Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1945

The Year is...

And the Smackdowners for the 18th Annual Academy Awards are...

BRAD of Criticlasm & Oh, Well, Just This Once...
KEN of Canadian Ken
of She Blogged by Night
yours truly, STINKYLULU.

1945'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 Nobody can deliver a zinger like Eve Arden can, but even this High Priestess of Wisecrack can’t do much with the (mostly) dim quips that come her way, and she’s too brittle (and inconsequential) here to garner much audience empathy.
The role isn't much and the nomination might be an overreach but Arden's empathy in the role of Ida goes far to amplify the humanity of the actress’s signature persona. A “hints of greatness” performance that’s also an essential part of this nearly perfect film.
That most endearing of side-line cynics does her thing here – drolly taking the wind out of other people’s sails. But she’s been worthier of Academy acknowledgment elsewhere i.e. the delightful "My Dream is Yours", where – for once – her dialogue’s almost as good as she is.
Not a showy role, but I'm giving her three hearts just because I love her so much. At her wise-cracking best, you want to see more of her, and she's a welcome break from the seriousness of the proceedings. Don't get the nom, but why question a classic?
An actress as solid and reliable as the characters she plays, no one else could have been Ida. More than just the person the audience identifies with, her performance reveals a multi-layered character that adds depth to the entire film.
TOTAL: 15s

Ann Blyth in Mildred Pierce
BRAD What it lacks in subtlety it makes up in obviousness, which is challenging in a manipulative character who relies on people liking her and doing things for her. Not awful by any means, but she transmits bad girl so blatantly that it almost makes you lose sympathy for Crawford's Mildred because she's so blind.
Blyth is a hoot to watch, an elaborately ornamented bauble of a performance with no depth to its shallowness. But the performance lacks reasoning, an internal integrity or motive for the character’s essential awfulness. A captivating but negligible concoction.
Someone I knew once described Ann Blyth’s prettiness as screwed on a little too tight. Edging into scariness. Which makes her a good physical choice for Veda. The performance – mostly just okay. But she brings a bristling rattle-snake energy to a couple of her confrontation scenes. And I like her coolly sociopathic delivery of "Sorry for the trouble mother … but you know how I am."
Ann Blyth’s monstrously spoiled Veda is a formidable foil for Joan Crawford’s sacrificial Mildred, and her villainy satisfies the movie’s noir-ish requirements. Convincingly, deliciously mean, yet emotionally varied, Blyth gives a very good performance of a very bad seed.
Absolute perfection as the pouty, spoiled daughter. Playing the dangerous dame, she delivers Veda's vicious barbs with pinpoint accuracy, unintentionally revealing herself as being more low-class than the so-called common people she scorns.
TOTAL: 17s

STACIA How can a terrific actress like Lansbury turn in such a bland, lifeless performance? She is pure, mannequin faced, unblinking boredom personified, a beautiful cardboard cutout who looks good in period dress and nothing more. A sadly disappointing outing for her.
Though she’s almost the only competent performer of Dorian’s lackluster cast, the usually brilliant Lansbury seems wrong for her role. Her resources seem limited when she conveys sweet naïveté; she comes across as monotonous and a trifle sluggish. Not bad, but disappointing.
Lansbury’s sensitivity and talent can’t quite burst the cocoon of slumbrously stylized formality imposed by micro-managing director Lewin. To suggest period? Portentousness? Artistic weight? Sybil’s transfixed state? Whatever. As for the picture, lots of MGM window-dressing, expensively overlit and genteel. Only Greer Garson is missing.
Lansbury is memorably effective, if not great, as the tragically doomed Sibyl Vane; the kindness and warmth of her presence infuses the entire film with a necessary humanity it might otherwise lack.
A striking performance in a character that haunts the movie. It's a hard role to avoid milquetoast, and she does. The singing scenes are beautiful and affecting, which makes the love Dorian has for her believable, even more challenging given his post-like qualities.
TOTAL: 13s

STINKYLULU Although Lorring provides an occasionally diverting goose of energy to this generally turgid tale, her garbled accent and musical comedy character stylings muddy the potential fun of this beastly little character.
With her pedestrian and corny performance, Lorring made this already tedious movie look like a Midwestern high school play. I'm simply stumped as to why the Academy would even give Lorring a nod for this embarrassing display.
Lorring pulls out a couple of nice effects during the seduction scene. And the singing voice is lovely – though I doubt it's hers. But mainly the performance is just serviceable in a nuance-free kind of way. Too bad Lansbury couldn’t have played this part. She’d have aced it – and then some.
Not subtle by any means, but the whole piece is quite broad. She definitely sparks up the screen when she's on, if only in sheer annoyance. I would've loved some nuance, which could've made the role great--that waited until the very last moment, sadly.
As the lazy, spiteful teenager, Joan Lorring telegraphs her slyness, but does specific work by executing character shifts skillfully, and contributes a fascinating, almost grotesque, presence in her final scene. A surprising, smart performance.
TOTAL: 10s

STACIA Suitable as the wish-fulfillment mother whose only purpose is to make the impossible happen, but unable to satisfactorily flesh out the character. Revere has but one facial expression and two tones of voice, limiting her range and her impact.
This role could’ve been a yawner—the all-knowing matriarch, brimming with wisdom. But with remarkable simplicity, honesty, conviction, and magnetism, Anne Revere side-steps the clichés and potential dullness inherent in the role and makes us respond to the character’s goodness. This superlative performance is my pick for the winner.
Can she be my mother? I loved this performance. A lot. She avoids so many pitfalls it's like an Olympic sport, say, channel swimming. Instead of being supercilious, cold, self-righteous, and priggish, she comes across as warm, affectionate, wise, sensible and real. I know she doesn't exist, but you really want her to
If there were a Mt. Rushmore for character actresses, Anne Revere’s face would be an essential component. Somehow projecting the impassivity of an Easter Island statue while plumbing depths of wisdom, endurance, feeling. Copland could’ve written a symphony for her. Luckily "National Velvet" preserves a generous sampling of her unique art.
With three foundational choices – to neither express nor withhold; to maintain a subtle humor throughout; and to deliver each line in basically the same registerRevere transformed an impossible cliché into a marvel of quiet transcendence. What actressing at the edges is all about.

