Maureen Stapleton in AIRPORT (1970) - Supporting Actress Sundays
Watching Maureen Stapleton among the huge cast in Airport (1970) feels at times like a cinematic version of that game/song they used to do on Sesame Street: One of these things is not like the others..."
Nifty pic via Castastrophe In The Movies
Stapleton plays Inez Guerrero, the incrementally hysterical wife of the guy who's trying to take down Trans Global Airline's flight 2 to Rome -- you know, the really sweaty, totally twitchy schlub in 23A who's clutching his attache case with a curious intensity? LaStapleton starts out the flick normal enough; indeed, her first scene, in the coffee shop where she waitresses, plays like someone in the projection booth switched in a reel from another picture. The boozy banter & cosmopolitan cast is suddenly shoved aside for Stapleton's sweet, exhausted, loving Inez. Stapleton's work in this first scene is a master-class in how to make the most banal, expository dialogue rich with emotion and revelatory of character. Even more than Brando's glove bit in On the Waterfront, Stapleton's first scene in this popcorny pic -- simple yet complex; electric with emotional clarity -- is exemplary of what Actor's Studio types contributed to the craft of screen acting.
Soon after, though, Stapleton's Inez begins to unravel the mystery of her husband's departure and each scene has Stapleton spooning out another heaping helping of hysteria. She's rushing through crowds. She's staggering from gate to gate. She even runs into a wall. (Right into a wall, promise.) Even here, though, Stapleton's pretty good and playing these scenes mostly alone, with few technical tricks from the cinematographer or sound guy to support her. Somehow Stapleton's able to hold the focus of the scene, wordlessly, even in long-shots of her amidst a sea of extras or on a vast concourse. (Edith Head has her outfitted in a simple brown coat -- albeit with her hair, scarf & waitress uniform all complementary shades of burgundy/auburn.) Finally, when everything's all figgered out that Inez' hubby's trying to blow up the plane, when Inez is finally integrated among the other characters, Stapleton's Inez merely blubbers -- poor catatonic Inez. (But not before she gets to do one of those "caterwaul-slides" -- where she gets to start weeping full-on to camera, her back to the wall, sliding down as she begins to wail... Love those.) Stapleton's final and somewhat incongruous scene -- in which she bursts upon the spectacle of the ravaged passengers deplaning -- is at once hilarious and heartrending. She goes up to these people, grabbing them (mostly by the face) and babbling: "I'm sorry. He didn't mean it. I'm sorry. He didn't mean it." Thanks, Inez... They'll keep that in mind next time they fly.
Yes, LaStapleton's performance in this flick is strange and not infrequently silly. But sheesh, if the woman doesn't bring on the emotional intensity... And by the end, Inez is one of the only characters that the audience is left wondering about. Sure, Maureen got beaten out by co-star Helen Hayes for the trophy. (Unfair contest really, Helen Hayes is doing a Bugs Bunny number while Maureen's being a serious actress...and everyone knows how the Academy just loves Bugs Bunny.)
But, hey: Stapleton kept it real. That's the sign of a true diva.
Sometimes, it's the greater honor just being nominated.