They Were Robbed! Norma Shearer,Joan Fontaine, and Bette Davis
Since I can't quite come to grips with the fact that this year's award season is officially over, let’s continue to feed our never ending Oscar fever as we look back at more performances that should have won Academy Awards but didn’t.
Norma Shearer, Marie Antoinette (1938)
Bette Davis won the Oscar for Jezebel and she was quite wonderful, but fellow nominee Norma Shearer was robbed when the Academy shut her out after she gave the performance of her career as the doomed French queen in Marie Antoinette.
Shearer, whose talent is often unfairly called into question since she (coincidentally) got most her star-making roles while married to MGM's production chief Irving Thalberg, was a truly remarkable and versatile actress. And nowhere was she more outstanding than in this 1938 triumph in which she played Marie from age 15 to her death by guillotine at age 38. Talk about range. And she is especially brilliant in the final scenes of the film where she is imprisoned and finally led to her death.
We can’t take back Bette’s statuette, but we can pay another visit to Marie Antoinette, a stunning epic greatly in need of a major reevaluation.
Joan Fontaine, Rebecca (1940)
Bette Davis, The Letter (1940)
Ginger Rogers was a gifted actress, dancer, and comedienne, but she did not deserve 1940’s Best Actress Award for Kitty Foyle. Joan Fontaine was totally responsible for the great success of Rebecca and was robbed of that year's award.
Not only was Rebecca the first American film directed by Alfred Hitchcock (and it won Best Picture that year), but Fontaine became a major star after its release. She brilliantly captures the shy, sensitive second Mrs. de Winter (which is all we can call her—interestingly enough, in both the film and the novel on which it was based, this wonderful character is never given a name).
Many felt that Fontaine won the following year for Suspicion as a consolation for not winning in this far superior film.
Over the course of her career, Bette Davis had ten Academy Award nominations and won two Oscars, but her performance as the repressed plantation owner's wife in The Letter is arguably her greatest contribution to cinema. Brilliantly directed by William Wyler, this film combines great acting, music, and cinematography and may be the best film released in 1940. (Sorry, Rebecca and Grapes of Wrath.) And of all the films to win for, this should have been one of Bette’s.