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« Box Office: Super-sized Thor and little films that could. | Main | Sneak Peek Review: Pixar's “Coco” »
Sunday
Nov052017

Smackdown '44: Agnes, Aline, Angela, Ethel, and Jennifer Jones

Presenting the Supporting Actresses of '44. A low class maid, a French baroness, a patriotic nurse, a weary shop-owner and a "Chinese" village woman battled it out for Oscar gold. We're here to re-judge that contest. 

THE NOMINEES 

from left to right: Barrymore, Jones, Lansbury, MacMahon, Moorehead

Oscar was still besotted with recent nominees Jennifer Jones & Agnes Moorehead (both on their quick second nominations) but joining the party were two veterans who'd never been honored (Ethel Barrymore & Aline MacMahon) and one very fresh face who would go on to an enviably long cross-platform showbiz career, now in its 73rd year (!) -- Angela Lansbury in her film debut! 

Notable supporting roles for women that the Academy passed over in 1944 were Mary Astor (Meet Me in St Louis), Shirley Temple (Since You Went Away), Dame May Whitty (Gaslight), and Joseph Hull & Jean Adair (Arsenic & Old Lace). Can you think of any others?

THIS MONTH'S PANELISTS 

Here to talk about these five nominated turns, are: critic and writer Mark Harris (Five Came Back), journalist Loren King (The Boston Globe), critic and novelist Farran Smith Nehme (Self Styled Siren), cabarettist and actress Molly Pope, blogger and novelist Matthew Rettenmund (Boy Culture), and your host Nathaniel R (The Film Experience). And now it's time for the main event... 

1944
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN  

Ethel Barrymore as "Ma Mott" in None but the Lonely Heart
Synopsis: A widowed shop-owner struggles with her business and her untamed son while dying of cancer. 
Stats: Then 65 yrs old, 16th film, 1st of four nominations. 29 minutes of screen time (or 25% of the running time). 

Mark Harris: MISS Ethel Barrymore, per credits, and as Cary Grant’s poker-faced, devoted, dying mother, what she does emphasizes that honorific: A Great Lady of the Stage condescending to favor Hollywood with her character-actress years. I confess I struggled with her dated over-underacting: The staring into the middle distance, the grimacing to hide (but indicate) pain, the monotone. It’s a professional, humorless, dignity-preserving embodiment of a cliché by someone not yet comfortable on screen. I get it, but I didn’t buy it. ♥♥

Loren King:  I wanted to champion another actress just because Barrymore is such an obvious choice. But upon re-watching None But the Lonely Heart, she wins this category hands-down. Her London East End pawn shop proprietor "Ma" Mott is a pivotal role; she is the reason her son Ernie (Cary Grant) settles down, at least for a little while. Barrymore is heart-wrenching in a raw, emotionally layered performance as a mother grown weary of struggle of sacrifice. She is the spiritual center of the story, a movie of social conscience and humanity that's still powerful and relevant today.  ♥♥♥♥

Farran Nehme: I’ve always disliked this movie, a Cary Grant vehicle for people who find his charm suspicious. None But the Lonely Heart is based on a Richard Llewellyn book, and the difference between this and How Green Was My Valley is the difference between director John Ford and director Clifford Odets. Ethel Barrymore is working very hard as Ma Mott, the mother of Grant’s character. She has thought out the way a terminally ill woman might walk, might listen, even the way she takes a pill. Still, she is a Barrymore, and something regal lurks around her — it’s in the way she listens and reacts — meaning I can never quite accept her as a downtrodden Cockney. Nor do I find a lot of real warmth in her scenes with Grant.  ♥♥

Molly Pope: It’s a master class in acting, the art of doing nothing that communicates volumes, waves of reaction crossing her face. But I was always aware I was watching a very good actor act really well, that it was Ethel Barrymore “playing” low class. Her status as a great actress never quite disappears into the character. The role was written by Clifford Odets to tug heartstrings which set her up for a great performance from the jump. It’s too bad the character arc feels cut short and her final scene, though effective, leans into cliche. I would have rather had the scene of her in the shop filled with policemen. The career-culminating Oscar nom (and win).  ♥♥

Matthew Rettenmund: Barrymore was once described as "more regal than royalty." That shines through in his performance, in which she at times carries herself like a member of nobility, yet is throroughly convincing as the long-suffering, cynical mother of a disappointing loafer. Before she succeeds in re-molding her son's attitude, her brusque exchanges with him are breathtaking, cutting through the film's pretty setpieces and movie-star performances. ♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: Weariness and wariness often walk hand-in-hand though they're different dark clouds and Barrymore let's both hover over her constantly like a storm's-a-brewing. My favorite beat is that stiff laugh with her son when he flirts ("I'm old enough to be your mother!") she knows what kind of man her son is, and she knows this in more ways than one. Still I wish she'd found a way to dramatize the tragedy of her final shifts when she lets her guard down about both shop and son -- those choices are hard to see or fathom. ♥♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Her face and voice alone are imposing, so it’s not difficult to commune with her character’s life struggle. But the cute moments, with the smirks and the side glances, don’t become her at all." - Jacob (Reader average: ♥♥¾)

Actress earns 24¾ ❤s 

 

Jennifer Jones as "Jane Hilton" in Since You Went Away
Synopsis: A sweet young girl, training to be a nurse, grows up fast when she loses the men she loves most to the war
Stats: Then 26 yrs old, 4th film, 2nd consecutive nomination (she'd won on her 25th birthday the year prior). 120 minutes of screen time (or 67% of running time). 

