5.27.2007

Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1950



The Year is...



And the Smackdowners for the 23rd Annual Academy Awards are...
VERTIGO'S PSYCHO of And Your Little Blog Too
KEN of Canadian Ken On...
SAMURAI FROG of Electronic Cerebrectomy
JAMES HENRY of Rants of a Diva
and
Yours Truly,
STINKYLULU.

1950's Supporting Actresses are...
(Each Smackdowner's comments are arranged according to ascending levels of love. Click on the nominee's name/film to see StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Sunday review.)
Hope Emerson in Caged
James Henry - From her slovenly entrance lying on a bed, eating chocolates and reading a romance magazine, Emerson is fully committed to her sadistic matron and making her as deliciously campy as possible...
Ken -
Built like Foghorn Leghorn, she’s six foot two of slow swagger, prowling around looking for the next can of worms to pry open. Torturing her victims with that slow motion chuckle from Hell. Line up you tramps - and salute one of the great screen heavies....
Vertigo's Psycho - Diabolical? Evil to the core? Let’s just say if Hannibal Lecter found himself under Emerson’s matronly watch, her Evelyn Harper would have no trouble keeping him and his fava beans in line. Emerson’s vivid, take-no-prisoners malevolence is a big reason why Caged still shocks....
SamuraiFrog - A flamboyant B-movie villain, but a delicious one. Her evil is so second nature that she casually eats chocolates while practicing it. Emerson never overplays it, never stops to bask in scene-chewing. She simply acts. And she’s marvelous...
StinkyLulu - Little shading, nuance or idiosyncrasy marks this barking, bullying behemoth of a performance. But with forthright clarity, Emerson’s Evelyn Harper emerges as both monster and person, both the malevolent embodiment of pure cruelty and a petty, greedy woman working the few angles available to her. Emerson’s Harper is real big, real mean, real dumb, and – somehow – vividly real. And that’s pretty f’n scary...
TOTAL: (24)

Celeste Holm in All About Eve
Vertigo's Psycho - One of my favorite films, but Holm is off her (normally A-one) game, coming across as over-rehearsed and even a bit strident in many of her key scenes. Her polished professionalism is in evidence, but where is the light, spontaneous touch found in other signature Holm performances?...
James Henry - It’s not entirely Holm’s fault that Karen is rather a bore (her lack of juicy dialogue is one reason) but she doesn’t help matters with her incessantly quiet and controlled voice, tiny gestures and overall unimaginative performance...
SamuraiFrog - Holm’s role is pretty thankless. And while she certainly gets her good scenes, as an actress she never really rises above adequate for me. So until they start handing out awards for adequac...
StinkyLulu - Holm provides an accumulation of winning glimpses into this good hearted woman but her characterization skirts the edges of Karen’s power-brokering, influence-peddling complexity. A charismatic but glib performance...
Ken - During Margo’s “bumpy night”, she accuses Karen of “unyielding good taste”. Those words – hardly an insult – fit Holm’s screen persona snugly. Add warmth, wit and a certain sly twinkle. Had Claudette Colbert played Margo, as planned, Celeste might’ve seemed redundant. After all, Colbert radiates those same qualities. But as a soothing counterpoint to the prickly Davis, Holm works just fine....
TOTAL: (12)

Josephine Hull in Harvey
Ken - A squat little person with a high, piping voice. Genteel, but without the specificity of the great ditherers. A background biddy suddenly handed the lead ‘cause Marion Lorne phoned in sick. Yes, she’s better than the material – but the material’s piffle....
StinkyLulu - With utter seriousness, Hull takes Veta Louise's thoughtless conventionality and layers it with farcical idiosyncrasy – using a full arsenal of character actress tricks/tics – to create a seriously dingbatty character. A dear (& often truly funny) showcase of Hull’s especial gifts....
SamuraiFrog - This is a very easy movie to like; it’s pleasant and mannered and whimsical, but not particularly challenging. It’s broad and simplistic, and Hull’s performance is the same. It matches the tone perfectly. That’s also the problem...
James Henry - Nervous, twitchy and full of energy, Hull is the perfect foil to the laid back, charismatic Stewart. It’s obvious that she’s been trained in the theater and her acting is a touch overblown, but she gives an immensely likeable performance...
Vertigo's Psycho - Hull’s overly cutesy here and there, but more often she’s very funny displaying Veta’s constant apprehensiveness over Elwood’s peculiarities. Also, towards the end of the film Hull makes Veta’s concern for her brother’s fate both sweet and touching, bringing as much heart to the film as star Stewart does...
TOTAL: (14)

