Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1959

The Year is...

And the Smackdowners for the 32nd Annual Academy Awards are...
ALEX of Alex in Movieland/My Next Oscar Film
of Criticlasm/Oh, Well, Just This Once...
KEN of Canadian Ken On...
ORTZI of Enough Already, Newland!
The Silver Screening Room
yours truly, STINKYLULU.

And for your viewing pleasure, Smackdowner Alex has compiled
this extended homage honoring each of the nominated performances...

click image to be routed to video

1959'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.)

KENI’ve never cottoned to this woman, who’s always over-the-top and bland. She barges into the film with an air of someone who’s going to show the others what acting’s all about. Not a wise move when Simone Signoret’s around. I’m surprised this extraneous little part even got noticed, let alone nominated.
ALEXShe is the conscience of this doomed love story. In 2 minutes she gives us more that others do in 30. However, in a movie filled with good, solid performances, Elspeth is not the character I'd want to know more about.
WALTERBaddeley’s turn is brief but effective. In just two minutes, we see the sad history of disappointments that Elspeth has experienced, as well as the weariness that comes with being Alice's bestie. And that final breakdown…
STINKYLULUBaddeley's performance in the tiny role of Elspeth is shockingly effective. She's a vivid, defining presence in Room at the Top and the actress's work in the role -- what she does with her face, her voice, her eyes -- contributes essential emotional texture to the film.
While your typical nominee needs hours of scenery-chewing to convey the simplest of emotions, Baddeley only requires a couple of minutes to embody loyalty, defiance, anger and pain. A greatish performance, but too short to be worthy of a win.
Loved her. This is a great example of wanting to see much more than you are given, but she does what she's given perfectly. She nails the emotion, and breaks through to show us the real damage the main character does in a very short amount of screen time.
TOTAL: 20s

STINKYLULUWhen she's good, she's very very good but, when she's bad, well... Let's just say that Kohner's flashes of blazing emotional insight elevate what is a basically imperfect performance of one of the most complicated roles in midcentury cinema.
WALTERIt seems, at first, that Kohner is going to play The Angry Daughter. But she plays this with the right balance of anger and self-preservation, so that we can shake our heads while still understanding the motives. Great gams, too.
Mannered at times and uneven, but gives real feeling to the character's deep need to escape herself. She comes into perfect focus at times—the hotel scene, the hors d'ouevres scene—and she shows real fire and emotion when she does.
ORTZIDancing on a table, breaking her mum’s heart, making amends with her racial identity… Face it, Lana Turner and Sandra Dee, the film belongs to Kohner. She’s mostly effective, but sometimes lacks what it takes to keep up with her screen mother.
ALEXA performance that grew on me. I'm buying it: the sensuality, the bitchiness and, most of all, the final scene with her mother. To me, she's the one to feel sorry for, not Annie. If only she could've cried at the funeral.
KENAnother Ross Hunter cuckoo clock, lethargic machinery predictably clogged by Lana Turner’s obtuse, over-the-hill glamour. But Susan Kohner’s having none of it. Looks-wise, an Ina Balin/Judy Canova mix with a knack for nose-in-the-air nastiness; here, she’s angry and frustrated, bristling brilliantly (and sympathetically). Love the blazing eyes at the end of her startling "no trick to totin’ " routine. Plus she pulls off a mean horizontal hoochie-cooch on that cocktail-shaker carousel.
TOTAL: 19s

KENTalent, warmth, a marvelously expressive face. And probably elation at landing this huge role. Moore uses it all, totally selling the intensity of her mother-love. And the script DOES have the decency to stop (just) short of 100% approval as she stalks Kohner across the Universal backlot, a relentless, teary-eyed, Bible-waving, whistle-blowing Inspector Javert.
WALTER“Why, Miss Lora, you never ask.” Subtle touches here and there put her above the stereotype this role could have been. Moore's Annie always puts her best face forward, but that final scene with Sarah Jane just KILLS ME.
STINKYLULUA radiantly humanizing characterization of a potentially negligible role. Moore inhabits this mot familiar stock character -- the perfect "mammy" who's also the ideal "mommy" -- with an elevating, precise humanity and thus delivers a lucid, thoughtful and emotionally pungent performance.
BRADThe role could easily be one beatific and long-suffering note but Moore gives Annie rich depth. Her eventual capitulation to her daughter's needs is heart-breaking. Rich work at the edge that actually becomes the center of the film.
Had Moore won the Oscar, it would have been a great complement to that of Hattie McDaniel, both characters and performances being antithetic. Alas, she didn’t. One can only wonder why they chose not to award this elegant, intelligent and heartbreaking performance.
ALEXSo constantly good and dependable throughout the film, and never boring. Her kindness is so genuine I almost cried at the end :) Only an actress deeply bound to the character could pull off this much heavy drama.
TOTAL: 25s

