Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1955

The Year is...

And the Smackdowners for the 28th Annual Academy Awards are...
BRAD of Criticlasm/FagYerIt
GOATDOG of goatdog's movies
KEN of Canadian Ken
NATHANIEL of The Film Experience
NICK of Nick's Pick Flicks
RBURTON of Adam Waldowski Doesn't Watch Non-Oscar Nominees
yours truly, STINKYLULU.
And featuring...
click image to be routed to video

1955'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.)

Betsy Blair in Marty
NATHANIEL The old sexist chestnut: a woman who exists solely to find beauty in the beast. She's not a "dog" but the role is. Depth eludes but the surface is right: shy rote politeness and short bursts of an introvert opening up.
It's a warm, sweet performance that reveals loneliness, sadness, and then hope. Though likable, it's also nothing to write home about. She works well with Borgnine, but his characterization is stronger. A minor problem is her character's not just plain, but ugly ("a dog") and Blair doesn't match that.
Nice, serviceable performance of a thankless role. She mostly listens, and suffers nobly. The interest she gives in the steeliness with which she refuses Marty a kiss. She may be sad and sweet, but she's resolute. It's the flash of steel that I liked the most. Still, in some ways the third girl in this year that's full of them.
Blair’s a kind of lower-case Julie Harris, gently delivering her spinsterish lines like melting snowflakes. She’s talented. But “Marty” ’s an artifact – one of Hollywood’s awkward baby-steps toward “realism”. Brandishing a cement rattle, but leaving potentially explosive issues timidly unexplored. Blair’s blameless. But the film keeps shifting tones half-heartedly without ever quite committing to any of them.
It's hard to separate Blair from the film's relentless frumpishness, but her silences and pauses are so sparkling and alive that she emerges as the best thing about the film, even though for long stretches her task is to silently occupy 1/3 of the screen while Borgnine carries on.
Blair’s breathy warble of a voice belies the sharp clarity of her Clara. Using only silence and smalltalk, Blair deftly charts a complex emotional journey for this smart, opinionated, desperately lonely woman, in whose eyes Marty transforms from life-preserver to mildly annoying schlub to prince charming.
While preserving the character's protective, carefully cultivated shield of muted politeness, Blair shows us the sincerity and intelligence that Marty sparks to without making her too overtly "attractive." A great listener, and a vaguely uncanny presence.
TOTAL: 20s

Peggy Lee in Pete Kelly's Blues
NICK Yep, she sells her tunes, but Peggy only registers when she's singing or ghosting around the back of a shot. When called on to sustain a scene, she seems stolid and unsure of herself. The mad scenes at the end are pitiable.
GOATDOG She's a step closer to acting than Ella Fitzgerald's get-me-outta-here nervousness, but it's a baby step--unsure what to do when she's on camera, and unhelped by Joe Friday's leaden acting and directing, she plays every scene exactly the same--immobile. I'm baffled by this nomination.
She gets to look melancholy, drink, sing, and then go nuts. It's the stuff Oscars are made of, but Lee lacks the necessary charisma and talent. There are hints of intelligence, but a rotten screenplay, worse direction, and Lee herself thwart what might have been a rounded, sympathetic performance.
The kind of doomed lush part Shelley Winters might’ve torn into. Sometimes less is more. But Lee delivers a bit less than less – a whisper of a performance. Seriously charismatic when she’s singing (dig that killer smile in “Sugar”) but rather tentative in dialogue segments. Muted stunt casting. But I enjoyed the film.
All the makings of something great – ethereally apt line readings, vividly enigmatic screen presence, an intuitive understanding of the role – squandered by the film’s flat-footed, obsequious direction. The 2nd heart is for Lee’s reading of the line (“He was mean to my baby”) – a haunting description of this tragically failed performance.
Jack Webb is like Medusa or Midas, but everything he touches turns wooden. Lee is the single performer to avoid this, but she still seems lost. I love her laugh line "I won't here the pitter patter of little feet-unless I rent some mice", and it's the only laugh in the movie. Once she's gone, there's no reason to care about this story. I would give her 4 hearts, but it's still somewhat a sketch of what could've been an award-winner.
Initially I felt concerned: try to act, Peggy. There's beauty in her singing but limited drama in her face. Finally, this same muted expressiveness serves the character, a slightly wooden woman zombified by internal miseries.
TOTAL: 13s