Nancy Olson in Sunset Boulevard
James Henry - Olson is a limited actress and it’s easy to dismiss her next to her domineering co-stars, but, at least in her first few scenes, she’s full of fire and grabs on to the role as if she realizes that this was her big chance...
Vertigo's Psycho - Olson perfectly fits her young ingenue role, giving a charming, no-nonsense performance as Betty that serves as a nice femme counterpoint to Swanson’s grand theatrics; however, of the four principal actors, Olson’s work is the least original and memorable...
SamuraiFrog - She anchors the film, giving William Holden’s Joe a goal to work towards as he gets himself out of a deep hole. Olson is subtle and appealing, a three-dimensional, honest person in a world of liars and pretend...
StinkyLulu - With formidable wit and appealing confidence, Olson invests her ingénue with a simple but textured humanity. Her Betty is every bit the Hollywood creature and Olson’s performance amplifies the character’s significance within the film’s cryptic puzzle. Subtle, surprising work...
Ken -
The role could’ve been plain vanilla. But Olson’s startlingly fresh. Unspoiled yet quick and canny. Holding her own in high-powered company. “It’s fun writing with you,” says Joe – and Olson’s out of the blue performance convinces you that doing almost anything with her WOULD be...
TOTAL: (18)

Thelma Ritter in All About Eve
StinkyLulu - Ritter’s performance as the crabby, cynical and crass Birdie dodges caricature to create a woman who easily balances goodhearted sweetness and worldly tartness. It’s pitch perfect casting amplified by artful execution...
Ken - Ritter’s as tart and tasty as rhubarb. She can sock home an “I told you so” with just a look. And ‘cause she sniffs out Eve in no time flat, we get opportunities galore to savor that look. The gilt-edged wisecracks – superbly delivered – are sheer bonus...
SamuraiFrog - Such a wonderful actress, always cynical but human; here her part is frustratingly small (and she’s unceremoniously dropped halfway through). The fact that she makes so much out of a mere plot device is her magic...
Vertigo's Psycho - Birdie and her killer retorts serve as a blueprint for the wisecracking mothers and maids Ritter would build her screen career on, but it’s those sage, caustic glances Birdie throws Margo’s way when Eve starts getting nasty that linger in the viewer’s memory...
James Henry - It may seem like a small and inconsequential performance in the grand scheme of things, but I’ll be damned if Ritter doesn’t brilliantly transform this clichéd housekeeper into a wise-to-the-world woman who knows Eve’s game...
TOTAL: (22)

Oscar chose...
Josephine Hull in Harvey!
But the SMACKDOWN gives it to:
Hope Emerson in Caged!


So, lovely reader, tell the Smackdowners what YOU think!

11 comments:

CanadianKen said...

“Caged”, an actressing banquet if ever there was one, could’ve filled the whole supporting roster – and then some. Emerson, of course, is hair-raisingly good. But there’s Betty Garde, too, as Kitty, ferociously protecting her penny ante power. Anyone planning to paint faces on balloons for a funeral service couldn’t pony up a better prototype than Garde’s haunted plus-size mug. Lee Patrick loses her usual comic flutter to play “vice queen” Elvira with a neatly threatening bonhomie. And how DID that lesbian stuff wiggle past the censor? Olive Deering’s tightly coiled June is fine work – made more intriguing by its eerie anticipation of both Carolyn Jones AND Susan Strasberg. Moorehead, of course, owns the superintendent role – down but determined, fighting for small victories ‘cause somebody’s got to. And don’t forget irreplaceable Jan Sterling. The CP (it doesn’t mean corporal). A tough, scrappy little mutt, ruefully wagging her tail. I got news for you. Oscar should’ve invited her to the party too.

SamuraiFrog said...

In a year known for excellent filmmaking, it’s both bizarre and exciting that an artfully executed B thriller like Caged could slip under the radar and provide such an enticing alternative. What makes it so special are the actresses involved, each and every one of them, from stars Eleanor Parker and Agnes Moorehead, to supporting stars Betty Garde and Ellen Corby, and even to dear Jane Darwell in a role much too small for the woman who played the perfect Ma Joad. And most memorable, our Hope Emerson as a prison matron who is so sublimely evil, but in the end so very human. The actresses in Caged all seem to know that they may never get to play characters who are so thoroughly human, and more than that so thoroughly women, that they never waver a bit from the honesty of their portrayals, even when they’re having fun with the parts. It’s that recognizable, desperate humanity that makes this movie one of the hidden gems of 1950.

James Henry said...

With so many leading actresses going supporting for fear of not being nominated and/or winning nowadays, it is quite a breath of fresh air to look back at 1950 and see the Academy honor true supporting actresses. It’s even better to see them honor such fine performances as the ones given by Thelma Ritter, eventual Oscar-winner Josephine Hull and Hope Emerson. Even the lesser performances by Nancy Olson and Celeste Holm aren’t as bad as they could have been. If given the opportunity, I would probably swap Olson with a different ingénue- say Elizabeth Taylor in Father of the Bride. And for Holm, I would replace her with her All About Eve co-star Marilyn Monroe (she’s only onscreen for about a minute, but what a minute it is). Overall, 1950 was a fantastic year for actresses in general and the Academy did quite a nice job picking out the best ones.