Mark Harris: As a wartime American girl in love, Jones is earnest, pines nicely, cries effectively, listens well—but she wasn’t an actress who had deep reserves of feeling or who could hold two contradictory thoughts at once, and Claudette Colbert pretty much wipes the floor with her in her big grief scene. Agnes Moorehead and Hattie McDaniel both do more with less here; Jones’s nomination feels like part of an overall stamp of approval for this big, self-impressed WWII homefront melodrama. ♥♥

Loren King: She is radiant as Claudette Colbert’s eldest daughter in this affecting tale of women on the home front. Jones’s scenes with her own husband, Robert Walker playing an affable soldier, have a particular poignancy now (Walker was reportedly seeing Judy Garland at the time). This film’s producer, David O. Selznick, though married, would soon begin an affair with Jones whom he’d marry in in 1949.  ♥♥♥

Farran Nehme: I love Jennifer Jones in this movie; so bright, so eager, so headlong in her emotions. In July 1944, when it was released, the newsreels would have been showing intense fighting in both theaters of war. And I imagine that seeing Jones’ character Jane at the dance in the airplane hangar, and then her bidding goodbye to her soldier love in one of the most famous train scenes of them all, must have had a piercing emotional impact. There are flaws, most of them to do with preachy moments in the script, but almost none of them involve Jones. Her scenes with Monty Woolley, as the elderly lodger and the father of her soldier love, draw more real feeling out of that old scene-stealer than he shows in almost any other movie. ♥♥♥

Molly Pope: She has a face made for the camera and cinematic lighting. She knows how to use it. She mastered that middle-distance-gaze of reflection. She’s given a role that takes her from late adolescence into young womanhood, against the backdrop of WWII. That’s a lot working in her favor without acting skill even entering the picture. I felt she pushed the adolescence in the first part too much, but the pay off of the calm, wiser-than-her-years stillness later in the film is worth it. Her character has the clearest and most pronounced dramatic arc of any character in the film. But I don’t see her making any inspired acting choices. Just being really good at exactly what’s on the page. Feels like the “studio-engineered-next-big-star” nom.  ♥♥♥♥

Matthew Rettenmund: In this homage to the women left behind during WWII, Jones makes a pleasing ingenue, a love-hungry teen who misses her dad and seeks to replace him post-haste with her mom's handsome lodger/old flame. The meat of her performance comes as she reluctantly falls in love with another lodger's never-good-enough grandson, when she displays palpable vulnerability and skillfully conveys her character's maturity. It's not an indelible turn, but its steel-spined sweetness is engaging.  ♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: While Jones's acting style has not dated particularly well -- especially next to timeless Colbert who would have been a major star in any era  --  there's an operatic clarity of feeling in big moments (the train station scene! that look in the hay!) that more interior modern acting styles sometimes can't reach. She's a strong enough star within this era / filmmaking context, that she eventually gets to you if you give her time. And she has a lot of that to work with here; I have to deduct a heart because this is absolutely a leading role (with essentially the full middle hour devoted to her as Colbert plays second fiddle). ♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Hers is radiant Goodness, and though I never stopped wondering about Teresa Wright would’ve done in the role, Jones carries herself with an impressive amount of star charisma." - Nicholas (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns 21  ❤s 

 

Angela Lansbury as "Nancy" in Gaslight
Synopsis: An impertinent maid at a ritzy townhouse has eyes for her master ...and other men in town.
Stats: Then 19 yrs old, film debut (!), 1st of 3 nominations.  11 minutes of screen time (or 10½% of running time). 

Mark Harris: This is a real who’s-she? performance and, for a teenager, an astonishingly assured arrival. Slouchy, vulgar, sullen, smirky, malevolent, sexually jealous, intensely curious, Lansbury brings unnerving self-possession to every moment she has as a housemaid with an ear-grating Cockney accent. Her silent insolence and barely contained disdain have to seem like part of a plot to drive Ingrid Bergman mad, but also like traits she comes by naturally. She walks that line without ever wobbling. ♥♥

Loren King: Oscar may love a fresh face but Angela Lansbury came up against against an old pro in ‘44. Gaslight marked the movie and acting debut of the 18 year-old Lansbury, whom director George Cukor insisted be cast as Nancy, the salty housemaid who casually pushes Ingrid Bergman’s Paula further toward the brink. It’s a great supporting performance that’s central to the film’s suspense. In any other year, Lansbury would be my pick. It’s a shame she hasn’t won the award, at least not yet.  ♥♥♥♥

Farran Nehme: Angela Lansbury’s Cockney maid, Nancy, embodies the nasty side of youth. She has that teenage confidence in her sex appeal and that reckless desire to try it out on anybody that strikes her fancy. Her flirting with Charles Boyer’s Anton always involves a little too much eye contact, a little standing too close. She is also very good with the girl’s selfishness, and being thwarted always brings out a childish quality, a sense that her pursed lips and set jaw could go into a tantrum any moment. But where Lansbury excels most of all is the doubt she manages to sow about whether Nancy, deep down, is bad enough to actively help Anton, or if she is just too selfish even to notice his nefarious doings.  ♥♥

