Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1966

The Year is...

And the Smackdowners for the 39th Annual Academy Awards are...
BRAD of Criticlasm & Oh, Well, Just This Once...
KEITH of In Which Our Hero
MATT of MattLand888
NICK of Nick's Flick Picks
yours truly, STINKYLULU.

1966'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.)

MATT Initially, Sandy Dennis overdoes her role but reaps major rewards once Honey gets hold of the brandy. Alternately plunging into emotional depths and broad comedy--both with remarkable spontaneity--Dennis suggests a drunken, goofy Ophelia, a hapless, tragicomic pawn in an explosive power match.
In Honey, Dennis’s Method tic-ishness combines with her insectlike appearance to create extraordinary glimpses of anxious, despairing, elemental vulnerability. It’s feral, terrifying work…and, for me, the most enduring performance in this legendary film..
BRAD Certainly the most interesting of the nominated roles. The strength of her performance comes from not knowing how much she really knows. It's that secret that keeps me interested in the character. She's somewhat in her own world, but aware to all of the emotional subtleties around her.
Indelible, however enervating or occasionally self-indulgent. Dennis keeps Burton and Taylor from gobbling the movie, and she builds the bridge this piece sorely needs between wildest affectation and heartbreaking vulnerability. Long before the finale, we comprehend through her that these ideas can converge, intellectually and emotionally.
KEITH A spectacular performance, by far the pick of this month's crop. Honey is smarter than anyone realizes, but tragically incapable (as who wouldn't be?) of surviving George and Martha's cruelty and depravity. Brilliant comic relief and heartbreaking dramatic moments – Dennis does it all.
BROOKE There is no Oscar winner that treads quite that fine line between madness and genius quite like Sandy Dennis' turn as Honey. Nothing seems out of place with her interpretation of Honey and it becomes a tragic performance that blooms as the film continues; in my mind, Dennis is the peak that no winner before or after has ever reached.
TOTAL: 28s

Wendy Hiller in A Man for All Seasons
BROOKE This film exists to bow down before the Almighty Holy Flawless Thomas More; not his wife Alice. Hiller is not allowed to deploy any of her (considerable) talent in this role and ends up giving a non-performance because she has nothing to work with. A tag-along nomination is the only explanation.
MATT Hiller plays every element allotted the slivery part, but director Zinnemann’s restraint deprives her of audience empathy, and she plays the role crustier than necessary: why would the refined statesman Thomas More have married this hedgehog?
STINKYLULU Hiller’s irascible practicality provides an often worthy counter to Scofield’s stoic idealism. But something in Hiller’s bearing blunts the character’s earthy immediacy, especially as a Lady on the verge of being demoted to being another Lady’s maid. (Would that Hiller could have played Cromwell, though. Just imagine….)
BRAD Workmanlike stagey performance, like most of the film. She does all that can be done in a whimple, and I imagine that she was nominated for the last scene on the stairs. Solid perf, but Susannah York had more to do, and I was a little more interested in her.
NICK A nice surprise, because I’d seen it before and dismissed it. As always, she looks like she drank vinegar for breakfast, but she mixes an evident, unsentimental love for Thomas with an impatient, wifely skepticism that he’s making a show of himself without admitting it. Thank God someone cuts him down to human size, if often only in silence.
KEITH A solid piece of work, capturing Alice More's devotion to her husband, her inability to understand his motivation, and her anger at his intractable nature. But this is a movie filled with very fine acting, and against that backdrop, it's hard for merely solid work to make a strong impression.
TOTAL: 15s

