get into her relationship with Johnny. He made her but they have fallen out. Her redemption arc is more fascinating then Bogart's and without her, our hero cannot win. Gaye Dawn may be a faded flame, but Trevor burns much brighter then anyone else in the movie.
3 hearts

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered Commentertom

Yes! Claire Trevor won. I agree that Key Largo has aged well. Huston really knew his craft.

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Simmons is good but quite frankly eclipsed by Eileen Herlie. I am still surprised that no one wanted to mention Herlie for awards that year.

Myrtle Fucking Fargate!

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Does anyone know if Clare Trevor was put up by her studio for BSA or was considered a sentimental choice a la Ann Sothern in 1987 in 82 for KIss Me Goodbye.

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

Glad to see Claire Trevor take this, I love her performance. That holds true for most of her work but she was especially strong here.

My ballot:

Barbara Bel Geddes-I Remember Mama
In the puerile pile of goo that is I Remember Mama Bel Geddes is fortunate that she doesn’t have to assume the lame accents the rest of the cast does and therefore isn’t saddled with the singsong affectation that hampers the other performers but I don’t know how much that helps her work. Her natural timidity is suited to Katrin’s halting entrance from child to young woman and she has the quavering insecurity down but except for the pivotal scene of the gift of the brooch all the spotlight moments go to Dunne. Her scenes of narration are precious beyond words. 2 ½ stars.

Ellen Corby-I Remember Mama
Let me start this by saying I love Ellen Corby and she was a wonderful actress capable of lovely performances full of nuance. That said what is this nomination about? Her part is a cliché and a tiny one in the fabric of the film. It gives her nothing to play but elfin cuteness and a bit of befuddlement. She could probably do that without even reading the script but an Oscar nomination for it is absurd. Her Aunt Trina is a sweet little bird of a woman but you forget about her when she’s out of the picture. 1 ½ hearts.

Agnes Moorehead-Johnny Belinda
The always estimable Moorehead is fine as the initially wary, but kind and caring farm woman. Her reactions and realizations as she first see Belinda start to emerge from her isolation and again when it dawns her that Belinda is pregnant are lovely but the part just isn’t special enough to be award worthy. It’s baffling how the academy took note of this work and completely ignored her venomous perfection in Dark Passage the previous year. 2 ½ hearts

Jean Simmons-Hamlet
No disrespect to Jean Simmons, I’ve always felt she was a tremendous actress often wasted because of her beauty, but Ophelia is an actress proof part for any competent performer. Saying that she handles the timorous young fawn torn this way and that by the crazy circumstances she finds herself thrust into until they crush her spirit beautifully. During Olivier’s big “get thee to a nunnery!” speech she clearly shows Ophelia’s warring emotions not just running across her face but in her entire body language. 4 hearts.

Claire Trevor-Key Largo
My winner by a mile. Her performance of the ironically named broken songbird Gaye Dawn is heartbreaking in its naked vulnerability. Her big scene croaking her way through Moanin’ Low which probably cinched the award for her is amazing but the totality of her work throughout is wonderfully wrought. Even in her alcoholic squalor she shows the proud dignity Gaye once possessed and the innate goodness of the woman. 5 hearts.

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

i was sad to read during my research that TREVOR was a staunch Republican. she was a pretty great actress but no one is perfect.

June 28, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Paul Outlaw-Eileen Herlie was so great as Myrtle Fargate. I knew her for AMC so long before I saw her in Hamlet that it was a bit shocking to see her in earlier life. It was the same with James Mitchell as Palmer Cortlandt, I was flummoxed the first time I realized he was Dream Curley in Oklahoma. It still gives me a start when he pops up in a musical like the Toast of New Orleans where he and a very young Rita Moreno have a specialty number.

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I know, right, joel6? Not to mention the fact that Ruth Warrick (Phoebe Tyler Wallingford) played the first Mrs. Charles Foster Kane.

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Nathaniel, Hollywood in that era was pretty much the exact opposite of what it is today, as most of the movie stars were Republicans with a few Democrats sprinkled here and there. I see in your write-up of Bel Geddes you referred to Irene Dunne as a goddess, and she was a right-winger too.

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBen

Ben -- well there were a lot of communists too :) i realize politics were different back then though. the parties are so much different now but still. it never sits all that well for me when artists are conservative. It seems like you mostly need to be more open minded to make great art. obviously there are exceptions to every rule.

June 28, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Real life keeps getting in the way so recently I never get a chance to watch all of the nominated performances in time for the Smackdown. So I have nothing productive to contribute, other than to say I loved reading this edition and can't wait for the next one. It's my favourite feature on this site.

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered Commentergoran

goran - next month is 1995.

