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.


Alex in Movieland said...

I'm so happy Juanita won by a mile. :D To me, it really was the best performance. I'm a bit surprised Hermione came second, but that is such an... exotic nomination that a win might have put a smile on my face. What I can say about Hermione's nomination is that it's probably the most underrated nom ever, quality wise; its reputation exceeds the actual scenes, cause I've read some judgments from people who haven't even seen it.

I did suspect I was gonna be in a different boat on Shelley Winters, paddling by myself. I LOVED her in A Patch of Blue, but here... no no no; the least deserving of the 5.

Stinkylulu, you had 4 hearts for both Hermione and Juanita. I'm curious which one really is your #1. :D

StinkyLulu said...

I really adored both Baddeley and Moore, but both fell just short of a 5 heart ranking for me. Not sure why. For Baddeley, it might be what you put your finger on -- she's great but I'd rather watch a movie about his aunt or her awful mother than one about Elspeth. As for Moore, I'm pretty sure it's because I see Sirk's fingerprints all over her performance. Either way, though, these two are among my favorite nominations so it's all good.

Criticlasm said...

I was wondering why no 5 for you as well, so glad that was answered.

My thoughts of the entire year were more about the collision of acting styles--sometimes in the same film.

Pillow Talk has everyone in the same high-style movie, which is nice, while Imitation of Life has Lana Turner's over the top Hollywood self-consciousness with Moore's almost realistic portrayal. In it as well is Kohner's perf which sometimes comes up with truth and other times with an imitation of Natalie Wood (which was the working title of the film--not really, but couldn't resist).

Anne Frank is interesting in that the wooden, theatrical performance of Anna is in the same film with Winters almost transparent mid-century method-y perf (sometimes method is obvious because it's at times inner-directed and you can feel the actor working beneath the character). And I would have almost nominated the mother in that film.

And all this juxtaposed against Room at the Top, with Signoret's fascinating performance of just being, which presages for me where film acting was to go. She's brilliant. As is Harvey, really, doing the tightwire act of making us care for a cad caught in his own philosophy. In fact, that film had the most compelling performances in total for me, and because of that became the most emotionally affecting.

Fun year to watch.

Alex in Movieland said...

Room at the Top was an excellent film to watch, except for a silly scene that almost made me laugh: the one with the toy car falling on the sidewalk :)) I mean: come on. how literal & cheesy was that.

I'm quite sure the runner-up for a nomination was Edith Evans for The Nun's Story. She had the Globe nomination, the National Board of Review win and a film with 8 Oscar noms.
I'm curious what the smackdowners would've thought of that performance. I've seen The Nun's Story like 5 or 6 years ago, I don't remember much about her, except that it was a subtle quiet performance.

Ortzi said...

I'm glad my favourite emerged as the winner of the smackdown, I really think Juanita deserved to win the real thing by a mile.

I am a huge fan of Baddeley's performance, and her role and nomination are all the category should be about. People nowadays complain when the likes of Viola Davis or Ruby Dee are nominated for short performances, but we often forget that most of the "supporting" performers we see nominated or winning are actually coleads or even leads. Clearly, someone like Baddeley wouldn't have been nominated nowadays. But she was. Unfortunately, and here I contradict myself a little bit, her role is too insignificant to merit a win.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I had a feeling Moore would get the win. Even this morning, I was second-guessing my love for Shelley Winters' performance over hers. Was I just going with the Academy for the sake of doing so? Did I feel a need to justify their decision?

No, it's probably just that I loved both performances so much, but The Winters reminded me of my roommate's mum. And I love her.

I'm happy with Juanita's win. I'm also happy that I am not alone in my "meh" for Thelma Ritter. Love the woman, but get real, Academy.

Slayton said...

Lovely profiles, but in terms of performance this is a really underwhelming year for me. Even the most lauded performances of this group were ones I didn't really care for. I can't wait for 92, though - one of the best lineups of the 90s (with one glaring exception).

