1961 Best Performance by an Actress Battle: Audrey Hepburn vs. Natalie Wood

Audrey vs. Natalie

So I’ve been trying to catch up with my films released in 1961. I usually have my own form of Oscar ballot for every year in cinema from 1950-2012 (I’m trying to catch up with more movies in the earlier years) and it seems like I never really had a hard time in choosing a winner. Until this happened! When I finally reached 1961, I began to toss and turn when it finally came to choosing who I thought really deserved the title of Best Actress in a Leading Role for that certain year between my two favourite female performances that year. That year features two very remarkable performances, that of Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and Natalie Wood in “Splendour in the Grass”. I thought that maybe if I wrote about it, I would truly be able to see the pros and the cons of which performance is actually the best between the two. What a big dilema, us geeky movie-goers think off, but I thought this was quite necessary. At least for me. Let’s do this alphabetically, so Hepburn first.

Above is a video of Audrey Hepburn in the most iconic character of her career, Holly Golightly. The movie follows writer (and somewhat of a hustler) Paul Varjak (played by George Peppard) as his life mixes into the fast paced misadventures of social climber Holly Golightly. Golightly likes to be perceived as a free-spirited girl who doesn’t want to be tied down to anyone or anything. But when she discovers love in the young writer, her insecurities begin to show and keeps her off track from seducing the richest men in New York, to be able to garner herself and her brother Fred with financial stability.

– It’s most definitely in the stronger movie. Though “Splendour in the Grass” is also a triumph in cinema, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is certainly more iconic and a better movie all together.
– Hepburn was never better, she really understood the role and shelled out her best. No other performance of hers can match up to Holly Golightly. The role fit her perfectly.
– In the this character, Hepburn was also able to embody the character physically. It was clear that she was Holly inside and out.

– Hepburn didn’t seem desperate enough, and I think that’s a big part of the role that Holly Golightly requires. We’re suppose to be sympathetic for her, and we do most of the time, but Hepburn wasn’t always so consistent. Maybe her beauty made her more heroic rather then a victim?
– Hepburn didn’t do much physical acting. Despite how well she said her lines, Natalie Wood’s facial expressions were hands down brilliant. The face tells a lot about someone.
– Her “Oscar freak out uh-huh moment” isn’t so strong. *spoiler alert* When she discovers the death of her brother Fred, it wasn’t as heartbreaking as it could have been.

On the other end of the stick, we have Natalie Wood in “Splendour in the Grass”, which is most certainly her career best as well. Wood plays Deannie, a young high schooler who is wrapped in a blanket of love for her extremely popular and rich boyfriend, quarterback Bud (Warren Beatty). But when her mother tells her to wait before doing the nasty with Bud, Deannie’s sexual frustration and fight with her morale’s begin to lead to her to madness.

– Like I said right above this, Wood gives her career best. She was so good that she was able to carry the entire film on her shoulders, despite an array of very charismatic and brilliant co-stars. Plus, as compared to Hepburn, this was most certainly a riskier role to take.
– Wood carried two very emotionally different and heavy movies on her shoulders that year (the other is Best Picture winning “West Side Story” where she plays the leading role of Maria) and still she is able to produce such an impressive performance.
– Unlike Hepburn, Wood’s “Oscar freak out uh-huh moment” is the most memorable scene in the entire film. I posted the video above. This bathtub scene alone garners her a nomination.
– Wood acted not only with the spectacular words and direction given to her, but she used her best asset: her face. Her facial expressions were the milestones of the performance.

– Though Wood is very good, a lot of people would comment that her performance did nothing for leading ladies, unlike Hepburn’s Golightly who revolutionized leading roles for ladies, and still remembered as one of the best today.
– Wood’s acting in the start is kind of boring. I’m not sure if that’s suppose to be part of the character development for Deannie, or she just didn’t know what do with the more subtle scenes. I won’t count that, but then Hepburn played subtle well and Wood did too, but not as great as it should be.



When I tried to think of both pros and cons for both performances, I could find a lot of pros for both of them. I love these performances so much that it kills me to choose Wood. I grew up with Hepburn, having a mother who is in love with her. So I was only able to experience more Wood films when I got much older. Hepburn was spectacular in “Tiffany’s” and it makes me sad that she wasn’t even the best performance of the year in the best movie of her career. But then, “best” doesn’t mean I give it to someone just because I like they more as an actress or because I grew up with them. Wood certainly takes the cake here. She was so raw, emotional and impressive and she used everything in her back pocket. This is supported by the fact that I could only find two flaws in her performance. And if you look closely at those flaws that I pointed out, they really aren’t major problems of acting. They’re more technical or “it just happened to be that way” problems. So yes, the winner of the first Battle Round is no other them NATALIE WOOD.



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