(the 10th of the 25 remaining Best Actress nominees!)
MAGGIE MCNAMARA IN THE MOON IS BLUE (1953)
The competition (Cliff: 5 for 5!):
Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday
Leslie Caron in Lili
Ava Gardner in Mogambo
Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity
The Moon Is Blue has a foothold in history as the film to break the thrall of the Production Code Administration, being released to commercial success without the feared censoring body’s Seal of Approval (yes Howard Hughes had done so as well with 1947’s The Outlaw, but that’s a long story). After epic clashes between studios and the PCA over films like A Streetcar Named Desire, ironically the floodgate was opened by two little words: “mistress” and especially “virgin.” Both come from the mouth of (and the latter refers to) Maggie’s cheeky young New Yorker, who is casually wooed over the course of a night by William Holden and then, markedly more awkwardly, by David Niven. This comedy of manners is mostly about the etiquette of courtship (fun fact: it features the earliest mention I know of the half-your-age-plus-seven dating rule) and only glancingly about sex. Nevertheless, it places a special burden on the 24-year-old actress. Whereas women for two decades before her were implicitly sexualized by their luscious looks or their sordid pasts, Maggie’s wide-eyed flirt directly comments on her sexuality ten minutes in, and it remains a centerpiece of conversation for the remainder of the story.
The stakes of the dialogue are thus exceptionally high, and Maggie has the clever confidence to keep up with the patronizing patter of the older gentlemen befuddled by her charm and their own attraction to her. Maggie has the misfortune of making her screen debut in 1953, the same year as an all-eclipsing Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, whose effortless, uninhibited charisma in particular makes Maggie’s precise posturing seem precious and arch. One wonders whether, in an Audrey-less year, Maggie could have been the gamine favored by the Academy (though I suspect that the award would have defaulted to Deborah Kerr for From Here to Eternity). She went on to only an occasional few more film roles, but did leave this curious, spunky little milestone on the Best Actress category.