Marisa Pavan in The Rose Tattoo
STINKYLULU Pavan’s performance is tentative, shrill and defensive when it should be strident, bold and bursting with youthful confidence. A misreading of the character that pitches the entire film off-balance.
Perfectly adequate in individual scenes but it's difficult to see a full characterization. In a movie so attuned to (and reflective of) its emotionally volatile star, she doesn't have the chops or the star quality to keep up.
GOATDOG She embodies a dizzying array of types--rebellious against the mother she's ashamed of, wallflower and oversexed hoyden--and she manages the screenplay's rapidly shifting gears with little evidence of strain,but unfortunately with all of the rest of the film's piercing shrillness. This one goes to 11.
A hard performance to rate, because Pavan seems capable of more, and the script, like the play, can't decide whether to explore the character in earnest. As is, she's fully competent as a sad, restless teen, but this feels like a default ingénue nomination.
Who is she? I kind of felt like it was Natalie Wood doing Anna Magnani – a little girl trying to act like her mother. Pavan gets the hysteria right, but lacks the depth to help us understand the character’s frustration. Perhaps the limitations of the role, but she was the most “high 50s” and the least interesting to me of the field.
Transplanted from her neo-realistic habitat to the more decorous confines of Paramount’s VistaVision preserve, Magnani sometimes seems more exhibit than character. But Pavan manages to dodge and weave gracefully through the diva’s fireworks display, delivering some lovely, honest emoting - her scaled-down outbursts and quiet moments frequently more affecting than Magnani’s (admittedly impressive) showboating.
Pavan holds her own against Magnani, which is a remarkable feat in itself. As 1955's other angsty teen (though Pavan looks too old for the part), she manages to be vulnerable, alluring, and rebellious as Williams' script demands. Accordingly, her subplot with Ben Cooper works wonderfully.
TOTAL: 16s

Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden
RBURTON It's a terribly dark performance, and one I find more admirable than extraordinary. Her expressiveness is formidable, manifesting itself in grimaces, smirks, and a range of other emotions. But Van Fleet simply seems weak beside Dean, and he's not only better in the film, but far more memorable.
Totally working that walk and that big hat on that misty path between towns, Van Fleet comes to fascinating life once she spars with Dean: treacherous but surprisingly receptive and trusting. Adds gravity, force, and her own peculiar mysteries to the part as written.
Small performances around which entire films orbit, are tricky to judge. How much is the actor doing versus the audience projecting? Van Fleet is cooly impressive continually sizing up her lost son and shooing away less familiar emotions.
Vivid, meticulous, and memorable – a horrific, biblically-inflected, psychoanalytic archetype made human by surprisingly vulnerable actressing. A haunting, fascinating spectacle.
Expert performance of a ghost of a role. She does what is required, that is to be the ghost over the proceedings, and also creates a nuanced, fearless portrayal of a woman has lived trapped and running. It's fascinating, and arguably the only real, full woman of the pack.
GOATDOG I'd love her just for the way she says, "We don't exactly move in the ... same circles," but that's just the beginning of that dazzling bonding/apologia scene with James Dean. She's the only person (besides Dean) who reaches past the artifice to grab hold of the real, damaged person inside the labored allegory.
Icebergs are often 80% underwater. Van Fleet (who’s marvelous) doesn’t suggest ice – but rather a nearly submerged mountain of radioactivity. What’s above the surface - impressive and alarming; what’s suggested below - mind-boggling. Kate’s caught in her own lacerating, destructive rays but she’s still standing. And a more imposing gate-keeper to Hell would be hard to find.
TOTAL: 30s

