My sister and I faithfully watched the Oscars together since the 60’s. The first time I experienced the Academy snubbing a performer I thought should have won an Oscar was, Jack Nicholson losing for “Five Easy Pieces” back in 1971 and we screamed and jumped up and down and fussed in front of the tv for the injustice of it all. (His Oscar win for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was much better. But “As Good As It Gets” ???? C’mon, Academy! You’re killin’ me!)
Welcome to THE OSCARS SNUBS BLOGATHON hosted by bloggers Diana of Silver Scenes and Quiggy of Midnite Drive-In ( Hiya Quigs! Thanx for having me and the Couch. ) Participating in this blogathon makes me relive the bitterness of years past that I thought I’d forgotten, or at least put to bed. Now I’m once again reminded and re-living my favorites who lost this coveted acting award. I’m sure I share my subjectiveness with my fellow bloggers on this topic. Oh you can pooh pooh me and disagree. All’s fair in love and Oscars.
Here are eight favorites I thought were totally robbed of an Oscar. Clicking on the photo will tell you a quick WHY or you can just stay here for the main event.
As much as I love the performances of all the actors above, dagnabit, they have to lose AGAIN in my phony baloney accounting, sending me right back to cinematherapy.
Hanging out at dinner one nite with some classic movie-loving gals, I asked each of them who THEY thought was Oscar snubbed? Lilly thought Dana Andrews should have won for “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Spencer thought Barbara Stanwyck should have won an Oscar for any number of movies, but to name one, “Stella Dallas.” Lara thought Judy Garland’s loss for “A Star Is Born” was the snub of all snubs. ( Ooooh boy, that one was a pretty bad snub, members of the Academy. ) I tried to make a case with them for my choice. And I’ll try to make that case for you here….
For Gloria Swanson NOT to have to won an Academy Award for her performance as Norma Desmond in 1950’s “SUNSET BOULEVARD” is just plain, absolutely and utterly criminally insane. It’s nuts to me. I think she should’ve called Jerry Geisler and sued the members of the Academy. Demand a recount! For this movie, the pen was dipped in venom and blood. Then the script was written by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman, Jr. I don’t know Marshman…but we all know what mad geniuses Brackett and Wilder were. Then they boiled down the script in oil and shot it through Swanson’s veins with a hypodermic needle, where she unleashed desperation, heartache and megalomania, all with astounding and embarassing abandon. She was naked, peeling layers from a woman right down to the nitty gritty of insanity. Whaddya expect from a movie whose credits start on a dirty, cracked, sidewalk with butts and matches all over the ground, and a man who directed “Double Indemnity” and “Ace in the Hole” and “The Lost Weekend?” A glamorous Hollywood story?
Swanson’s performance might’ve been too close for comfort to the collective memory of many Academy members … or, they feared their vote would ensure a similar fate befall them. But it’s Hollywood…so everybody into the pool.
Well…..maybe just him:
Joe escaping the Repo man. You need a car in Hollywood
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“Sunset Boulevard” is a disturbing film, to say the least and a heartbreaking one to boot. It starts off with a down and out writer who needs $300 to make a payment on his car. He tries to escape the repo guys and…wait a minute. Listen, I’m going to fill this post with spoilers, so if you don’t know this film by now, shame on you I can’t help you.
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Joe happens upon an old Hollywood mansion ( You can read Silver Screenings’ account of this old house in her essay, by clicking on the photo above )
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Max, the Butler and Gatekeeper to the Past
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The movie has elements of Grand Guignol / gothic horror and film noir. We’ve got the voice-over by our dead hero, telling his story in flashback who, for some reason, ( his greed ) is almost tethered to this ‘old dark house’ like a dog bound by an electronic fence. Joe Gillis, an successful screen-writer, is played by ruggedly handsome leading man WILLIAM HOLDEN. I heard they wanted to get Montgomery Clift for the part, but Holden is perfect. He’s a little older and not as pretty as Clift, making it all the more reason he worries about being a failure and not making his mark in Hollywood. Besides, Holden has the cynical edge I don’t think cutie pie Monty could pull off. Joe Gillis is fated never to escape the mansion, even when he has a chance to just walk away. The writing crackles with sarcasm and snark and probably the writers’ experiences in Hollywood. Joe is quite ungracious about the old timey movie star he hooks up with, however honest he may be about her. He thinks he’s in charge. He thinks he is getting over on her. But he’s as trapped as a rat in a maze.
The old time movie star is Norma Desmond. She’s played to the hilt
( but NOT over-the-top ) by Gloria Swanson. Boy is it EVER played by Gloria Swanson. This was an Oscar-performance. Hell, what MORE does the Academy want: Swanson sheds blood, sweat and tears in this role. I found her fearless and sometimes I was embarrassed for her. If she went over the top, it wasn’t in HER acting but in Desmond’s Acting. Swanson plays many emotions in this movie. She is pathetically sympathetic or unsympathetically pathetic. She has delusions of grandeur and suffers abject rejection. She’s an old cougar trying to ensnare this younger man with money, tears or suicide attempts.
