Best Actress 1929-30
Oscar Winner: Norma Shearer, The Divorcée
Nominees: Nancy Carroll, The Devil's Holiday
Nominees: Ruth Chatterton, Sarah and Son
Nominees: Greta Garbo, Anna Christie
Nominees: Greta Garbo, Romance
Nominees: Norma Shearer, Their Own Desire
Nominees: Gloria Swanson, The Trespasser

The Field: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
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Ranking Oscar's Ballot
 
My Pick:
Gloria Swanson, The Trespasser ★ ★ ★ ★ ★



From There:
Nancy Carroll, The Devil's Holiday ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Without being quite as antic as Clara Bow, Nancy Carroll has a comparably round and adorable face and a similar penchant toward bouncy vivacity. She also shares Norma Shearer's ability to emanate comfort and likability on screen, without any remarkable endowments of glamour or sophistication. At least in The Devil's Holiday, her performing style betrays much less of that strangely paradoxical, polished insecurity that often catches Shearer trying too hard while also furnishing a smooth sheen of professionalism to the performance and the movie, the kind of thing that could be misrecognized (and can certainly be enjoyed) as supreme confidence were it not for all the antsy mannerisms and retreats into mugging. Carroll projects a less qualified confidence in herself, pulling cute faces and bubbling forth with giggles and moving with ease and excitement around Edmund Goulding's theatrical hotel set, though at times the performance would benefit from some sobriety and introspection, and the specter of insipidity is not entirely avoided. At her worst, Carroll verges on the kind of flappy-handed, lips-pursing girlishness that Mary Pickford smeared all over Coquette. Her Hallie Hobart shucks annoying people away with a two-handed push at the air and rolls her eyes around in a silly pantomime of Fun-Loving. But her essential charm holds the performance reasonably together, and she's better and more controlled when engaging her castmates than when she appeals more directly to the camera and the audience. You actually believe that this girl could hijack Phillips Holmes's dim, blond country hunk David Stone in the middle of a haircut and lure him into a surprise manicure, meeting cute while she devilishly lays the groundwork for swindling his money. Her seduction of this bloke continues apace till, in one of her best scenes, Carroll has to fend off David's brother, who races into the city to rescue his brother and call Hallie a whore. As forceful and self-indulgent as Carroll's anger is here, the scene is just as interesting for revealing how well Carroll has preserved Hallie from the kind of full-on cynicism that would have weighed this scene down into total hypocrisy and clear moral judgment. From here on out, Carroll basically keeps oscillating between holding patterns of vapid energy or pale, screenwriter-says-so decadence and, on the other hand, a few more hints of psychological depth. She's interestingly restive while allowing David's father to bribe her out of a marriage, then annoyingly superficial while repulsing this same man's visit to her urban social court. But she pulls things together and is very close to stirring in some final scenes where Hallie admits a strong sense of shame; Carroll plays the confession sincerely without beating herself into a masochistic frenzy. She might be too limited an actress to do that well, but she's also judicious and canny enough to avoid damp cliché.

Norma Shearer, The Divorcée ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Giggly kiss by tree trunk: "Oh, my head's spinning like a pinwheel!" - "You sound as though you were proposing to my grandmother!" RM: "You're a fascinating wench, Jerry" Paul car crash Quotidian but silent-movie-giggly at the date of housekeeper Hannah; giggles plausibly at 3rd anniv NS hurt but powerful upon catching Janice with Ted in kitchen, sharp-toothed: "A little cramped room, weren't you?" NS: There was something in the way she looked at you that made me want to kill her! (YIkes) Am I right? x2 (good) Ted: "Darlng, you've got to get a broader look at things, that's all!" - She's nonplussed by "It doesn't mean a thing" NS: "I'm just trying to hang onto the marvelous latitude of a man's point of view - but I just can't do it and rub elbows with Janice!" Mult. repetitions already of "it doesn't mean a thing" c/o CN and RM CN: "Aren't you going to miss me?" / CN: "Well, I love you - so why not?" NS: "That I balanced our accounts; that's all" - good, truthful confession, apologetic and not "Oh, Ted, let's not talk about men and women - they do all sorts of things!" - pitiful apology, instead of angry But then she IS angry: "And I thought your heart was breaking like mine!" From now on, you're the only man in the world that my door is closed to! montage of diamond rings Disfigured Dorothy shows up and pleads for Paul to stay with her; veiled, almost blotted on the print

Ruth Chatterton, Sarah and Son ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Lots of women have won Oscar nominations for not talking on screen, but Chatterton stands almost alone with the next actress on this list for securing a nomination by talking. In the plot of Dorothy Arzner's movie—still unavailable on DVD despite a glorious UCLA restoration several years ago—Chatterton plays an Austrian immigrant in New York City whose no-count husband sells their son to the affluent Ashmore family and then vanishes from Sarah's life. As impressed as contemporary reviewers were with Chatterton's communication of pathos (rendered in much the same way as in her previous nominated performance, in Madame X), even more attention was paid to how the actress mapped her character's transition from heavily accented and broken English in these earlier scenes to a more polished, even haughty fluency in the second half of the movie, by which point she is an established opera star at the Met and still searching for her absconded son. You can see here in the original New York Times review how wowed people were by this approach. By now, though, the technique sounds stagy and ostentatious, no matter how novel it was as a means of characterization so soon after the talkie revolution. All in all, Chatterton is a hard-working and appealingly tough tragedienne, not above kidnapping a young boy into her rowboat so she can decide for herself whether this is really her kid. She cuts a vivid figure in several scenes and works well with her accomplished co-stars (Fredric March was always so wonderful for Arzner), but she's a bit too conscious of being the Great Lady and centerpiece of this show, and she's not nearly as poignant or as layered in her approach as she was six years later in William Wyler's Dodsworth.

Greta Garbo, Anna Christie ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
"I got your number the minute you walked in here," Marie Dressler's Marthy Owens informs Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side - and don't be stingy elbowy "They treated me worse!", but connects to abuse, "men's fault giving you the wrong start" likes good material shoulders and cigarette "laugh" about barge captain heavy-lidded drunkenness, "bein' in the cooler" "If my old man doesn't help me - that's men! Men again! Men all the time!" Stern, disappointed, self-critical closeup upon meeting father Flicks head as if used to clearing hair out of face, though she's got a hat on "I had a hard time finding this place, too, you know that!" - just out of the hospital, never in NY Yeee - "I am! Tired to death!" shaking head Can't go soft enough for "You're really glad to see me? Honestly?" voice, consonants in the way "Oh, I can't STAND it!" - fist raised in absence "Skol - I guess I know that word all right, all right" "Why didn't you ever come out WEST to see me?" - that old debbil sea Foggy ocean nights "make me feel as though I was out of things all together - I feel sort of strange tonight"

Norma Shearer, Their Own Desire ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
If you have even a little love in your heart for Norma Shearer, you can't help but harbor some affection for her default mannerisms of cocking her head back with laughter, grabbing her second-tier castmates by the shoulders in comic and tragic moods, furrowing her brow and smirking before emitting some lippy little burst of sarcasm or abstract ebullience. Norma relies much, much too much on all of these standby affectations through the first two-thirds of Their Own Desire, and if she weren't radiating such genuine good cheer, and if she weren't looking so eminently comfortable in front of the camera, her performance would be easy to deride as paper-thin and blithely self-satisfied. Frankly, she supplies few if any alibis against charges like these, but there's still, within the context of the time, a fetching modernity to her cheerful candor and her bouncy athleticism, playing polo on horseback in the movie's first ten minutes and meeting Robert Montgomery, as her future love interest, while swimming around underwater. (Whether the preceding dives into the drink where executed by Norma herself or by a well-matched stunt-double is less easy to adjudicate.) She's sportingly committed to tacky, maudlin story developments, as when her announcement of a spontaneous engagement drives her mother to attempt suicide, and her director forces her to sprint around the house in a dress made of single-ply Kleenex, her bosoms and backside leaping into action. The last-act developments of a freak storm and an island marooning make the picture even more fun, partly because its own senseless disposability becomes even more evident, and Shearer looks throughout to be having a good, insipidly self-confident time. Nonetheless, she seems a better candidate for a Miss Screen Collegiality prize than for a Best Actress nomination. Extra perk: a very Lina Lamont-ish exchange with Robert Montgomery as her assiduous suitor, who is inconveniently the son of her adulterous father's hateful hoochie: "Let's get married tonight!" says Montgomery. "Oh, no Jackie, not tonight!" says Norma, "we CAHN'T!" "Oh, sure we caan!" "No, we CAHN'T!" And then she grins off into the three-quarters distance, while Montgomery implores her, "Oh, don't be a jenny-mule!"

