12.30.2007

Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1967




The Year is...

And the Smackdowners for the 40th Annual Academy Awards are...
BROOKE CLOUDBUSTER of Boy on Film
CALUM of Ultimate Addict
J.D. of Joe's Movie Corner
KEN of Canadian Ken
MATT
with
yours truly, STINKYLULU.

1967'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.)

Carol Channing in Thoroughly Modern Millie
KEN Channing’s wide-eyed daffy schtick already had whiskers by ’67 and she varies it not a whit here. A reviewer once couldn’t decide whether the profoundly odd Edith Massey’s performance in a John Waters film called for an Oscar or a round-the-clock nurse. For Channing in Thoroughly Modern Millie, the decision’s much easier.
MATT
Thoroughly horrifying. Channing’s such a repellent force of nature that my living room plants withered and died the minute she (it?) appeared on my TV. Wasn’t MacLaine or Verdon available? Why did the role go to this creature so utterly devoid of subtlety, reality, and gender?
STINKYLULU
As the film’s only principal performer to "get" the ostensible joke of the film and have the comic chops to deliver on it, Channing demonstrates a trouper’s fortitude -- gamely spinning distinctively schticky webs, her wide eyes expressing the film's only emotional intelligence. Peculiarly impressive – emphasis on the peculiar.
J.D.
Uh… uh… uh… I seriously have no idea, both on why she was nominated, and why she exists. Muzzy is just like the film though: Freaky, random, not that good, but most assuredly entertaining and wacky enough to fly over the semi-uncomfortable weirdness.
CALUM
Ever the hostess, she’s rather like a crazy, embarrassing Aunt, showing you up at every possible opportunity. She wades in and out of the film a daring breath of fresh air, and shamelessly steals scenes with her maniacal audacity.
BROOKE CLOUDBUSTER
The title of this movie would have you believe that it is about Millie. However, this movie is utterly and totally Muzzie's. Channing steals every scene while crafting a masterclass musical performance.
TOTAL: 16s

Mildred Natwick in Barefoot in the Park
MATT Natwick shows her savvy by her adept delivery and by emphasizing the “good sport” aspect of the character. But the performance seems a little undercooked. Could’ve used more comic crispness (and more of the panache she demonstrates in the film’s final moments), and less of the wobbly vagueness she plays.
BROOKE CLOUDBUSTER
A solid performance, you get the feeling that Natwick knows the character. However due to the filmmaker's mistreatment of this play it becomes character a caricature of old lady tics and quirks, crippling the performance.
CALUM
Bounces off of Fonda’s irrationality well and delivers her many one-liners with believable bemusement. But her performance feels like an impersonation of Marion Lorne as Bewitched’s Aunt Clara and on the whole is less maternal than it really ought to.
STINKYLULU
Far more sophisticated than the material, Natwick wisely dodges stock character clich├ęs by oscillating between warmth and wonderment, crafting a genuine and humane characterization of a lonely, settled, bored woman experiencing a life-changing night.
J.D.
Her character was surprisingly interesting, and Natwick does a lot to show that. There’s so much and so little going on at the same time, and somehow she’s always making assumptions you might have about her obsolete.
KEN
The movie’s just an assembly line of briskly delivered sitcom punchlines – except for Natwick. Charming, accomodating, hilarious – sprinkling each syllable with a droll dusting of good-natured asperity - she executes a series of inspired vocal hesitations and comic U-turns, transforming even the simple act of knocking on a door into an eloquently exhausted S.O.S. Comic perfection!
TOTAL: 19s

Estelle Parsons in Bonnie and Clyde
CALUM She shrills; she shrieks, but it’s comic relief. Parsons’ wailing banshee is less of a character than a conformity punch-bag, but rather than instilling empathy her histrionics made me want to don some gloves and join in.
STINKYLULU
A righteous, shrieking, prissy shrew. In the hands of a Kahn or a Moorehead, I might adore her. But Parsons is neither hilarious nor heartbreaking enough to maintain the balance needed for this strange character. Vivid and memorable, but only in the worst ways.
J.D.
Very unremarkable. She whines a lot, but it never turns into anything brilliant. It’s not really a bad performance, but sometimes I just wanted to jump into the screen and hit her until she shut up. I loved Bonnie, so I guess I have to hate her. And I do.
KEN
She’s fully attuned to Hackman’s tremendous performance, seamlessly interacting to help him achieve it. And their tragedy’s ultimately more gritty and affecting for not being seen through the gauzy lens of Beatty-Dunaway glamour. I love the quiet conversation with Pollard – part cordial exchange at a church social, part baffled despair.
MATT
Works with comic authority—she’s particularly funny dodging bullets while brandishing a spatula. I also enjoyed her weak smiles of propriety as she tries to maintain her respectability amid her criminal kin. Shrill, too, but the character requires shrillness, and Blanche’s hysteria nicely counterbalances the film’s continuous din of gunfire.
BROOKE CLOUDBUSTER
Parson's Blanche is a high-wire act that consists mainly of shrieking at the top of her voice, but with an intense emotional core. It's a harrowing performance that sticks with you well after the credits roll.
TOTAL: 17s

