8.27.2006

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...

18 comments:

StinkyLulu said...

Hey lovely readers...
Please forgive the formatting errors & the fact that the clipreel is here instead of over on FilmExperience...

Basically, Blogger's behaving badly & this post snuck through the technological nonsense... But, know that I know I wanna fix some things...

In the meantime have at it...

StinkyLulu said...

Be sure to check out Canadian Ken's take on 1962...

And...seems I figured out how to trick that tricksy Blogger... Thanks for your patience...

Nick Davis said...

The "tie" is a generous call; looks to me like Lansbury won it, fair and square. BUT, with the four of us filing widely disparate impressions of nearly every nominee—I'd say we agree on these nominations much less than we have on the others, no?—I'm still fascinated for comments. Bring 'em on, folks!

John T. said...

Seeing almost every one of these nominated performances (except for Knight), I'd go with Lansbury. Surely Badham has one effective scene (the one that happens to be in the clip reel-bravo on selection!), and Duke is a magnificent ride as Helen Keller, ushering in a character that is complicated, heartbreaking, bratty, and hopeful (many times in the same scene), it is Lansbury who manages to capture the essence of great supporting acting. She adds layers to every character surrounding her, she makes her son a weak-minded hero, her husband a gutter snake loser. Every one of Lansbury's scenes are filled with a sense of foreboding, a sense of imminent doom (imagine the film in the hands of an actress who'd chew the scenery-this shows up on Top 100 lists because of the Dragon Lady). Duke may be a tour de force in The Miracle Worker, but Lansbury is the raison d'etre in hers.

StinkyLulu said...

Yeah, the "tie" is a stretch, but I had Ken's rankings in my head which -- had I included them -- would have made the margin real slim. And I suspect the race in 1962 was close in the same way. Everything I've seen says Lansbury was considered a shoo-in for the trophy & that Duke snuck in to snag it in a big upset.

And the other topic in this is Shirley Knight/Mary Badham. We almost have complete voting spreads for each.

NATHANIEL R said...

fwiw i, like Tim, and a new Knight fan and want to see more. But I really think the character is problematic. As specifically designed as her performance felt I STILL didn't understand the character.

and I almost gave Duke 5 stars for what it's worth. It was a much closer call for me than I expected it would be in terms of her or Lansbury.

newland said...

A very tight race in my opinion, but I'd also break the tie in favor of Angela Lansbury. Patty Duke sure does a great job, but she kinda repeats the same scene once and again for the whole movie, until her breathtaking final scene.

Lansbury, on the other hand, gives one of the most horrifyingly good performance in a movie ever. Just watching the new version of the movie with Meryl Streep in the same role you can understand how hard it must have been for Lansbury to make her character so convincing. Not that Meryl failed, but Lansbury was clearly so much better.

Badham's only stretch was being conveniently cute, so I'm not really impressed. Ritter was much better almost elsewhere, and I haven't seen Knight.

For me is a clear Lansbury win, although with Duke as a very close second.

PoliVamp said...

I definitely give this to Lansbury. Patty Duke is good, but (like Nathaniel mentioned) it's a lead role, so I dock points for it being in the supporting category. Lansbury is not in a very large part of the movie, but she's still intricate to the plot and her presence is heavily felt.

Go Angela!

par3182 said...

this is the first smackdown where i've seen all the nominees (yay for me)

i always try to imagine how i'd vote if i'd seen these performances in 1962, as opposed to being influenced by lansbury's now legendary status and duke's subsequent flame out (let's face it - the others aren't really in the race)

would i reward a character actress who has finally snared a role worthy of her talents or a dazzling turn by a relative newcomer (if, by some chance, i hadn't seen her play the role on broadway)?

i think, after a lot of wavering, i'd go with duke - as much as i love lansbury's cool precision i find duke not only dazzling but very moving as well

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Looks like Lansbury's already beaten Duke by two hearts (18 to 16). I also somewhat agree with Nick that Candidate may not be Lansbury at her cinematic peak (I'd probably go with her sensitive, subtle turn in The Picture of Dorian Gray, or another of her domineering mothers, the one she played in All Fall Down). Still, her viperish, colorful work in Candidate is unforgettable, and the actress nails the part as few others, then or now, could.

Duke is fine and vivid in Worker, but I think Miracle's subject matter is so powerful, it's nearly foolproof; in my high school drama class, I once watched a below-average performer who was not good with dialogue suddenly come across as an accomplished actress while playing Helen in the famous "food fight" scene.

I've always felt primarily non-speaking roles are a little easier to bring off (and ideal for the screen), as opposed to the challenges faced by an actress trying to convincingly bring an over-the-top monster like Mrs. Iselin to life onscreen. Therefore, if I'm Paul Newman circa 1963, me and the Mrs. are both voting for Lansbury.

tim r said...

My worry this month is that I've underrated Duke by a heart or so. Watching the NatReel pricked my conscience, and I think, sniffing applause all round, I was going out of my way to carp. Poor little Mary Badham, too... I think I'd like the performance fine if it hadn't been nominated.

Interesting points about the garbled quality of Knight's role. I can't disagree, but, even just standing there next to her father, she conveys a really sad sense of being a helpless pawn in all this, however strong-willed she's told herself to be. I'm giving her extra marks for the challenge of getting there with such fragmented screen time.

