Mary Badham in To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) - Supporting Actress Sundays (Wednesday Edition)

It's always a touch anti-climactic to post a Supporting Actress Sunday profile after the Smackdown. Especially a Smackdown like 1962's, which brought the best NatReel, Canadian Ken and Vertigo's Psycho... But before things proceed any further, one performance awaits its due...

Vertigo's Psycho counts................Stinkylulu counts
51:00 minutes of screentime..........................87:30 minutes of screentime
33 scenes..........................44 scenes
40% of the movie
..........................68% of the movie

Doing the screentime stats for Mary Badham is tricksy, to say the least. As Vertigo's Psycho put it:
Wow. This is the PHD performance for Oscar clockers. She's in almost every scene so far, and it's a science to try to keep track of her on screen time, as well as calculating her number of scenes- there's often no clear "breaks" between scenes (for example, when the kids are outside playing) so it's a judgement call regarding the exact number of scenes she's in (have ten different people look at the movie, and you'll probably come up with ten different answers regarding the correct number).
It ain't a sample of 10, but the above sample of 2 got widely divergent counts. (To be fair, after seeing VP's numbers, Lu erred a little on the generous side -- counting both screentime & number of scenes along a "french scene" or call-sheet model, while still counting the trial as one scene & only noting Badham's on-camera time in it.) So, little Mary Badham's actual stats prolly fall somewhere in the in-between...

Badham’s performance as Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird presents a curious contradiction. Mary Badham’s natural appeal, simplicity and eloquence have been artfully sculpted into an enduring, effective performance. Badham maneuvers the architecture, the scaffolding, of the role with delicious sweetness, sincerity and agility. She’s even incredibly “present” in each scene. But. Lu’s never convinced that Badham’s Scout is reacting to the world instinctually or spontaneously. In every moment, Badham’s performance shows the thumbprints of others and just never really takes off – never really transcends the specific scene to become a fully inhabited character. Indeed, rather than “acting” Badham seems to be “play-acting”, delightfully so, to be sure, and benefiting from the support of solid pros on every side. (And please don’t, lovely reader, take this to mean that Lulu thinks kids are somehow incapable of acting at the highest levels. Consider, in this very film, the unnominated Philip Alford who as Jim – with a vivid intelligence, humor and sincerity uncommon for actors of any age – thrills at every turn, very nearly stealing this Mockingbird from both Badham and Peck.)

Badham’s skill and limitations are perhaps on best display in the pivotal scene on the jailhouse steps, in which Scout’s shrewd precocity stops an explosive situation from detonating. Badham’s Scout rises to much of the challenge and the scene’s delicately calibrated tension is heart-stopping. But. Badham just doesn’t hook into Scout’s preternatural savvy, the part of Scout that somehow knows she’s protecting Atticus even if she has no idea how or why. Certainly, StinkyLulu’s hairsplitting here, but the movie is Scout’s to carry and this is the one aspect that Badham’s performance lets fall off the back of the truck. StinkyLulu tends to agree with Scott Heim that, under most criteria, Mary Badham's work as Scout is legitimately among the best performances by kid actors ever, but, in this role and in this film, it's a big something that the performance leaves missing.

That said, StinkyLulu just adores Badham's work in the film's other hardest scene & is convinced that Badham's performance is what makes it one of the all-time brilliant scenes in kid-actor history. (If only StinkyLulu could find a picture of this scene...) Indeed, Mary Badham’s work as the Ham, after the Macon County Pageant, does it all. Starting as a silly sight-gag before effortlessly pivoting to natural sibling banter to abject terror to pained poignance – all in the space of a few minutes and encased in papier-mache? That’s good work, kid, and the Ham scene works mostly because Badham's totally game for whatever the script throws her way.

A worthy performance, worthy of a nomination even. But, for StinkyLulu, the verdict's still out on whether Badham's performance as Scout should have been considered Best Actressing or Best Supporting Actressing. The fact that the film's narrative is told from Scout's POV seems to tip it toward the lead, but even then... Ah, the sweet mysteries of Supporting Actress -- they do keep unfolding.


So, that's a wrap for 1962...
And just check out what's up next...