Swanson’s career has holes in it at a certain point; just go to her filmography and see the last feature length film she did before this one was in 1941. I understand she was a savvy business woman and realistic. No, Swanson is not Desmond, but I’ll bet Swanson met these types along the way. Swanson wears this role like a shroud. She’s loosey-goosey inside of it. Swanson’s Desmond is the Mad Woman of Chaillot…by way of Beverly Hills. Her megalomania knows no bounds, being propped up and misguidedly enabled by her faithful butler Max (Erich Von Stroheim.) He’s entombed himself in her lair as well. He is Igor to her Mad Scientist; the scientist who is also the Monster. She sits surrounded by her own photos; surrounded by the past. Her youthful self is a fortress against the Present. She’s sick. Demented…with dementia, perhaps? She’s a shut-in, lost in her own world and is Mistress of her domain. All this Swanson plays with fluidity. One manic mood flows effortlessly into the next in varying degrees. You don’t know how the old gal’s going to react in any given situation.
Who needs mirrors when you’re surrounded by pictures of your youth
She’s crazy…but she also has great empathy. Yes, she IS arranging a funeral for a pet chimpanzee. Hell yeah it looks bizarre but I get the impression he was probably a dear
old friend, this pet of hers. The respect she pays this chimp is quite touching, even moreso juxtaposed with Joe Gillis’ snark. ( Ack! I’m torn…but then again, I’m not on the inside of that mauseoleum. ) I think she has great loyalty to her friends (ungraciously and indelicately dubbed ‘the waxworks’) which includes: Anna Q. Nilsson, H.B. Warner and Buster Keaton, and loyalty to fans long gone.
It is typical Hollywood fashion, to obtain your own screen vehicles when your phone stops ringing. So Norma does what is done and has her own screenplay. It’s not very good and Joe tell us that. But screen-writing is REwriting, though Norma won’t let a single line be removed. She pathologically must be front and center. Why does this scene remind me in some skewed sense of the movie “Misery”?
My favorite scene in “Sunset Boulevard” is when she goes to DeMille’s set, mistakenly
believing her script has been accepted by the great director. She might look a tad out of step with the fashion of 1950, but there’s no doubt, Norma Desmond looks regal when she arrives at the studio. On set, extras come to greet her. See, she isn’t forgotten. She is revered. She might have thought it was her due …but look how she accepts it graciously. She’s not crazy or threatened or dictatorial. But check out how Wilder juxtaposes this scene with what’s REALLY going on ( they only want Desmond’s car NOT her. ) But flip the script again and see how sympathetically her old director, DeMille, keeps bad news from touching her. We keep getting hit with the reality of Norma’s situation while we live in the fantasy with her and Joe. And when she thinks she’s going back in the “ring” again, look how she trains for it in that montage sequence of getting back in shape. She’s seriously dedicated to her Art. The Art that no longer wants her. The lengths of willingness and no shame Swanson goes to for her character Norma is great; seen without makeup, Norma, chin-strapped like the Bride of Frankenstein, thinking she’s still got It.
Take the gum outta your mouth Joe, and don’t disturb the bridge game
When Norma’s in charge, she’s in charge, barking out orders, making her demands known. She talks with her full faculties then, getting what she wants. Yeh…it’s apparent to all she pays for what she wants.
“As long as the lady is paying for it, why not take the Vicuna?”
But Swanson is not afraid to make Norma wallow in the depths of crazy. Wait, let me be more generous than Joe is. She peels off her skin to show the vulnerability of a woman, who can’t help loving that man who has nothing but contempt for her, as he accepts her gifts, room and board and the uhmmmm…etceteras. What woman hasn’t been there, a one-sided love, blotting out the world for just one dance, lost in that moment of togetherness. Norma just orchestrates things better than, at least, I could.
And the band plays on…no matter WHAT
( Open your eyes ladies ~ this is what he looks like…waiting for his getaway. ) I’m not sure who Joe loathes more, Norma or himself. Don’t get me wrong, Holden is more than holding his own in this…but it’s Gloria Swanson who’s taking the risks, being emotionally vulnerable. She’s coiled like a cobra, ready to snap when Joe even intimates there may be another girl:
Joe Gillis: “What right have you to take me for granted?”
Norma Desmond: “What right? You want me to tell you?”
Joe Gillis: “Has it ever occured to you I may have a life of my own? That there may be some girl that I’m crazy about?”
Norma Desmond: “Who? Some car hop or dress extra?”
Joe Gillis: “What I’m trying to say is, I’m all wrong for you. You want a Valentino. Somebody with polo ponies. A big shot.
