Wednesday, August 12, 2015

1959: Simone Signoret for Room at the Top

In the first non-American film to win Best Actress (it's British), Simone Signoret plays a woman who is married to a brutish jerk, so she starts having an affair with the main character, who is also a pretty big jerk. He's only with her to kill time until he finds a way to end up with the beautiful young daughter of the richest man in town, and when he finally realizes he's in love with Signoret's character, it's too late.

This is by far the most explicit Best Actress winning movie up to this point. There were some very risque love scenes, and while technically the camera showed no actual nudity, by 1959 standards it was borderline pornography. There really wasn't much in the way of plot: it was mostly just people sleeping together and trying to see who could be the most awful person. Consequently I didn't particularly enjoy watching this movie. I guess Simone Signoret's performance was probably my favorite part, mostly because she was one of the few characters I could stand. She actually seemed like a decent human being who just had really bad taste in men. And to be fair, she fell in love with the main character because she saw the potential in him to be a good person; he just always insisted on listening to his bad side. If he'd listened to her from the beginning, I think I would have enjoyed the movie a lot more.

I don't really know what else to say about this performance. She's really good at being sexy and sassy and likable, which is basically what the role requires. But she's not in nearly enough of the movie; way too much of it is devoted to the other, really obnoxious characters. There was enough of her in it to show that she was a good actress, but not enough for her to save the rest of the movie. This is not a very well-known film in the US because I don't think it was ever released on DVD here, but the people who have seen it and rated it seem to really like it, so I must be missing something. I'm just not a big fan of movies in which nothing happens besides people having sex and being mean to each other, no matter how good the actors are. So I guess she deserved the Oscar, but I will not be re-visiting this movie any time soon.

Simone Signoret was the first French person to win a Best Actress Oscar (although she was born in Germany). This was her first of two nominations, the second being for 1965's Ship of Fools. I don't think I've seen her in anything else, probably because she was mostly in French films. She was clearly a good actress, and it was nice of the Academy to recognize a non-American film for once. This must have been kind of a turning point, since two years later a non-English speaking role won Best Actress. Before that, though, was Elizabeth Taylor.

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