More Canadian Ken...

One of the real treats of making Canadian Ken's acquaintance is discovering just how much he loves movies and how much he knows about them. Not only does it seem Ken's already seen everything but -- even better -- he's game for seeing it all again. (That's a man after StinkyLulu's movie-loving soul, to be sure. ) See for yourself, lovely reader, in Ken's post on
the overlooked Supporting Actresses of 1962.


Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1962

The Year is 1962...

And the Supporting Actress Smackdowners for August are NICK of Nick's Pick Flicks; TIM of mainly movies, and NATHANIEL of The Film Experience. But first...The NatReel for 1962:

Click image for the NatReel (via The Film Experience)

And 1962'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.)

Mary Badham in To Kill a Mockingbird
Tim Sez...
"Why? It’s about the third best child performance in the movie. She’s darn cute and all, and competently directed, but give me a break. A dim, sentimental nod."
StinkyLulu Sez...
"Little Mary Badham is often sweet, sincere and affecting – a gentle eye for the several storms that accumulate within this distinctly American tale. But she misses Scout’s shrewd precocity, the very thing that makes Scout herself a formidable force to be reckoned with."
Nathaniel Sez...
"As child actors go she's a natural. I love the lack of self-consciousness when she's regularly pulling faces. It's a sweet effective performance. But it's also a lead role, so "Boo" on the nom. And I don't mean 'Boo Radly'."
Nick Sez...
"A credible, eloquent, and completely winning presence. Sure, her performance has been air-brushed in the editing room, and you sometimes sense the director's coachings, but she still anchors the movie beautifully."

Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker

Tim Sez...
"Intentionally exhausting work, but I found some of the gestures rang ever so slightly false, and you’re always so aware of it as a piece of acting. Still, as a technical whirlwind it serves the movie very successfully, and her vocalisations wowed me."
Nathaniel Sez...
"Given my distaste for "baity" roles I was surprised to be totally won over. Each moment feels spontaneous – a great accomplishment given the obvious rehearsal time needed for complicated physical work. And her final scene? Yowza."
StinkyLulu Sez...
"Patty Duke's Helen Keller stands as one of the most extraordinary acting feats captured on screen. Nearly mute, her eyes bugged wide, Duke anchors Helen's every grab and every grimace in precise, actorly intention; there's no doubt of the authentic person gnawing and scratching inside this little beast/girl. Literally awesome."
Nick Sez...
"Gives galvanic physical and emotional expression to every facet of a part that could have been played much more simply and still gripped the audience. Shames nearly every other rendering of "disability" by actors of any age."
Shirley Knight in Sweet Bird of Youth
Nick Sez...
"Makes a sterling, subtle impression in her first scene, but from then on, the script loses track of the character, and she doesn't save it. Major transformations (stay! leave! take me with you!) happen too fast."
Nathaniel Sez...
"I like the performance better than the character but I don't think the performance IS the character. Which is to say: I don't think she solves the puzzle of "Heavenly". Knight is so winning and strong – so why is this girl so easily controlled?"
StinkyLulu Sez...
"In a role that could be merely saucy or sassy or sad, Shirley Knight's languid gestures and startling anger make Heavenly among the most interesting of Tennessee Williams' trampled feminine flowers. Not great, but truly truly good."
Tim Sez...
"Gorgeous, tired and despairing – such an intelligent read on a potentially wispy character, putting Begley and Newman to shame. A bittily assembled portrait, but pierces through each scene with luminous honesty: a new Shirley Knight fan is born."
Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate
Nick Sez...
"Stinky rocked the boat with Moorehead in Ambersons; here's my turn. The nature of the role guarantees a big impression, but Lansbury's perfectly sound, admirably unhistrionic performance still doesn't exceed what many other actresses would have done with it."
Nathaniel Sez...
"She reveals the monster from the get-go but keeps adding levels of ego and power lust until she's constructed one of the great gorgon turns in cinema. My favorite touch: The sick joy and pride when her puppets behave."
Tim Sez...
"Unbeatable. Never exactly subtle, but perfectly – perfectly – bolsters the film’s grandiose Freudian hysterics. Her crackers revolutionary monologue must be one of the great moments of film acting this decade, paced and modulated by a wizard of her craft."
Stinkylulu Sez...
"In a performance that is both conspicuously obvious and intricately subtle, Angela Lansbury adeptly calibrates the comedy and crassness of Mrs. Iselin to escalate the mystery and menace of the character. Haunting, tragic and vicious, Lansbury’s nomination is one of the all-time best in Supporting Actress history."
Thelma Ritter in Birdman of Alcatraz
StinkyLulu Sez...
"Thelma Ritter offers a characteristically solid and specific performance – extraordinary in its ordinariness (her signature) – contributing a palpable off-screen presence and anchoring the film’s few honestly poignant moments. And yet…feh."
Nick Sez...
"Why was Thelma nominated for this? Certainly she deserved an Oscar; those six consecutive losses are a travesty. But this is a thin, simple role, miles away from her bigger challenges and successes."
Tim Sez...
"Not great Ritter, to my mind: the perf has a beginning and end but no middle, and her scenes with Lancaster feel oddly stilted. Movingly frozen as possessiveness gets the better of her, but there’s something missing."
Nathaniel Sez...
"I love her but I'm not won over here. She's too reserved to tell me much about the character that isn't abundantly obvious. An impressive exit scene, though. But for me, that's too little, too late."
Oscar awarded Patty Duke...
And the SMACKDOWN gives it to:

