Friday, March 25, 2011

Claudette Colbert in Since You Went Away

Claudette Colbert received her third and last Best Actress nomination for playing Mrs. Anne Hilton in Since You Went Away. I'm quite sure that Colbert was the third likeliest to win the Oscar as she played in a very actual Selznick movie that got a Best Picture nom, too. I think she had more chance than Davis and Garson because she won the Oscar 10 years before (sooner) than them, plus Mrs. Parkington and Mr. Skeffington were not nominated for Best Picture.

Since You Went Away is a movie that was seemingly inteded to win many Oscars. David O. Selznick was well-known for making long, epic, baity movies and yet Since You Went Away is much more modest than, say, Gone with the Wind. Still, it's very long and it's full of dramatic elements plus there's the Mrs. Miniver factor in it. It's less of a propaganda movie, though and yet it's weaker than that one. Max Steiner won the Oscar for this one and it's a bit awkward that he lost for Gone with the Wind and won for this one. Jennifer Jones is fine in this role though she seems to be just reprising the role of St. Bernadette here. Still, it was a deserved nomination in a weak field. Monty Wooley is quite fine and he might have deserved to be nominated, too.

Claudette Colbert is an actress whom I really don't know. I had only seen It Happened One Night before Since You Went Away and she really impressed me in that one, so I was really looking forward to seeing her again. Vicious gossip columnist Hedda Hopper always spoke about her very fondly (quite a rare thing) and I think I understand why. Claudette's French elegance is combined with so much dignity and that's such a lucky combination. She seems to have had so much dedication to deliver great performances. She's not only beautiful but also has a very uncanny presence. When I see a performer with great presence, I always feel something in my bones. When I see Claudette, it's like eating some really delicious chocolate, which you don't eat up at once but save it so that it lasts longer.

The role of Mrs. Anne Hilton screamed Mrs. Miniver to me so much when I read the synopsis of the story. A strong mother who tries to hold her family together druing WWII. Still, it's so much different. Mrs. Miniver seems to be like a saint who's inaccesible and angelic. She's the perfect person, who keeps her composure even in the toughest situation. Anne Hilton is, however, much more fragile and human. This is not about comparing the performance. It's strictly about the characters. We see Mrs. Hilton's flaws (she even admits them) and even a bit of her laziness. She is used to living this very American and comfortable lifestyle and she doesn't really want to give up and yet she has to make some sacrifices.

The first scenes are the highlights of Colbert's whole performance. They are quite heartbreaking and extremely haunting. It's a really sad scene where she looks at the photo of her husband who went to the war. The whole thing becomes very human and also quite sad. When the movie started, I thought that she would totally blow me away in the end. Unfortunately, she didn't.

That's not her fault really and yet it affects her whole performance. The thing is that this movie is not Claudette's. The most impotant character is by far, Jennifer Jones'. Although Jones was nominated in the supporting category, she has about twice as much screentime as Colbert and sometimes her story-lines overshadow Claudette's. Unfortunately, I might add as I think that Claudette was much better and she had the more interesting character. I think it had much to do with the fact that Selznick really wanted to make Jones a big star (he did succeed, to a degree) and therefore she was given the huge scenes, not Colbert. Too bad, because as I said, Colbert is much more impressive.

Although Claudette doesn't have enough screentime and opportunities, she still manages to become quite great. Her chemistry with Joseph Cotten is just excellent, plus she's very believable as the ordinary mother and wife without becoming annoying. Although Anne is a likeable character, Claudette doesn't make her a saint and therefore she becomes much more realistic.

Fortunately, in the end, Claudette is in the spotlight again. The end of her performance really matches the beginning's greatness and I was quite relieved that she wouldn't leave me unimpressed. The scene when she's looking at her Christmas present is simply breathtaking. Claudette found the good balance there so well and she did not go over-the-top. It's a very emotional moment and I really loved it.

So, to sum up, this is great work by Claudette Colbert. Although she didn't have the screentime and the screenplay on her sider, she still managed to deliver a very emotional and loveable performance as Mrs. Anne Hilton. Claudette's acting is not too sentimental and she's quite heartwrenching occasionally. Had she been given more, she would have been fantastic (and won the Oscar). But this way, she's "just" extremely great.
First I wanted to give her a very strong 4 but I compared her to the ladies who got 4s but she was way better, better even than some of the 4.5 ladies, so... :D

And I must add: I LOVE DOING THIS YEAR! So far, it has been full of present surprises. And there's Bette, Ingrid and Barbara still left. LOVE IT! LOVE IT! LOVE IT! :)


Louis Morgan said...

I have not watched this yet, but this looks like it is turning out to be a strong year overall.

Anonymous said...

Wow, extremely strong year, you have reviewed the two performances I haven't seen and you thought they were great, the three I saw I know are great so, there'll probably be a tie. I hope you enjoy Mr. Skeffington!

dinasztie said...

Yes, this is really turning out to be a great year.

joe burns said...

I'm guessing she'll be third or fourth. This year does look like it's terrific!

danyulengelke said...

Great review!

Linking to your article for Academy Monday (2/24) at

Keep up the good work!