Molly Pope: Lansbury is a genius. And not because we know from every performance since Gaslight that she’s a genius. She’s so effortless, she makes everyone around her on screen look like they’re moving furniture. She’s both a sideline character not meant to have an arc but still uneasily tangled in the action in a way that registers with her. Because this is Nancy’s first job as a maid (presumably) we get to see her learning a lot not just about being a maid, but this highly dysfunctional couple. You can watch Lansbury’s face absorb, process and reach a personal opinion about everything. You know exactly who Nancy is, the typical saucy cockney maid, but imbued with subtlety and inner life. The “out-of-left-field-teenage-prodigy” Oscar nom. ♥♥♥♥

Matthew Rettenmund: Seventy-three years later, Lansbury is still alive and her turn as a cunning tart in this psychological thriller is startlingly modern, packed with insolence. When she hits on her boss, she uses those owl eyes to convey she knows exactly what's going on, communicating her willingness to become a part of any dirty deal if it might improve her lot in life. A lusty, gutsy portrayal that would make Jessica Fletcher blush. I was surprised how little she is actually in the picture. ♥♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: The crude force of this arrival! The fiery sullenness and breath-catching entitlement of this "Nancy Lansbury" is something else. I'm fusing the character and actress because both strike me as way above their station. Nancy is but a lowly maid and Lansbury is but a teenage bit player in a freaking INGRID BERGMAN picture but they both act as if they own the place/movie. Especially shocking was that brazen flirtation with her boss in a crucial scene. One imagines that it both offended and aroused back in '44, depending on how willing the individual moviegoer was to project actual sex on to sex-free movies. But is this more a triumph of starpower than acting? There's very little of her in the movie but leaving people thirsty for more sure is a sly way to kick off a career. ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Wickedly defiant and deliciously bratty, she infuses Nancy with such vitality that it's hard to imagine a lesser actress making as much with the role as she does" - Andy (Reader average: ♥♥¾)

Actress earns 27¾ ❤s 

 

Aline MacMahon as "Ling Tan's wife" in Dragon Seed
Synopsis: The grandmother of a large farming family struggles with political upheavals, family tragedies, changing times, and the hunger of war
Stats: Then 45 yrs old, 30th film, 1st and only nomination. 46 minutes of screen time (or 32 % of running time). 

Mark Harris: They don’t make yellowface atrocities like this anymore, thank God. I’m genuinely unsure why the Irish/Russian MacMahon, as a Chinese peasant mother, got recognized: For being marginally more credible than those around her? For infusing the barely speakable Google-translator dialogue with tartness and warmth? For delivering some we’ll-endure stoicism a la Jane Darwell in Grapes of Wrath? She nails the compulsories like a pro, but the only case I can make for this nomination is “It’s not her fault.” 

Loren King: Giving Aline MacMahon’s performance as Katharine Hepburn’s mother-in-law in Dragon Seed in no way diminishes MacMahon’s illustrious career. She was a successful stage actress before appearing in many Hollywood films and giving solid supporting performances such as her sassy comic in "Gold Diggers of 1933." But Dragon Seed is an ambitious mess. It was the convention at the time for Caucasian actors to play Asian characters but it just looks ridiculous now. MacMahon does what she can with a fairly one-dimensional role. It’s too bad it would be her only Oscar nomination  

Farran Nehme: I have an indulgent fondness for rah-rah patriotic World War II movies, but this one is a bridge too far, despite some strong feminist themes. An all-Western cast plays the Chinese, and the buck-toothed Japanese soldiers are played by Chinese actors. Aline MacMahon is visibly hampered by some wretched eye prosthetics and they really cut down on her range of expression, forcing her face into a perpetual hang-dog look. I would love to know how she was nominated over, say, Mary Anderson in Lifeboat or hell, even Eve Arden in Cover Girl. I can only guess that the MGM voting bloc still had some force in 1944. It hurts to me to rate MacMahon, one of the finest character actresses of the Golden Age, so low, but I cannot tell a lie. Aline, it wasn’t your fault.  

Molly Pope: It was almost impossible for me to watch the movie, let alone take a critical eye to performances. I found Aline MacMahon completely forgettable. I appreciate that the role is given some meat as we see an older woman changed/challenged by the conflict around her and the scene with her baby grandson is lovely, but this may as well have been a silent film the writing is so bad. That “makeup” makes it impossible to register facial expressions. Feels like the “ugly” Oscar nom. 

Matthew Rettenmund: It's tough going evaluating a yellowface performance, but in the way Luise Rainer overcomes it in The Good Earth (1937) — and unlike Katharine Hepburn's terrible try in Dragon Seed — MacMahon's usurping of another race can almost be accepted, at least in the context of it having happened in 1944, because her maternal warmth feels sincere. Still, it's hard to look past the obvious. She creates great empathy in truly dreary surroundings, but it is perhaps not the most imaginative take. ♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: Oh the (multiple) indignities of Dragon Seed! MacMahon doesn't even get a name! Her husband calls her "old woman" though she ably makes their long marriage feel lived-in. Even the omniscient narrator doesn't know it, referring to her only as "Ling Tan's wife". You may have guessed it's a stock role but she does what she can in less embarrassing way then the others. Her despairing take on "this joyful moment" when she learns she has a new grandson is a rare bit of welcome underplaying.  ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "MacMahon does an adequate job with offensive casting and a stereotypical role, but she isn’t given much to do here other than look mournful."  -Suzanne (Reader average: ♥♥)

Actress earns 11 ❤s 

 

Agnes Moorehead as "Baroness Aspasia Conti" in Mrs Parkington
Synopsis: The former lover of a rich man takes his new wife under her sophisticated wily wing
Stats: Then 44 yrs old, 2nd of four nominations. 26 minutes of screen time (or 21% of running time). 