Patty Duke AND Angela Lansbury!?!?

A TIE ?!?!
By a hair, the average score pitched it to Lansbury.
But it seems a tie breaker is in order.
So, lovely reader, YOU get to decide...
Tell the Smackdowners in comments who shoulda won...

And now some "Final Thoughts" from our intrepid SMACKDOWNERS:

StinkyLulu Sez: "Two precocious and incorrigible children, two manipulative and monstrous mothers, and a trampled sweet young thing…1962 makes for a simple menu of some of Oscar’s long-favored Supporting Actress dishes. Thankfully, each nominee offers enough for a full meal all on her own. There’s no nomination to hate in this roster (though Ritter’s does feel a touch perfunctory) and yet it’s clear that the only real contenders are Lansbury and Duke. For Lulu, it’s Lansbury all the way – her performance as Mrs. Iselin reveals more nuance and contour with each screening. In contrast, the exhaustive precision of Duke’s work just tires Lulu out and Helen becomes less a character than a stunt. When choosing a favorite among these artfully constructed dishes, it’s a matter of taste & Lulu’ll opt for another serving of Lansbury’s 'Queen of Diamonds' casserole any time."

Nick Sez: "My Supporting Actress ESP tells me that Lansbury's semi-surprising loss is going to be redressed by our little confab. I think she's often a good actress, but I just don't see the kind of subtle, personal craftsmanship here that most other viewers clearly do, except in her stunning ability to age herself without trickery. Patty, meanwhile, gives a spectacularly and almost athletically detailed performance, complicating a role that's almost as programmed for empathy as Lansbury's is for villainy. For me, her only rival in 1962 is the unnominated Jane Fonda, a cyclone of sex, insolence, and conviction in Edward Dmytryk's Walk on the Wild Side (where Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Baxter, and lead actress Capucine are also good enough to merit nominations)."

Nathaniel Sez: "I haven't seen enough late 50s and 60s movies to be sure but it seems to me that mothers had a rough spell in the movies. In the case of this supporting actress race they're either cruel and manipulative (Lansbury & Ritter), dead thus leaving the father to do the shaping for better (Badham) and worse (Knight), or they're too loving. Patty Duke's Helen Keller is also derailed to some extent by a mother who loves too much. In 1962 cinematic mothers just couldn't do anything right. But at least the daughters are viewed with an optimistic movie eye."

Tim Sez: "Badham aside, this was a strong year. I’m being tough on Ritter even though it’s really the script that fails her; Duke, no doubt about it, is quite something to behold even when I’m not 100% persuaded her Helen Keller adds up to more than a piece of prodigious performance art. The revelation for me was Knight – from her first scene with Begley she’s serene, combative and frustrated all at once, a very tricky combo to pull off but one she nails beautifully. Lansbury’s is the most memorable part in a movie I’ve long loved, and I feared she’d be overdoing it on a revisit, but this is all-stops-out acting, unafraid to push the character towards monstrous, hard-shell archetype and completely supported in that decision by script and direction. Try and recast her: you’ll struggle. These five movies, incidentally, offer as good a cross-section as you could want of what filmmakers felt like saying about America, sociopolitically, in 1962, and watching them side by side was just fascinating."