Norma Desmond: “What you’re trying to say is you don’t want me to love you. Say it. SAY IT!”
She smacks him hard across his face and he leaves Chateau Crazy.
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Joe takes one last stab at independence, collaborating with the pretty young script girl w/moxie, Betty Schaefer played with bright clarity by Nancy Olson. ( Between late-1940s’ Barbara Bel Geddes and 1960s’ Hope Lange is the lovely Ms. Olson ). They’ve already done their ‘meet-cute’ scene in a producer’s office and here at a normal New Year’s Eve party they play out a mock love scene as two young hipster writers are want to do.
His mistress is Writing and to satisfy her he has clandestine meetings with Betty to get an
original script down on paper. Yeah, she’s his friend’s ( Jack Webb ) girl…but this is strictly business.
Of course it becomes much more. This is Joe’s life line back to reality. Norma’s jealous rage gets the best of her and she calls this girl. She is utterly desperate.
But it won’t work this time. Joe’s not falling for her tantrum but I think he sees the jig is up, his career has run its course and he’s got to leave. He won’t let the bright young woman squander her potential on him. Joe lets Betty see his whole sordid situtation with Norma. It’s kind of a way of letting her out of this thing they feel. Look at his face in the first shot. I think he’s relieved. But I ask you to look at Betty’s reaction. Through her eyes we can see just how bad this all really looks living in this tomb with the faded, mentally-challenged film star. THIS is what it looks like to those on the outside. Don’t forget, we’ve been on the inside with Norma and Joe. He bequeathes all his ideas from their collaboration to her. He gives her up, sends her back to his friend.
But now to leave Norma. She cries. She begs. She threatens. Max coming in to this scene
seems to let her know the jig is up for her, as well. Allowing reality into this setting has done her no good.
Never underestimate a woman scorned and unhinged.
I think on some level, Joe knew he was going to meet his fate.
“Well, this is where you came in, back at that pool again, the one I always wanted. It’s dawn now and they must have photographed me a thousand times. Then they got a couple of pruning hooks from the garden and fished me out… ever so gently. Funny, how gentle people get with you once you’re dead.” – Joe Gillis
But Wilder is not finished with us yet. Not by a longshot. Stay in your seats and don’t throw away your popcorn yet. Wilder must tie a pretty bow to Norma’s story. What am I saying? This is cynical Billy Wilder; he ties a nice hangman’s knot around Norma’s neck and weighs her down with an anvil in one of the great endings in movie history; a perp walk into madness.
“I AM big. It’s the pictures that got small.” Norma Desmond
Yes, Joe Gillis deserved to die – for all the slings, arrows cynical assaults he flung around. But I think we need to focus some compassion for Norma Desmond at this juncture. She’s now totally given in to the unabashed ecstacy of insanity. She’s a goner. But how is she getting out the mansion. It’ll be at least a year before we see Elia Kazan escort Blanche DuBois off the premises with a gentleman caller in “Streetcar…”. We’re in Hollywood now. Hedda Hopper’s there to
dish the dirt … report on the proceedings. Max-her butler…director…husband has a plan. And Norma’s coaxed out by what she thinks is a movie set. Max, who left a successful directing career to entomb himself in the past with Norma, once again sits in the director’s chair.
As she walks down her mansion’s grand staircase, she passes the sad, confused and horrified throngs of press and police. She’s unaware of them. She walks towards her director, skewed hurly burly music underscores her descent. She walks towards the camera, towards the key light, towards the dark, towards us, towards the past where no one can hurt her again.
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When you see these last two shots, you might think of “Sunset Boulevard” as a caricature of a story of a star gone mad. The Norma Desmond glare could be an over-the-top thing. But if you give yourself into the story, into Swanson’s performance it’s a sad one indeed. It left me weepy this time ’round. I wonder how Swanson’s contemporaries from the Silent era felt watching this film. What ghosts haunted them as they sat eating their popcorn. I’ll bet it was terrifying to some survivors. Could they have felt betrayed by Swanson, airing the dirty laundry of their forgotten past? With my entry in this blogathon I hoped to make my best case for Gloria Swanson to win that Academy Award with no disrespect to Bette Davis in “All About Eve” or Judy Holliday’s marvelous performance in “Born Yesterday” ( which bowled me over when I came in being dead set against Judy Judy Judy. And you must make some time to read Citizen Screen’s blog post in Once Upon A Screen where she thoughtfully lays out 1950’s Oscar race to remember. ) I think Swanson poured her soul into that part. She probably KNEW some Norma Desmonds along the way. How else would someone end, spending much of their life being idolized and taken care of and being in FRONT of the camera. Norma Desmond goes out in a “blaze of glory” ~ the Hollywood way.
Click this banner for some more Oscar snubs as others make their case for their choice of Oscar misfires.
What becomes a legend most? Prepared to be amazed:
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