Jane Wyman received her third Best Actress nomination for playing Louise Mason, a woman who dedicates her life to raising other people's children after the death of her own. I ask myself this question: after winning the Golden Globe, was Jane a serious threat for the win? Not very likely as Vivien Leigh seemed to be an overwhelming front-runner for the Best Actress prize so anyone else could only be a distant second. Wyman might have been in that position though I'm still not sure about how Shelley Winters and Katharine Hepnburn fared with Academy members. Moreover, Jane had just won an Oscar so there was no rush to reward her again. We'll never know but that Golden Globe win still bothers many people.
It came as a shock even to myself but I absolutely loved The Blue Veil. It was such a lovely, wonderful movie, with some necessary sentimentality, which by the way wasn't as bothering as it could have been. I was incredibly touched by some of the storylines, even though they were all really predictable. As one review says on imdb, The Blue Veil is a first-rate tear-jerker and I cannot say more than that. You either like it or not, simple as that. I especially loved the storyline of Joan Blondell and Natalie Wood, which was by far the most interesting one (which even overshadowed Jane Wyman). Blondell was 100% deserving of her Oscar nomination and in another year, I would seriously consider giving her my vote. And Natalie Wood was able to act circles around people even when she was 13 (even when she was 9 so I guess that didn't come as a shock).
When Jane Wyman won a Golden Globe for her role on the soap opera Falcon Crest, she was joking on the podium if one could win an award for playing a nice person and that made me wonder how odd it really must have been for her. In the 40s and 50s, she played these angelic, incredibly warm women in tear-jerkers and she received excellent reviews and Oscar nominations for doing so. However, the taste of the audience changed considerably in thirty years. It was no wonder that many of the great actresses of Wyman's era went on to play bitches on primetime or nighttime soaps. Their acting style seemed dated and that hasn't changed a lot. By today's standards, the acting of Wyman and her peers can seem quite ancient and only a few seem as great as they did back then (Barbara Stanwyck comes to my mind first).
However, when you watch an older movie, you have different expectations and I tried to evaluate Jane Wyman's work compared to her contemporaries. In the end, I felt I didn't even need to as her work in The Blue Veil speaks for itself. It's not the sort of acting masterclass that we look for in A Streetcar Named Desire or All About Eve, it's just a piece of work that still works excellently despite the fact that it was intended for people with very different thinking and values. I suppose that's what helped her win the Golden Globe over Vivien Leigh: this movie is a typical old Hollywood vehicle for a huge star (and stars are really what the Hollywood Foreign Press loves).
But the thing is that when writing about this performance, I always think that I don't have to listen to what my brain says about Wyman and instead, as cheesy as it is, go with what I felt about her. Margaret Thatcher wouldn't approve of this, I guess but I go with my feelings anyway. First of all, I was attached to this performance even before I saw it as it's one of the most hard-to-find movies in the Best Actress category. That was the case with Country, Anna, The Constant Nymph, but The Blue Veil was always the big one and it seems like such a big achievement just to watch it (many thanks to Cal who posted it on youtube). And for me it was worth the wait.
There was one thing about Jane Wyman here that really got me from the very first moment. Thanks to the excellent interpretation of Wyman, I could feel the sadness and of her character. Even when she smiled, I could feel how full of sorrow she really is. She's a kind but extremely withdrawn and repressed human being and I was amazed by how well and effortlessly Wyman pointed out how tragedy formed the personality of this woman. There's one heartbreaking fact going with her: the children she raises belong to her and yet she can never really become the mother of them and even when it seems to happen, society's (and biology's) rules contradict her.
The movie and Wyman show the journey of Louise where the children seem to be very different destinations. Louise loves these children differently and for different reasons and their attachment is different every time. And as a result, Louise becomes a magic nanny very much like Mary Poppins with the exception that she doesn't leave after she fixed everything. Louise doesn't solve problems, she becomes a mother to the children who don't even seem to have one (for whatever reasons). And in my opinion (many would argue with this), Jane even reveals the flaws in this character. She shows that Louise has to resist the temptation of considering herself the real mother of her children up to the point where she does so. The only thing that's missing here for me, is that Jane could have underlined this aspect more and instead she often went for the easier, more effective and tear-jerking solution, even though I can just as well imagine that this is mostly due to the movie and the story.
Louise's final story with the abandoned child is probably the most important one in the film as it's destined to be the most effective one: Louise is really old and she becomes the real mother of a child finally and she doesn't want to give up this state. And Jane nails all the monologues about her character's love for that child and yet for me the most memorable moments come in the end where (SPOILER) Louise meets all the children she raised. One just cannot resist dropping some tears when watching these scenes, even when it's out of courtesy. And I was especially moved because Jane seemed to achieve all this with minimal acting and she remained as subtle as she was throughout the movie.
To sum up, Jane Wyman gives a beautiful, touching and heartwarming performance that's really worth waiting for it. I instantly connected to the character and Jane constantly captivated my heart and soul. It really is a piece of work that doesn't seem to be a big achievement and yet it really is something special for me. Although I might be a bit too sentimental about this work of Wyman, I'm not ashamed to say I was deeply moved by Wyman's acting here.
What do you think? (Vivien's review comes tomorrow or on Friday depending on the amount of comments I get). :)