So, lovely reader, tell the Smackdowners what YOU think! Angela? Patty? Thelma? Break that tie! Join the dialogue in comments.

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


Canadian Ken enters the blogosphere...

A quick tease for Sunday's Smackdown...

StinkyLulu just drafted Canadian Ken -- Lu's favorite movie buff from the northland -- into the blogosphere. (It's a collaborative venture & Ken's a little leery of the whole fandango & this'll just be a trial run...) So, help kick things off by checking out Ken's thoughts on each of 1962's Supporting Actress nominees...


"A Stimulating Conversational Piece" (Homo Heritage Fridays)

from Blueboy: The International Magazine About Men, June 1983, page 87.

For details, click the image; then click again to magnify.


Thelma Ritter in The Birdman of Alcatraz - Supporting Actress Sundays (Wednesday Edition)

If ever there were a holy icon for actressing at the edges, Thelma Ritter would likely have been so canonized. Laboring in character roles at the outskirts of films of every pedigree, Thelma Ritter both maintains the record for most nominations in this category (6 in 12 years) while also having suffered the noblest Oscar ignominy (accumulating a raft of nominations but not a single trophy). Indeed, so ubiquitous is Ritter as a Supporting Actress nominee that Lulu sometimes forgets she's one of Oscar's biggest losers. So, among actresses at the edges, Thelma Ritter's sacrifice and martyrdom at the hands of Oscar do certainly qualify her for a curious kind of Supporting Actress sainthood.

Supporting Actress aficionado Canadian Ken recently observed, when discussing Ritter's overlooked performance in 1961's The Misfits, that "Oscar voters recognized [Ritter] regularly. But, to my mind, they often nominated the wrong performances." Such would seem to be the case for her work as Elizabeth Stroud, the mother of real-life lifer Robert Stroud, the performance which accomplished Oscar's final nomination for...

10 minutes & 30 seconds "on" screen (including 23 second voiceover)
7 scenes (w/voiceover & counting first petition sequence as 1 scene)
7% of film's total screen time

Thelma Ritter's Mrs. Stroud is a force to be reckoned with. Intensely protective of her imprisoned Robert, Ritter's Mrs. Stroud's devotion nearly defines her son (played here with tedious righteousness by the nearly awful Burt Lancaster). For a good two thirds of the picture, Robert Stroud's character is implicitly defined by the obtuse relationship he maintains with his mother. The audience knows little (and Lancaster's performance gives nary a clue) about the man 'cept that he's a murderer with a genius IQ and an anger-management problem. And that he loves his mother. (So much so that he kills a prison guard who thwarts a visit from her.) Ritter's Mrs. Stroud contributes a powerful offscreen presence which punctuates, often detrimentally, the arc of her son's story. Indeed, references to the character of Mrs. Stroud prove pivotal, even focal, to 6 scenes in which the actress herself does not even appear. The relationship between Stroud and his mother remains one of the very few the film explores with any interest and, even with Ritter to anchor the volley, its impact is truncated by the trudge of the narrative. (The film itself is bio-pic pablum, which seems to provide/refine the formulaic template for both the super-serious man-finds-his-soul-in-prison movie genre (exhibit A & B) AND the Lifetime "trauma drama". Director John Frankenheimer's visual flair only occasionally elevates the flick above its preening sincerity.)