Mark Harris: This might have been a body-of-work nomination, since Moorehead was a delight in everything she did in 1944, but I enjoyed watching her sketch a worldly, decadent, sophisticated baroness so efficiently (she’s ten times as interesting as Greer Garson) and then deepen what could have been a caricature with unexpected notes of warmth, empathy, and playfulness. A shame she’s stuck with the awful line “I am ugly, am I not?”—but there are few surer tickets to a nomination. ♥♥♥

Loren King: The great character actress also appears in Dragon Seed AND Since You Went Away along with her nominated performance as Baroness Aspasia, with a vaguely French accent, who befriends Greer Garson’s working class Susie even though Susie’s new husband was once engaged to the Baroness. I can’t accept that the versatile Moorehead, often the best thing in the movie, never won an Oscar; it’s the reason the supporting category was invented! But Mrs. Parkington isn’t as strong a role as her other three nominations: The Magnificent Ambersons, Johnny Belinda and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte  ♥♥

Farran Nehme: Agnes Moorehead already showed up in Since You Went Away, in fine villainous form as the black-market queen and town gossip. She isn’t villainous here; she is more like the understanding neighbor she plays in All That Heaven Allows. The movie is from the latter part of Tay Garnett’s career and could have used some judicious cutting, but I think Moorehead and Garson’s scenes together are very touching. ♥♥♥

Molly Pope: She’s wasted in the role. It’s terribly written with no dimension. She has to play it as an amusing/decorative secondary character because, though the plot indicates she has much greater stakes in the proceedings, the scene isn’t there in which she processes anything. We get maybe one revealing facial expression. Otherwise we’re supposed to believe Aspasia is totally fine with the Major marrying someone else.  Basically I took away that this is Agnes Moorehead doing her best with not great material or direction and the added novelty of slightly unexpected casting, especially with that accent. Which ultimately is pretty good, but doesn’t hold a candle to some of the other performances. Feels like the “outside-the-casting-box” Oscar nom. ♥♥♥

Matthew Rettenmund: Moorehead was a supporting player in five 1944 films, and three — including this one —were nominated in this category. Dreadful in Dragon Seed, she was fantastically bitchy in Since You Went Away ("Well!") but was clearly at her best here. Required to adopt a convincing French accent, she becomes less herself, which is hard to do considering her singular presence. I love her in this movie — she manages to play a rich, scheming, jealous woman in such a way that the audience comes to appreciate the difficult situation in which she finds herself, as both a guide to a young bride and her love rival. Wonderful, light and feels effortless. ♥♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: Moorehead was in seemingly every movie we watched for the Smackdown but who's complaining? Not I! She's such infectious fun as a star that she periodically perks up this glamorous but strangely dull picture with a light fluffy scrumptiousness. The Baroness is a cartoon to some extent, complete with Pepe le Pew accent, but Moorehead is a skillful enough that she can slip in the sadder implications of the Baroness's odd place in the central marriage without flattening her performative souffle, if you will. And performative is the word since Moorehead gets that about Aspasia. If only she were actually French or less underused we could steal the Major's line about her "The greatest thing to come out of France since Lafayette!"  ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "a frothy fancy delight in her film adding charm and grace to her scenes. She shows many subtle layers in Aspasia in small delicate ways" - Joel (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns 23  ❤s 

 

The Oscar Went To... Ethel Barrymore

I've never seen a photo of Ethel Barrymore with *her* Oscar but she accepted for Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday (1950) above.

THE SMACKDOWN disagrees and ANGELA LANSBURY manages to win instead, placing Barrymore in the runner-up position. It's worth noting that the race was pretty competitive throughout. That was especially true among reader voting where Jennifer Jones and Agnes Moorehead were the leaders (by a thin margin). Jones eventually won among reader votes. In short: there were lots of differing opinions about who deserved the statue this year! Had Lansbury won at the real ceremony she would have been the youngest winner ever in any acting category at that point in Oscar history. Lansbury never won a competitive Oscar but at least she has that Honorary now

 

Would you have chosen similarly?

Want more? Listen to the hour long companion podcast where we discuss these films and other '44 pleasures in further detail

Thank you for attending! 
Previous Smackdowns ICYMI: 1941, 19481952, 1954, 196319641968, 1973, 197719791980, 1984, 19851989, 19952003 and 2016 (prior to those 30+ Smackdowns were hosted @ StinkyLulu's old site)

NEXT UP? We'll be talking the current Oscar nominations. The Smackdown returns for a new season on February 26th with the Supporting Actress nominees of 2017 with more vintage years to follow including 1994 and 1970 as per your requests.

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Reader Comments (40)

Love it! These were my two cents on the matter...

Jennifer Jones, SINCE YOU WENT AWAY - four hearts

OMG I love this movie! Jones, let's be honest, is a far inferior actress to the likes of Barrymore, Lansbury and Moorehead - her last couple of Oscar nominations, especially for the horrific LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING, are perplexing to say the least. But she sure is a delight here. In this and in most of her early work, she has such a luminous and unaffected screen presence. It's an enchanting performance in a picture that makes my heart melt and hey, it sure doesn't hurt that she has heaps of screen time. Also, Hattie McDaniel! :)

Agnes Moorehead, MRS. PARKINGTON - three hearts

MRS. MINIVER is so extraordinary, it's easy to forget just how insipid much of the Greer Garson filmography is. MRS. PARKINGTON is an especially bland endeavor, a soap opera lifted to modest effect by, you guessed it, Moorehead. She is absolutely delicious, playing way against type, and the vitality she brings to her scenes only makes the rest of the picture look all the more middling. This is for sure the least great of Moorehead's four nominated turns but she's still quite fetching, even in the most hackneyed of films.

