Sep 23, 2015

Greer Garson, The Valley of Decision

At long last, we've reached the end of Greer Garson's reign as the perennial nominee of the forties. And what an extraordinarily banal run it was. I see similarities here to that of Amy Adams; for whatever reason, both came/have come through on the backs of several performances that, when boiled down, are pretty much the same, with tiny different elements here and there. What's more, as talented as they are within the confines of their respective schticks, I don't believe them to be very transcendent actresses. Because of this, I find myself exhausted by their presences at the Oscars, and at this point I feel as though I am without the inspiration to give Garson a proper review--because what can I possibly critique here that's any different from my last five reviews?
This isn't a bad performance. It is a vanilla performance. Quickly look that up and you'll see that it's defined as, "having no special or extra features; ordinary or standard," and doesn't that pretty much sum up Garson's nominated work pretty well? Is it warm and sweet and morally flawless you seek? See all her other performances. Would you like to see her being courted and then fall in love? See each of her performances outside of Mrs. Miniver. How about standing up for a family business and/or something she believes in? See Blossoms in the Dust, Madame Curie, Mrs. Parkington. Craving a dull film? See everything else. So sure, all that warm goodness that I thought was so great when I first reviewed her in Goodbye, Mr. Chips is still there and alive and well; and I think that she did a great job conveying the internal conflict that comes with her budding romance with Gregory Peck. However, beyond this there's little else that makes this a justifiable inclusion in the Best Actress shortlist. And this particular performance, while admittedly more consistent and solid than her last two, is merely run-of-the-mill at the end of the day, not filled with enough assets or compelling characterization that would either challenge its performer or allow it to be memorable. And it's unfortunate that her fab albeit superfluous 1940s run was to end on this detached note, but really, truly, what else is there left to say? I lost the words long ago.


  1. While I enjoy Garson as an actress, you make valid points here. MGM had struck upon a successful formula for the actress, including often having many of the same actors in her movies with her, and they ran that formula into the ground. Garson herself grew tired of the formula, referring to these films as "potboilers", and wanted to do different types of films but the image stuck. Too bad, because she might have been able to show more range than these series of films allowed. If you want to see something very different, containing what I believe is her best performance, try 1940's "Pride and Prejudice". It's a period comedy that's quite amusing and Garson is delightful in a role like none she ever played, before or after.

  2. Maybe Crawford dodged a bullet and didn't know it. As the Shearer era gave way to Garson, Joan hoped with Norma nearing the exit, she would ascend to the very type of MGM 'prestige' packages and queenly treatment once the sole province of her rival. And while these movies may have been vigorously embraced in their day, and drew Oscar nominations, time has not been kind to the majority of them. ( I agree about the exception of Pride And Prejudice, not least because the addition of Laurence Olivier at his Wuthering Heights / Rebecca zenith is a booster rocket.)

    Other factors work against Greer too. Wartime audiences wanted heroic, stoic women but as the chronological approach of your blog and study prove, they can become exhausting. Garson also did not have the advantage that Shearer knew in the pre-Code years, before Joe Breen's stifling power, a repertoire of earlier, freer characters who danced tantalizingly at the edges of respectability without falling off.

    One gets the impression that Garson could have been directed in many of these roles with just two words: "be noble." The lament is that an actress that likely would have been capable of vastly more was asked so little.