Geraldine Page in Hondo (1953) - Supporting Actress Sundays

There is a small handful of actresses of whom I remain inordinately fond, even as I find most of their performances vaguely disappointing or mildly distasteful. For an actressexual like me, that can create some awkward situations: I hate to be the crabby pooper always spoiling everyone else's lovefest. Nonetheless, one must remain true to one's self, especially in matters of faith, politics and actressexuality. Which is why it's always such a pleasure to discover that rare performance by such an actress, one that I don't hate at all, one that I actually sorta love. Which is precisely what happened this week with...
approximately 36 minutes and 27 seconds
23 scenes
roughly 44% of film's total running time
Geraldine Page plays Angie Lowe, a rancher's wife on a homestead in the remote New Mexico territory.
A self-described "plain" woman accustomed to fending for herself, Page's Lowe is uncertain what to make of the rangy stranger ambling her way. Turns out, the stranger is Hondo (John Wayne in the kind of performance for which celebrity impressionists exist), a man the isolated woman will come to know well over the next 80 or so minutes.
Page's Angie agrees to let Hondo use a horse that's not yet trained and, as Hondo "breaks" the animal, she assesses the man with a wary but avid delight.
In these early scenes, Page's Angie is constantly announcing the fact of her husband, who -- she repeatedly says -- will be back any minute, or any day, or any week now. Page's handling of Angie's conspicuous fibs is uncomplicated, allowing just the whiff of untruth to linger in the air as the character continues to do or say whatever else she needs to.
Yet, as Page's Angie becomes better acquainted with Hondo, she becomes ever more smitten with the confident, competent cowboy. Here, too, Page registers Angie's shift in emotional attention in the simplest terms. Angie's mounting interest in Hondo's is marked by Page's increasingly shy smiles, and these lingering, intent looks are some of the only evidence of this grown woman's amplifying crush on Wayne's Hondo.
Page's work in the role of Angie is rife with gestures of comparably uncomplicated clarity. Page's Angie likes Hondo, enjoys having him around, trusts him with her land and her son -- but she's also careful not to get her hopes up that the pleasure will last. After all, she is married and her husband will be back any whatever now...
At about midpoint in the film, as Hondo leaves Angie alone on the homestead, several questions emerge: will Angie and her son be safe amidst the Apache uprisings? will Hondo find out the truth about Angie's husband? and, perhaps most essentially (as this film is an utterly conventional romance, albeit with black-limbed "Injuns" as the main obstacle), will Hondo and Angie ever be able to get together?
The resolutions of these boilerplate dilemmas are, in and of themselves, less than interesting, which perhaps why I so admire Page's unpretentious yet complex rendering of Angie.
Page invests Angie with a subtle depth and dimension that is both haunting and humane. In her hands, Angie becomes an articulated human instead of merely a type. Note, for example, how Page's Angie registers the news of the circumstance of her husband's death. With a measured, contemplative turn, she says, "Ed wasn't the type to die well." Page holds this moment simply, allowing Angie a kind of sadness while also crafting a kind of mystery with her reaction, a mystery that permits the possibility of something unspoken mattering as much or more than that which is said. (Indeed, Page maneuvers the dimensions of subtext with such artful, uncomplicated ease in this role that it's hard to reconcile her work in Hondo with the self-consciously neurotic frippery that would mark most of her more celebrated performances.)
In this cardboard cutout of a character, Page delivers what is easily my favorite among her many accomplished performances. Solid, subtle and empathetic, Page's Angie elevates this generic puddle of a film with a humane integrity that is by turns surprising and surprisingly effective. And while this performance/nomination might legitimately be accused of "category fraud," it might just as well be a case of an actress sneaking from the edges to steal center stage.


To Dos Day

It's that time of the academented calendar so things is crazy. But making things worse is my "connectivity" at home has been experiencing all kinds of random interruptions. So, please, forgive me for my slacky-ness as I try to stay on top of things and also get caught up...

___ Item 2: PAGING RITTER.
This past Sunday's 1953 Supporting Actress Smackdown proved to be one of the more controversially divided ones yet, with Thelma Ritter's revered performance in Pickup on South Street being "passed over" -- much to the chagrin of many. But perhaps the most shocking bit for me was how much I liked the performance of Geraldine Page in, of all things, Hondo. I hope that I'll get both profiles up on Wednesday (tomorrow); so, please do check back. (When I'll get to Isabelle Huppert in 8 Women, however? That's anyone's guess.)