STINKYLULUAt once too broad and too subtle, this performance by one of the greatest supporting actresses -- totally miscast here -- is a middling misfire.
WALTERThelma Ritter scenes should not be the only ones in which I don't laugh. This could be a very shrewd portrayal of a sad, lonely woman whose only happiness is The Drink. Which is intriguing, but out of place.
KENNeither Day’s Katy Keene fashions nor the coy prissiness script and director confer on her do anything to mitigate the miseries of Pillow Talk, flavorless Muzak posing as comedy. It certainly doesn’t do right by the great Ritter, who’s asked to do little more than sustain a perpetual hangover.
ORTZIRitter was, more often than not, nominated for the wrong performances. In Pillow Talk she’s at her wittiest providing wisecracks and the funniest scene of the film, but her drunken scenes are too broad to be completely satisfying.
BRADA complete device. Acquits herself well, but not enough for me to merit a nom. Plays into her gifts, but not really given anything to mine deeper. But because she's her and the best this could be done.
ALEXYou are my inspiration, Thelma! Yes, it's a role she could do in her sleep, but how fun was the drinking scene. Not a single false note and those line readings... I wanted more.
TOTAL: 12s

ALEXI don't hate her, but I don't care either. She's like nice wallpaper for the film and gets to speak up once or twice, too often with bad/strange acting choices. A split vote is the only way to explain the win.
ORTZIIt must be very difficult to stand out in such a choral film, yet Winters manages to shine in a few scattered scenes. While adept at demonstrating sadness, fear and bitterness, she is best when she’s all melancholic over her fur coat.
KENWinters is excellent here. But because she’s so frequently been extraordinary, mere excellence seems just a tad disappointing. Her commitment to the project’s undoubtedly sincere. And the performance is conscientiously crafted. Honest, appropriate – a commendable display of kvetching. But within Winters’ exceptional canon, a minor achievement.
STINKYLULUBy conveying -- in ways both big and small -- the terrorizing confinement of Mrs. Van Daan's internal hysteria, Winters makes this most showy and device-laden character indelibly, memorably and terrifyingly human.
BRADIt's a template of what she became known for: a little messy, a little selfish. The strength of the performance is in her deterioration. It's good, but for me still act-y at times, aware of her muddying herself up.
When her husband sells the coat. That one shot of her sitting with her head bowed. Throughout the film, we see the woman go through all sorts of humiliating moments, but for me, this is the one that sticks out.
TOTAL: 19s

Oscar chose...
Shelley Winters
in The Diary of Anne Frank
sees things somewhat differently...

Best Supporting Actress of 1959!

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

Thelma Ritter in Pillow Talk (1959) - Supporting Actress Sunday

With the 1959 Smackdown only a few hours away, I'll keep the month's final profile comparatively brief, even though it's a performance by the reigning queen of supporting actress -- the single Supporting Actress with the greatest number of Supporting Actress nominations (as well as the most losses) in the category's history. And, here, this particular actress is stretching far beyond her typical genres. With, alas, mixed result. Of course, I'm talking about...

...Thelma Ritter in Pillow Talk (1959)
approximately 7 minutes and 2 seconds
8 scenes
roughly 7% of film's total running time
Thelma Ritter plays Alma, the soused housekeeper of interior decorator Jan Morrow (the blithe Doris Day).
The character of Alma is less a character than a plot device who possesses three main character traits. One, Alma's a complete lush; she's almost always hungover, drinking or both. Two, as a hardbitten cynic with a soft heart, Alma's got strong ideas about how women and men should relate. Three, Alma's got a sharp, sardonic wit which gets looser and sharper whenever she's drinking (which is always) and whenever the subject turns to romance (which, in this movie, is also always).
On these three counts -- the total lush, the cynical romantic, and the sharp wit -- Thelma Ritter's particular gifts are mostly suitable for item three (the sardonic wit). And throughout the performance, Ritter nails Alma's many laugh lines using her signature, wry warmth.
As regards the other two sets of character obligations (comedic drunkenness and romantic goopiness), Ritters success in the role is a little more mixed.
Ritter enacts the physical comedy obliged by the role -- especially the running gag of the elevator "moving too fast" for the hungover Alma -- with a trouper's gameness. To be sure, Ritter makes this recurring bit of silliness work, just not especially well.
However, when the comedic drunkenness is more text based (as in the scene where Ritter's Alma drinks Rock Hudson's character under the table), Ritter's sublimely effective. (Indeed, this erratic performance underscores Ritter's dexterity with language. When she's got words to use, Ritter's brilliant. When she needs to use her face or body to convey the moment, Ritter seems -- shockingly -- out of her depth.)
As the opinionated romantic, Ritter's Alma works passably well, and the actress does a nice job of setting up Alma's "crush" on Hudson's Brad Allen. Nonetheless, Ritter's inclination toward wry nuance doesn't awlways jibe with the narrative's hints of broad comic stylings.
All told, Ritter's performance as the alcoholic Alma ends up being both too broad and too subtle.
While Ritter's presence in the film does invest a clarity and focus to the proceedings, but the actress's particular brand of midcentury cinematic "realism" (so suited to hard-boiled genre pictures and serious dramas) struggles to find a landing place in this film, an airy bit of high-style frippery.
Thelma Ritter is a great supporting actress but, here, she delivers a middling, miscast misfire of a performance.