Ethel Barrymore, NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART - three hearts

Thank heavens RKO and Clifford Odets were able to draw the incomparable "First Lady of the American Theatre" back to Hollywood with this. I could watch her devour scenery in THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE and THE PARADINE CASE to eternity. Barrymore is, of course, in reliable form here too. I just wish the picture around her wasn't so creaky. Odets may be among the most sublime playwrights who ever lived but his grasp on film noir is uneasy and, most stunning, even the dialogue here isn't all that interesting. Still, Barrymore is a pleasure to watch, upstaging her leading man with ease and ripping my heart right out in her devastating final scene.

Angela Lansbury, GASLIGHT - three hearts

I adore Lansbury. I love GASLIGHT. But Lansbury in GASLIGHT? Well, for a silver screen debut, she is remarkably confident. It's a brazen, intriguing turn that nicely compliments the unsettling aura of the proceedings but she's really barely in the picture. Dame May Whitty has the zestier supporting turn and, for me at least, leaves a bit more of an impression.

Aline MacMahon, DRAGON SEED - one heart

OMG I loathe this movie! How curious that THE GREAT EARTH, with its lesser leading lady in Luise Rainer, is an infinitely more satisfying picture than the Katharine Hepburn-headlined Pearl S. Buck adaptation. Hepburn has never looked more lost at sea and while the film runs just under two and a half hours, it feels like at least three. MacMahon, who is so terrific in THE SEARCH later in the decade, looks absurd but otherwise leaves no impression at all.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

I'm surprised by the winner. I actually gave her my lowest score despite my love for her. Interesting results.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

My votes:
Angela Lansbry- Gaslight
Her film debut! The start of an incredible career. And while her performance in The Manchurian Candidate is the golden standard for this category, her performance in this film is not at that standard. At all. It is her first film and it shows. She is overshadowed by everyone even personality black hole Charles Boyer. However I give the Academy credit for recognizing the great potential. I give Lansbury credit for observing and taking notes on the production and applying them to further her craft. But for this particular performance, barely nomination worthy. 2 hearts

Aline MacMahon- Dragon Seed
I am conflicted about this. Aline plays a Chinese peasant caught up in WWII. If I judge the performance alone, it is good. She finds ways to put personality into the cliche character of dutiful wife. While her character espouses traditions and speaks about beating wives to keep them in place, we get the sense that it is SHE that runs the roost there and her husband wouldn't dare lift a finger against her. Also her scene where she meets her new grandson for the first time after believing they would never meet is the most authentic emotional moment in the movie. She really sells a grandmother's joy, relief, and pain. However, the performance is not in a vacuum. Aline is an American woman playing a Chinese woman. It's offensive and I can't ignore that despite how good the performance is. I am splitting the difference- 2 hearts

Agnes Moorehead- Mrs Parkington
Moorehead has an interesting role as a rich French friends with benefits with a frontiersman and eventually becomes the confidant of his wife. It is unusual but Moorehead sells it. Her French accent is completely believable and she is convincing as the woman who at first despises her new role as fashion shopper but eventually warms up to Greer Garson. Her character is I guess a French 40's version of Karen Walker and Moorehead is totally having a ball with her. 3 hearts

Ethel Barrymore- None but the lonely Heart
Oh Ethel, if only your movie wasn't so terrible. In this truly great bore of a movie, she plays Cary Grant's mother. He is a delinquent and so miscast that it throws the whole movie off. However, Ethel's performance is the only great thing about this movie. She is compelling as a mother who both deeply loves and is deeply disappointed in her son. She also convincingly portrays a woman who has worked hard her whole life and all she has to show for it is failing health, business, and family. The shame she feels is palpable. But I never want to sit threw this movie again. 4 hearts


Jennifer Jones- Since you went Away
I love Jennifer Jones. She is perhaps the most unfairly unremembered star of her time. She started out strong, winning an Oscar the year before she got this nomination. If she had not won the year before she hands down wins this year. But this is not a make up nomination. She earned this one. She really is a co-lead but while Colbert is the soul of the movie, Jones is the heart. She has a very good scene telling off Agnes Moorehead, but most remember the train scene. Her husband of less than a week is being shipped off. She runs behind the train screaming that she loves him knowing that she may never see him again. The actor playing her husband was Robert Walker her real life husband whom she was in the middle of separating from, so the fact that she was able to do this scene even slightly convincingly let alone brilliantly shows how great she was. 4 hearts

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

1994 and 1970 next year after going over the 2017 slate? Me, quoted? I'm delighted by everything about this post and everyone's write-ups except the winner. I would've handed it to Barrymore but her reviews remind me of Peggy Ashcroft's or Nina Foch's, where everybody has different ideas about the performance but basically saw the same things in it. It's a dated performance in some ways but still full of feeling and smart decision-making on Barrymore's part. I don't get Lansbury at all, who feels like she hasn't made nearly enough decisions, but I'm tempted to look at her again, and am even more excited to hear the podcast so you guys can talk it out. Thanks again for doing this, and I especially look forward to hearing what fun alternatives you guys have to this slate of nominees.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNick T

As much as I love 4 of these 5 actresses I’m not that crazy about this lineup feeling it’s missing many key performances, Jean Adair & Josephine Hull in Arsenic and Old Lace, Cornelia Otis Skinner in The Uninvited and especially Claire Trevor in Murder, My Sweet and Margaret O’Brien in Meet Me in St. Louis, which belong here over who is there.