What do we think of the other perfs in Sweet Bird of Youth? I'm not much of a fan of Begley in it, or Newman either. I think I've decided he's all wrong for Williams - the insecurity is too obvious, too Actor's Studio. Not sure who I'd rather have seen in the role though. What do we think? Loved Madeleine Sherwood and Mildred Dunnock, and after a fluffed first impression I think Page rises to it superbly. A terrific Best Actress year, right?

NATHANIEL R said...

i personally L-O-V-E-D Page's work but agree that the entrance doesn't work. I was really worried during the first scene (because I thought she was Razzie worthy in Summer & Smoke which we of course covered last month here) but the last half of the movie I was totally in her corner and found it both well acted character-wise and absolutely fun thereafter.

I can sort of see the Actors Studio comment about Newman but I think he's just so perfectly cast and such a fine actor in general that I really liked his work, even if it did read as total "performance" as opposed to "being" --but then so did Page so I think the chemistry was just right given the nature of their roles.

NATHANIEL R said...

I also wanted to say that Begley didn't make much of an impression on me but I see that he's the winner of the nominees.

Agreed that Sherwood was fantastic and people have certainly been nominated for less.

StinkyLulu said...

I actually think Newman's f'n amazing in Sweet Bird. I didn't always feel that way but this time through I became convinced...

Likewise, on the Page. Simply put, I'm not a fan. And here, she got better and better. Also, seeing the screentest with her and Rip Torn in the DVD extras? Wowie kazowie. I'm still no GP convert, but I do grant her brilliance here.

Nick Davis said...

I'm coming in the other direction on Page: I've loved the performance since I first saw it in college, which means I'm only now seeing the deficiencies. I still think she's great (while leaving plenty of room for very different takes on Alexandra), but I see the chinks, as in her less-than-convincing handling of Alexandra's "flashback" scenes.

As for Newman, I agree that he's a bit over-strenuous in reaching for effects that a better-cast actor would be able to radiate much more naturally: the tawdriness, the insecurity. BUT, I think he's infinitely preferable here compared to his choked, static Brick in Cat, and I like the smugness and vainglory he is willing to endow into Chance.

I think Begley has his moments, but they aren't many. Like a lot of Best Supporting Actor winners, I don't find him very memorable, which is why he's always a pleasant surprise (on a very minor scale). I always feel I'm seeing him for the first time.

Sherwood is fun and vivid. Dunnock does her Dunnock thing, but well. I'm still not sold on Shirley Knight's Heavenly, but to answer Nathaniel's question from last month, I *do* think she would have been an absolutely ideal choice as Alma in Summer and Smoke.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

It's a shame Knight's fine, also Oscar-nominated work in The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (which I'd place above her competent Bird work) isn't available on DVD or VHS. I taped a showing off of TV years ago and cling to it, as it's become a rare film to catch anywhere. Knight is very touching as Reenie, a shy, insecure young girl who meets and falls in love with her exact male counterpoint, an extremely sensitive young Jewish boy named Sammy (played by the now-forgotten Lee Kinsolving, who also deserved, at the least, an Academy nod). Their romance is one of the most memorable depictions of a "first love" I've seen on screen. The entire cast (Robert Preston, Dorothy McGuire, Angela Lansbury, and Eve Arden) is wonderful, but the bittersweet Knight/Kinsolving scenes, aided by Max Steiner's mood-appropriate score, are the ones that linger in the memory (Knight and Kinsolving both received Golden Globe nominations).

Nick Davis said...

I taped Dark off of TCM a while ago, too, but I've never watched it. I tend to be phobic about Inge, based on Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba, though I've always heard this one is better. Thanks for the added incentive, though I may still wait till our eventual 1960 Smackdown.... I like the months where I watch a lot of films for the first time, and I haven't seen Glynis Johns (The Sundowners) or Mary Ure (Sons and Lovers) from that year, either.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Glad Dark is still turning up occasionally. I really like Inge- his works may not be of the Tennesse Williams caliber, but he sure knew how to capture a time and place while writing some great parts for actors, and his original screenplay for Splendor in the Grass proves he wasn't always stagebound (I'm glad he won the Oscar for it).

Johns is as dependably delightful in The Sundowners as you'd expect, and with superb lead performances by Mitchum and Kerr and deft Fred Zinnemann direction, it's a "downer" you haven't watched the film yet (even worse, where's the DVD?).

I hope you guys get around to 1960 soon, which is definitely one of the signature SA years, with the flashy, not entirely believable but nevertheless fascinating Jones unrelentlessly seizing her opportunity for a good-girl-gone-bad image switch by barnstorming her way through Gantry and almost stealing some of the magnetic Lancaster's glory in the process (who do you watch in their scenes together?- both performers obviously had their Wheaties for breakfast every day during the shoot, and are keyed up and rarin' to go) battling it out with one of the legendary SA performances: Leigh, who, as Marion Crane, adeptly provides Psycho with it's mature, quite conscience during the first half of film, leading up to her brilliant enactment of Marion's history-making demise- I don't think anyone's ever died more convincingly on screen.