Natalie Wood in Rebel without a Cause
KEN Though Rebel marked the beginning of her real stardom, the acclaim hardly seems justified by this performance. She just appears to be biting off more than she can chew. And – unlike Marisa Pavan – never finds a way to share the screen with a flamboyant icon in any interesting or creative way.
Wood's opening monologue in the police station augurs a standout performance to follow. The script doesn't hold up its bargain with her, and she's a little rote at times, but her kissing scene with her father, especially in her reactions, is memorably pained, spontaneous, and persuasive.
Surprisingly interesting performance that's more than it seems at first glance. She's all about the looks here, and for me it's all in what she doesn't say. She brilliantly makes us realize that we can't trust a word she says, and telegraphs the lost-ness of the character to show us why she belongs with the other two misfits, and perhaps nowhere else.
GOATDOG Wood's edge-of-adulthood confusion manifests in her constantly adjusting which version of Judy we're seeing, often within the space of a glance: sometimes she's a scared adolescent, sometimes a woman, and sometimes an adolescent's idea of a woman. It's a remarkable performance from so young an actress.
Smart, effective, understated. Wood’s at her best when she’s not speaking and, in the in-betweens of this role, Wood crafts an enduring, ecvocative portrait of teen identity experimentation. Powerfully subtle work.
Half femme fatale, half gawky teenager, and all daddy issues, it's a legendary performance because it lives up to every bit of the hype. Wood pulled it off seamlessly at age seventeen. Her layered Judy has a powerful, convincing story arc that makes you hate her, love her, and desire her in under two hours.
She vacillates wildly: psychosexual panic, studied 'too cool for school' mannerisms, little girl tremulousness -- but the character coheres beautiful. Judy is trying too hard and Natalie (an actress often accused of the same) nails this classic role.
TOTAL: 28s

Oscar chose...
Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden!
And, dagnabbit, for the 2nd month in a row...
the SMACKDOWN agrees:

So, lovely reader, what do YOU think?



i was going to be all upset by Natalie Wood losing (again) --oh how the Oscars and history have both mistreated her (making her an also ran when she should be way the hell up there) --but I can't quibble too much with Jo Van Fleet both of whom I would have nominated for sure from 1955. The other three though... weren't their worthier candidates?

as for Peggy Lee that's the performance that most surprised me because I thought she was terrible at first than i warmed up than the last scene I hated. but all in all I found her sneak attack moving.

and believe it or not I'd never seen ROSE TATTOO before and my oh my what a nutjob movie that was

The Jaded Armchair Reviewer said...

"And, dagnabbit, for the 2nd month in a row...the SMACKDOWN agrees"

Makes me feel even more accomplished over what we were able to do for 1990.......

I need to rewatch East of Eden and Rebel without a Cause now. And the Academy nominated THREE girlfriend roles? (Haven't seen Pete Kelly's yet.)

The Jaded Armchair Reviewer said...

Oh, Anna Magnani was giving me flashes of Streetcar Named Desire.

And make that four girlfriend roles since I'll consider Van Fleet's character "the town's girlfriend."

goatdog said...

My dream category would have ditched Pavan, Blair, and Lee (the latter is one of my least favorite nominations in the history of the category). Two slots would have been filled by the women of The Night of the Hunter: Shelly Winters and Lillian Gish. The third might have gone to Agnes Moorehead in All That Heaven Allows, but it's been too long since I've seen that film.

But even with those three undeserving nominations, this year illustrates what I love about this category: one world-famous singer in a one-off performance, two kids, one Method doyenne from New Yawk, and a blacklisted actress in Hollywood's first stab at "realism." So unpredictable.

StinkyLulu said...

Indeed, goatdog, it's a perfect meta-field -- especially if we factor in Wood as a "stretch" performance (in which a familiar commodity does something new) and Pavan as cosmopolitan tokenism.


hope y'all enjoyed the video too (youtube was lost but now is found). I tried to work in my favorite things about the performances (and I love that i accidentally hit on someone else's favorite Lee moment "rent some mice" --the only laugh line indeed) . the only place I came up short was with Pavan. I didn't truly love any of her scenes.

