The five Supporting Actress Nominees in ’52 were:
GLORIA GRAHAME “The Bad and the Beautiful”
JEAN HAGEN “Singin’ in the Rain”
COLETTE MARCHAND “Moulin Rouge”
TERRY MOORE “Come Back, Little Sheba”
THELMA RITTER “With a Song in My Heart”
And while that list does contain a couple of highly laudable turns, I probably would have switched out the whole line-up. Because, as in most years, ’52 was notable for names that weren’t there. The should’ves and could’ves that, for one reason or another, just didn’t tickle Oscar’s fancy. I’ve already discussed Alice Pearce and Claire Trevor in previous posts. Now a tip of the hat to a couple of other ladies that just couldn’t get Oscar to look in their direction.
MIRIAM HOPKINS in “Carrie”
Although an element of bitchiness had always been at play in Hopkins’ screen work, she usually removed at least some of the sting with a liberal dusting of flighty coquettishness. In William Wyler’s “Carrie”, she unleashes pure venom. Badgering and belittling husband Laurence Olivier, she’s venal, vindictive -a snob too; even her smiles are just dirty looks, slightly reconfigured . When Olivier falls in love with Jennifer Jones and begs Hopkins for a divorce, she not only refuses but tightens the thumbscrews. Late in the film, after using every weapon she has to reduce the lovers to paupery and worse , she finally comes face to face with Jones, sizes her up with a smug subzero glare, and says merely, “I thought you‘d be prettier”. The film itself is excellent, a vividly mounted period piece - at its center, Olivier’s heartwrenching portrait of a middle-aged man in love, maybe his best screen work ever. But Hopkins makes sure he’s not the whole show. The actress, like the character,is playing hardball here.
VALERIE HOBSON in “The Card”
Ms Hobson had long been an estimable name in the British film world when she appeared in “The Card”. With 20 years of film experience behind her, including a mid-30’s sojourn as a Universal contract player in Hollywood. There she displayed uncommon poise (especially considering she was still a teenager) as Dr. Frankenstein’s actual bride in “Bride of Frankenstein”. Returning to Britain, she married rising film producer/screenwriter Anthony Havelock-Allen. This connection may have given her an inside track when it came to snagging choice film parts, but it was her consistently commendable work, once she got them, that made her a star. The immediate post-war years stand as her golden era – “Great Expectations” and “Kind Hearts and Coronets” made world-wide splashes. British audiences happily queued to see her in the bang-up bodice-ripper “Blanche Fury”. It had all the deluxe Technicolor trappings of the genre (including Stewart Granger to romance her) and Hobson shone commandingly at its center. Her presence also enriched “The Interrupted Journey”, a Hitchcockian thriller with Richard Todd, which -even with an unfortunate last minute plot twist - remains an almost perfect film. She capped off the decade with probably her greatest performance – in “The Rocking Horse Winner” - as the patrician mother whose need for luxury destroys her family.
“The Card” was part of Alec Guinness’ early 50’s run as the golden boy of the British cinema . A sly period comedy, it follows a low-born but ambitious law-clerk’s rise to prominence. By hook or by crook. That trajectory brings him into contact with several ladies ( Glynis Johns, Petula Clark and Valerie Hobson, all in fine form). Hobson’s the Countess of Chell. Described early on by Guinness’ character as “the finest woman that ever came to this town”, she lives up to the description. A splendid (and quite unique) mix of hauteur and merriment. Effortlessly conveying both good-natured refinement and airy intelligence. She’s an aristocratic dream in the role, but also manages to make the character penetrating, practical , affable and adaptable. Definitely up to any occasion. And serenely aware that her presence confers dignity on even the most undignified situations. In one scene, her coachman warns Guinness that milady’s “in an awful temper”. But when she glides into public view she couldn’t be more gracious. It’s hard to imagine any other actress carrying this part off with even half the flair and charm Hobson brings to it. At very least, it’s a performance Oscar should’ve taken note of in ’52. Having finished “The Card”, Valerie Hobson sailed on to one more triumph. This time on the stage, headlining the original London production of “The King and I” (opposite Herbert Lom). A smash hit, it saw Hobson dispensing onstage all the charm, elegance and artistry that had marked her film work – and – oh, yes, she also revealed a lovely singing voice no one even knew she had. A woman of infinite accomplishment.