___ Item 3: SMUG OFF.
Have you ever been SMUGGED?

___ Item 4: GOT MILK?
Don't miss Stale Popcorn's comments on a film that, in some important ways, changed StinkyLulu's cinematic life: 1984's The Times of Harvey Milk. Glenn's reactions vividly remind me of my own when I first saw the film - oh, about 2 decades ago. Indeed, as he notes in his commentary, the more things change...

___ Item 5: SAVE THE DATE!
In last week's To Dos Day, invited y'all to offer suggestions for a supporting actress performance by an actress who passed in 1999 (the year of our next Smackdown) for which I might offer a profile as a fitting memorial. (I had identified at least 12 very interesting performers/performances that I was curious about.) However, your response -- both in comments and over email -- indicated an almost immediate consensus: MADELINE KAHN! And who can argue with that. So, I decided to call for Madeline Kahn Appreciation Day on Thursday, May 29, 2008. On that day -- which isn't her birthday or anything, just a regular day -- all bloggers are invited to offer their appreciations of the life and work of Madeline Kahn (1942-1999). I'll lead things off with a Supporting Actress Profile of a brilliant, non-nominated Madeline Kahn performances and will look forward to collating everyone else's links here. So, lovelies, save the date and spend the next month savoring the marvelousness that is Madeline Kahn.

___ Item 6: TALK GAY TO ME.
For reasons I won't go into right now, I'm thinking a lot about the idea of "gay film" - what is it? why is it? why do we need it? So, I'm wondering -- if you value independent queer cinema, what do you value about it? What are the criteria you use when approaching queer cinema that are subtly or drastically different than another sort of film? Spill your thoughts in comments...


Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1953

The Year is...

And the Smackdowners for the 26th Annual Academy Awards are...
ADAM WALDOWSKI of The Oscar Completist
KEN of Canadian Ken
SLAYTON of The Glorious Diatribe
yours truly, STINKYLULU.

1953'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.)

ADAMWhen you look as good as Grace Kelly, it never hurts to prove you're more than just a pretty face. You needn't necessarily deglamorize to be taken seriously, but when you're costarring in trash like Mogambo? A bad British accent and fueling the flames of melodrama shouldn't get awards buzz.
Kelly offers an occasionally electrifying vulnerability to the role of Linda, amplifying the character’s elemental struggle between instinct and etiquette. Yet, the performance remains strangely subservient, all defensive postures with few hints of what actually drives Linda to take the risks she does.
It’s apparent from the get-go that Kelly’s Linda isn’t the demure waif that she so desperately tries to portray – she’ll fall back onto the façade of femininity around men but she’ll snarl like a lioness if a rival tries to invade her territory. As for the performance? Typically sharp.
An aristocratic dish of strawberries and cream. Whose fleeting pins-and-needles-smile easily out-maneuvers Gardner’s silk-wrapped sledge-hammer. It’s easy scoring points as whore-with-a-heart-of-gold. But Kelly – as the prim young matron tentatively exploring an unexpected yen for the wild side – susses out richer rewards.
TOTAL: 11s

Geraldine Page in Hondo
SLAYTON Although the character Angie is completely defined by her relationship with Hondo, she emerges as the most fully inhabited portrayal in the film. Her initial sexual excitement with John Wayne’s rugged visitor is especially well delivered. A refreshingly human presence in a film full of genteel superficialities.
Minus the vocal embroidery of her later glory years, less glamorous than even Betsy Blair, the 50’s Plain-Jane poster girl, Page opts for a no-nonsense approach – spare, quietly admirable. It works. And she finds new life in the oldest line of all, "I love you", spunkily propelling it at Wayne like David with his slingshot.
Here is the quintessential leading role placed in supporting. Category placement aside, Page has such star quality and charm it's difficult to believe it's her screen debut. Standing up against western landscapes and John Wayne would be a challenge to some. For Page, it's just one of eight Oscar nominations.
Easily my favorite Page performance yet, exceeding both my expectations and those of the role. With unpretentious complexity, Page's performance as Angie invests the film with a depth and dimension that is both haunting and humane.
TOTAL: 15s

