More Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1961: Canadian Ken Weighs in...

Before the month of August -- and a whole 'nother roster of Supporting Actress fills the queue -- it's imperative that StinkyLulu share with you, lovely reader, the excellent independent Smackdowning from up north. That ever-amazing font of film-obsessive wisdom, "Canadian Ken" worked up a his own smackdown contribution, and -- because he doesn't have his own blog (YET... hint! hint!) -- StinkyLulu's happy to share it here.

About 1961, Canadian Ken Sez...

FAY BAINTER, The Children's Hour
Bainter fully rated her nomination. Alma Kruger had done a bang-up job with the same role in the 30's version ("These Three"). And Bainter maintains the standard. Beautiful work - and an impressive capper to a long and splendid career.

JUDY GARLAND, Judgement at Nuremberg
Well, Judy Garland was riding the wave of the biggest, most emotional comeback in show-biz history. The rafters at Carnegie Hall were still ringing. And at this point the Academy would have probably nominated her for anything. To be fair,though, she's pretty good.

LOTTE LENYA, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
The picture's pretty much a mess. But there's no faulting Lotte Lenya. As jovial death camp matrons go, she's as upmarket as it gets. And with that scary German work ethic on full display ,she earns every pfennig they paid her.

UNA MERKEL, Summer and Smoke
Treasured veteran Una Merkel plays against (her ususal comic) type in "Summer and Smoke". The nomination is like Shirley Jones' in "Elmer Grantry". Given not because she did it particularly well, but just because she did it.

RITA MORENO, West Side Story
Maybe she couldn't execute every last complicated Chita Rivera dance move - but she came damn close. Anyway, where nominations are concerned, acting trumps dancing and Moreno delivers big-time. I'll always have reservations about this (to me over-rated) picture. But never about Rita Moreno's Anita. The fire in her belly is there for all to see. And the way she regulates it is a marvel - moving from warm glow to blast furnace and back again. But always 100% real - in a movie that could use a lot more of that quality.
Thanks, Ken!
And, remember, lovely reader, you too can work up your own contribution to the Smackdown. Just commit to re/screen the five nominated pictures (1962's an ideal year as all of the nominated titles are easily accessible). Then, prepare your comments to coincide with the Smackdown here. Size limitations prohibit the full incorporation of everyone's contributions, but StinkyLulu'd be proud to link to your post on the Supporting Actresses of the Smackdown year. And, in the not unlikely event that one of our regular Smackdowners can't contribute, if Lulu knows that you're preparing a post, you may be drafted to fill out the virtual roundtable... Justa thought...

Supporting Actress Sundays in August: 1962

Once again the voting was tight.
But the results are in and, according to your votes, lovely reader: the roster for August's month of Supporting Actress Sundays goes to...

click image to enlarge

And the Supporting Actresses for 1962 are...

Mary Badham in To Kill A Mockingbird
Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker
Shirley Knight in Sweet Bird of Youth
Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate
Thelma Ritter in Birdman of Alcatraz

And, lovely reader, even though CouldaShouldaWoulda Wednesdays is an infrequent feature at best, be sure to holler if you wanna hear StinkyLulu ramble about a favorite performance -- brilliantly good or bodaciously bad -- from 1962. Lu just loves loading up that NetFlix queue...


Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1961

The Year is 1961...

And the Supporting Actress Smackdowners for July are NICK of Nick's Pick Flicks; TIM of mainly movies, and – after a brief hiatus – NATHANIEL of The Film Experience. With Nathaniel's return to smackdowning, StinkyLulu's pleased – nay, giddy – to announce the premiere of the latest edition of Nathaniel's Oscar clipreels. (Tim calls 'em "NatReels"– yea, verily, so should we all...)

Click image above to go to NatReel'61.

And 1961's Supporting Actresses are...
(Each Smackdowner's comments are listed in ascending levels of love. A summary comment from each Smackdowner arrives at the end. Click on the nominee's name/film to see StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Sunday review.)
Fay Bainter in The Children's Hour
Tim Sez
"Sterling work in a role that could have been hateful: instead she’s tragic, gullible, and believably aghast, providing an almost dignified motor for scandal. Generously underplays except in her pivotal moments, where her face is a three-act drama unto itself."
StinkyLulu Sez

"In a role that might easily be a doughy caricature of righteous villainy, Bainter distills clarity and subtlety. And it's all in the eyes, burning through every scene. An elegant, perfectly electrifying fireball of a performance."
Nick Sez
"Pops in at just the right moments, cutting this whole all-star restaging to perfect size with her razor-sharp gestures and line-readings. A crackling inhabitation of a key role, without grandstanding; she almost isn't the same woman from scene to scene, but the connecting threads are all there."
Nathaniel Sez
"Ostensibly the villain here but her natural warmth and terrific
performance prevent you from ever identifying her as a monster, even as you want to slap her. She makes viewing the film an even thornier and sadder experience."