For her part, when she's on-screen, Thelma Ritter's Mrs. Stroud is classic Ritter: a solid -- somewhat soiled -- rock (salt-of-the-earth, to be sure). At once humble and noble, Ritter's Mrs. Stroud emerges as the kind of woman to both rant impolitic in court at the injustice of capital punishment and also capable of campaigning all the way to First Lady Edith Wilson to snag a stay of execution for her beloved son. Yet, even from its first note, Ritter's performance cues an uneasy suspicion that there's something a little "off" about Mrs. Stroud's passion for keeping her son alive and imprisoned, one clinging to the other as they each grey and crust over. And when her son marries a widowed bird woman, Ritter's Mrs. Stroud quickly morphs into an exacting, infantilizing monster mother (though it is to Ritter's credit that this transmogrification errs away from the spectacular and centers upon Mrs. Stroud's fearful, heartsick desperation.) As her Mrs. Stroud finally abandons and disavows her son out of misplaced pride, Thelma Ritter also contributes this film's only honest moments of poignancy. (Too bad the film just rushes right along past them.) Hers is a characteristically solid and specific performance -- extraordinary in its ordinariness -- and just the sort that reminds StinkyLulu why Thelma Ritter's such an icon of actressing at the edges. Can't say Lulu loved the performance, but golly StinkyLu does love LaRitter...


StinkyLulu's 25 Favorite Television Characters Ever...

Just bumped into this post over at TVSquad about a "List of 25 favorite TV characters" that Joss Whedon put on his blog. Paraphrasing James Gunn:

The RULES are...

  • No puppets or cartoons.
  • No mini-series.
  • No reality show people.
  • All characters must be regulars on the show.
Now, this could be a list that StinkyLulu could get into.

StinkyLulu's 25 Favoritest Television Characters Ever

1) Charlene Frazier Stillfield (Jean Smart) on Designing Women
2) Chris Keller (Christopher Meloni) on
3) Endora (Agnes Moorehead) on Bewitched
4) Helen Willis (Roxie Roker) on
The Jeffersons
5) Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr) on
Freaks and Geeks
6) Mrs. Harriet Oleson (Katharine "Scottie" MacGregor) on
Little House on the Prairie
7) Bea Smith (Val Lehman) on
Prisoner: Cell Block H
8) Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton) on All In The Family
9) Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) on
Sex in the City
10) Katherine Chancellor (Jeanne Cooper) on
The Young and The Restless
11) Dee Thomas (Danielle Spencer) on
What's Happening!!
12) Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson) on
The Bionic Woman & The Six Million Dollar Man
13) Georgie Reed Whitsig (Patricia Kalember) on
14) Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) on
Designing Women
15) Ada Hobson (Constance Ford) on
Another World
16) Mrs. Lovey Howell (Natalie Schafer) on
Gilligan's Island
17) Nicole Julian (Tammy-Lynn Michaels) on
18) Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) on
Star Trek
19) David Healy (Johnny Galecki) on
20) Sally McMillan (Susan St. James) on
McMillan and Wife
21) Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) on
22) Phineas Bogg (Jon-Erik Hexum) on
23) Maria Figueroa Rodriguez (Sonia Manzano) on Sesame Street
24) Robert Ironside (Raymond Burr) on
25) Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White) on The Mary Tyler Moore Show

(Golly, how queer can StinkyLulu get...)

It's That Time Again...

Classes start today.
Lulu is feeling very late.


Shirley Knight in Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) - Supporting Actress Sundays

As of today's entry into the Supporting Actress Sunday-palooza, StinkyLulu will be introducing a new feature: a rough accounting of the number of scenes and total screen time in each performance. See, as some of you might recall, just a week ago, Lulu guest-posted on The Film Experience a little piece about the relative scale of "supporting" performances. The resulting discussion that raged in comments suggested to StinkyLu that Supporting Actress Sundays really should include this basic information, if only to round out things a little. Now, StinkyLulu's not promising that these numbers are agonna be scientific, or anywhere near it. This'll just be a rough summary of (a) the total screen time of the performance, (b) the number of scenes in which the nominated performer appears, and (c) percentage of the film's total screen time inhabited by the nominated performance. Only in exceptional circumstances (ie. for the really really short performances) will StinkyLulu undertake a line-count.

So, without further ado, let's get to the Supporting Actress who'll help Lulu inaugurate this new feature and who just happens to be the reliably delightful...