I second the Gish notion for Night of the Hunter --i know it's a dark movie but I'm frankly surprised they didn't nominate her her being a film legend and all. Plus: excellent performance.

Adam said...

Wood was screwed, but then again I'm probably just underrating Van Fleet.

I love the vehemence about Lee's nomination. I hate it, but not nearly as much as I hate that film itself. Thanks for the copy though! I'm glad to have closed out this category.

I love Rose Tattoo way more than I should. Thanks to Ken for overrating Pavan with me. Above all, it's fun to watch that movie to see how miscast Burt Lancaster is among everyone else.

IMDb claims Rosalind Russell didn't get an Oscar nomination for Picnic because she refused to go supporting. Damn her ego.

NicksFlickPicks said...

I don't want to go anywhere near Picnic. I'll have to eventually, but I'm glad it wasn't thrust upon me. And that goes double for Russell, who has thrown the odd trick of making me love her in His Girl Friday and making me unable to stand her almost anywhere else.

But anyway. I love Ken's write-up of Van Fleet. I love Goatdog for the word "hoyden."

I marvel at the fact that The Rose Tattoo is the only Tennessee Williams play that ever won the Tony. Seriously.

While this wasn't quite the all-over-the-map experience that 1971 was, I still enjoyed the divergences of opinion over several of the nominees. What Adam and Ken say about Pavan is really interesting to me, because I've seen The Rose Tattoo three or four times and I can never make up my mind about her.

More thoughts and more Betsy Blair love over here.

Adam said...

I forgot to mention I totally love Peggy Lee in Lady in the Tramp! Nominating her for somewhere where I don't actually have to look at her is a far better idea.

NicksFlickPicks said...

Does anyone think Stinky mighta secretly been hoping Natalie Wood would win so that she could be his avatar and banner image for the next month?

And Stinky, are you going to give yourself that huge 1917 hat when you pick a Van Fleet image, or are you going for the fake-white dye job?

StinkyLulu said...

If I had my pick of avatars, I'd be Drunky Lee for the month -- no contest. I've always wanted someone to call me a "hoyden," dontcha know.

I might have been rooting for Natalie a little -- if only to make Nathaniel and Adam happy. (They're a little sweet on her, if ya hadn't noticed.)

Fitz-Pits-Wits said...

I'm sorry, but I think that fifty-five was a shitty year for Lady Supporters, but who better than Fleet to clean up where needed? However, you guys made it fun to revisit their charms (minus poor Peggy Lee.)

Does anybody but me see the dire need to revisit 1992? Marisa Tomei -- HELLO!


My Pfeiffer thing woulda been my Wood thing had I been a teenager in the 50s instead of the 80s ;) so yeah, sweet on her I am.

I just think she's great. Even when she's trying too hard, I find her moving and always watchable. A

CanadianKen said...

hixFirst of all, I'm feeling blue about semi-dissing Natalie Wood, who's a favorite of mine. She gave one of the all-time great juvenile performances in "Miracle on 34th Street". And I think it's safe to say that the acclaim and success she got eight years later for "Rebel" seem to have super-sized her confidence and creative drive. Certainly, more than once in the 60's, she was sublime. But her actual work in "Rebel" still leaves me underwhelmed I'm afraid. An okay performance attached to a famous film that, for various reasons (mostly Dean-related), resonates big-time for a lot of people ... Nothing illustrates the clunky tone shifts in "Marty" better than that lunatic theme song that explodes over the fade-out like a singing stink-bomb. Anyone else sent into shock by it? ... Van Fleet's accomplishment in "Eden" becomes even more impressive when you remember that she back-stopped it that year with two other very different but amazing turns - her Una Merkel from Hell in "The Rose Tattoo" and her powerhouse back and forthing with Susan Hayward in "I'll Cry Tomorrow". Certainly the collaboration with Van Fleet seems to have inspired Hayward to her career-best work. Susan Hayward could have worn the Best Actress crown that year with just as much honor as Magnani.