STINKYLULURambeau’s performance is mostly a mélange of familiar bits – “clever” line readings, "idiosyncratic" tics, and muggish eyerolls – all of which, in sum, seem less like humanizing detail and more like shoddy craftsmanship.
Majorie Rambeau, in only three scenes, hits her punchlines too hard. She's amusing and maneuvers through a fairly warm scene near the end. It's a fine, but brief performance. That's all.
The picture’s a club-footed semi-musical with Crawford in full Gorgon mode. Rambeau is Ma – blowzy, tippling family skeleton in the star’s closet. A few perfunctory nibbles at the script. Then one "big" scene played Ethel Bowerymore style. Peignoir, pearls and beer-bottle. But, alas, (as she says about the pretzels), not enough salt to make a cat thirsty.
The lovely Ms. Rambeau breaks the mildly offensive monotony of this picture with a brief but indelible characterization. In her two scenes, she offers some hilarious facial expressions and some excellent line readings – it’s almost (almost) enough to make us forget about the other hour and fifteen minutes.

Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity
SLAYTONReed’s performance is merely an egoless line reading: we’re not aware she has a backstory until one is revealed through dialogue. When not inane, she’s incongruous – in a ludicrous bit of speechmaking she talks of her “plan” as though it was one of world domination rather than one of self-sustained living.
Initially she projects a pragmatic, low-key sexiness – bruised cynicism, steely optimism, nicely mixed. But the picture (utterly bereft of period atmosphere) is a big hot-air balloon, its humorless banality and self-importance eventually swallowing up Reed’s performance. Her emotional outburst near the end seems her least genuine moment.
Crafting an empathetic portrait of a possibly despicable character, Reed maneuvers the cliché's of the role with savvy precision. Reed’s Alma is neither a victim of her circumstances, nor a hard-hearted hellion, but always already a bit of both. Adept, intelligent, necessary work - essential to this curious film.
ADAM Not only does Reed stand out among a brilliant ensemble--she has such chemistry with Clift and understanding of Alma that the film owes much of its greatness to her complex performance. With a film as great as From Here to Eternity, that speaks volumes. I could rave all day, but that final scene on the boat is enough for a win.
TOTAL: 11s

Thelma Ritter in Pickup on South Street
KEN The loveable stool-pigeon character doesn’t make much sense. Plus the Runyonesque dialogue she’s given tends to compromise Ritter’s natural style. Like Judge Judy forced to conduct cases in Runyonspeak. But she sheds the excess baggage for an impressive final scene – resigned, weary ("an old clock runnin’ down") and very affecting.
Ritter delivers delicious wit and sympathetic verve in the role of Moe, and the actress's signature grit is almost enough to distract from the schticky sentiment of the role. But, even with Ritter's alacrity (and the admiring devotion of Samuel Fuller's camera), Moe remains more a somewhat precious plot-device than an actual character.
ADAM Ritter, no stranger to scene-stealing, is little more than serviceable here. While she includes some clever mannerisms, Moe lacks the three-dimensional feel superior Ritter characters embody. Still, her final scene packs a punch.
Ms. Ritter is a drug, and I’m addicted: With this sublime performance, Ritter slowly husks away the character’s outward layers to reveal the scarred, weary human being behind the shield of pragmatism and pluckiness. A brilliant feat of acting – Funny, sad, wry, elegiac, beautiful.
TOTAL: 14s
Oscar chose...
Donna Reed
in From Here To Eternity

But the SMACKDOWN dissents and, by a single heart, "category-fraud" be darned, anoints...
Geraldine Page in Hondo
Best Supporting Actress of 1953!

BUT, lovely reader, what do YOU think?
Please share your thoughts in comments.


"Dime Size Opening That Stretches Wide" (Homo Heritage Fridays)

The International Magazine of Entertainment and Eros
May 1978 ~ page 67
For details, click the image; then click again to magnify


ANNOUNCING: Madeline Kahn Appreciation Day - May 29, 2008

Appropos of not much more than a generalized love of all things Madeline Kahn, StinkyLulu's pleased to announce the upcoming "Madeline Kahn Appreciation Day" on Thursday, May 29, 2008. On that day -- which isn't her birthday or anything, just a regular day -- all bloggers are invited to offer their appreciations of the life and work of Madeline Kahn (1942-1999). I'll lead things off with a Supporting Actress Profile of one or another of Ms. Kahn's brilliant, non-nominated performances and will look forward to collating everyone else's links here. So, lovelies, save the date and spend the next month savoring the marvelousness that is Madeline Kahn.


