The inaugural Leading Lady Tournament begins! I envisioned seven nominees a decade, but finally settled on the standard five, and that was hard enough. The early decades are easy to settle on, and I think these five nominees that start the tournament establish the high standards I looked for in a leading lady. As with last year’s Leading Man Tournament, polls will run one week (this year from Monday to Monday) with poll number updates on Thursday and Sunday. Differences this go around: I required five films from each male nominee, but this year I asked for three, or one decade-defining role. I know a few actresses I posted in my preliminary are no longer in this tournament due to space, and some actresses could be argued for other decades (for some reason the actresses were harder to place than the actors). Clickable links will take you to any reviews of their work that I’ve done.
Golden Age on the Printed Page will be going on hiatus (with one final review this afternoon), so as not to conflict with the tourney. If I do have book reviews they will be posted at my discretion. Below, I’ve detailed the five nominees and their history. The poll is conveniently listed on the sidebar. Good luck!
My Thoughts on the Nominee: Jean Harlow epitomizes the 1930s. Her distinctive look of big eyes, angular lips, and platinum blonde hair was enough to make her the first blonde bombshell (of which we’ll see a few imitators during this tournament). Harlow was brash, romantic, a comedienne, and she died at an early age that her legend is forever immortalized. The 1930s has some stiff competition, but Harlow has inspired a legion of other revered stars.
Movies That Secured Her Nomination: Jezebel, Dark Victory, Elizabeth and Essex
My Thoughts on the Nominee: Of course, no test of leading lady status is complete without Bette Davis! I fought with where to place Bette as she’s been a prominent star in both the 30s, 40s, and 50s, but I decided to place her in the 1930s because of Dark Victory. I’ve used a lot of words to discuss Dark Victory. It was my favorite film of 2012, and it’s all because of how heartfelt Davis’ acting was. Her doe-eyes make you believe everything she says, and her determination is contagious. She’s a classy contender!
Movies That Secured Her Nomination: The Sign of the Cross, It Happened One Night, Imitation of Life
My Thoughts on the Nominee: I was at an impasse on where to put Claudette Colbert. I knew she needed to be there, but you could easily say she belongs in the 1940s. I stuck with the 1930s purely because of one film: It Happened One Night. It Happened One Night is the definition of screwball comedy, and much like Jean Harlow, had its share of imitators. It’s part of the canon because of Colbert’s spitfire character Ellie Andrews. When I placed Clark Gable in the 1930s last year I cited this It Happened One Night as a reason, so it makes sense to see it here.
Movies That Secured Her Nomination: 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Stage Door, Swing Time, Top Hat
My Thoughts on the Nominee: Don’t hate me, but I haven’t seen any of the Astaire/Rogers films yet (I think I have Top Hat somewhere.) However, Rogers dance skills are unparalleled, and her work with Astaire heralded a new breed of musical comedy.
Movies That Secured Her Nomination: Gone With the Wind
My Thoughts on the Nominee: Remember what I said about a decade defining role? Well, there’s no other film that defines the 1930s quite like Gone With the Wind (although I’m sure you could say The Wizard of Oz too). I personally hate GWTW, and Leigh in that film annoys me to no end. Another ironic moment: I think I said the same thing when I put Leslie Howard in last year’s 1930s category. Okay, Leigh turn as Scarlett is tenacious, and she’s absolutely stunning so she does belong here. Dammit I hate to admit that.
So those are the nominees! Voting starts now, and continues till Monday.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.