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Best Actress 1941


dagoldenage
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I had 26 people recently vote online and in person for favorites of 1941 and have a tie for Best Actress that hopefully will be broken here. 

It was between Barbara Stanwyck (Ball of Fire) and Bette Davis (The Little Foxes). Some of you voted in the original post a while back.

Note: Stanwyck also got a vote for The Lady Eve and I voted for Joan Fontaine (Suspicion).

 

Other thoughts on '41 awards will be appreciated also.

 

1941 titles watched: 117.

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I had 26 people recently vote online and in person for favorites of 1941 and have a tie for Best Actress that hopefully will be broken here. 

 

It was between Barbara Stanwyck (Ball of Fire) and Bette Davis (The Little Foxes). Some of you voted in the original post a while back.

 

Note: Stanwyck also got a vote for The Lady Eve and I voted for Joan Fontaine (Suspicion).

 

Other thoughts on '41 awards will be appreciated also.

 

1941 titles watched: 117.

 

Of the Oscar nominees, I would probably go with Greer Garson. However I think my choice overall might be Ona Munson as Mother Gin Sling in Shanghai Gesture.

 

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For the Supporting Actress category, I would pick either Sara Allgood or Margaret Wycherly. I loved Mary Astor in The Great Lie, but I think the other two ladies were simply brilliant. Of the non-nominees, I would go with Beulah Bondi in Shepherd of the Hills.

 

I'm fine with Oscar's choice of Gary Cooper as Best Actor and Donald Crisp as Best Supporting Actor.

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Like many others, I think Joan Fontaine won her Oscar as a consolation for not winning for Rebecca the year before, and in my opinion, it's basically the same type of chracter.  Having seen Hold Back the Dawn last night, I actually think Olivia DeHavilland's performance is the better one -- a character who is vulnerable and reserved yet also passionate, impulsive, and possessing a quiet dignity.  Objectively, Bette Davis deserved the Oscar for The Little Foxes, but like Meryl Streep, she was an actress who the Academy probably thought was winning too many Oscars.  Barbara Stanwyck for Ball of Fire because she was so great in that comedy is another good choice.

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Like many others, I think Joan Fontaine won her Oscar as a consolation for not winning for Rebecca the year before, and in my opinion, it's basically the same type of chracter.  Having seen Hold Back the Dawn last night, I actually think Olivia DeHavilland's performance is the better one -- a character who is vulnerable and reserved yet also passionate, impulsive, and possessing a quiet dignity.  Objectively, Bette Davis deserved the Oscar for The Little Foxes, but like Meryl Streep, she was an actress who the Academy probably thought was winning too many Oscars.  Barbara Stanwyck for Ball of Fire because she was so great in that comedy is another good choice.

 

I also watched most of Hold Back the Dawn last night and came to the exact same conclusions.  

 

So I vote for Bette,  but wish Barbara had won the Oscar  (because that gal deserved at least one!).

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Hello, I agree that Joan Fontaine's award may have been somewhat of a carry-over from Rebecca, but I prefer to believe the rationale was that as a not-yet-star, Fontaine blew away the competition two years in a row and therefore the Oscar was hers for the 1941 movie.  I too watched Hold Back the Dawn but found it disappointing.  I can't quite see how it was nominated for 6 awards, unless it was the subject matter (quick marriage of convenience to get over the border followed by divorce, leaving a spouse disillusioned and broken-hearted) that grabbed the attention of the movie-going public that year.  I didn't think Olivia de Havilland's performance was all  that stellar.  I felt for her character but didn't find her as compelling as I thought I would from a performance that garnered an Oscar award.  If you want to see a true Oscar-winning performance by de Havilland (in my opinion), then watch her in The Heiress.  That performance is nuanced and so carefully modulated as the character develops.  I would find it impossilbe not to award the Oscar to her for that film.  Meanwhile, is anyone else incensed at host Michael Feinstein's unnecessarily catty remark about the two sisters?  So what if he met Joan Fontaine and didn't particularly warm to her.  It was very bad form for a host to make a comment about the sister's relationship (about which very few know very much, really) and cast aspersions on Joan Fontaine.  He could have used those few seconds to comment on how the sisters still remain the only siblings in history both to win major acting Oscars.  That would have been more fruitful education for those who are only recently experiencing the Fontaine - de Havilland talent. 