June 28, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Pauline Kael called Claire Trevor's a great bad performance or something in an aside for a review in the seventies, and I agree. She's auditioning for the Carol Burnett parody of herself. Tim Robey is right on.The movie isn't one of John Huston's best either, although I liked it as kid when it played all the time on the PBS station: too stagebound and inexplicable. I'm not sure whom I would've voted for in this weak lineup, to be honest.

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAlfred

I haven't seen it in a while, but in my memory, I'm with Tim and Alfred: didn't like Key Largo and didn't like Trevor in it. I'd have had trouble voting up any of these nominees, and probably would have wound up with Corby... which is why I was especially looking forward to this episode. Tough to do when the parts and performances aren't a stellar bunch. Loved reading all thoughts from all participants!

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

after watching all 5 performances, i'm not surprised that trevor emerged as the ultimate winner both here and by the academy. but i'm with nick. this collective group of performances is far from inspiring. and i'm a little surprised that corby is the runner-up here. but even more surprised that she actually won the golden globe that year. such an...interesting choice. i've posted my ballot on my on blog here.

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

I haven't seen any of these and feel terrible embarrassed by at least Key Largo. The rest, however... I mean, I'd genuinely never even heard of I Remember Mama and it's not like I've never perused old Oscar lists.

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I agree that this is overall an underwhelming year. However the right person won. In a different year I don't know which performances would have made it or if Trevor would have won

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered Commentertom

I always like the Smackdowns, especially the ones from the older years. I'm a huge Jean Simmons fan, and I think she legitimately takes the prize here; she's striking and very impressive, especially for someone so young. Second place has to go to Agnes Moorehead, who is marvellously watchable in an admittedly functional part. But I've never been a fan of Claire Trevor's (over)acting and although I usually love Barbara Bel Geddes, I agree that she's bland in this performance.

Side note: I have seen all the Best Supporting Actress nominees (the final one: Carolyn Jones in "The Bachelor Party.")

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Going back and revisiting 1948 was fun because instead of seeing just the supporting actress nominees I went back to some of the best movies from that year and really much of this category I personally wouldn't nominate outside Simmons and Trevor:

Mady Christians, All My Sons
Joanne Dru, Red River
Beatrice Pearson, Force of Evil
Jean Simmons, Hamlet
Claire Trevor, Key Largo

P.S. Thank you for misspelling my name Eion = Eoin

Here's My ballot:

5. Barbara Bel Geddes, I Remember Mama:
I of course have never seen this feature and while it wasn't that exciting of a film I was happy to watch this movie from the 40's Geddes plays the daughter role Katrin who while born in America is raised by her immigrant parents. The story is mostly a flashback from Geddes character and while this structure was interesting the performance by Geddes I didn't really respond too. While I see her trying her best the performance just falls flat and is comparable to many spoiled teenage daughters of the past and the present. Geddes also as a screen presence doesn't really have much charisma and whether that's the character of Geddes herself opposite the more charismatic Irene Dunne Geddes nearly disappears into the background of the screen. 1.5 stars

4. Ellen Cornby, I Remember Mama:
Ellen Cornby was quite surprising for me giving a very limited performance in terms of screentime but when watching this performance I noticed myself missing Aunt Trina when she was off the screen. Cornby like Geddes is an actress that I have never seen on screen before is given an advantage where I really before her performance as this adorable unbreakable aunt. She provides the comedy to this film filled with dark melodrama and her reveal of her marriage is delightful. One of my favourite moments of Cornby's performance is her physical performance where she really takes risks in playing this very cartoonish character. 2.5 stars

3. Agnes Moorehead, Johnny Belinda:
Johnny Belinda is a very melodramatic film for both the positive and the negative but one of the biggest positives about Moorehead is that her performance grounds the film and gives it the nuance that it experiences in certain scenes of the film. Similar to Cornby Moorehead brings levity to this story as the central character Belinda's aunt. Agnes similar to Cornby has limited screentime giving a true supporting performance as an aunt who supports her deaf and dumb niece through her journey. Moorehead's real standout moment for me is when the character Aggie reveals to her husband that his child is going to have a child and they way Aggie can't even complete the word child is quite compelling and while Moorehead struggles to deliver the accent consistently still this is a good enough performance by Moorehead. 2.5 stars

2. Claire Trevor, Key Largo:
Key Largo is one of the rare Bogart/Bacall films that I have not seen and adding onto that is the fact the Trevor performance is the Oscar winner of the year can build a lot of expectations. Trevor is introduced in such a delightful way as a drunken women betting on horses, however she is quickly locked away behind a door. Later on she comes back and by this point we've found out who these men are she was hanging around with are not good men and this gives me a different look at the performance where she becomes a women struggling for a drink to get through this and being denied each time she asks. Trevor is enjoyable in this performance with her standout moment being her delivery Moanin' Low showing us this women is fearful and desperate and this is a great thing that Trevor does in this moment and in her entire performance. 3 stars