I love Angela so I'm not sorry to see her win and she's my runner-up though of this lot Aggie is my choice for the win though in an open field I’d go with Margaret O’Brien but since the academy handed her a special Oscar then Claire Trevor’s soulless Helen Grayle in Murder, My Sweet should have taken the prize. I'm surprised her name hasn't come up she's fantastic.


Ethel Barrymore-In this dreary slog of a film she gives a nice performance though I wish the academy had waited a couple of years to reward her for her more compelling and enjoyable work in The Spiral Staircase in ’46. 2 ½ hearts


Jennifer Jones-In an opinion that’s sure to be unpopular in some quarters I think Jones a terrible actress-arch, mechanical and stiff. In the beginning of Since You Went Away she affects a high pitched breathy delivery and a golly gosh unctuousness to try and mask the fact that she’s too old for the part. She improves as in the latter portion but is still hard to take. Shirley Temple should have played her role. 1 ½ hearts.


Angela Lansbury-Wonderfully saucy and brash if still a bit green she takes what should have been a negligible part and makes it memorable though she came into her own the next year with Dorian Gray. Still even with her inexperience she punches Nancy across. 3 hearts


Aline MacMahon-A wonderfully incisive talent stuck in an unplayable role in a complete dog of a film. Considering the slop handed her that she doesn’t humiliate herself as Kate Hepburn does it's to her credit but she doesn’t belong here. 1 heart


Agnes Moorehead-Turning established expectations on their head Aggie is a frothy fancy delight in her film adding charm and grace to her scenes. While she's beribboned and seemingly a gay sophisticate she shows many subtle layers in Aspasia in small delicate ways. 3 ½ hearts.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Tom -- i was a bit surprised but not much. I did think Barrymore would win but i thought it would be a margin thin win over Jones. I was so wrong!

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Jennifer Jones is a deeply misunderstood and underappreciated actress.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

@ Nathaniel I thought it would be between those two as well! Angela sneaked up for the win. Although some of the panelist's comments regarding her seem rooted in sentiment. Like they voted for the performer over performance.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Tom
The Lansbury performance is quite deserving itself, especially considering that Jones is category fraud and Barrymore PLAYS the character

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDg

@Nick T: Maybe it's just a thing with Nicks that, as a people, we cannot relate to what's special about Lansbury. She's never my cuppa, but this "discussion" was great. I love how closely Mark and Farran were echoing each other without knowing! (I liked Diana Lynn a lot in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and Jessica Tandy in The Seventh Cross.)

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

I LOLed and loved Loren King's piece about Jennifer Jones. Gossip facts are always welcomed.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAna

@Nick Davis: Hmm. Interesting thesis. I'll see what kind of survey I can whip up around it. I love Lansbury's musical theater soundtracks but what I've seen of her on screen work hasn't done much. Diana Lynn is fantastic, and I'd happily recommend Dena Penn in Days of Glory as another great child perf in a waaay different story.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNick T

Nice to see all the sexbots linking to this entry! I bet they're all Dragon Seed fans.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

@ Dg I love that we disagree! I love the smackdown because we get to see everyone's opinion and thoughts on a performance and the debate is done in a respectful way. It's funny how the panelists top two were Angela and Ethel while the readers had Jennifer and Agnes. Poor Aline had to settle for fifth place.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

NIck - LOL. omg.

November 5, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I thought Moorehead's nomination here was like a precursor for Joan Cusack in "Working Girl" - the extraneous BFF with a big accent. Not really necessary, but it's a worse movie without her.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

perversely, this smackdown has me needing to see dragon seed as soon as possible

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterpar

I'm with Andrew: I love Lansbury, and I love "Gaslight," but she doesn't have enough to do to in the movie to warrant a win.

Although this category was established in 1936, Barrymore's performance here is, chronologically, the first Best Supporting Actress win I love. It took the Academy a while to get things right, I think.

I'd swap out Aline MacMahon in "Dragon Seed" for Margaret O'Brien in "Meet Me in St. Louis." Totally adorable and believable--one of the best child performances ever captured on film.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMatt L.

Jones wldn't be so misunderstood or under appreciated had her Svengali husb, Selznick not micro + mismanaged her career! Duel in the Sun, The Wild Heart, A Farewell to Arms... anyone ?

It seems like tt she develope quite a diva attitude early on n on set of Love is a Many Splendored Thing, its was rumored that she alws threatened the crew tt she's gonna complain to Selznick if things dun go her way, n since she can't stand Holden, she deliberately chewed garlic before their many kissing love scenes!

She had a luminous face but a limited actress...and it doesn't help tt Selznick keep pushin her into many unsuitable parts tt stretch her credibility. This is the best case of Citizen Kane 😂

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

It's true that Jones and Holden didn't get along on Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. According to rumor he was hitting on her and being inappropriate and she wouldn't reciprocate. Holden was a notorious ladie's man and Jones made sure to rebuff him in front of the crew and kept bringing up Selznick to establish her dominance and power on set. They had good chemistry on screen but they really disliked each other in real life. That happens a lot apparently.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Tom and Brad--a rousing cosign. Jennifer Jones understood the art of acting better than anyone, and brought a unique ability to fully incarnate a character. Her filmography is obscure yet utterly compelling. Peerless and eternal.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Tom and Brad--a rousing cosign. Jennifer Jones understood the art of acting better than anyone, and brought a unique ability to fully incarnate a character. Her filmography is obscure yet utterly compelling. Peerless and eternal.