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Hello, I agree that Joan Fontaine's award may have been somewhat of a carry-over from Rebecca, but I prefer to believe the rationale was that as a not-yet-star, Fontaine blew away the competition two years in a row and therefore the Oscar was hers for the 1941 movie.  I too watched Hold Back the Dawn but found it disappointing.  I can't quite see how it was nominated for 6 awards, unless it was the subject matter (quick marriage of convenience to get over the border followed by divorce, leaving a spouse disillusioned and broken-hearted) that grabbed the attention of the movie-going public that year.  I didn't think Olivia de Havilland's performance was all  that stellar.  I felt for her character but didn't find her as compelling as I thought I would from a performance that garnered an Oscar award.  If you want to see a true Oscar-winning performance by de Havilland (in my opinion), then watch her in The Heiress.  That performance is nuanced and so carefully modulated as the character develops.  I would find it impossilbe not to award the Oscar to her for that film.  Meanwhile, is anyone else incensed at host Michael Feinstein's unnecessarily catty remark about the two sisters?  So what if he met Joan Fontaine and didn't particularly warm to her.  It was very bad form for a host to make a comment about the sister's relationship (about which very few know very much, really) and cast aspersions on Joan Fontaine.  He could have used those few seconds to comment on how the sisters still remain the only siblings in history both to win major acting Oscars.  That would have been more fruitful education for those who are only recently experiencing the Fontaine - de Havilland talent. 

I feel DeHavilland's performance in The Heiress is her best and among the best of any actress of that era.  I actually enjoyed Hold Back the Dawn and actually found the theme of immigration quite timely; of course, these are Europeans fleeing oppressive Fascism and violent situations, but many immigrants today are also fleeing political oppression and violence.  The script was witty and sexy (Boyer and Godard have adjoining rooms, the great beach scene where Boyer "forgets" about his broken shoulder) as well as very honest.  

 

I didn't find Feinstein's comments "catty"; as a movie buff and fan of DeHavilland, I had long known about their strained relationship, and I think it's fairly well-known to many in the audience.

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I feel DeHavilland's performance in The Heiress is her best and among the best of any actress of that era.  I actually enjoyed Hold Back the Dawn and actually found the theme of immigration quite timely; of course, these are Europeans fleeing oppressive Fascism and violent situations, but many immigrants today are also fleeing political oppression and violence.  The script was witty and sexy (Boyer and Godard have adjoining rooms, the great beach scene where Boyer "forgets" about his broken shoulder) as well as very honest.  

 

I didn't find Feinstein's comments "catty"; as a movie buff and fan of DeHavilland, I had long known about their strained relationship, and I think it's fairly well-known to many in the audience.

Thanks for the reply.  I do agree with you about certain "honest" aspects of Hold Back the Dawn.  For instance, the scene in the wagon when de Havilland and Boyer can't consummate their marriage because of his "injured" shoulder and the disappointed resignation on de Havilland's face, indicating her very real and intense love for him.  I guess the movie just didn't resonate with me as much as I thought it might, given its many Oscar nods.  As for the de Havilland - Fontaine relationship, yes I agree that this has been talked about forever and most people are aware of it.  What I didn't appreciate was not that Feinstein mentioned it, but that he seemed to feel the sisterly alienation wasn't surprising given his experience of having met Fontaine.  It was an unncessary (in my opinion) interjection that put Fontaine to blame for the supposed frostiness between the sisters.  I can't imagine Robert Osborne stooping that low.  In the short time that the host has to give commentary on each film,  I think Feinstein could have found other things to say.  If he wanted to elevate de Havilland over Fontaine, he could have mentioned that after Fontaine's win for Suspicion, de Havilland went on to win Oscars for films in 1946 and 1949.  I'm always amazed that one family produced two sisters who were both Oscar winners, international stars and had very respectable careers in film and theater.  That, to me, is the story.

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Thanks for the reply.  I do agree with you about certain "honest" aspects of Hold Back the Dawn.  For instance, the scene in the wagon when de Havilland and Boyer can't consummate their marriage because of his "injured" shoulder and the disappointed resignation on de Havilland's face, indicating her very real and intense love for him.  I guess the movie just didn't resonate with me as much as I thought it might, given its many Oscar nods.  As for the de Havilland - Fontaine relationship, yes I agree that this has been talked about forever and most people are aware of it.  What I didn't appreciate was not that Feinstein mentioned it, but that he seemed to feel the sisterly alienation wasn't surprising given his experience of having met Fontaine.  It was an unncessary (in my opinion) interjection that put Fontaine to blame for the supposed frostiness between the sisters.  I can't imagine Robert Osborne stooping that low.  In the short time that the host has to give commentary on each film,  I think Feinstein could have found other things to say.  If he wanted to elevate de Havilland over Fontaine, he could have mentioned that after Fontaine's win for Suspicion, de Havilland went on to win Oscars for films in 1946 and 1949.  I'm always amazed that one family produced two sisters who were both Oscar winners, international stars and had very respectable careers in film and theater.  That, to me, is the story.

