By Alan Hurst
The Best Actress Oscar race for the films of 1962 was a year of grand dame comebacks, high profile stage adaptations
with very little room for new faces. The final five making the list in a pretty competitive year were:
Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker (1962)
Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962)
Katharine Hepburn in Long Day’s Journey into Night (1962)
Geraldine Page in Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)
Lee Remick in Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
These are all terrific actresses and their performances are all good, some among the best of their
careers. But there were a few performances that didn’t make the list that should have. My final five:
Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker. Bancroft had a major hit on stage with the role of Annie
Sullivan, teacher to the blind and deaf Helen Keller. I’ve never seen the play, but I can’t imagine it
improves on the film and the near perfect paring of Bancroft and Patty Duke as Helen. Director
Arthur Penn made the wise decision to film in stark black and white, giving the film an almost gothic
feel. Bancroft meets every demand of the role delivering a strong, layered and physically intense
Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. I’ve got Crawford on the list in place of
Geraldine Page. This is Crawford’s last great film and one of her best performances. Davis got the
lion’s share of attention for her work as Baby Jane Hudson, but Crawford does very well with what
is, on the surface, the more calm and centered character but she also let’s you see the character’s
ability to manipulate that bubbles just under the surface. “Baby Jane” is one of those times when
you can’t imagine either actress succeeding without the other performance to play with.
Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. This is a big performance and Davis goes all out.
But what could have been a total cartoon, becomes a grotesque yet ultimately very sad portrayal of
a life lived under a cloud of guilt and deception. It’s one of Davis’ best performances and it had a
major impact at the time, helping propel the film to one of the biggest hits of year.
Katharine Hepburn in Long Day’s Journey into Night. This is one of the two or three best
performances of Hepburn’s long career. She had taken a three-year break from films after 1959’s
Suddenly Last Summer and would take another five years off before Guess Who’s Coming do
Dinner in 1967. But this gem of a performance stands as a testament to Hepburn’s ability to seize
an opportunity and run with it. Eugen O’Neil’s Mary Tyrone is one of the most difficult and
exhausting roles in American theatre and Hepburn’s is a definitive interpretation. It’s an
autobiographical portrait of his own emotionally scarred family to trying to stay united through drug
addiction, alcoholism, illness, guilt and anger. Hepburn’s slow descent into a morphine haze is
amazing to watch.
Jeanne Moreau in Jules et Jim. One of the great French films of the era, this Francois Truffaut film
tells the story of two men (Oskar Werner and Henri Serre) and their long-time obsession with the
same woman (Jeanne Moreau). Although the film takes it title from the two male characters, it’s
Moreau’s Catherine who is the centrepiece of the film. Moreau’s energy, natural beauty and
intelligence are startling – she’s often referred to as the French Bette Davis and you can see why.
She’s a mesmerizing presence and this is an excellent performance.
Other actresses on Oscar’s radar that year could have included Janet Margolin in David and Lisa,
Shirley MacLaine in Two for the Seesaw, and possibly Olivia de Havilland in Light in the Piazza. All
good performances, but not in the same league as the five listed above.
Hooked from a first viewing of Mary Poppins at four and after school reruns of I Love Lucy, Alan has been a movie and TV enthusiast ever since. A particular aficionado of films from the late thirties through the seventies, he enjoys helping others discover the joys of those films, directors and stars. His career has careened from journalism to public relations to marketing, always with one foot in the arts and with a unique ability to relate all work and life experiences back to a movie. Alan’s top five desert island films are Bonnie and Clyde, Sunset Boulevard, Cabaret, Mildred Pierce and, with no apologies, Mary Poppins. Alan’s focus will be on films from Hollywood’s first golden era (and a little beyond) as well as TV.