Beah Richards in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
MATT The role isn’t much—mostly a series of reaction shots, and two short speeches. Maybe that’s why Beah Richards makes nary an imprint in the proceedings of this laughable, dated drama. But she’s to blame for her near-inaudibility and garbled diction, and her final monologue seems curiously both bland and overwrought.
KEN
Progressive ideas; staid and stodgy packaging. The movie spends two hours patting itself on the back, then expects us to continue doing it. Don’t recall seeing Richards elsewhere so I don’t know whether her bland tip-toeing on eggshells approach is a specific choice or just business as usual . Either way, two hearts is generous.
J.D.
No actress here does more with dialogue than her. Every time she spoke -- to her husband, her son, or her soon-to-be in-laws -- she conveyed so much truth and emotion in her eloquence of the situation, it sewed together everything and made them click.
BROOKE CLOUDBUSTER
Beah's performance is a pitch-perfect performance that hangs on one stunning scene. And when the scene is played this well; we should all stand up and applaud her.
CALUM
Despite being little more than a repressed pawn in Spencer Tracy’s arduous arc Beah is the resonant soul of the film. It’s all in the eyes. Their richness etch the pain of a generation all on their own.
STINKYLULU
In every moment, in all kinds of tiny tiny ways, Beah Richards maneuvers the flaccid morality play scenario with subtle, humane nuance. Hers is a startling performance, layered with fully inhabited empathy and clarity, far more than the sum of its scripted parts.
TOTAL: 20s

Katharine Ross in The Graduate
MATT Mike Nichols’ penchant for close-ups exposes Katharine Ross’s inadequacies as an actress; some of the role’s demands (crying on cue, conveying anger) clearly aren’t in her skill set. Nevertheless her charm, her rapport with Hoffman, and her occasionally fresh line readings trump her amateurishness.
BROOKE CLOUDBUSTER
Ross plays the least interesting character with a remarkable amount of depth and emotional clarity. Sadly, the material doesn't serve her at all and so the performances ends up without much to its name.
KEN
I often forget Katharine Ross when recalling the great beauties of the 60’s. Unfair. Because she is striking – radiating an appealing, reflective quality that separates her from most of her peers. But with a take-no-prisoners Bancroft on hand, Miss Robinson’s destined to be forever in the shadow of Mrs. Robinson.
STINKYLULU
Eloquent yet plausible in her ambiguity, Ross’s intrinsic honesty is essential to the film’s 2nd half but it’s her range of wordless expressions at the back of the bus that provide The Graduate’s most haunting emotional truths.
J.D.
There’s something compelling about Elaine and the way Ross plays her, so unexpected and so incredible. I don’t know what it is, but it made sense. She came late but ran the emotional gambit, and yet she felt more genuine and unique than anyone else in the film!
CALUM
The polar opposite of Bancroft’s dangerous older woman she rarely changes as a character, yet evolves from disinteresting to desirable in the space of two hours. Her careful understated beauty crept into my heart as it did Hoffman’s.
TOTAL: 23s

Oscar chose...
Estelle Parsons in Bonnie and Clyde!
And, in a nailbiter,
the SMACKDOWN decisively dissents,
anointing Katharine Ross in The Graduate as
our Best Supporting Actress of 1967.
So, lovely reader, what do YOU think?