StinkyLulu said...

Indeed.

1950 is quite a year for actressexuals. Quite easy to get all hopped up on the actressing at the centers, the edges and the in betweens.

But I'm frankly amazed at just how QUEER the Supporting Actress field this year was. Between the lesbionics of Caged, the dykey insinuations - coupled with the bitchtasticness - of Eve , the keptboy camp of Sunset and the barely oblique homo allegory of Harvey? All told, 1950s Supporting Actresses cover most angles of pre-Stonewall queer pleasure in film...

I. Love. It.

Vertigo's Psycho said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vertigo's Psycho said...

Overall a strong year, but I think Holm received the Oscar for the right performance (her smart, charismatic work in 1947’s Gentlemen’s Agreement). To elaborate, while Ritter and Davis are believably “in the moment” as Margo and Birdie, Holm and costar Anne Baxter are too-obviously acting every second. I’d give Holm’s nomination to Barbara Bates’ brief but indelible portrayal of the ambitious Phobe at Eve’s end, or to Jan Sterling who, as “Smoochie,” the tender-hearted tootsie who’s always “got news for ya,” memorably adds just about the only light touch found in the grim Caged. Hull has a lot to do with Harvey’s enduring popularity and find Olson fresh and engaging, but for me “best” honors belong to Emerson and Ritter. Unfortunately, due to Caged’s lack of availability on VHS/DVD (although it’s finally coming to DVD soon!), Emerson’s stinging portrayal has remained largely unseen, but Emerson’s tremendous in the role, and she deserves greater fame. Ritter’s so close to perfection a viewer yearns to see more of Birdie after the character’s abrupt departure midway through the film. As I can’t pick between them, for my money 1950 had two Best Supporting Actresses.

Michael said...

Wow. This is pure heaven: such a great year, and such great takes on these performances. Bravo! And you all have me even more upset that we couldn't book Caged at my theater next season (there might be prints out there, but not for little old me).

J.J. said...

I love these smackdowns because they point me to movies and actresses I've never heard of (Emerson in "Caged," for example).

A word on Celeste Holm: Her clipped, small performance is essential to All About Eve. The insanity needs a grounded, level-headed axis around which to spin. Holm could've played up the role, but she knew that vamping would tip the balance of the film. Sometimes great actressing is about restraint, omission and choosing the perfect note to strike so the movie's greater chord resounds fully. Holm chose the right note and plunked it simply, and All About Eve is that much more resonant because of it.

newland said...

Too bad the winner is the only actress I haven't seen in the only film that is impossible to find.

I liked Celeste more than you guys, but my vote would have gone to Ritter this time.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

I actually think Holm DID play up the role too much, although she's certainly not "vamping" (but I can't see any actress with half a brain reading the part of a patient, understanding wife and think to herself, "The vamp approach is the way to go with this one").

For me, Davis and Ritter anchor the movie with completely true, rich performances (I can't find any "insanity" in their work), in contrast to the actressy overplaying found in the work of Baxter (okay, I admit she's off-balance, for sure) and Holm.

Karen needed to be played in a litle less "Grand" manner than the spin Holm puts on the role. To my mind Ann Sothern, who was considered for the part at one point, would have been exactly right for Karen. View Sothern's work in A Letter to Three Wives- no frills, just straightforward, intelligent, distinctive, and charming work- and it's easy to image Sothern creating the definitive Karen.

Holm usually rates much higher in my esteem, though, and I do believe she lent that perfect "grace note" J.J. refers to many other times during her career, in films such as Gentlemen's Agreement, The Tender Trap, and High Society.

Peter said...

Agreed on the Emerson front, though Ritter's Birdy is a bitterly close second (she lost due to Holm's same-film cancel out.) Seeing the recently released DVD of Caged (without a special feature, I might add) really drove home Hope Emerson's TALENT -- a rare combination of physicality, intelligence and courage. This was a lady who truly came across. Check out her one-scene cameo in the Tracy/Hepburn classic Adam's Rib and note her facility at registering homey and sympathetic while remaining very much herself - a zoftig, plain-Jane who doesn't give a hoot about conventions that stand in the way of her happiness. While today's character women line up at Botox clinics and lip injection centers vainly attempting something pretty at a distance, the character women of the golden age like Moorehead (aka GOD,) Charlotte Greenwood, Marjorie Main (the list is staggering) owned their misshapen bodies, odd faces and brittle spirits and showed us what human looked like and we felt it, while their prettier, often less talented leading role players got the big paychecks. But, at the end of the day - they went home with the satifaction that they made the best of what the good Lord gave 'em and played well their part.