KEITH LaGarde's phonetic performance is a dehumanizing stunt, turning her into a cross between a lifesized prop and a trained parrot. She survives with more dignity than you'd expect, but the stunt leaves no room for spontaneity or creativity. LaGarde gets the lowest score allowed, not because it's bad acting, but because it isn't really acting at all..
NICK Occasionally inert, plowing through space and through phonemes alike. Not an intricate artist. But she can be sly and very affecting, and she gets the audience roundly rooting for her incestuous marriage: no mean feat..
MATT Jocelyne LaGarde flip-flops amusingly between huggy benevolence and queenly ire. But, as a non-native English speaker, this likable nonprofessional suffers from Simone Signoret-itis: her facial expressions and body language don’t correspond to her lines, and LaGarde offers only flashes of spontaneity and depth.
BROOKE A very easy performance to like and get carried away with, but very hard to admire or get behind critically. LaGarde seems to know what to do in front of the camera and how to speak and move fluidly, but the cracks show in her characterization and it becomes easy to tell that this is not a professional job. Good for what it is, though, with some sparkling moments.
STINKYLULU A perplexing nomination that is, nonetheless, the most affecting performance in this vastly overblown film. Although her line readings aren't especially nuanced, LaGarde delivers a vivid consistent characterization – amplified by occasional flashes of startling emotional depth – of one leader’s sincere attempt to embody deeply contradictory ideals.
BRAD I love this performance. I don't know if she's a great actress, but she's the only reason to watch this movie. Who knows if she would've been nominated in a better movie, but in this she's warm, childlike, maternal, wise, and the only reason to see this movie at all. I wouldn't give her an Oscar, but I'm glad she's on film.

TOTAL: 15s

Vivien Merchant in Alfie
BRAD I can't decide if this is a one-note performance, or the role is written to be extremely sad. The most egregious example of the casual destruction of Alfie's world view, she gives a strong performance, though telegraphing pathos a little too much for me. I think I ended up interested in Shelly Winter's perf in some ways more.
MATT The role’s potentially touching: a plain Jane blossoming under a Casanova’s attention, with tragic results. But Merchant isn’t allowed enough close-ups to hold our attention. Her quiet dignity peeps through, and her crying scene is effective, but hers is a wan, numb nomination.
NICK Has two huge, almost unfair advantages: the script insists that we Learn Something Poignant from her character, and anyone would look great next to Julia Foster or Shelley Winters. Still, her economy of gesture is admirable, and her various fragilities are all moving. I love her contemptuous look when Alfie disobeys her and snoops where he shouldn’t.
STINKYLULU Merchant’s wise to play against the film’s Caine-esque style of glib directness, opting for a more oblique approach that aptly conveys the human intensity of Lily’s broken spirit and depressed ambivalence. But, in the morality play Alfie, the character of Lily might as well be named “Human Consequence,” and the film does little to showcase Merchant as anything more than a plot device.
KEITH Merchant is the victim of a script that cares no more for its women than Alfie himself does. She gets the movie's juiciest storyline, though, and has one indelible moment when she caresses a teddy bear as if it were her aborted child. It's a chilling, heartbreaking moment, and the only time that any of Alfie's women feels like a real person.
BROOKE Merchant is astonishing as the most tragic, and interesting, of Alfie's girls. She's playing Lily to a whole other level, some of the other actresses tend to sway towards basic caricatures, but Merchant is just as vivid and detailed in her choices that she becomes as real as the titular character. A great performance where a non-starter could've been.
TOTAL: 17s

NICK Absolutely not. Purchases her character from the same Big & Tall Store for suffocating clich├ęs (Kooky Harridans on Aisle 9!) where she previously purchased her Repressed Spinster for Summer and Smoke. Striking but arrogant, and quickly unbearable.
STINKYLULU Page invests depth and dimension to a shallow, non-dimensional role. Yet by cloaking her Margery in a jittery caul of defensive self-obsession, Page – perhaps inadvertently – quashes the character’s comic potential, making her presence in the farcical final throwdown utterly incongruous. Unpleasant, unfunny, unfortunate.
BRAD Outlandish, over-the-top farcical performance. A spoof of some roles she's known for – high-strung control freaks. Not funny, sadly, just really big. Chain-smoking – wha? Rover – wha? She's game and plays it to the hilt, but it just doesn't work.
KEITH Handed a stock character – the overbearing, possessive harpy/mother – Page gives a stock performance. She is shrill, unpleasant, and loud, which makes her right at home in this movie. It's so bland and routine a performance that I found myself forgetting it even as it was happening.
BROOKE Page is a talented actress, if perhaps over-technical, and seems incredibly committed to her character. It's a pity that whatever character she is committed to isn't in this movie, and she ends up giving a performance that works against what Coppola is giving her. A different film would have boded well, but this is just a mish-mash of poor choices and even misdirection.
Playing the title character’s Oedipal nag of a mother, Page shrewdly operates on her own (amusingly) hammy wavelength, rather than attuning herself to the film’s awkward Mod whimsy. Too bad Coppola throws her away in the climactic chase sequence.
TOTAL: 10s