 

There wasn't a more talented pair of sisters than Olivia and Joan.  That is indeed the story. 

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I would vote for Bette in LITTLE FOXES.  She is just terrific in this role, as is everybody (Patricia Collinge's heartbreaking performance is awesome, as I have said elsewhere).  I do love Barbara Stanwyck.  If she didn't win for STELLA DALLAS or DOUBLE INDEMNITY she wasn't going to win for BALL OF FIRE.  But she is great and should have won for something.  At least she got an honorary Oscar.  It seems like actresses playing "bad girls" don't usually win Best Actress Oscars but those are the roles with a lot of substance to them and would be challenging and fun to play. 

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My picks for best actress of 1941 are more outside the box. These are the ones I feel should have been nominated:

 

Joan Crawford for A WOMAN'S FACE. A tough role, because the story does not make us see her as a sympathetic character until almost the end. But Crawford keeps her intriguing for the entire running time and still vulnerable, so the pay-off at the end is sweet.

 

Carole Lombard in MR. AND MRS. SMITH. Like Crawford, she had a somewhat unsympathetic character to play. But we get wrapped up in watching her, because she makes it highly engaging. 

 

Vivien Leigh for THAT HAMILTON WOMAN. She's always better when she is cast as women who are more her true nature. In some ways, she's not acting but giving us the key that opens the door to the soul of a troubled actress. 

 

Martha Scott for ONE FOOT IN HEAVEN. This is a delicately nuanced performance, and she manages to keep the character intact despite having to play opposite Fredric March who hams it up considerably.

 

Wendy Hiller for MAJOR BARBARA. She runs the gamut in this role, and like Martha Scott, she has to keep her role central to the story despite scenery chewing from Rex Harrison and Robert Morley. She succeeds. She's the one I feel should have received the Oscar for Best Actress of 1941.

 

Of the actual nominees, I feel Greer was more than adequte in BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST. Bette was entertaining in THE LITTLE FOXES, but she was competing with the strange make-up and it pulls me out of the story.

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My picks for best actress of 1941 are more outside the box. These are the ones I feel should have been nominated:

 

Joan Crawford for A WOMAN'S FACE. A tough role, because the story does not make us see her as a sympathetic character until almost the end. But Crawford keeps her intriguing for the entire running time and still vulnerable, so the pay-off at the end is sweet.

 

Carole Lombard in MR. AND MRS. SMITH. Like Crawford, she had a somewhat unsympathetic character to play. But we get wrapped up in watching her, because she makes it highly engaging. 

 

Vivien Leigh for THAT HAMILTON WOMAN. She's always better when she is cast as women who are more her true nature. In some ways, she's not acting but giving us the key that opens the door to the soul of a troubled actress. 

 

Martha Scott for ONE FOOT IN HEAVEN. This is a delicately nuanced performance, and she manages to keep the character intact despite having to play opposite Fredric March who hams it up considerably.

 

Wendy Hiller for MAJOR BARBARA. She runs the gamut in this role, and like Martha Scott, she has to keep her role central to the story despite scenery chewing from Rex Harrison and Robert Morley. She succeeds. She's the one I feel should have received the Oscar for Best Actress of 1941.

 

Of the actual nominees, I feel Greer was more than adequte in BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST. Bette was entertaining in THE LITTLE FOXES, but she was competing with the strange make-up and it pulls me out of the story.

 

All fine un-nominated 1941 performances.           

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All fine un-nominated 1941 performances.           

 

Thanks. When I see who was actually nominated, compared to the ones I feel should have been nominated, I get the impression it was more a who-was-popular-in-Hollywood-in-1941 sort of thing. I also think Betty Field gave an amazing performance in BLUES IN THE NIGHT, as well as in THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS. Why she was overlooked, I do not know...except maybe she wasn't popular enough among her peers.