Judy Garland in Judgement at Nuremberg
Nick Sez
"Her first scene's a bit of a wash, the second is serviceable, and the third is rather powerful – she's convincingly worn down and then hotly enervated, but not all that subtle or textured. Bold casting, okay playing, but not nom-worthy."
StinkyLulu Sez
"Garland channels her peculiar gifts – quavering voice, puddling eyes, steely vulnerability – in revelatory service of the character, resculpting those ‘tics’ into a performance that transcends her formidable persona. It's Judy at her jowliest, but it's Judy at her best."
Tim Sez
"Avoiding her co-testifiers’ killing self-importance (Lancaster) and misplaced neurosis (Clift), Garland does a workmanlike job in a part less glibly showcased than you’re expecting. Shaky accent, but her fight for control on the witness stand is vivid and plausible."
Nathaniel Sez
"The power of her emotional fragility! Even better than the weeping though is the quiet tiny flashes of resigned contempt for her destroyers. She completely sells her own sisyphian weariness. She knows she'll never be free of this."

Lotte Lenya in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
Nick Sez
"Devises some memorable colors and tones to play the role of a barracuda, even sneaking in some credible traces of backstory, but she still never convinced me of her character's reality. Too abstractly 'evil'; Hershey in Portrait blows her away."
Nathaniel Sez
"I found her too theatrically sinister and the contempt for her clients too surfaced. That said, the obviousness mostly works for the movie. Surely Mrs. Stone can see through her, too. It's willing prey that walks into her web."
Tim Sez
"Initially cuts an irksome, self-regarding figure as this venal madame with an over-wide smile, but if the performance remains a shade too theatrical at points, it grows in nastiness and interest, and she’s an expert at letting the mask drop."
StinkyLulu Sez
"Lenya’s villainy is at once entirely insufferable and ominously terrifying. She's both parasite and predator – yet Lenya simplifies the character’s many malevolences into a garish, impolite hunger, made all the more grotesque by the actress’s loose, goopy at the consonants, manner of speaking. A gorgon for the ages…"

Una Merkel in Summer and Smoke
Nick Sez
"I thought Una Merkel was in this movie? Oh, there she is! Wait, gone already? She was a pip all through the 30s, but surely this is too much reward for a small, thinnish, late-career role played in one tart but unimaginative note."
StinkyLulu Sez
"A dotty, goofy blip of a performance. (Merkel had more screen time, emotional dimension and narrative import as Verbena in 1961’s The Parent Trap.) Clearly a career tribute nod, but gotta thank Merkel for being the only (la Una?) dash of surrealist verve – The Ice Cream man! Where’s the Ice Cream man?!?! – in this tripe, Williams’ most luridly sincere piece of romantic piffle."
Nathaniel Sez
"If her performance as a feeble minded kleptomaniac mother is a touch broad...well, it feels totally home in this movie. My favorite moment: her childlike grief at hearing that she won't get any ice cream. Hilarious."

Rita Moreno in West Side Story
Tim Sez
"Simply a firebomb, so sure and electric a presence that you spend whole sequences watching no one else. Sings the best, moves the best, acts the hell out of it, and doesn’t so much walk off with the whole movie as let it scurry after her."
StinkyLulu Sez
"Witty, sexy, wise. Moreno's work offers soo many glimpses of this woman's humanity while also nailing each moment of an architecturally essential character/story arc. Sophisticated, professional, sublime. Actressing at the edges just doesn't get better than this."
Nick Sez
"One of the all-time most bracing performances in any American musical. Her dancing is unworldly, her big dramatic scenes are home-runs (especially in the soda shop), and she wrings more character notes out of that purple mambo dress than Beymer does out of the whole script. Exquisite."
Nathaniel Sez
"In a film bursting with genius, hers is the only performance as smart as the filmmaking, as fully rounded as the story, and as thrilling as the music. Funny, lively, sexy, sympathetic – simply put: a sensation."

Oscar awarded Rita Moreno...

And -- surprise surprise -- the SMACKDOWN gives it to:

Rita Moreno!
With the highest Smackdown average yet: a perfect !!!

Oh don't be so surprised, Rita. You knew the Smackdowners would just love you...

And now some "Final Thoughts" from our intrepid SMACKDOWNERS:
StinkyLulu Sez: "A solidly fascinating field of performances. To a one, these women contribute the most compelling work in their respective, and variously accomplished, films. It’s wild that Rita Moreno’s win – which seems strangely inevitable today – caught some guff at the time. To some, Moreno’s win seemed a 'Tomei' – when the cute young crowdpleaser snags the trophy from the gourmet gaggle of old(er) troupers. To others, Rita’s award seemed conspicuously in keeping with Oscar’s internationalist 'trend' that year (the year German Maximillian Schell and Italian Sophia Loren took home the lead acting awards.) But, even with StinkyLu’s admitted love for the performance, Moreno’s win appears – without question – entirely deserved. Only Bainter and the unnominated Ruby Dee come anywhere near the range, clarity and power of Moreno here. And they don’t dance…"

Nathaniel Sez: "Nuremberg, with its sober and male dominated courtroom speeches, is clearly the 'one of these things is not like the other...' entry of the five movies represented by this category. It's also the only that's not the least bit queer. Which is why it's amusing to me that it's the one that needs Judy Garland so. For Nuremberg gains the most mileage from its nominee. Judy comes with momentous
audience-identification, that 'little girl lost' gravitas totally sells the courtroom's big turn. Otherwise I think you would've been left wondering why, among all the atrocities committed by the Nazis, this particular one should remain such a focal point? Despite my eternal devotion to quivery Judy G, flirty sassy Moreno (also a triple threat) gives one of the greatest musical performances of all time. She can't be denied. The Oscar voters did right by 1961."