...Shirley Knight in Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)

23 minutes on screen
6 scenes (including 2 wordless flashbacks)
19% of film's total screen time

Now, StinkyLulu would never claim that Shirley Knight is one of the greatest actresses of her era. Her filmography just doesn't hold up next to -- say -- a Burstyn, a Maclaine or a Fonda. But. StinkyLulu would staunchly proclaim that Knight is without a doubt one of the greater actresses of her generation, even though most of her best work has been captured not on celluloid but on the boob tube. Anyway. StinkyLulu loves Shirley Knight. That's that. And it's always a treat to see her radiant pre-plumpness, which is at its near best in 1962's Sweet Bird of Youth. (To see the full force of early Shirley, check out her performance as Lula in 1967's Dutchman & prepare to have your mind blown.)

Sweet Bird of Youth -- like most cinematic adaptations of Tennessee Williams at midcentury -- is very nearly a mess. Most essentially, the story's about Chance Wayne (Paul Newman), an uncommonly attractive young man who has no real idea who he is, what he wants, or how to get a clue. At the story's outset, Chance -- a fading gigolo by trade -- skids back into his hometown on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the company of the Princess Cosmonopolous -- aka the gruesomely addicted actress Alexandra del Lago (Geraldine Page) -- to get "his girl" and take her away with him to fame and fortune. Chance's girl is Shirley Knight's character -- the improbably named Heavenly Findley (bummer of a birthmark, huh). Of course, this ain't the first time Chance has "come back" for Heavenly and the film demonstrates (through insipid flashbacks) just how viciously Heavenly's father, the nasty Boss Findley (Supporting Actor winner, Ed Begley), has gotten rid of Chance each time. Sweet Bird of Youth is an overripe story, chock full of sordid secrets and shocking confrontations, and yet...Chance Wayne remains one of Williams' most mysterious and evocative protagonists and Paul Newman's performance in the part is a recurrent revelation. (Shirley Knight was one of the few newcomers to film production, which was rich with carryovers from the acclaimed broadway cast.)

At first glance, Heavenly seems to be there to be an embodied paragon of Southern white womanhood, but Shirley Knight's performance -- through languid gestures and startling anger -- immediately flags that there's something greater at stake for this belle. As the idealized love that Chance just can't shake, Knight's Heavenly emerges as perhaps the most interesting of Williams' delicate feminine flowers. And that's in no small part because, in Sweet Bird of Youth, even Heavenly has a sordid past (an illegitimate, terminated pregnancy via Chance in the screen version; a hysterectomy as a result of venereal disease via Chance on stage). In the film, Knight's portrayal tracks Heavenly's evolution from the naive schoolgirl to the weary young woman, still beautiful but nearly worn out by the uses she has been put by her father's political drive. Knight's best work can be seen in her first scene opposite her father, in which she confronts his hypocrisy and is humiliated for it. Here, in a scene that could merely be saucy or sassy, Knight conveys Heavenly's complicated intelligence and deep sadness, which her father simply cannot see. Knight's performance also avoids easy pitfalls when she tries to get Chance to give up on her. Knight's Heavenly knows that Chance is nearly as dumb as a post (but in a sweet way) and that he's getting far out of his depth. Knight's eyes convey all of this pity and fear and sadness -- too bad she has to do all this while driving a motorboat and hollering to Chance who's climbing a lighthouse. And even though the filmmakers tweak the story to somehow give it a happy romantic resolution (and thereby divesting it of its nearly classical gory tragedy) the film works as well as it does largely because Knight's Heavenly actually comes off as an unusually intelligent, even special young woman.

Shirley Knight's performance as Heavenly is certainly not the best Supporting Actressing of this year. (Not even of this film, as Madeleine Sherwood chacha and Mildred Dunnock dither their respective circles around the whole cast in small but instrumental roles.) But Shirley Knight is smart, sweet, surprising and sexy as Heavenly, a sublimely difficult role which also happens to be the lynch(!)-pin determining whether and how Sweet Bird of Youth makes any sense at all. Indeed, it's great work from one of the greater actresses of her generation...


Be sure to click back on Wednesday and on Sunday for the final two contenders in July's Supporting Actress Sundays as well as the 1962 Supporting Actress Smackdown! Will it be a rout (ala Lansbury) or will something more surprising happen... Tune in to see the fireworks!