Oscar chose...
Sandy Dennis
in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Remarkably, I was unable to locate an image of Sandy Dennis holding her trophy.
The closest thing I could find was the above image --
a fan snapshot of Sandy's goldenboy (image source)

the SMACKDOWN emphatically concurs...
Best Supporting Actress of 1966!

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


Slayton said...

I didn't get my contributions in on time - our router broke the day these were due. In any case, here's my takes on the performances:

Sandy Dennis in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - 5 Stars
Dennis toys with the script like a cat with a mouse, hinting at a potential aptitude for manipulation greater on equal with that of George and Martha. Shifting between “aggressor” and “victim” almost imperceptibly, she’s more than a match for her co-stars’ hyperbolic cruelties.

Wendy Hiller in A Man for All Seasons - 1 Star
Hiller is given very little material by the script, but she doesn’t even try to make something interesting of her obnoxiously shallow role. Apart from a strong last scene, this performance is stagy bordering on stilted and, on the whole, rather dimly conceived.

Jocelyn LaGarde in Hawaii - 2 Stars
The phonetically-trained LaGarde brings impressive gravitas and some unexpected flashes of potent emotion to the odd role of Malama – a refreshing, earthy force in stark contrast to her rather stiff, mannered co-stars. Regardless of her innate charisma, the unabashed corn of the part and unengaging direction significantly dull her glow.

Vivien Merchant in Alfie - 4 Stars
A fascinating beauty, Merchant imbues every fleeting glance and mysterious smile with fathoms of meaning. She catches the eye even as more talkative cast members gab on around her; I wouldn’t have minded seeing her plight spun off into another movie.

Geraldine Page in You’re a Big Boy Now - 1 Star
Ms. Page is given a specific role to play – the neurotic, overprotective mother – but she settles for affecting broad comedy without poise or focus. It’s fussy, mannered, prosaic and utterly indistinguishable from any number of performances given in sixth grade drama classes.

If I had met the deadlines, the scores would be brought up to:
33 for Sandy
16 for Wendy
17 for Jocelyn
21 for Vivien
11 for Geraldine

Alex in Movieland said...

such an easy win for Sandy Dennis.
I'm curious why the Golden Globe people didn't agree.

Keith said...

Wow, that really was a smackdown!

It seemed like a remarkably mediocre field (Dennis aside). Were these really the best that '66 had to offer? What actresses were unfairly overlooked that year?

Ortzi said...

I have to say I like Hiller over Dennis. Never quite understood why Merchant was nominated among all the women in Alfie.

Nice smackdown.

Matt said...

I think Oscar overlooked Joan Hackett's performance in "The Group." Even though she was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Actress, the role really feels like a supporting one, and I think she stands head and shoulders above most of the 1966 nominees.

CanadianKen said...

I'm totally onboard with the Smackdown's choice of Sandy Dennis. The panel was much harder on Wendy Hiller, though, than I'd have been. Much of MAN FOR ALL SEASONS was just a shrug for me - but I found watching Hiller rewarding throughout. And in her final scene I'd say she was pretty magnificent. It's been 40-plus years since I saw YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW. So I really can't rate Geraldine Page's work in it - except to say that I liked the performance then. Dennis and Hiller would definitely be among my five nominees. Along with Kate Reid in THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED and Lila Kedrova who single-handedly rescued TORN CURTAIN - at least for the few minutes she was onscreen - from the terminal dreariness of its two leads.