Oscar Impact: Negative Effects

The Oscar bears negative effects for the winners and for the film industry at large. Some recipients become victims of their own success, when their agents quickly rush them into a succession of films, designed to cash in on their newly gained popularity.

After her stunning performance in I Want to Live!, Susan Hayward made mostly B-Grade movies, which were meant to exploit her status as an Oscar winner. The studios held up the release of Thunder in the Sun and A Woman Possessed, hoping that audiences would flock to see them, regardless of their merits. They were wrong, both pictures did poorly, and Hayward never had another critical success before her retirement from the screen in the 1960s.

Quick attempts at reuniting Oscar winners to cash in on their visibility have mostly failed. The two 1961 Oscar winners, Maximilian Schell and Sophia Loren, were cast in The Condemned of Altona, based on Jean-Paul Sartre's play, but the film failed both artistically and commercially.

A rare, fortunate film was The Bells of St. Mary's, which reteamed three of the 1944 Oscar nominees, Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, and director Leo McCarey, who all elevated the visibility of the new picture. Since Crosby played a priest who was similar to his Oscar role in Going My Way, audiences believed that The Bells of St. Mary's was a sequel. It is one of the few Oscar-nominated sequels whose success surpassed that of the original movie on which it was modeled; a success that didn't repeat with the Godfather movies, the first of which is still the most commercial.

It's easy but unfair to charge the Oscar as the single causing of the winners' dwindling careers. For every case of an Oscar “casualty” or “victim,” there is a counter-example of an Oscar winner whose career has been rescued and revitalized by the Award. Faltering careers are seldom a direct result of the Oscar–some Oscar winners are not distinguished performers in the first place.

Take for example Jennifer Jones, who was never a formidable actress. However, when cast in the right role, and working with a strong director, she could give a credible performance, such as her Oscar-winning role in The Song of Bernadette. Jones's later nominations are totally due to the aggressive ambitions and campaigns of her omnipresent husband-producer, David O. Selznick.

It is possible to distinguish between Oscarcaliber performers, who have given many good performances, and performers who have excelled in one role for which they received an Oscar. Louise Fletcher has excelled in only one film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, for which she was singled out by the Academy. By contrast, Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Fonda, Sissy Spacek, Meryl Streep, Holly Hunter, Emma Thompson, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman are Oscar-caliber actresses, who have consistently rendered highquality work for which they were rewarded with profuse Academy recognition.

Many players reach the pinnacle of their careers with their Oscarwinning roles, and subsequently are unable to surpass or even match that quality. Sophia Loren (Two Women), Julie Christie (Darling!), and Elizabeth Taylor (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf) earned Oscars for their finest performances, which have been hard to match, let alone surpass. Sophia Loren seldom reached the heights of her Oscarwinning role and, with the exception of her films opposite Marcello Mastroianni (Marriage Italian Style and A Special Day), she mostly made mediocre pictures.

Julie Christie

Julie Christie is an Oscarwinner who has never reached the artistic heights expected of her after Darling!, though she appeared in many commercial hits, such as Doctor Zhivago and Shampoo. Critics still wonder whether Darling!, and to a lesser extent McCabe and Mrs. Miller, for which Christie received a second nomination, and Afterglow, a comeback performance for which she received a third nomination, were the only vehicles to bring out Christie's distinctive talent and intelligence as an actress.

Kevin Costner

The decline in the quality of work of Oscarwinners may be the combined result of rushing actors into unworthy film projects, as well as indiscriminating choices by the actors themselves. Just look at Kevin Costner's career after Dances With Wolves, marked by one debacle after another. The chronic imbalance between the supply and demand of acting talent also accounts for low quality of film fare. The abundant supply of gifted players–in relation to the volume of films made and the percentage of good ones–results in many actors being miscast, misdirected, or just giving plain performances in bad films.