Katharine Ross in The Graduate (1967) - Supporting Actress Sundays

One of the things I didn't see coming from the Supporting Actresses of 1967 was how each performance, in its own distinct way, elaborated a particular aspect of that oft-rehearsed topic of the later 1960s and the early 1970s: The Generation Gap. Channing, Natwick and Richards are all mothers doing their best to support their children find love in a world where all the rules seem to be changing. For her part, Parsons is a woman who wants an old-fashioned kind of marital happiness only to be propelled into a whole new way of being married. And then there's the long-awaited last nominated performance, one which might be easily dismissed as being just "The Girl" a overwhelmingly masculine meditation on being caught in the generation gap. But to do so would be a mistake -- would be to miss the mature, enigmatic and provocative work of...

approximately 22 minutes and 39 seconds
23 scenes

roughly 21% of film's total running time

Katharine Ross plays Elaine Robinson, the treasured daughter of the predatory Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft in a deservedly iconic performance, offering a perfect portrayal of a "cougar" before the modality of an empowered, elder female sexuality had such a name).
Elaine hovers, in the abstract, at the edges of the film long before she makes her first appearance for her first date with Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman, impossibly cute, implausibly cast and pitch perfect) nearly two-thirds of the way through the film. By the time Ross's Elaine shows up, Hoffman's Benjamin and Bancroft's Mrs. Benjamin have been love-shackin' it up for some timeand, in what is the first clear demonstration of Mrs. Robinson's vicious streak, the elder woman has forbade her paramour from dating (and, implicitly, corrupting) her revered daughter.Caught as he is by polite conventions and expectations, Benjamin defies Mrs. Robinson's orders and agrees to take Elaine on a date. His lame plan, as it turns out, is to be such a heel to Elaine that she would never want to see Benjamin again. So, in what has to be the most thrillingly awful first date in cinematic history, Hoffman's Benjamin races them both to a downtown strip joint where the Ross's Elaine becomes the butt (or, perhaps, "bust") of a talented stripper's joke.
Upon seeing her humiliated reaction, Hoffman's Benjamin softens toward Ross's Elaine and the worst date in cinematic history becomes a giddily platonic courtship.
As the two laugh and talk and giggle Hoffman's Benjamin discovers with Ross's Elaine a soul-stirring connection that snaps him from his months' long ennui, that shakes off his sexual satiety (and stupor). But how can Benjamin realize the potential of love with Elaine when he has been her mother's lover?
In short, he can't. But that doesn't mean he doesn't try, first in a naive attempt to come clean, to tell Elaine everything in the naive hope that she might understand. In short, she doesn't. But that doesn't dissuade our Benjamin. Without the distractions of Mrs. Robinson, Benjamin is left with few options but to stalk her daughter, which he first does in the bushes outside her home before he relocates to Berkeley where he stalks her on campus...

...on the bus...
...at the zoo. When Elaine realizes that Benjamin's been stalking her, she's furious and makes an ill-advised, late-night trip to visit him in his room at the boarding house.
And so begins the next wave of giddy courtship between the two, in which Benjamin begs Elaine to marry him and Elaine dodges but does not reject the proposition.
It's in these second courtship scenes that the mastery of Ross's work in this strange role manifests. Ross's Elaine is neither naif nor cynic. Rather, she's just as lost as Benjamin. Through Ross's performance, we begin to see that -- while Benjamin and Elaine are almost certainly impossibly wrong for each other -- the each in the other what they long to have seen in themselves. Like Benjamin, Elaine is lost amidst the conventional expectations of her and she wants nothing more than to find a way out. Here, Ross's formidable appeal contributes greatly to making this most implausible of romances somehow plausible. Elaine is a bit of a twit, changing her mind, flaking this way and that. But Ross's especial qualities -- her clarity, her beauty, her palpable integrity -- all contribute to making this a romance worth rooting for -- which is essential to the film's final showdown where Benjamin crashes Elaine's shotgun wedding to a more suitable suitor.
And it's in these final scenes that Ross's characterization finally takes fire...
...laying a verbal smackdown to her mother...
...before fleeing with her chosen beloved...
...to the backseat of a another public bus. Where, in a series of marvelously wordless glances, Ross conveys a flickering range of uncertainties and ambivalences that make it clear that her elopement with Benjamin is not the solution to her problems, but instead the beginning of a new life that (and this is what I love) may or may not even include Benjamin.
Ross maneuvers the less than sensible terrain of this role with a clarity and nuance that elevates the role.
Yes, I would have loved to see the almost-cast Sally Field in the part, but I know that Katharine Ross's beauteous gravitas provided the necessary counterweight to Bancroft, keeping this most enthralling of movies in the delicate, necessary balance. The Graduate is a great movie and, without Katharine Ross's complex and surprising work as Elaine, it would not have been.