7.30.2006

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,
just
email StinkyLulu...

13 comments:

NATHANIEL R said...

as much as i look forward to watching the nominees each month, I actually look forward MORE to reading the thoughts on them. Is this wrong? thank you to everyone for sharing theirs.

tim r said...

No, it's not wrong. I've just read it all through about eight times. I think you've landed on one of the most addictive blog features, ever, stinky - and to think I get to chip in! Bring on August!

StinkyLulu said...

I know. I've watched the NatReel at least 4 times this morning...

Kamikaze Camel said...

Moreno's perf is one my favourite's of all time. From any person, in any year in any genre. Just brilliant.

Judging from those clips though I really thought Bainter was wonderful. The court scene for Garland was impressive but not the first bit. Lenya was good I thought, but maybe I'd have to see the whole thing to get what you guys are saying. Menkel's face after the ice-cream contest is priceless!

I've only seen Moreno's entire perf but I doubt the other four could really compete.

Nick Davis said...

This feature is sinfully fun to participate in, and even more fun to read when all the verdicts come rolling in. I know it's sort of in bad taste to have a Comments section love-in about our own little enterprise, but you guys are the best!

Can't wait for '44, or '53, or '71, or whichever.

StinkyLulu said...

It's looking like 1962...for now.
Be sure to vote if you have a preference...

tim r said...

Ooh, 1962! I'm well up for that, partly as I just bought the Williams DVD box set and Sweet Bird of Youth is hence within easy reach, but also 'cos I've never seen The Miracle Worker or Birdman of Alcatraz, and all are easily rentable from amazon. Count me in.

NATHANIEL R said...

glenn, you should definitely check out The Children's Hour --there's more than just Bainter to recommend it. But she is excellent therein.

I'm curious if readers have seen anything beyond West Side Story I personally had only seen two of the movies before we began. My biggest surprise didn't have anything to do with the supporting actresess though. It was that I thought Geraldine Page was just hideously bad in Summer and Smoke

Nick Davis said...

You already know I agree, but I've just given more airtime here to exactly why and how she is so bad.

par3182 said...

smart lovely men sittin' around talkin' about film; good times...

the only film i've seen in its entirety from this collection is the children's hour, which is even more fascinating to watch after seeing shirley maclaine talk about its lack of depth in the celluloid closet.

is it just me or was "good acting" just a little hammier in the old days?

Vertigo's Psycho said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vertigo's Psycho said...

I just saw the "Sing-A-Long" West Side Story twice at the Castro Theater and Rita, of course, kicked the film and the fun into high gear anytime she appeared on screen (we in the audience were encouraged to howl with every lift of that purple skirt in the "Mambo" and "America" numbers, but we improvised the biggest cheer/catcall when Anita, leg uplifted, describes how she's "gonna get her kicks, tonight"). However, the real pleasure was observing how Moreno's great work wasn't lessened by this wonderful campfest, wherein the audience declared open season on the dated aspects of the film (the long intro with the gangs suddenly breaking into dance, Tony and Maria's mushy scenes, the 'cool' lingo/slang, etc.).

One never laughed at Moreno, though, only with her during Anita's lighter moments; when her big dramatic scenes came, the house suddenly became quiet, as we worried for Anita's fate once again. Moreno's audience rapport in Story is ageless and phenomenal, and she makes Anita's switch from high-spirited musical comedy temptress to Bernardo's tragic "widow" look easy and completely believable, to the point one wants to jump onscreen during the malt shop "attack" scene and save her (thank God for Doc's intervention, which was cheered at the screening).

It's hard to think of a more perfect merging of performer and part than Moreno as Anita: Rita's remarkably vivid in everything she does, but she never cheats by stepping outside the role to steal the spotlight (of course she effortlessly steals it, anyway).
To the eternal benefit of Story watchers past, present, and future the actress is always true to the character- Moreno must have loved Anita as much as we do. It's a good bet Rita would vie for the #1 slot if a poll of greatest supporting performances (male or female) was ever conducted.

Reel Fanatic said...

Great stuff .. Rita Moreno's performance was the definition of a great supporting role .. She brought life to every scene she was in in West Side Story, and you missed her when she wasn't there