November 5, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

it's like the cult of Jennifer Jones up in here!

November 5, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

It's like Molly Pope said, Jones had a face for the camera and knew how to use it. Not everyone is Meryl Streep, but she seemed to instinctively know what her strengths were and how to project them onto a screen. It's a shame Selznick interfered so much in her career. I wonder what someone like Hitchcock or Wyler could have brought out in her.

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Tom--Wyler directed her in Carrie opposite Laurence Olivier. She's very fine in a very flawed movie, and she and her leading man make a fascinating couple. An underrated gem with astonishing photography.

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Of the four nominees, I think only Lansbury's a deserving candidate in '44 - and I'm glad to see she won. I don't always like her (saw her onstage in "Gypsy" and found her ho-hum - and she was the weak link in the otherwise entertaining "Death on the Nile"). But I think she's perfection in "Gaslight". And - of course - there's "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Sweeney Todd". When she was great, she was indisputably great.
I'll just repeat a list I included in response to an earlier TFS post about this particular Smackdown
In my opinion any of the following ten would have been worthy nominees that year:
Mary Astor "Meet Me in St. Louis"
Judith Anderson "Laura"
Hillary Brooke "Jane Eyre"
Julia Dean "Curse of the Cat People"
Peggy Ann Garner "Jane Eyre"
Rosalind Ivan "The Suspect"
Diana Lynn "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek"
Agnes Moorehead "Since You Went Away"
Elizabeth Russell "Curse of the Cat People"
Dame May Whitty "Gaslight"

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKen

(in the voice of Alice Brady) Did i say TFS? I was sure I said TFE.

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKen

I've only seen J Jones in two movies...now after reading all the comments and TFE's analyses, I think I will start watching some of her other films. Talk about how discussion triggers the appetite!

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJans

I've only seen Gaslight so of course I'm happy Lansbury won the smackdown.

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermurtada

I'm surprised no one has mentioned CLUNY BROWN, in which Jones demonstrates she has decent comedic chops, and opposite no less than Charles Boyer (who demonstrates he can deliver polysyllabic monologues in English about nuts and squirrels without tripping).

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAlfred

No one has mentioned The Song of Bernadette. I have never seen it. Is it antiquated? I gave Jones three hearts for this performance - I thought she was extraordinary in the scene at the train station but did not offer much else. She reminded me of Teresa Wright, but with less natural charm (though to be fair, Wright probably had roles in movies that have better lasted the test of time).

I gave both Lansbury and Barrymore four hearts. But I would have voted for Lansbury in a tiebreaker. I, too, am surprised that she had so little screen time - she makes such a big impression in Gaslight.

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Suzanne--The Song of Bernadette still holds up. It's extremely well-made--the re-creation of the French village looks wonderful. The film still says a lot about a patriarchal society, small-town politics and corruption, gender roles, religious hypocrisy and mob mentality. As for Jennifer, I believe it's one of the best Best Actress wins ever. Her co-nominees that year were effusive. Ingrid Bergman said that as soon as she saw the movie, she knew she had lost the Oscar. Joan Fontaine called Jennifer's performance one of the best she'd ever seen.

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Thanks, brookesboy! I will check it out.

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

My take on some of Jennifer Jones Performances
(A) Her Best Work:
The Song of Bernadette(’43)
She plays it in a style that’s at once matter of fact and ethereal, no mean feat;
brilliant at communicating moments of preoccupation and casual distraction;
great picture; top Fox production values; unique, inspired performance; no one could have played it better.
Gone to Earth (’50)
Fantastic, gorgeous looking movie{the original British version}
Least celebrated of the Powell/Pressburger Technicolor masterpieces
Any reservations about Jones’ inauthentic British accent (amid an accomplished cast of real Brits) become irrelevant via her sheer, quivering commitment to the role. Lovely work
Madame Bovary(’49) Minnelli’s fine, visually fluid version – and JJ makes a worthy centerpiece
Carrie(’52)
an excellently telescoped interpretation of Dreiser’s novel. Jones is good, Miriam Hopkins’s memorable and Olivier is beyond sensational; arguably his best screen work
Tender is the Night(’62)
lots wrong with this picture, late in the day for Jones - yet she and Jason Robards are both terrific in it
Since You Went Away(’44)
A wildly entertaining film with some great performances (Colbert,Cotten), some very good ones(Moorehead,McDaniel) some good enough (Jones) and some downright annoying (Woolley, Temple,Walker)
Portrait of Jennie(’48)
has its moments (and Barrymore, in her peak screen years, really sells her scenes beautifully)
Jones is well cast; that otherworldy vibe comes naturally to her – but the picture on the whole is just too twee
The Towering Inferno(’74)
silly dated disaster film –but she’s quite touching in it
if they had to dole out a sentimental Oscar nomination that year, Jones was more deserving than co-star Astaire( who did get a nod)

(B) Picture’s Fun But She’s Miscast:
Beat the Devil (’53)
Messy film – but lively and inventive. Jones, however, is excess baggage here; her accent j seems like an especially bad choice. Role needed Valerie Hobson or Kay Kendall
Duel in the Sun (’46)
Bombastic, colourful, entertaining production- wish Peck had done more roles like this, he’s wonderful in it as a sexy, lecherous cad No amount of heavy breathing and energetic commitment can disguise the fact that Jones is not really right for the Pearl Chavez role. Some sources would have it that Mexican screen legend Maria Felix was approached early on but turned it down. Watch the Mexican film “Enamorada”, produced the same year, and you’ll see what a wonderful Pearl Maria Felix might have made.