Greta Garbo, Romance ★ ★ ★ ★
It's one thing for a Garbo performance to be bad because she looks so voluminously bored at being trotted out for the sixtieth time as a blandly "exotic" enigma for the enjoyment of a mass audience who barely seemed to interest her (see: Mata Hari). But it's another thing for a Garbo performance to stink up the joint because she simply isn't giving much of a performance. Sure, the script for Romance is appallingly clichéd, and so thin of incident and character that the clichés barely get a workout. One New Year's Eve, a cleric with a faraway look recounts for his callow grandson the long-buried story of "the great adventure of his life" when, as a 28-year-old man, he fell into a lusty but adoring affair with the opera singer Rita Cavallini, a Neapolitan diva with a dubiously unmusical voice and distressingly thin, damaged hair, at least for a Garbo heroine. You already know what follows, the purring acquaintance, the clucking society, the lonely longueurs, the heartbreaking "sacrifice" whereby this sexually questionable artist renounces her lover so as to "save" him. With a more stylish or more compassionately credulous director than Clarence Brown at the helm, Romance could at least have been some small something, but instead it's one of those late-night Turner Classics affairs that you hope will offer a comfy blanket of corny pathos, but instead just makes pathos, sentiment, and romance seem fabricated and stupid. Garbo, still struggling with her English-language dialogue, divested of all spontaneity or fluency, nonetheless appears to be trying to bring this thing off, which only makes her failure more irritating, all senseless, angular gestures and straining, melodramatic poses that were already at least a decade out of date. There are moments of camp fun when Garbo bangs out the "Liebestraum" on the piano and wearily intones, "The trouble is that I always wake up!", or when she grabs a small throw-pillow with one hand and wrings it like a pom-pom in a bizarre demonstration of pique. Great stuff for kitsch aficionados, but crummy even by Oscar's wobbly standards.

Who gets your vote in this field, and on my dream ballot below? VOTE HERE!



My Favorites from 1930:

My Pick: Louise Brooks, Pandora's Box
Nominees: Nancy Carroll, The Devil's Holiday
Nominees: Marie Dressler, Anna Christie
Nominees: Jeanette MacDonald, The Love Parade
Nominees: Nina Mae McKinney, Hallelujah!
Nominees: Lillian Roth, The Love Parade
Nominees: Gloria Swanson, The Trespasser

Honorable Mentions: Leni Riefenstahl, The White Hell of Pitz Palü; Norma Shearer, The Divorcée; Claudette Colbert, The Big Pond; Ruth Chatterton, Sarah and Son

Also-Rans (alpha): Florence Arliss, Disraeli; Mary Astor, The Runaway Bride; Greta Garbo, Anna Christie; Greta Garbo, Romance; Alice Joyce, The Green Goddess; Norma Shearer, Their Own Desire



Gourmet Prospects: Louise Brooks, Diary of a Lost Girl; Helen Morgan, Applause

Further Research: Joan Bennett, Bulldog Drummond; Dorothy Sebastian, The Unholy Night

Stay Tuned: Because of the eligibility period of August 1, 1929–July 31, 1930, such famous 1930 releases as Holiday and Min and Bill were not eligible until the 1930-31 Oscar cycle.



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