The Nominees are.....
Cyd Charisse, The Band Wagon, Silk Stockings
Audrey Hepburn, Funny Face
Joan Leslie, The Sky's The Limit
Ginger Rogers, in Flying Down To Rio, The Gay Divorcee, Roberta, Top Hat, Follow The Fleet, Swing Time, Shall We Dance, Carefree, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, and The Barkleys of Broadway
Judy Garland, Easter Parade
And The Winner Is.....
Joan Leslie, The Sky's The Limit; and
Ginger Rogers, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (tie)
It's funny, but my two favourite dramatic performances by Fred's leading ladies both played essentially the same type of character: strong, attractive, feisty, intelligent, but vulnerable. Both begin as more innocent and less serious characters, but over the course of the film both grow in maturity and both end on a down note.
Ginger, of course, is well known as Fred's partner. Her movies with Fred are all well acted- in particular, Swing Time and Carefree both have strong performances by her. Carefree in particular seems like a showcase of her comedic abilities. The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, however, has her best performance in the series. She grows from the young innocent enthusiastic fan of the stage into an experience, world weary wife who has experienced the highs and lows of life and is scarred but strengthened by them. Just contrast her demeanor before and after the 'Castles take world by storm' montage. She's a bouncy kitten before, an old pro after. At the Last Waltz at Louis', her fear for Fred is voluble; when they are going to reunite, her excitement is clear. Only a year after this role, she won an Academy Award for Kitty Foyle. Watching her here, one has no doubt she deserved it.
Joan, on the other hand, is not as well known. This movie was her one and only with Fred, and she's best known for her role as the nasty Velma (the clubfooted girl) with Bogart in High Sierra and as Mary, George M. Cohan's wife, opposite James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy. In The Sky's The Limit, she portrays a photojournalist who initially sees the war in terms of icons, and as a great opportunity for career advancement- until the freespirited but war-weary Fred strolls into her life. Throughout the courtship, she slowly grows to understand the war is more about figures of speech and waved flags, and comes to understand the deeper seriousness of what the war is really about as Fred returns to the warfront at the end of the movie. Furthermore, as their relationship grows, she grows as a person, coming to understand pain and loss. Her acting is both greatly natural and convincing, and it is hard to believe that she is only 17 (she turned 18 on the set) during the movie.
The final scene is masterful. Joan is the professional woman doing her job- until her reunion with Fred. Then she struggles to hold herself together as she realises that he is about to go again, and that their future together is uncertain at best. She gets a grip on herself, however, and sends him off with a light-hearted jest. The final shot is of her watching the planes go, her tear-stained face symbolising all the emotions that wartime audiences were so familiar with. It's a heartbreaking, beautiful shot.
Next Category: Best Partner (Overall)