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.


RBurton said...

Yesss. I love when leading roles win supporting Oscars. Judge me if you will, I would totally give 1952's Supporting Actor to Richard Burton.

Unfortunately for Page, she had to wait until eight nominations later to win.

Too bad there wasn't more love for Donna Reed.

StinkyLulu said...

I know, I know... But I thought Kelly might as well have been considered lead as well. (And it's totally my 5-heart that tips it to Page, taking her out of what might have been a tie with Ritter.)

Ken's got a great post about overlooked in 1953...

StinkyLulu said...

And because I haven't finished my Hondo post, folks might not be entirely aware that I am no fan of Geraldine Page. Indeed, I've seen most of her nominated performances and this might just be the only one I think deserving...

RBurton said...

I kind of love her in Summer and Smoke and Hondo, but other than that I could live without her. You're a Big Boy Now and Peter 'n' Tillie need to be more widely available though because I still have those left. Have you seen Summer and Smoke?

whip-smart said...

I had a lot of fun for this, my first Smackdown, even if the films were an odd bunch. "Pickup on South Street" was easily my favorite - it was simply a cut above. I liked "Mogambo" for its sheer kitsch. "Torch Song" was occasionally hilarious, even if I felt incredibly uncomfortable laughing at it. "Hondo" was an inoffensive little film of no consequence, and I despised a lot of "From Here to Eternity" - most of all the cardboard cut-outs that were the female characters (although the way that Kerr and Reed played them hardly helped matters).

Donna Reed was just completely misguided in the choices she took regarding the character... she was so out of depth in her scenes with Montgomery Clift, she was like a scab on the screen that I just wanted to pick off.

Geraldine Page was striking but the film was such a slog... still, it was that unfortunately truncated reflection-by-moonlight scene that got me.

Grace Kelly was just unlikeable compared to Ava Gardner, in my opinion. I totally dug the latter's performance - she maneuvered around the script's idea of her as something of a court jester with impressive ease and humor.

I'm actually surprised that Ritter didn't win the Smackdown - easily one of the most interesting performances I've seen in the category and definitely one of the most CONTEMPORARY pre-1960. Widmark and Peters, while entertaining, could not even hope of equaling Thelma's sad magic. Her last scene was chilling.

Omfg, I hope we can do 1969 sometime this year - I managed to net a rare VHS copy of 'Last Summer' off eBay, so I'm totally prepared (I haven't seen it yet, though...).

John T said...

My two favorite films from this year, Roman Holiday and Shane, actually have very little actressing on the edges, so I don't have as much of a stake in this year-I am going to have to investigate (I'm looking most forward to Ritter, but the love for Page has me interested in Hondo).

Nick Davis said...

I haven't seen Hondo (or Mogambo, for that matter), but I'm still astonished that Ritter didn't win this ... just because hers is one of my favorite-ever performances in this category, and part of why Pickup is one of my favorite films its decade. Oh, well: same thing happened to Celeste Holm when y'all covered 1950. I always pass during the wrong months, when my heroes need my love!

CanadianKen said...

Plenty of diverse reactions here - even with a smallish Smackdown panel.
Looks as if I'd have given it to Kelly
Lulu to Page
Slayton to Ritter
and Adam to Reed

Leaving Rambeau to console herself with her flat beer and stale pretzels.

I enjoyed taking part. This particular Smacksown catapulted me into a multi-post wallow in 1953.


I may stay there.

JS said...

I have this sinking feeling that the Smackdown will treat Thelma Ritter the same way the Academy treated her.......

CanadianKen said...

Hey, js, I think you're right. She's already been edged out in three Smackdowns. And I don't really see a panel of Smackdowners being that blown away by her affable but unexceptional work in either "With a Song in My Heart" or "Pillow Talk". Leaving 1951 ("The Mating Season") as her best shot. But there she'll be going head to head with Kim Hunter's Stella. So who knows?

StinkyLulu said...

NICK: It's a conspiracy, you know.

JS: As Ken once noted, one of the greater disservices the Academy did to Thelma Ritter was to leave much of her best work unnominated.

JS said...

Agreed Ken. Jean Hagen, Shelley Winters, Kim Hunter? Thelma's movies or celebrity status can't compete with theirs for those years.

Dame James Henry said...

I just caught Hondo and Torch Song and I found both Page and Rambeau complete wastes as nominees. Page pretty much stood there, reading lines, being constantly overridden by John Wayne hamming it up more than I've ever seen. There was no connection, it seems, to the character and the performance suffers. I still can't quite believe Rambeau was nominated for that crap role and performance. She has no character arc and her mannerisms are completely transparent.

StinkyLulu said...

Obviously, I absolutely disagree about Page. From my perspective, it's an intelligent, measured performance. However, I completely concur on Rambeau - see her do the same schtick with more humanity in Primrose Path.

whip-smart said...

In retrospect, I would give Kelly two stars, Page four, and Rambeau three. I am still dumbstruck by Reed's cruddiness, and Ritter is still the best for me by far.