Not to overly commemorate the final stages of this countdown, but it’s remarkable to stand less than twenty-four hours away from the completion of this quest, faced with a final five actresses:
- Ann Harding in Holiday (1930)
- Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen (1951)
- Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
- Liv Ullmann in The Emigrants (1972)
- Joanne Woodward in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973)
Of course I’ll have plenty to say about the movies and their leading ladies as I watch them one by one tonight and tomorrow. However, I just want to say a little bit about the phantom relationship that I already have with all five of these films:
- An epic saga of Swedish-American pioneers nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, and Foreign Language Feature (the year prior to all the other nominations), The Emigrants was for a long time my Questing Beast out of the major Oscar nominees. Part of a two-film sequence, with the following year’s The New Land, neither is available on DVD in any format with an English language option! The best I could find was a dubbed VHS release until earlier this week when a helpful messager on the IMDb Boards pointed me to YouTube, where it lies waiting for me, in subtitled glory! I cannot wait to see Liv Ullmann–and hear her voice–opposite Max von Sydow in this non-Ingmar Bergman landmark film in Swedish cinema.
- The original Pathe version of Philip Barry’s play Holiday, later made into a Columbia screwball dramedy about the American class divide starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, has long been a film I’ve been hungry to watch, even in the pitiful viewing conditions of the copy I procured (as you can see from above). The Columbia version serves as a delightful but somewhat darker sibling of Barry’s The Philadelphia Story, also a signature film for Katharine, and Holiday‘s Linda Seton may be my all-time favorite of Katharine’s characters. All of this makes me itch to see how Ann stacks up in the original film portrayal.
- The wildcard in the mix is Joanne Woodward in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, a film of which I remained deliberately uninformed because of how captivated I became with its evocative title. I expect very little from this film, except perhaps a quality performance from the miraculous Joanne, and perhaps as well from Sylvia Sidney in the sole Oscar-nominated performance of a career that stretched from Rouben Mamoulian to Tim Burton!
- Of course, I’ve learned all about American cinema and the long, long shadow that Bonnie and Clyde casts upon it. I’m someone who tries not to thwart a film with high expectations, but for many people this one of the masterpieces of cinema, let alone the New Hollywood Era, and I’m curious to see if it will join the likes of Nashville, The Crowd, Stagecoach, Fargo and a handful of others in my personal canon of the Great American Movies.
- Last, and certainly not least (perhaps even most!) is the legendary The African Queen. To be clear, this film will ring down an era in my film viewing, beyond just the completion of the Best Actress quest. I was a Katharine Hepburn fan from my early teenage years, and of course I am in awe of Humphrey Bogart and his long-time collaboration with the brilliant John Huston. Back when I was watching the masterpieces of cinema at an alarming rate, I became rather frightened of running out of good movies. I now realize that this was a silly fear; there are far more great films to discover than one can possibly know, but I took a vow to preserve this last great work from the oeuvres of Katharine, Humphrey, and John, until I could give it a fitting viewing experience. I hope that watching it on the big screen at the TCM Classic Film Festival tomorrow evening will fulfill the promise I made years ago!
So the quest will be complete very soon, after which I’ll indulge in my evaluation of the very best (and maybe a touch of the worst) of the 424 nominated performances. In the meantime, let’s see if I can effectively balance eating sleeping, driving, and watching films! Wish me luck! in this vaunted category.