Sally Field (Places in the Heart)
The Nominees: Judy Davis (A Passage to India), Jessica Lange (Country), Vanessa Redgrave (The Bostonians), Sissy Spacek (The River)
Kathleen Turner (Romancing the Stone)
My Nominees: Ann Bancroft (Garbo Talks), Drew Barrymore (Irreconcilible Differences), Judy Davis (A Passage to India), Melanie Griffith (Body Double), Jessica Lange (Country), Vanessa Redgrave (The Bostonians), Sissy Spacek (The River)
"This means so much more to me this time, I don't know why. I think the first time I hardly felt it because it was all too new. But I want to say 'thank you' to you. I haven't had an orthodox career. And I've wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn't feel it. But this time I feel it. And I can't deny the fact that you like me!... right now... you like me! Thank you!"
It is so rare that we remember an Oscar speech, and who will ever forget the giddy Sally Field on Oscar's stage receiving her second Best Actress Oscar in moment that has become Oscar folklore, and while some saw it as schmaltzy overpraise, I found it endearing. Every year the academy gives the nominees a course in Oscar speech etiquette, and they use Field's speech as an example of what NOT to do if they win. But I say, 'this is the moment of your career and if you want to gush then, by golly, go ahead and gush.' You go Sally!
That's the good news. The bad news is that the performance for which she delivered that speech was not as compelling or as entertaining. In Robert Benton's Places in the Heart, she played Edna Spalding, a dustbowl widow who owns a cotton farm that is under threat of foreclosure. After the banker suggests that she sell the farm and give her kids over to someone more fit to raise them, she determines to bring in the crop and keep her home and her family together. There isn't anything new in this performance. Edna is all fierce determination, but there don't seem to be any dimensions outside of that. We seem to be seeing Norma Rae transplanted to the dust bowl - Edna could be Norma Rae's grandmother. Field has been nominated twice and won on both accounts but I wish the academy would have nominated her for better work in the films that would follow like Murphy's Romance, Steel Magnolias, Not Without My Daughter and Forrest Gump.
The five actresses nominated for Best Actress of 1984 all played characters who were - in a word - humorless. All were fierce and determined but none of them were much fun. I wish that the academy had thrown in something colorful, like my choice, Kathleen Turner as a romance novelist who gets dragged through the jungles of South America by a fortune hunter in Robert Zemekis' wonderful jungle adventure Romancing the Stone.
Turner was already known for her sultry performance (and film debut) as Matty Walker in the noir thriller Body Heat, but Stone allowed us to see another side of her. Here she plays Joan Wilder, a hopeless romantic who pens those steamy adventure novels where the men are chiseled and the bosoms are bountiful and always heaving. As the movie opens we find her at the end of writing her latest adventure, that has made her cry so much that she has run out of tissue.
Her life is lonely and her publisher accuses her of wasting her life waiting for a man who fits the description of the characters that she writes about. In truth, she just wants a decent guy who will sweep her off her feet. She eventually meets that guy, but her adventure begins when she receives a treasure map in the mail and a phone call from her sister who is being held captive by smugglers Ira and Ralph (Zack Nolan and Danny DeVito) in Cartagena, Columbia. Bring the map, she is told, or the sister dies.
Without a thought, Joan packs a suitcase and heads off for Columbia. She has no idea what she is in for. From the moment she steps off the plane she is pursued through the Columbian jungle by banditos, policía, milicia, asesinos, corte las gargantas, traficantes and Danny DeVito, all of them are itching to find what is at the other end of that map. She boards the wrong bus thanks to a sinister stranger (Manuel Ojeda) and later ends up being held up by that same stranger who demands, at gunpoint, that she hand over the map. She is rescued by another stranger (this one means her no harm) an American fortune hunter named Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas) who chases the man away with his rifle.
A tense bond is formed between she and Jack as she hires him to take her through the jungle to a telephone. Along the way he discovers that she is wanted by the military police (led by the stranger who turns out to be a Columbian military General named Zolo) and decides to dump her before he realizes what they are after (and also because he has fallen in love with her), they want a very large emerald that is hidden somewhere in the region and Jack decides that they should go get the emerald and give the kidnappers the map as a diversion.
Meanwhile they fall in love. What surprised me is that this union feels genuine, not manufactured by the plot. We get the sense that these are two people who have fallen for one another and probably would have done so, even if they hadn't had their jungle adventure. I love their moments together. He tells her about his dream to buy a sailboat and sail around the world. In bed together he tells her "I'd love to take you around the world and back again" and later she tells him "You're the best time I've ever had". The plot requires these two to fall in love but with Joan and Jack, we really feel that they have a connection.
Following the map they find the emerald buried in a cave under a waterfall, the jewel is so large and so unbelievably beautiful that Jack's first comment is "Aw Christ, we're in a lot of trouble." Arriving at the rendezvous, she gives the map to Ira but Zolo shows up and sets fire to the map, informing Ira that they have already found it. Zolo cuts Joan's hand and threatens to feed it to the alligator unless she comes up with the stone. Jack tosses it to him and he catches it but the alligator catches Zolo's hand and tears it off. A fierce gun-battle insues that leaves Ira escaping without Ralph and Zolo dead in a pit of alligators. Jack jumps into the ocean and chases the gator who has the stone in his belly.
Sometime later she has turned her adventure into a manuscript and given it to her publisher. Declaring herself a "hopeful romantic", Jack finds her again, having bought his dream boat (and turned the gator into a pair of boots), They fall into each other's arms and go sailing around the world.
Joan is interesting because she changes over the course of the film. She is unusual for an adventure film, in most of these adventures, the woman is only a prop to stand behind the man. In this case, Joan is the center of the film even when Jack is by her side. She is given room in the story to have a life, as we meet her she writes thrilling adventures but she is a homebody. She lives alone with her cat Romeo and stays home dreaming of love but lacks the courage and confidence to go out and actually look for someone.
Off to Columbia, her publisher remarks "You get car-sick, plane-sick, train-sick, you practically puke riding the escalators at Bloomingdales!" In Columbia, she is a fish out of water, possessing no survival skills she latches onto the only man in the jungle who isn't trying to kill her. But that doesn't mean she can trust him. Several times he tries to steal the map and at one point he tries to have it xeroxed. When they are separated by a river he is the one who ends up with the jewel but she isn't sure if he will keep his end of the bargain and meet her at the hotel in town. Right up until the end she isn't sure if she can trust him. He leaves to pursue the jewel but assures her that he isn't leaving her. Is his heart really with her or is he just playing a colourful con-game to get the stone for himself?
Returning home to New York, there is still doubt in her mind, until he shows up, boldly displaying that he not only caught the gator and got the stone but sold it to get the boat of his dreams. Taking her in his arms he assures her that he only needs the girl of his dreams. We've traveling with these two on a grand adventure and we smile as he tells her about the alligator, "The poor old yellow-tailed guy died right in my arms". "Well", she says "If I were to die there's no place I'd rather be" and we smile as she says it with confidence.