Tim Sez: "I didn’t have the chance to catch Una Merkel in Summer and Smoke, but forgive me for doubting whether she could have contested Moreno’s claim to this – no one else can. Respectable if imperfect turns from Lenya and Garland, and a very pleasing nod for Bainter, who hardly puts a foot wrong given the functional constraints of her role. But Moreno just grabs this by the teeth, elevating a movie I’m merely OK with, otherwise, to something I expect to watch time and again just for her. You know how “America” is the best number by a mile, with the strongest choreography and the most kicking communal sass and energy? Somehow it still feels like a solo."

Nick Sez: "What fascinates me about this line-up is how each performance bespeaks an utterly different notion of what it means to act in a movie, much less to act well, and it's a little bit amazing that early-60s Academy types could be this wide-ranging in their notion of the craft. Bainter offers sterling, psychologically intricate character work; Garland barrels ahead with blunt emotional force and a little bit of typecasting as a woman on the verge; Lenya does sinister opera; Merkel rings a minor chord at a film's edge; and Moreno lights some grand diva fireworks and burns up the dancefloor, while still attending to character nuances and quiet beats, even when the camera is focusing elsewhere. No question that Rita wins this for me, not least because she manages both to court and escape "fiery Latina" stereotypes, and she constructs the fullest and most complicated performance in the most ambitious of the five movies."
So, lovely reader, tell the Smackdowners what YOU think! Join the dialogue in comments.

And check out the current vote totals for
AUGUST's Supporting Actress Sundays!!!
click here for a reminder of the nominees & to add your vote...

Lovely reader, if you would like to join
the fun/insanity/obsessiveness of a future smack down,
email StinkyLulu...

Una Merkel in SUMMER AND SMOKE (1961) - Supporting Actress Sundays

In homage to the performance itself, StinkyLulu's agonna keep this entry into the Supporting Actress Sunday catalog quick. Partly because this performance involves two of StinkyLulu's absolute least favorite things about being a Tennessee Williams fiend: the recurrence of Geraldine Page as a featured player and the simple fact of Williams' worst great play, Summer and Smoke.

Thankfully, there's a touch of delight in this version – a dotty, goofy bauble of a performance by...
In the 1930s, Una Merkel became somewhat famous in a series a tart-tongued sidekick roles; she revived her career in the 1950s on Broadway. In Summer and Smoke, Merkel plays Mrs. Winemiller – the mother and “cross to bear” of Alma Winemiller (a signature Tennessee Williams’ neurotic played to hysteric dimension by the tic-laden Geraldine Page.) See, Mrs. Winemiller’s a little “off” – possibly senile, certainly nutso, with a penchant for spouting little non-sequiturs that symbolically articulate the emotional subtext of the scene. It’s an open question whether Mrs. Winemiller’s affliction is by disaster or design. (Hey, if StinkyLulu were stuck in the Winemiller house, playing crazy might prove a very useful survival stragegy. You know, lovely reader, like on the subway, when you just want people to leave you the hell alone...)

The character of Mrs. Winemiller serves as a foil for her daughter, Alma (“Spanish for soul” – in case you missed the 300 or so scripted reminders of that fact). To be sure, her mother works Alma’s very frayed last nerve, and Merkel’s Mrs. Winemiller seems almost to have a good time tweaking the mannered “airs” put on by her “spinster” daughter. Merkel spends about half of her screen time in quiet private moments – dressing, struggling with a puzzle, skulking about the house, stealing hats – and the rest shrieking evocative nonsense. Basically, she’s a crazy klepto with a sugar habit and a mild touch of Tourette’s. (Indeed, Merkel's Mrs. Winemiller could probably walk right into a John Waters movie and just blend… And really, Lulu has to wonder if Merkel’s hollering of “The Ice Cream man! Where’s the Ice Cream man?!?!” didn’t just spark the germ that became Edie, The Egg Lady in Pink Flamingos.) Merkel's Mrs. Winemiller is nearly the only dash of surrealist verve in Summer and Smoke, Williams' most luridly sincere piece of romantic piffle. Gotta love La Una for at least that.

But it's a blip of a performance, more an accenting than a supporting role. (Indeed, Una Merkel has more screen time, emotional dimension and narrative import as Verbena the housekeeper in 1961’s The Parent Trap.) Clearly, Merkel's nomination is of the "Not Dead Yet" variety of tributes... Solid, fascinating but incredibly fleeting – without even "that one" scene to which a fan might point in justifying the nomination. And yet, Merkel's Mrs. Winemiller remains the most interesting character (along with the surprising hot Earl Holliman as Archie Kramer) in this turgid plop of a picture.

So, that's it for 1961. Quite a year...
Tune in shortly for The Smackdown.