Cal said...

Great write-up's guys.

I've seen the Imitation girls and Hermione. So far my favourite is Susan Kohner, who not many of you liked. It's been a while since I saw the film but I remember thinking she totally nailed a difficult role. It's a similar situation to Ann Blyth in Mildred Pierce.

augie said...

What a great smackdown !
Great becasue all the performances were worthy of the nomination--a great year.
I too would put Edith Evans in The Nun's Story as number 6.
My vote in 1959 and in 2009 went to Susan Kohner. I was 16 when I first saw I of L in '59 and was totaly blown away by that performance. After seeing it many times, it still blows me away. Her carraige and walk during different scenes, her expressive eyes told of the torure in her soul, her range of voice and expression fit the character and told the audience so much more than the script. It is truely one of the all time greats.

StinkyLulu said...

Ya know? This field of nominees is among the most perplexing of any I've spent time with.

I, too, really love Susan Kohner's performance -- I just don't think it's very good as "a performance". Technique-wise Baddeley and Winters are brilliant, but they both are missing something emotionally for me. Juanita Moore wrings all my emotions out, but I really see her performance as a collaborative thing between her and Sirk. And, of course, I adore Thelma Ritter even when she's gruesomely miscast. So, it's a funny year in which my personal "favorite" performance (Kohner) landed toward the bottom of my rankings.

But that's also why I'm so glad y'all finally let me/us have at 1959.

par3182 said...

i'd been hoping (and voting) for a 1959 smackdown to read the consensus on baddeley's tiny role

when i first saw room at the top it wasn't until afterwards i thought "wait; didn't someone get nominated for supporting actress?" and had to check the credits to find the performance - so obviously it didn't have much of an impact on me but the oscar triviaist in me needed to know what you guys thought


CanadianKen said...

Fun - as always - to read the Smackdown results. I particularly loved a couple of the panel's observations about Shelley Winters' work in ANNE FRANK. First Lulu's comment about "the terrorizing confinement of Mrs Van Daan's internal hysteria". Then Brad's description of the role as a "template of what she became known for - a little messy, a little selfish". Great stuff!
My latest blogpost is a long-ish rumination on the ladies of '59, focusing largely on some of my favorite un-nominated performances from that year. Check it out if you're so inclined.

Michael said...

Wow, I forgot that Lee Remick hadn't been nominated for Anatomy of a Murder. My favorite performance of 1959. Love Winters and Moore. Kohner was excellent too, but troubling. I love Thelma Ritter, so I've avoided Pillow Talk. Baddeley I still need to see. Thanks again for another fascinating round, guys.

Michael Shetina

Alex in Movieland said...

I was thinking just the same thing a week ago: Lee Remick for Anatomy of a Murder - how did she not get nominated? was it because of that false campaign for Best Actress?!

Shaun said...

Lulu ~ What an interesting year. The only performance I have not seen is that of Shelley Winters. I feel that Thelma Ritter coasted in on her reputation more so than for the actual work. The work itself does not seem to gel with the rest of the film, feels out of place. I have only seen Pillow Talk once and barely remember her character, and I know it is not because she had a small role. She delivered an inconsequential performance. Hermione Baddeley blows the roof off that small London flat. It is a heartfelt gut-wrenching performance. To me, the function of the role is to speak to Alice's qualities as a human being, beyond her definition as Joe's mistress. Hermione ensures that the viewer sympathises for Alice from her first scene, if one was not already sympathetic to Alice. As for Imitation of Life, what a load of glamorous bollocks. Juanita and Susan make that film worthwhile. I don't know which one I'd pic as the best. I think Juanita pulled off her role better, but I admire the complexity of Susan's - a performance bettered with each viewing.

Shaun said...

I, too, love Lee Remick in Anatomy of a Murder, but I would have thought she'd have compaigned for lead as opposed to support. Whatever category, she didn't get in. Boo hoo.