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Oscar Archeology: Torch Song (1953)

The Eternal Female – an unforgettable story of love, music, bullying, and racism, with the star of “Sudden Fear” and for the FIRST TIME you’ll see her in triumphant color by TECHNICOLOR!

What else do you need to know?  In case you’re wondering who’s that leggy ebony lady in the preview photo above, “The star of Sudden Fear” is Joan Crawford. This was 8 years after Crawford won her Oscar for Mildred Pierce, and looks like she’s already warming up for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane 9 years later.  Torch Song received an Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Marjorie Rambeau.

Best Actress In A Supporting Role, 1953

  • Grace Kelly in Mogambo
  • Geraldine Page in Hondo
  • Marjorie Rambeau in Torch Song
  • Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity  (WINNER)
  • Thelma Ritter in Pickup On South Street

Between 1951 and 1954, Thelma Ritter was nominated for an Oscar in 1951, 1952, 1953 and 1954 — All About Eve, With a Song in My Heart, The Mating Season, and Pickup On South Street.

Now watch the ghastly clip after the cut which you will never ever be able to unwatch.

1953 Cinema Snapshots

International films in 1953:

  • Tokyo Story – Yasujiro Ozu
  • The Wages of Fear – Henri-Georges Clouzot
  • Ugetsu – Kenji Mizoguchi
  • Mr. Hulot’s Holiday – Jacques Tati
  • I Vitelloni – Federico Fellini
  • The Earrings of Madame de… – Max Ophüls
  • The Golden Coach – Jean Renoir

Meanwhile, in Hollywood:

  • Shane – George Stevens
  • From Here to Eternity – Fred Zinnemann
  • The Band Wagon – Vincente Minnelli
  • Roman Holiday – William Wyler
  • The Big Heat – Fritz Lang,
  • Pickup on South Street Fuller, Samuel
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – Hawks, Howard
  • Stalag 17 -Wilder, Billy

Best Picture nominees
WINNER
From Here to Eternity: Buddy Adler
NOMINEES
Julius Caesar: John Houseman
The Robe: Frank Ross
Roman Holiday: William Wyler
Shane: George Stevens

Best Foreign Language Film? Did not exist.

Top box-office
$87.4 – Peter Pan
$36.0 – The Robe
$30.5 – From Here to Eternity
$23.8 – House of Wax
$20.0 – Shane
$12.0 – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
$5.0 – Roman Holiday
$5.0 – The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
$1.4 – Escape from Fort Bravo
$1.4 – War Arrow
$1.2 – The Farmer Takes a Wife
$1.0 – Robot Monster

And in the midst of all that, there was this:
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6 Comments

  1. RPrill
    April 23, 2014

    I LOVE Thelma Ritter in Pickup on South Street… good film, GREAT performance… Torch Song is agonizing… I actually have been doing a 1953 year in review on my blog… I haven’t updated lately but I’m almost done and will be as soon as I get some things off my plate… check it out: http://www.awardsoffseason.wordpress.com

  2. Mac
    April 23, 2014

    1953 had a weak line-up for Best Supporting Actress, and to top it off, they handed the award to Donna Freakin’ Reed. Thelma Ritter’s the only worthy one of the bunch. Geraldine Page is a respectable actress, but that role was just so minimal, with nothing to do but fall in love with John Wayne’s version of Shane.

  3. BruceinIthaca
    April 23, 2014

    Ritter should have had this, hands down–her Moe is a great tragicomic performance. I like Donna Reed well enough and I suppose she won in part because they could reward FHTE in both supporting categories that way (and skip Actor and Actress–I really think Kerr deserved it that year, charming as Hepburn is).

    Marjorie Rambeau was a wonderful actress, but she really has so little screen time–you wonder how she, of all the folks involved in the deliciously campy “Torch Song” was singled out. (She was much more deserving for “The Primrose Path,” her other nomination back in the 40s). I think there is an irony that Crawford won a Laurel Award for Best Female Musical Performance, as she was dubbed. The sepia number is excruciating to watch–would it not have been even in 1953 (though seeing Astaire’s in “Easter Parade” the other night reminds us that this was still a staple–wasn’t there some sepia-face in “White Christmas”).

    That Ritter never received an Oscar is a shame. Strong cases could be made for her in “All About Eve” (probably split the vote with Holm, allowing Josephine Hull’s charming Veta, a repeat of her stage performance, to win–Hope Emerson was awfully good that year–Nancy Olson was nominated as part of a SB sweep); her work in “The Mating Season” a year later was arguably as leading as anyone else’s, but who was going to beat Kim Hunter’s Stella.

    1952 mystified me, too–Gloria Grahame (a fine actress) wins for a really small role with a southern accent. I don’t think Ritter was the best that year–Jean Hagen should have had it, but maybe they were tired of giving it for dumb blonde roles after Judy Holiday (though they were very different variations, and Billie Dawn had natural smarts). In 1959, Ritter’s maid in “Pillow Talk” was amusing, but if Shelley Winters didn’t win for her Mrs. Van Daan, I would think that one of the two women from “Imitation of Life” (the edge to Juanita Moore, I think, at least looking at the film today) probably were higher up.

    I think 1962 is the heartbreaker, because there were so many damn good supporting actress nominees–I assume Lansbury’s evil mother was predicted, but Patty Duke’s Helen Keller was so symbiotic with Bancroft that cluster voting probably won it (and it IS a fine performance). Mary Badham’s very natural Scout Finch was the equal of such later child winners as Anna Paquin and probably better than Tatum O’Neal. And then there’s Ritter as Burt Lancaster’s controlling (even while he is in prison) mother in “Birdman.” In another year, any of those would have been an uncontroversial win. Shirley Knight, one of my favorite actresses, was fine in “Sweet Bird of Youth,” but the role just didn’t give her as much to chew on as, say, “Dutchman” or even “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.”

    At least Ritter won a Tony. She was nominated for an Emmy for “The Catered Affair”–wonder if she would have gotten an Oscar nod if she’d done the movie instead of Bette Davis (who was wonderful in the role in her own way).

  4. keifer
    April 24, 2014

    Thelma Ritter, the actress who embodied what a supporting actress could be, was regrettably denied. I think I would have given it to her for “All About Eve”.

    Some of the choices for BSA in the ’50s are so weak. Dorothy Malone in “Written on the Wind” has to be seen as one of those head scratchers.

    I think Jean Hagen should have won for “Singin’ in the Rain”. One of the best comic performances ever put to celluoid.

  5. April 24, 2014

    Part of the reason for posting this was to test-fly an item about Oscar oddities of the past. We mention a lot of these strange things on the Oscar Podcasts but we only have time to touch on them briefly because there’s so much ground to cover in a 90-minute conversation. I wondered what kind of response we might get if I posted some closer looks at Oscar history in written form.

    This was a scattershot attempt to see if anybody would be interested. I’ll make a better stab at it now that I see this one was too unfocused. (My fault. I didn’t offer enough editorial guidance for anyone to know what I was trying to do.)

    And another reason for this post was to use it as an excuse to post that bizarre clip of Joan Crawford in black face — and my amazement that anyone at any time would ever have thought that was a great idea for a musical number. yikes.

    This was a movie that got an Oscar nomination. So that means Academy members watched this thing in 1953.

    Did they not watch The Big Heat, Niagra, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?

    These are questions I might have asked in the main post but I left it too loose. Next time I try this I’ll have tighter focus.

  6. keifer
    April 24, 2014

    “And spoil that line?”

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