To Dos Day

One of my all-time favorite blog features was a little thing called "Mug Shot Monday" - a curiously fascinating Monday morning confabulation of mug shot marvels, culled from the weekend arrest reports from somewhere in the northern rockies. The selections ran the gamut from "hummanahummana" to "oh the humanity" and were, quite simply, routinely thrilling. I've pined for "Mug Shot Mondays" in the months (years?) since the fellow retired his blog, so imagine my delighted surprise to discover that both he and Mug Shot Mondays are back, making my Mondays better than ever.

___ Item 2: OVERLOOKED in 1953.
As the days flit past, I must admit that I will likely be unable to develop a new "overlooked" profile for 1953. (Though, fear not, I remain committed to doing the "Born In" profile that y'all selected.) So, in honor of the overlooked, I direct your attention to a profile I developed some time ago for a most excellent 1953 performance: Carolyn Jones in The House of Wax.

StinkyLulu was pleased to adventure beyond the singular purview of supporting actressness by screening Kathryn Bigelow's fascinating film Near Dark (1987) and participating in Final Girl's Film Club for the month of April. Even if you're not a horror fan, it's a great film and a fun event. Be sure to check out the contributions over at Final Girl.

Yes, I'll keep padding "To Dos Day" with this announcement until I have a second to comb through the contributions thus far. So, yes, I'm still contemplating a miniature Supporting Actresses version Nathaniel's 2nd annual Actress Psychic Contest. If you would like to play Supporting Actress prognosticator, please do consider joining up. Nathaniel's even posted his April Fool's predictions for the category to help y'all out. I'll run a real contest if I get 25+ folks (we're barely into double digits now) interested in playing. To indicate your interest, shoot me a quick email and tell me your top 6 picks for Best Supporting Actress 2008, with a bonus/tie-breaker of your most likely Razzie nominee. (For those of you who have already submitted, thanks & look for some followup in the next weeks.)

___ Item 5: SMACKDOWN - 1953!
Don't forget to click back this Sunday for 1953's Smackdown, featuring Whip Smart, Ken, Adam and possibly one other.

___ Item 6: DIED IN 1999?
For May, StinkyLulu & The Smackdowners will be devoting their attention to 1999. Which presents something of an conundrum for the new "Born In" feature... I have identified a handful of moppets (Elle Peterson, Brooklyn Proulx, Hope Fogle, Alessandra Daniele and China Anderson) with potentially eligible performances (respectively -- North Country, ...Coward Robert Ford, The Kingdom, The Hottie and the Nottie, and the ouevre of Tyler Perry). But Criticlasm raises an interesting alternative: instead of doing a "Born In" profile for more contemporary years, perhaps rounding the circle of life with a "Died In" profile? So, lovely reader, which of your favorite supporting actresses shuffled off this mortal coil in 1999? And which performance would you recommend as a fitting memorial? Please do share your suggestions in comments.

Have at it, lovelies!


5 Stinky Thoughts on Near Dark (1987) - Final Girl's Film Club

Forgive my tardiness as StinkyLulu offers the following "5 Stinky Thoughts" as my contribution to the monthly FILM CLUB instigated by Final Girl.

click image to be routed to video

Thought #1: Near Missing Near Dark.
Not sure how it happened but,
somehow, despite a near miss or two, I had totally missed Near Dark -- 'til now. So, for Film Club, I arrived to Kathryn Bigelow's film as a complete neophyte, knowing little about it beyond two superficial details. One: people seem to treasure this indie horror flick. Two: it features what is possibly Bill Paxton's most revered performance. But I truly expected Near Dark to be a smartish splatter-tacular featuring hip vampires as outsider anti-heroes. I also anticipated there to be a "bad blood" riff, a nightmare -- circa 1987 -- of the deadly consequences of exchanging blood products. I certainly did not expect a genre-defying existential romance featuring a cowboy with pronounced vampiric tendencies and a heightened ethical sense. Indeed, Near Dark defied my every expectation at nearly every turn. Thanks, Final Girl, for the prompt to screen this smart, scary, sensitive tale -- 'tis an unusually haunting (and hilarious) film.