1. Jean Simmons, Hamlet:
Having watched this version of Hamlet before I was happy to rewatch this and yet again I was not disappointed and Oliver showed once again why his hamlet performance and film is the defining Hamlet to ever be filmed for the big screen for me. Oliver of course is spectacular in the leading role but just as spectacular is Simmons who plays the very fragile Ophelia. Simmons really has many standout scenes but for me it all comes back to her madness scene which for many actress can be struggling to deliver because you never want to go over the top and instead ground down the madness and Simmons really excels at this. Her singing is haunting and her seemingly floating around the set is so captivating to watch because of Simmons. She blank expression also adds to this final appearance in the film and really makes the character even more devastating because Ophelia is a young girl distraught with tradegy which leads to later suicide. Jean Simmons like Olivier gives the greatest Ophelia ever to appear on screen and still 77 years after the film was released no attempt compares to Simmons breath taking performance. 4.5 stars

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

Eoin -- sorry about that. Fixed!

Tom -- underwhelming group yes. but i realize when i'm doing these that I love movies too much -haha- because even when I see something bad I'm glad that I saw it. (cough) Mama.

June 29, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Loved Trevor's performance and am looking forward to seeing her in The High and Mighty.

I grew up watching Bel Geddes as Miss Ellie, love her in Vertigo (I think she kind of steals the film) and was so excited to see her Oscar-nominated performance here. Too bad she was so flat. It's interesting that two of the great soap opera matriarchs of the '80s in Bel Geddes and Jane Wyman had huge Oscar-nominated film performances in 1948.

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Re: Republican actors. I remember being shocked to find out that Barbara Stanwyck was not only a Republican, she was extremely right wing. Which seems incongruous with her screen persona. Weird. Anyway, I enjoyed this smackdown, even though I'd only seen Trevor's performance, and, like Streep in KvK earlier this month, it was pretty obvious who would win (again). It does sound as if she had little real competition.

The upcoming 1995 Smackdown seems very unpredictable, so awaiting that outcome with baited breath!

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRob

This is such an underwhelming bunch, as most either have very little to work with but do very well with it (Bel Geddes, Corby) or bring only just enough to a role with a lot to work with (Simmons). I haven't seen Moorehead, but Trevor is the only one to give a performance above a three-star rating for me (the other three all sit at a perfectly average 3 stars). And even then, I almost never remember her in Key Largo, so it's always surprising when I watch it again and see that she's quite excellent. But considering how good she is, shouldn't she be more memorable? Is this a case of the film being too good?

I'm MUCH more excited about 1995!

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Matt - congrats! That's so cool! You must be a very patient person to sit through all of the movies, some of which must be not very good just based on sheer odds.

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

@ Suzanne: as mentioned by a fellow poster in another comment thread, all four of the losing nominees were known as TV matriarchs: Moorehead (60s-70s), Corby/Bel Geddes/Simmons (70s-80s).

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Suzanne -- i think Bel Geddes is excellent in VERTIGO too. If only that was her sole Oscar nomination!

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

What a fun conversation, I love these!

Paul and joel, i LOVE Myrtle Fargate! Her battles with Aunt Phoebe are the stuff of legend. And Palmer Cortlandt is an f'ing god to me! James Mitchell, Eileen Herlie, Ruth Warrick--I miss all of them dearly.

tom, thank you for the shoutout to Jean Simmons' brilliant work in Elmer Gantry. She should have been nommed that year for Best Actress. Actually, I would knock either the winner Liz or Melina off to get in Jean. Breathtaking performance.

Another lady to consider for 1948 would be Ethel Barrymore in Portrait of Jennie.

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Thanks, DJ. I love the Oscars, so generally it was fun watching all the performances, even the ones that I thought were awful. Most of the time a nominated performance, good or bad, gives you something interesting to see and to think about. And toward the end, I found myself surprised by certain actresses who gave performances that I thought I'd hate but ended up admiring (Beulah Bondi in "Of Human Hearts," for example).

I, too, love Bel Geddes in "Vertigo" (she has wonderful audience empathy) and wish she'd have been nominated for it instead of "I Remember Mama." And Jean Simmons definitely should've gotten nominated for "Elmer Gantry."

July 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Argh, I'm kicking myself for just getting to "I Remember Mama" after this, so I'm just reading this post. It was a pretty ho-hum movie overall, but what do others think of the out-of-place cutaway shots that only lasted a second or two? There was one where Mama was looking at the cat and all of a sudden the film cuts to a different angle shot from the cat's point of view and Mama makes the weirdest face. There was another one with the crazy uncle, too. These were like cheap stabs at humor, but they worked in an otherwise treacle-soaked film.

July 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJames

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