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Thanks. When I see who was actually nominated, compared to the ones I feel should have been nominated, I get the impression it was more a who-was-popular-in-Hollywood-in-1941 sort of thing. I also think Betty Field gave an amazing performance in BLUES IN THE NIGHT, as well as in THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS. Why she was overlooked, I do not know...except maybe she wasn't popular enough among her peers.

 

Yea, the 1941 nominations looked they were based on 'who were the top stars' at the time with the addition of Fontaine who some say was really being recognized for Rebecca.     Not that these stars didn't give Oscar worthy performance but as you noted there were others that didn't have the same type of opportunities,  year after year,  like Garson, Davis and Stanwyck. 

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Yea, the 1941 nominations looked they were based on 'who were the top stars' at the time with the addition of Fontaine who some say was really being recognized for Rebecca.     Not that these stars didn't give Oscar worthy performance but as you noted there were others that didn't have the same type of opportunities,  year after year,  like Garson, Davis and Stanwyck. 

 

I have an upcoming Today's Topic column about Stanwyck. My opinion about her acting has changed considerably. Some of them were just luckier and had better opportunities if they played the studio game-- but that doesn't mean they were necessarily the most talented or gave the best performances in a given year.

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TopBilled:

 

I haven't seen the Wendy Hiller performance in Major Barbara, but there were two performances that were nominated that I thought should have been:

 

 

Irene Dunne (Penny Serenade) and Ida Lupino (High Sierra) OVER

Olivia de Havilland (Hold Back the Dawn) and Greer Garson (Blossoms in the Dust).

 

 

Also, in my original post, you had a top 10 movies list, now best actress; do you also have choices for Best Actor and the supporting winners?

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TopBilled:

 

I haven't seen the Wendy Hiller performance in Major Barbara, but there were two performances that were nominated that I thought should have been:

 

 

Irene Dunne (Penny Serenade) and Ida Lupino (High Sierra) OVER

Olivia de Havilland (Hold Back the Dawn) and Greer Garson (Blossoms in the Dust).

 

 

Also, in my original post, you had a top 10 movies list, now best actress; do you also have choices for Best Actor and the supporting winners?

 

Interesting;    Lupino gave a solid performance in High Sierra but I view the role as supporting.

 

As for Dunne in Serenade:   Hard for me to judge since I'm not a fan of the film.    Dunee was very versatile and like Jean Arthur could blend drama and comedy well,  moving seamlessly from one to the other in a scene.     But I find Serenade to be too much of a drag on my sprit. 

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Interesting;    Lupino gave a solid performance in High Sierra but I view the role as supporting.

 

As for Dunne in Serenade:   Hard for me to judge since I'm not a fan of the film.    Dunee was very versatile and like Jean Arthur could blend drama and comedy well,  moving seamlessly from one to the other in a scene.     But I find Serenade to be too much of a drag on my sprit. 

 

I still have never watched PENNY SERENADE. It's on Amazon Prime so I need to take a look at it. 

 

I agree about Lupino having more of a supporting role in HIGH SIERRA.

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TopBilled:

 

I haven't seen the Wendy Hiller performance in Major Barbara, but there were two performances that were nominated that I thought should have been:

 

 

Irene Dunne (Penny Serenade) and Ida Lupino (High Sierra) OVER

Olivia de Havilland (Hold Back the Dawn) and Greer Garson (Blossoms in the Dust).

 

 

Also, in my original post, you had a top 10 movies list, now best actress; do you also have choices for Best Actor and the supporting winners?

 

Thanks for asking. Let me think on it, and I will come up with my choices and post it later today or tomorrow. 

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Top Billed, I'm surprised you've never seen PENNY SERENADE, especially considering all your research and writing.  You do need to check it out.  You may like it or you may find it overly sentimental but I think you will like the lead performances regardless.  I agree that Ida Lupino is in a supporting role.  I would be interested in reading your thoughts about Barbara Stanwyck as you said your opinion has changed.  She is #1 for me followed by Bette Davis and Irene Dunne.  But there are a lot of actors/actresses whose work I have come to appreciate over time.

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Top Billed, I'm surprised you've never seen PENNY SERENADE, especially considering all your research and writing.  You do need to check it out.  You may like it or you may find it overly sentimental but I think you will like the lead performances regardless.  I agree that Ida Lupino is in a supporting role.  I would be interested in reading your thoughts about Barbara Stanwyck as you said your opinion has changed.  She is #1 for me followed by Bette Davis and Irene Dunne.  But there are a lot of actors/actresses whose work I have come to appreciate over time.

