Final Conclusions - Best Actress 1931
This was not a great year for the Best Actress category. I won’t regret writing about it so early, of course not: I’ll never will. But it needs to be said that, in my opinion, there’s nothing in this line-up to get excited about. Marie Dressler has her fans, no doubt about it, but to me it’s a flawed performance.
Deciding on a winner was not easy, but in the end I went with the performance I’ve enjoyed the most. I am happy with my #1, because from these 5 performances it’s probably the one that also showed most range. #2 was an easy choice, and so was #3. The next two I care little about, and my contemporaries seem to agree as nobody talks about them anymore.
Given how little impressed I was with this year’s performances, I won’t be giving the Best Acted Scene distinction, a tradition started 2 oscar-years ago.
And here is how I’ve appreciated and ranked the performances. If you want to go back and read more, just click on their names:
I am not in a position to say this is not over-the-top, because Norma loves to cry and she’s often enough a spoiled diva in this film. But I like it and this girl was charming as hell: her presence lights the screen, her tears are very convincing and she gives a charismatic, emotional performance, both joyful & flirty, and adequately dramatic.
the highlight: The visit to the jail.
I’ll give her credit for being, by far, the best thing about the film and you can tell she tries her best. Sometimes, when she remembers to be subtle, the acting works in her favor: she is convincing and creates an emotional connection with the audience. But often enough, she makes a mistake so often for performances of that era: acting too vividly, as if for audiences in the last row of the stage theatre.
the highlight: Pretending not to love Nancy, when handing her over to more fit parents.
There is something really special about her performance here: her shyness, her quiet mysterious way – all these are fascinating and attractive. But how long can you play this card?! The answer would be: the entire film. It’s an interesting performance to study, but it lacks joy, excitement and… range. At times I felt she would’ve needed more acting experience, but I still like it a bit more than the rating suggests.
the highlight: Running away from her engagement party.
This is another theatrical performance, but the opposite of Dressler’s. If Marie makes way too many faces to the camera, Ann Harding has almost no emotion to sell: she uses big words, but the emotion is rarely there, on her face, in the performance. Her ghostly presence never bothers me, but once Mary Astor hits the stage, I’m all Ann who?!
the highlight: confronting her father in the party scene.
Cimarron is a sinking ship, that voters foolishly decided was the best film of its year. Does Irene Dunne survive this gigantic mess? Not really, though I have to admit: what more could she have done?! Her character is a cliché (the supportive wife, otherwise a strong woman), her storyline is a disaster, she’s given no opportunity to show any real charm. But still she’s Irene Dunne and even her worst scenes are easy to get through.
the highlight: As an old woman, giving a big acceptance speech.
Considering this ceremony was one of the first in Oscar’s history (only 4th, to be exact), it’s hard to guess what the few members of the Academy were going crazy for. But let’s try it anyway: I don’t think Marie Dressler’s win was so obvious as some might consider it today. In its previous ceremonies Oscar chose younger ladies to win the trophy, so this really was quite a change. On that note, I suspect the runner-up was Marlene Dietrich, given the incredible year 1930 was for her, with this PLUS The Blue Angel. Norma was 3rd, because of the success of her film, because of her husband, yet only 3rd, given she had already won the Oscar the year before. I guess Irene Dunne was 4th – it would’ve been very a unfair win, but she did perform in the Best Picture winner. And that leaves Ann Harding as 5th.
To see other BEST ACTRESS years discussed so far, go to the column on the right.
What’s next: For this weekend, a special post on me reaching profile number 100, which means about 25% of Oscar’s Best Actress nominated performances; but nothing fancy. And on Sunday or Monday I’ll post my FINAL Oscar predictions. The next Best Actress year to be discussed is, of course, Best Actress 2011.