Oct 19, 2013

Actress Round-up: 1931-1932

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Lynn Fontanne is like a cat as The Actress--she is stealthy and conniving, and any mental and emotional suffering The Actor goes through in the film is all thanks to her. I still can't get over how easy she makes it look whenever she purrs out "yes" as we see The Actor writhe around in the palm of her hand.  It's a delectable part, though at times it feels more like a strong supporting role than a full-on lead role, at least when compared to her fellow nominees. In spite of this, she does a solid job and manages to separate herself from the Alfred Lunt Show which her more calm though still theatrical performance. And while I felt her performance wasn't as strong as her fellow competitors, there's still a lot to like about her here.

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could easily have been another sappy story about a woman who loves and lives for her kids, but there's something about Marie that elevates this saccharinely written part into a quaint little performance. Marie Dressler, in all her atypical movie star glory, is such a tender presence on screen that it's hard not to love her. Equal parts tough and vulnerable, you can't help but wonder how much Dressler actually means it when she tells Richard Cromwell's Ronnie, "stop calling me beautiful!"And yet when he continues to do so, we see her sort of taken aback, but she gives the smallest of smiles and almost begrudgingly accepts it. Moments like these make this beautiful performance for me, and I feel that this role really does showcase this marvelous actress's best strengths.

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Helen Hayes' role alone is above and beyond Dressler's and Fontanne's. We get to see her young, naive, and lovestruck little girl be turned into a consistently heartbroken and desperate mother, who in turn becomes a desperate prostitute and eventually a gentle old woman. The process is fascinating, and so is Hayes. A legendary stage actress, there isn't much theatricality in her performance--instead it feels so much more human, with the childbirth scene and the school visit scene some of the best acting moments from this batch of ladies. Hayes has a waifish look to her that perfectly fits the character and makes her heavier moments in the film all the more devastating. This is true Oscar bait at its rawest, but it's bait that's handled by an excellent actress and done right.

IN CONCLUSION: I thought this was a pretty decent year--with Fontanne being solid, Dressler being a lower-tiered 4-statue rating and Hayes being a higher-tiered 4-statue rating. But you can't help but wonder why the hell the Academy had such strange nominee fluctuations during these years--how Best Actress could have gone from a field of five to six to five and then to three is beyond me, because it's such a low number to narrow down the year's supposed "best". Joan Crawford was pretty awesome in Grand Hotel, and one wonders why she couldn't manage any recognition given that her film won Best Picture, but I felt hers was definitely more of a supporting performance. That said, the winner is a very strong one, and I can't say there are any other female performances that are notable enough to be considered, but I'll be sure to watch and critique if I stumble across them.

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