May 8, 2014

Actress Round-up: 1937

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She's warm, she's sweet, she's cuddly...she's the quintessential girl next door. This type of girl is one that can be played by Gaynor in her sleep, but in the case of this particular film and performance, her warmth/sweetness/cuddliness feel more like crutches. While the screenplay offers some frustrating restraints, she still lacks energy and a palpable star power. You get the sense that something's not fully there while you watch her--she's just coasting along on autopilot.

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I'll reiterate that my issue with this performance isn't so much that I don't agree with the casting of a European actress in the role of a Chinese peasant, and I don't want to come off as being some sort of Political Correctness police officer. Rather, it's the casting of the European actress in the role of a Chinese peasant that takes away much of the believability of the performance for me. Because inevitably, all I could see was a woman playing her best dress-up as opposed to a woman who's living, breathing, being the character. Rainer has excellent acting moments, but I found myself more distracted throughout the performance than engrossed.

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I have a tough time figuring out how much I like over-the-top performances in general, so Stanwyck's performance here didn't make for an easy grading. Because when she's loud, gaudy, and hammy, she's very much so. But when she does the opposite--and acts without saying a single word--it's impeccable. So she barely gets a four, only because despite the divisiveness, overall I found myself liking her efforts more so than disliking.

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I adored Garbo's performance, and it is my belief that her last scene in Camille is the best showcase of acting out of any of her fellow nominees. The images of her there still resonants with me when I think about this film. My only issue is that Garbo doesn't really bring the goods until around the halfway mark of the film--up until then she's just bouncing along, doing the same 'ol ultra-glam Garbo schtick that can be seen in any other one of her films. But boy, the last half of her performance is just stunning, and perhaps with a rewatch on a different day I might very well shift my standings. But right now, she just barely misses out on the win.

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The material Dunne gets to work with is so much more different in tone and nature compared to her fellow nominees, specifically Garbo, which made it real difficult for me to decide on a winner. But through it all she is so smart, witty, and charming as Lucy. It never even feels like she's acting because it seems as though the qualities of Lucy are so inherent in Dunne. She garnishes her performance with little tics that make it look so naturally funny. Her timing and comedic delivery is so impactful. She had my attention the second she appears and never lets go. Though not quite as reverberating as Garbo at her best, she takes the win for her detailed craft and her consist excellence here.

In Conclusion: This was one of the hardest years for me to rank! I was struggling for some time if Gaynor was a 2 or a 3. And I struggled with figuring out how much I liked Rainer...I probably like her a little bit more than the 3 would suggest. It also took me some time to figure out if Stanwyck was a 3 or a 4. And finally, I liked Garbo and Dunne pretty much about the same. Choosing a winner between the two was much harder than I was expecting, and as I'm typing these words I'm still not 100% confident. Ultimately, like Hepburn over Robson back in '33, I had to give Dunne the win for overall consistency as opposed to giving Garbo the win for an amazing 50%. So Dunne squeaks by, though just barely. Still, I felt that 1937 was about average for actressing and I leave the year without a performance that I absolutely love. The most obvious also-ran is Katharine Hepburn, who got a runner-up placing with the NYFCC for her work in Stage Door, so one wonders how close she was to a nomination given that the film got nominations for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actress, and Screenplay. She's pretty great in the film as well, so it's a shame she wasn't included on the shortlist. Inside Oscar points out Carole Lombard getting a snub in Nothing Sacred. Other than these two, I got nothing. So on to the next year!


  1. I don't like Hepburn in Stage Door that much (accidentally reviewed it a couple of years ago) and the late 30s were the "box office poison" part of her career, so not sure if she was the runner-up. Actually: it seems impossible to point out someone. So maybe she WAS.
    Bette Davis had a couple of roles, winning a trophy at Venice for Kid Galahad & Marked Woman. Constance Bennett was in Topper, though I haven't seen it.

    Interesting we have the same ranking. :) Though not the same scores.

    The only 1938 I've seen in Jezebel, but I think Norma wins that one.
    How are you doing? Are you still keeping up with the chronological thing? :) In the mood for something new(er)?

    1. It's funny you ask that. I feel like I've been stuck in early Oscar mode for forever now. In addition to the acting nominees, I've also got a list of 30 or so other films from the era that I want to watch either because I'm interested or because I think they're definitive of the time (like Grand Illusion, Passion of Joan of Arc, some other pre-code titles, some Fredric March films, etc.)


      There've definitely been times where I've been close to reviewing a different year (I was actually prepping 2013 for a bit in February) just for the hell of it and to get some fresh air...but at the same time, I've grown fond of the thirties. I've been immersed in it for so long that I've gotten attached to certain actors and directors. So I figure before I leave the 30's forever, I might as well watch as much as I can and get really fucking sick of it all. I imagine everyone reading my posts are sick of the thirties too :P

      But yeah. In the immediate-ish future, I think I'll be doing chronological at least through the 40's.

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  3. Ahhh, I'm so late to comment! Sorry, been busy w/grad stuff.

    Anyways, great job on this year. I'm just a smidgen more enthusiastic about most of these performances than you are, but I'm glad you liked all of them on some level. Dunne is actually maybe my least favorite of the four I've seen, as charming and hilarious as she is. That movie was fun and all, but didn't leave much of an impact on me.