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKen

I had no idea that people had such love for Jennifer Jones! She was an actress that I never got around to seeing in anything, despite her 5 noms and a win. So I'm glad the Smackdown made me watch my first Jones joint. And she was...fine. Pretty, but nothing special. I'll have to do further investigation.

I'm very happy with the outcome of this Smackdown. Angela is the rightful winner. But how is her reader average so low?!

Here's my take on the 5 nominated performances:

Ethel Barrymore None but the Lonely Heart
From the moment she appears on screen, downtrodden and defeated, reprimanding returned son, Cary Grant, Barrymore seems to already be playing Ma's inevitable demise. Her body may remain but her spirit has long since vacated, how else to explain why she plays most of her scenes with a glazed over look in her eyes (I had to check to see if she ever blinked) and delivering her lines without ever looking at her scene partner. So disconnected from anything else around her, she trudges along giving slight variations on the same note: martyr. Ironically it's not until her deathbed scene that she finally shows signs of life, but at that point it's too little too late. ♥

Jennifer Jones Since You Went Away
Jones, as a young woman on the home front, awaiting the return of her father and then her lover at war, gives a performance equivalent to a hearty serving of comfort food - it's simple and uncomplicated, but darn it if it ain't completely satisfying. Jones, with her girl next door looks and wholesome innocence, plays ever scene exactly as expected - which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Although there's very little that surprises, that familiarity can be welcoming. But as a co-lead in an epically long film, it seems unfair for Jones to be competing in this category. Her Jane is a supportive character, to her mother and the injured troops, but the role itself is not supporting. ♥♥♥

Angela Landsbury Gaslight
Sometimes the right roles just find the perfect actors to play them. Such is the case with living legend Lansbury and her film debut that launched a decades long career. There really isn't that much to the role of Nancy, the feisty new maid that barely hides her disdain for her new mistress. She appears in a handful of scenes and isn't necessarily integral to the plot of the film. But Lansbury gives the film a jolt of energy whenever she appears on screen. Wickedly defiant and deliciously bratty, she infuses Nancy with such vitality that it's hard to imagine a lesser actress making as much with the role as she does. ♥♥♥♥

Aline MacMahon Dragon Seed
It's hard to judge this horribly dated performance in any context that makes sense today. It's already wildly offensive that MacMahon is made up in yellow face, but perhaps we could see past that if she was given a character to play that felt fully-formed or at the very least, not a stereotype. But Ling Tang's Wife is never even given an actual name. And if that wasn't bad enough, she encourages her sons to beat their wives, calls her daughters-in-law stupid to their faces and when the war comes, allows soldiers to kill an old woman. In emotional scenes MacMahon's face is streaked with glycerin tears that never seem to move, as artificial and insincere as this performance. ♥

Agnes Moorehead Mrs. Parkington
Those thinking they know what to expect from a Moorehead character (spinster aunt or meddlesome neighbor, ready with a disapproving glance or quippy one-liner) will be surprised to find her Baroness Aspasia Conti is anything but - warm, supportive, glamorous, light-hearted, and friendly. What a treat to see Moorehead with a genuine smile, filling her scenes with an effervescent fizz as light as champagne bubbles (perfectly paired with her exquisite French accent). But as the former lover of Mr. Parkington, the expected conflict with the new Mrs. never comes, leaving Moorehead with no conflict or tension to play. Limiting her performance to an enjoyable amuse-bouche instead of a satisfying meal.♥♥♥

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

So glad to hear others say None but the Lonely Heart was boring. I'm not sure exactly why but I could barely get through that movie.

And yeah, I might also have to now check out The Song of Bernadette. It never interested me before but this discussion is slightly winning me over.

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

I absolutely agree with the users who have put forward Margaret O'Brien, Diana Lynn, and Claire Trevor. For me the win would be a toss up between Diana Lynn and Angela Lansbury.

While Lansbury doesn't have a ton of screen time, she doesn't have a sliver either (it's not like she's Beatrice Straight). She's so wonderfully antagonistic, a true English tart and her unpleasantness adds a significant edge to Bergman's mental fragility. Lansbury is one of the few actresses who can do just about anything.

Perhaps not Oscar nomination worthy, but Aline McMahon is very good in Guest in the House, an entertaining B noir. She makes a compelling matriarch who has to stand up to an unstable Anne Baxter.

November 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Tawfik

What a great discussion! And what an interesting year. I must admit that I am on Team Jones here. While Angela Lansbury is marvelous, I feel like her performance is a prelude to what would come with her career. She is a better overall actress than Jones, but Jones is luminous here and understands what works on film. I respondeded more to her character and felt more involved with her storyline than any of the other four, and while she may not surprise, she hooked me.

November 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBGK

I do believe this makes Angela the first two-time Smackdown winner, having "tied" with Patty Duke for the 1962 Smackdown. :)

November 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

Santy I believe you are right! We need to do 1994 and 1986 to see if Dianne Weist wins twice. Shelley Winters might win in 1972 and 1965. Depending on who you ask Amy Adams might win twice as well.

November 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

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