My five shoulda-been nominees for '55:
"The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing"
LILLIAN GISH "Night of the Hunter"
MARISA PAVAN "The Rose Tattoo"
JO VAN FLEET "I'll Cry Tomorrow"
"Night of the Hunter"
... with Gish simply and gloriously unbeatable.

mistyh92104 said...

As usual, I've been waiting with bated breath for this month's smackdown, and this one has turned out to be one of the most enjoyable in a while. Not for the roster, however.

I also see Wood and Van Fleet as the only truly worthy performances that year, but I think that I love the commentary (excellent, as always) on the "weren't worthy" performances almost as much as I love the commentary on those that were. Kudos to you all!

As far as the frontrunners go, I love Natalie Wood and believe that her reputation as a "limited" actress is somewhat unwarranted. I think that, had she lived longer, we might have seen some really interesting "late in life" performances from her. She had a dry sense of humor that ought to have been more fully utilized, and, am I the only one who thinks that she was underrated in "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice"?

Still, I'm glad that Van Fleet took this year's smackdown. Though it has been a while since I've seen "EoE", I recall being mesmerized by her. If I recall, we mostly see her as Dean's character sees her, i.e., in a mysterious light. She fills that light for me and makes me want more. (FYI, she has a good role in "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas", as well).

As for the other three slots and how they might have been filled, I've always been baffled as to why Lillian Gish wasn't up for "Night of the Hunter". As Goatdog and Nathaniel noted, she was certainly a legend, and the role itself seems obviously worthy, but then the film was uniformly ignored by the Academy (Mitchum included!?!). So, what gives there?

As far as Roz Russell goes, I love her, but she is untamed in that "Picnic" role...and NOT in a good way. For actorly advice, Russell need only have consulted Arthur O'Connell (who was nominated for his role in the same movie) to realize that she need not play to the rafters in order to achieve some effect. It is definitely a good thing that she was not nominated for this role, regardless of category confusion.

As a final note, as far as Blair and "Marty" go...the original TV "movie" starred Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand ("Livia Soprano") in the Borgnine and Blair roles. One can only wonder how Marchand, never "beautiful", might have fared in the movie version. My bet is that she'd have been a real bonus.

mistyh92104 said...

Canadian Ken!!

I was thisclose to asking (in my last post) who it was that used to do the "shoulda-been" posts, and how I wish that person were still doing it. And now, here you are...with your shoulda-beens.

How ironic and wonderful. Thank you!!


Misty you aren't the only one who loves Wood's work in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. I would place it in the top five alongside splendor, rebel, west side story and 34th street as her best. I think she's really funny and relaxed in it. "oh, insight"

I love warren beatty too but there are days when i get so mad that he essentially robbed us of some of her best work (since she disappeared in the mid 60s and refused to come back for Bonnie & Clyde)

Glenn Dunks said...

I remember being pleasantly surprised discovering that Van Fleet was nominated and won for East of Eden because, as I watched it, I thought she was amazing but that it was a very small role.

You know who I was very surprised didn't get a nomination in 1955? Either Kim Novak or Eleanor Parker for The Man with the Golden Arm.

tim r said...

Love you all. I'm all disrupted and moving house and frankly all over the place but I really hope to do another one of these soon...

Sam Brooks said...

I personally enjoyed Marisa Pavan in The Rose Tattoo, though the only thing I vividly remember about that movie is Anna Magnani giving her all. I though Oscar did very well with this win though, as did you guys! Bravo.

RJ said...

I love these things.

Anyway, I'm not going to disagree. Funny how the Academ once got the wins right. Van Fleet was really terrific.

I must see the Rose Tattoo...

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure Jo Van Flee was the shit in East of Eden. Love that movie. I'm glad Oscar chose correctly.

Gustavo H.R. said...

Pardon my arrogance, but I think you (especially Mr. "Spielberg hater" up there) were all too dismissive of Blair's careful and affecting performance without giving it much though.

Her nod was deserving, but Lilliam Gish should've been there, perhaps along with Shelley Winters too.