Thought #2: The Family That Feeds Together.
Vampire stories are so well suited to AIDS allegories -- the deadly desires, the survivor's guilt, the blood products -- that I tend to casually disregard the possibilities of vampires as addicts. (I think my preferred monsters for addiction narratives are probably werewolves.) Yet, even as Near Dark savvily dodges any AIDS implications in this mid1980s riff on the vampire story, it subtly explores the dimension of another cultural crisis circa 1987: active addiction as a family disease. Perhaps it's hard to recall now but it's worth noting that 'twas not until crack began ravaging certain communities in the mid- to later 1980s that the notion of a family of addicts started circulating in the popular consciousness. (Previous notions of addiction as a family disease had a single addict threatening the health and security of the nuclear family.) The idea of relatives "turning" each other onto a shared drug of choice was comparatively new in 1987, a narrative trope reflecting something that happened banally with alcohol from forever, stealthily with heroin in the 1970s, with crack more rapidly and more visibly in the 1980s, and most extensively with meth in the 1990s and the 2000s. But this intergenerational vision of a mother, pre-teen and grandfather all using the same drug at the same time became a particular, new vision of horror in this period and Near Dark explicates it with an evocative ambiguity that remains compelling.

Thought #3: Who Knew Bill Paxton Could Be So F'n Brilliant?

As the big bad Severen, Bill Paxton delivers what is certainly one of his most memorable and accomplished performances. Paxton approaches Severen as a person who just happens to be a supernatural monster, and this simple choice enriches the film in delightful and terrifying ways, while also elevating the character's stock horror bits with poignant hilarity. Paxton's Severen is all unfettered id (albeit the id of a mucho macho man who happens to drink blood with plans to live forever). But rather than tapping into Severen's rage or angst or arrogance, Paxton taps into the character's glee, recalibrating Severen as a creature who wants to party all the time, every night, for all eternity -- and beware to any who kill his buzz. This is, I suspect, what makes the scene in the biker bar so thrilling. Paxton could have played it all predatory and terrorizing, but instead he plays it as an incredibly tasteless prank, a "let's play with our food before we eat it" kind of stunt. Further, Paxton plays the scene as if he's taking his little brother to a cathouse. For Severen it becomes an opportunity to have a good time showing off a little while also initiating his young ward into this new mode of manhood. The result is a strangely charged scene of homosocial preening and masculine autoerotics. Yes, it's a gruesome terrifying scene, but one made curiously and complexly thrilling by Paxton's excellent work.

Thought #4: Behold the Dewy Doofus.
Among actors of his generation, Adrian Pasdar must have one of the most distinctive heads. The pronounced brow, the sleepily deep set eyes, the supple lips, the cartoonish jaw -- Pasdar is both immediately recognizable yet curiously generic, both sooo 1987 and timelessly ideal for morally ambiguous characters. Here, Pasdar's tasked with playing a zen romantic hero, a sensitive new age family guy capable of kicking ass but who's defined by his adamant refusal to become a killer. Pasdar possesses a dewy doofiness that permits the actor to participate effectively in what emerges as one of the film's most interesting subversions (the reversal of the date rape scenario). Pasdar maintains our empathy even when, all at once, he's both the aggressor and the victim. In just such a way, Pasdar conveys all the character's essential paradoxes: he's the horndog with a heart of gold; he's the kid who's neither especially smart nor particularly dim but who nonetheless somehow figures his own way out of an eternal conundrum; and, most essentially, he's the tender-hearted vampire. The role draws well upon Adrian Pasdar's peculiar gifts and the actor's actually fairly excellent in the part (and pretty dreamy besides).

Thought #5: Detox for the Undead.
One of the things that remains fascinating about this film to me is that, aside from its use of unspecified vampirism as an overt metaphor for an unspecified addiction, Near Dark also stands as a recovery narrative: a narrative depicting one addict's ability to "recover" from his addiction and (most especially) spread the possibility of such healing to others similarly afflicted. The film's climactic transfusion sequences are essentially detox scenes and, when Caleb brings the hope of a cure to his beloved Mae, it's like an AA story -- one addict helping another to find a new way to a new life without their drug of choice. There're no rehabs or 12steps in Near Dark but the film does stand out as a fascinating riff on the cinematic genre of addiction/rehab narratives, whether intentionally or not, with Caleb standing as proof that there is a way out of the (near) darkness.

So, lovely reader, do you have your own Near Dark experiences?