 

Hey Christine,

 

Nice to see you posting. Probably the reason I've delayed seeing PENNY SERENADE is because I love the comedies Grant & Dunne made, and I'm afraid watching them in a tearjerker will be a bit strange, not to mention a bit of a downer. But since George Stevens is an excellent director and Beulah Bondi is in the cast, I need to finally sit down and take a look at it. 

 

The piece I wrote about Stanwyck for the Today's Topic column was one of the toughest ones I've done in a long time. My appreciation of her talents has lessened, and I was trying to figure out why. I used two of her films from the 50s to cite as examples where I was unimpressed, but I struggled to be fair and not make it into a negative commentary. I also tried to balance it with the "legend" and "legacy" of Stanwyck, suggesting she's still a great star, but that one's view of her can change with time. I felt like I had her ghost standing over my shoulder as I wrote it, so I had to be fair no matter what!

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Thanks for asking. Let me think on it, and I will come up with my choices and post it later today or tomorrow. 

 

Okay, here are my choices for actor, supporting actor and supporting actress of 1941--

 

Best Actor (an asterisk * indicates my winner)

 

Gary Cooper...he had a strong year no matter how you look at it, but his performance in MEET JOHN DOE is the one that resonates most for me.

 

Robert Montgomery...I agree with the Academy about nominating him for HERE COMES MR. JORDAN. I think he also did good work in MR. AND MRS. SMITH and RAGE IN HEAVEN. Like Cooper, he had a strong year.

 

*Laurence Olivier...an excellent performance as Lord Nelson in THAT HAMILTON WOMAN. Perfectly heroic and romantic.

 

Michael Redgrave...he did a fine job in KIPPS. He would only get better, too.

 

Warner Baxter...tremendously underrated as the title character in ADAM HAD FOUR SONS. He brings a dignity to the role, and I believed his anguish when his wife died and his newfound happiness when he fell in love with the governess (Ingrid Bergman).

 

Best Supporting Actor (an asterisk * indicates my winner)

 
Charles Coburn...he's wonderful as the store owner who goes "undercover" in this riotous comedy. What helps is that he's playing off people like Jean Arthur, Spring Byington, S.Z. Sakall and Edmund Gwenn. He makes it look easy.
 
Claude Rains...he had a strong year, in films as diverse as THE WOLF MAN and HERE COMES MR. JORDAN. It surprises me that James Gleason was nominated for the Jordan movie and Rains was not. 
 
Herbert Marshall...truly excellent work in THE LITTLE FOXES. Another one who was not nominated by the Academy. Why not?
 
*Alastair Sim...had without a doubt the trickiest role of the year. He had to come across as a kind, sympathetic boarding house occupant in the first part of A COTTAGE TO LET. Then he had to do a 180 and show us he was an evil, dangerous spy that could harm anyone who gets in his way. 
 
Donald Crisp...he was the Academy's winner, and he gives a very layered performance in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. But I don't think it was his best work, and not the best work of the year in this category.
 

Best Supporting Actress (an asterisk * indicates my winner)

 
Spring Byington...she was good in MEET JOHN DOE, but even better in THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES. I always think of tuna popovers when I think of her in this movie.
 
*Fay Wray...as the doomed wife of Warner Baxter in ADAM HAD FOUR SONS, she gives a truly heartbreaking but dignified performance.
 
Hattie McDaniel...a total riot in THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON. I died laughing at some of her antics.
 
Anna Lee...she was not nominated for HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, but I feel she should have been. She does a fine job.
 
Catherine Doucet...she has less screen time than the others I've listed in this category, but she has some scene-stealing moments in IT STARTED WITH EVE. She was one of those, when I first saw her on screen, I was eager to find out what else she had appeared in.
 

Note-- I did not mention Mary Astor, the actual Oscar winner as supporting actress, because I feel she was a co-lead with Bette Davis for THE GREAT LIE and could have been nominated for best actress.

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Top Billed, How could you leave out Patricia Collinge from LITTLE FOXES?!?  Total agreement about Herbert Marshall.  He's good in everything and has a great voice.  I haven't seen all the performances you cited but now I am curious about ADAM HAD FOUR SONS.

 

By the way, have you posted your Barbara Stanwyck piece yet?  I couldn't find it in the Today's Topic forum but maybe I didn't go back far enough.  I did see the pix you posted on the most current page but that's all.

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