But in many ways, I’m happy I got to write about Oscar’s first Best Actress year. I couldn’t have done it without the help of Cal (who provided A Ship Comes In), so thank you again! None of the 5 performances was really bad, though no classic either – some might feel differently. In the end, no. 1 was easy to choose; 2nd, 3rd & 4th place are almost connected to eachother, and 5th was an easy call. Almost all performances suffered from either the misogynism of the screenplay or its lack of interest in character depth. It was a good opportunity to discover movies, but I’m so happy to get back to talkies.
She is the heart of the film, giving us more than the material asked for. Her shyness and quiet nature manage to create a connection with the audience, and I did have sympathy for her. While the screenplay stopped me from seeing it as heartbreaking or very moving, I cannot really blame Janet. Her eyes tell a story much more than the dialogue card, but there’s only so much she can do.
The big moment of the film is the dinner scene, that story-hour in which she awaits to be taken to prison. That’s the only favor the screenplay does for her: putting the camera on Janet and letting her incredibly expressive face tell us the battle inside this woman’s soul. The screenplay is just as dry and misogynistic as 7th Heaven, but count on Janet to make it watchable and emotional.
the highlight: Not knowing if she should say goodbye to her lover, in the dinner scene.
It was Oscar’s first edition, so who knows how they did actually vote. But Janet Gaynor, with the 3 films on her side, had a clear advantage – and I’m sure it was an easy win given the situation. If there was anyone to bring a surprise, it would’ve been Gloria of course, who probably got a couple of votes. Louise Dresser, I suspect, based on the film & performance, had no chance.
To see other BEST ACTRESS years discussed so far, go to the column on the right.
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