Olivia de Havilliand (To Each His Own)
The Nominees: Celia Johnson (Brief Encounter), Jennifer Jones (Duel in the Sun), Rosiland Russell (Sister Kenny), Jane Wyman (The Yearling)
Ingrid Bergman (Notorious)
My Nominees: Cecilia Johnson (Brief Encounter), Myrna Loy (The Best Years of Our Lives), Anna Magnani (Roma, città aperta), Donna Reed (It's a Wonderful Life)
Olivia de Havilland won two Oscars, the first in 1946 and the second in 1949. Her first Oscar came for her role in Mitchell Leison's To Each His Own, a soap opera in which she plays Jody Norris, a small-town girl who has a son out of wedlock and then gives him up for adoption only to spend the better part of the kid's life never telling him that she is his mother. de Havilland is a wonderful actor in the right role, but what drives me nuts is that her emotional range is always the same – when she faces an emotional crises, she gets this slope-eyed look on her face as if she desperately needs to find a ladies room.
She would win another Oscar at the end of the decade for a much better role in The Heiress, playing a homely spinster who is warned by her stern father that the man she is courting is only interested in her inheritance and, by golly, he's right. I liked that performance because, for once, de Havilland played a character who got to make her own choice. For once, she was the one who came out on top, even if it didn't lead to a happy ending.
I noticed that most of the best roles for women in 1946 required them to stand by their men. The best were Myrna Loy as Frederic March's wife in The Best Years of Our Lives and Donna Reed as Jimmy Stewart's wife in It's a Wonderful Life. They were both wonderful but neither had the screen-time to really develop. My choice had all the time in the world to develop a character even if standing by her man meant being pushed into the bed of another.
Ingrid Bergman made her career playing women of virtue, like nuns and debutants, but for Alfred Hitchcock she would give her best performance as a woman who is none of those things. In Notorious, she plays Alicia Huberman, a hard-drinking, promiscuous woman, the daughter of a former Nazi who just received a 20-year jail sentence for treason. She's a patriotic American, but she is a party girl with little virtue and little resistance to the bottle. The night after her father's trial, she is throwing a party where the guests are quite sauced and eventually, so is she. The only person who isn't drinking is a strange man she tries to flirt with.
Waking up from a hangover, she sees that very man standing in her doorway. Through bleary eyes, her scope of this man turns 180 degrees before he tells her that he is a federal agent, named Devlin (Cary Grant). Thanks to her reputation, and her patriotism, she has been assigned to go with him to Rio de Janiro where some of her father's Nazi cronies are holed up. They are up to something and Devlin wants Alicia's help to smoke them out.
She resists Devlin, she hates cops but she doesn't have a choice and to her surprise, through some time spent in a hotel room in Rio, she falls in love with him. At the height of their growing passion for one another comes the next phase in the federal government's use for Alicia. They want her to infiltrate the home of Sebastian, an old friend of her father's who has loved her for years. It is easy to win his heart, she does and eventually she marries him. It is all part of the game but is, at its core, completely immoral.
The great irony of Notorious is that Devlin is the man who loves her but he pushes her into the arms (and bed) of another man, meanwhile Sabastian is an immoral man, a Nazi who trusts her beyond question and actually treats her better than Devlin ever did (at least until his mother pushes him to poison her).
Hitchcock has always had a strange perspective on women. He mostly cast blondes and then put them into a situation in which he zeros in on their physical looks. Note how he photographs Janet Leigh in Psycho and Kim Novak in Vertigo, we stand outside these women and see them from a male perspective. They are idealized and objectified and manipulated by men. In Alicia's case, she is pushed into the arms of a man she does not love by a man who truly loves her.
Notorious gave me a perspective on Ingrid Bergman that I have never had before. I've always respected her as a lady of quality but I never thought of her as sexy. This movie, in which she plays a woman of little virtue, allowed me to glance at her in a new way. I never noticed how broad her shoulders were, I never noticed how full her lips were and I never before took notice of her formidable bosom. I think maybe because I had always been clouded by the fact that she was playing women of virtue, I just never looked for those things. She is a beautiful woman of course, but there are moments and angles of Hitchcock's camera that allow us to see how stunning she really is.
She has moments that are unusual for her. She can play comic moments, like the one in which she is driving drunk and says, "I hate this fog." before Devlin informs her "Your hair is in your eyes." She plays drunk better than anyone I've ever seen and has brilliant moments of drunk-speak as when she tells a motorcycle cop, "People like you ought to be in bed." She has moments of pure passion as in a very long kiss with Devlin in which she kisses him, then stops to talk without ever taking her arms from around him. In a very tight close-up they embrace and she kisses him willingly, never wanting to stop. This is the performance I did not know that Ingrid Bergman had in her. I wish the academy had noticed (she wasn't nominated), because it was to be her last great performance, showing us what she is made of and showing us what multitudes this great actress had in her.