Oscar chose...
Anne Revere
in National Velvet
And the SMACKDOWN must agree...
Best Supporting Actress of 1945!

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


Cal said...

Interesting. Because of the nature of National Velvet and the reputation of Anne Revere I wouldn't have necessarily thought that this performance was a must-watch.

I've only seen the Mildred Pierce ladies and I have to say that I really liked Ann Blyth's performance. Crawford rules all but Blyth made Veda's contempt towards her own upbringing harsh and effectively. It did the film a world of good.

Stacia said...

Well heck, I didn't think my opinions would differ so much from everyone else's! I'm glad to see that Matt also thought Lansbury's performance was disappointing, because I just kept wondering if my dislike for the movie (and Hurd "Cardboard Cutout" Hatfield) was coloring my perception of Lansbury more than it should have.

I agree with Cal, Blyth's performance in "Mildred Pierce" was absolutely essential to the entire feel of the film. That's one of the things I love about the movie, every character is a separate, necessary entity, each one a building block that, if removed, would cause the whole contraption to tumble. My only wish is that we knew more about Veda's early life so we could determine why she turned out this way, but that's just greed on my part.

StinkyLulu said...

I, too, wondered about the origin of Veda's awfulness. But I do think Blyth is a good mini-me, presence-wise, to parry with the likes of Crawford.

Cal: What's "the reputation of Anne Revere" that you mention? I'm not sure I know that story...

Stacia: You didn't differ from everyone. (You and I align neatly on Joan Lorring.) And I'm glad we had at least one near-naysayer on Revere.

CanadianKen said...

Glad to see I've backed the winning ticket with Anne Revere. Just goes to show you never know where you'll find a great performance. In a spun-suger Metro confection like NATIONAL VELVET? Who'da thunk it? Actually THE CORN IS GREEN is the only one of these movies that I really like. And I see I'm definitely NOT in the majority on that one. Most everyone else here seems inclined to piss on it royally. For me, Lorring's contribution is pretty weak. But I like everything else about the picture. Don't know why I've never been able to get on board with the generation after generation love for MILDRED PIERCE. That script just never comes to life for me. In its favour, I'd say the Oscar Crawford won for it seems to have given her the confidence to deliver the performance of her life in the following year's HUMORESQUE. Now there's a picture I can get swept up in! Revere would be the only one of the five I'd include in my own 1945 nominees. Those would be:

"The Fallen Angel"
"Lost Weekend"
"Confidential Agent"
"The Corn is Green"
"National Velvet"

A formidable roster. But i'd still give Revere the win.

Vanwall said...

Revere always seemed like a proto-Ingmar Bergman character, she had an unearthly stillness to her portrayals like I see in a lot of Bergman women. Not my cuppa for a statuette that year.

I think Blyth's work was more vital to the movie she was in, and nobody did a better job of emptying a .38 revolver and then kept on pulling the trigger - I don't know where she got that face so full of psychosis in that scene, but still waters run deep, so there must've been something nasty running around in that pretty head of hers. The scene where she calmly and maliciously makes sure Mildred sees the waitress uniform is also pretty good work, and her easy manipulation of the little sister is chilling.

I really liked Arden in MP, and she's my second choice for gold here. Lansbury and Lorring.... Lorring and Lansburg...Lorburg and Lansing....whatever, they were nondescript performances, really - missed the year before for better work, Lansbury must've saved all this up for Mom Iselin, but poor Joanie, she simply vanished into the "vast wasteland", the burial ground of a lot of once-promising supporting players.

I heart the heartless Blyth for that years Osca.

Stacia said...

Cal, with Revere's reputation were you referring to the blacklisting incident during the McCarthy years?

Cal said...

Nothing that severe. Haha.

I just mean that she's a very trusted, nominatable actress (3 supporting nominations in the forties), plus the family feel-good nature of the film made me consider whether this was a bit of a token nomination. It seems not.

Matt said...

Interesting Smackdown. It's surprising to me that my favorite performers on this particular roster gave the most disappointing performances. I'm a huge fan of both Arden and Lansbury, but I was under-whelmed by their performances here. I'm glad to see that Anne Revere won, although I'm also partial to Ann Blyth's performance. I'm friends with Blyth's great-niece, who is also an actress. (We performed in "Noises Off" together.) I'm going to send her the link; maybe she'll pass it on to Ann!

Stacia: You're right. Hurd Hatfield was unbelievably wooden!

Criticlasm said...

I think the challenge with Blyth is that the role is somewhat of an Iago. There were just a lot of asides to the camera (I"m thinking of one where Mildred is clutching her to her breast while Vida is saying something like "of course I love you, Mother" but her face is pure melodrama villian) that make her evil so obvious you wonder how Mildred can be duped. Some of the blindness is explained by her daughter's death ("I'll never forget her" is one of the most ridiculous moments in the movie elided over), but some of it just isn't. Blyth's perf works beautifully for the pic, but I was just wondering if there was room for more nuance. Perhaps there wasn't in the film as written.

Either way, the brilliant, brilliant Carol Burnett parody is on youtube: