Supporting Smackdown '68: Lynn, Sondra, Kay, Estelle and Ruth
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 9:31PM
NATHANIEL R in Estelle Parsons, Faces, Funny Girl, Oscars (60s), Rachel Rachel, Rosemary's Baby, Ruth Gordon, Smackdown, Sondra Locke, StinkyLulu, Supporting Actress, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

The revival of "StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown" now in its new home at The Film Experience continues. The year is... [cue: time travelling music] 1968.  Oscar skipped the Globe nominees in this category from For the Love of Ivy, The Lion in Winter and Finian's Rainbow and despite their love of Oliver! AND of women in musicals AND of prostitutes with hearts of gold they also skipped newcomer Shani Wallis. Instead they went with these five...

Tony Curtis presented the 1968 Best Supporting Actress Oscar


Estelle Parsons, the previous year's winner in this category for Bonnie & Clyde returned for a victory lap (though she skipped the ceremony). She was joined by two showbiz veterans: Ruth Gordon, a three time nominee for screenwriting who was in the middle of a surprising golden years reinvention as a beloved character actress, and Kay Medford, who had previously experienced her greatest successes on stage. Filling out the shortlist were two fresh faces nominated for their film debuts: Sondra Locke (who would later partner up with Clint Eastwood both on and offscreen for 14 years) & Lynn Carlin (who would later vanish into a series of guest spots on television).

Who will win the Smackdown? Read on 

Carlin, Locke, Medford, and Gordon wait as the envelope is opened


THIS MONTH'S PANELISTS: Angelo Muredda, Brad Griffith, Manuel Muñoz, Nathaniel R, StinkyLulu and You (in the "Reader Write-In" section where we tabulated your votes)


LYNN CARLIN as "Maria Forst" in Faces
Synopsis: an abandoned wife takes up with a young man she meets at a bar but sinks into despair.
Stats: 30 yrs old. Debut film! 51 minutes of screen time (or 39% of running time). 

Angelo: Faces has more than its share of male peacocking, so credit Lynn Carlin for cutting through all the chest-puffing theatrics with a single dismissive eye roll. Carlin’s post-nightclub flirtation with a hip-shaking Seymour Cassel is a masterclass in held tension, but consider the brilliant moment after, where Carlin ushers her friend out the door, a placid smile on her face as the woman natters away. ♥♥♥♥

Brad: I loved her stillness. I understand the importance of the film, but it’s difficult to watch. Watching her watching is fascinating. She spends a good chunk of the role in silence and draws us into her, wondering what she’s thinking. The struggle between the character’s propriety and her unhappiness is evident, and she telegraphs that discomfort in stillness, which is a feat. Challenging work in a challenging film.  ♥♥♥♥

Manuel: A lead performance?  I suspect she’ll get hosannas for the carnal display of her third act, which borders on cliché, but it’s really her wordless presence at the club where the glory of her performance comes through.  Vulnerable, empowered, lonely, and competitive, her face is a marvel of contradictory impulses.  It’s here where the role demands dimension—and she delivers ♥♥♥♥

Nathaniel: With scenes this long (whole acts!) actors can get stuck in emotional cul de sacs. Not Carlin, who quietly tests these interiors, looking for exits, bridges to the next. Act 1: giggling companion but her ease with hubby illuminates…; Act 2: shellshocked dumpee which blends brilliantly with… Act 3: curious horny single…; Act 4: CRISIS. It’s too much for Maria...(but maybe for Carlin, too, in the deflating finale) ♥♥♥♥

Reader Write-ins: "loose and flexible, she proves herself a bewitching performer. But Cassavetes’ faults as a filmmaker—interminable pacing and lack of convincing transitions in his script—sabotage her. A promising performer who deserved to be at the hands of a less indulgent director" - Matt L. (reader avg: ♥♥♥⅓

StinkyLulu: Lynn Carlin’s captivating vulnerability permits sometimes startling glimpses into the pain of Maria’s circumstance yet Carlin’s Maria remains a vividly human enigma. True, Carlin’s great in the moment — by turns ferocious then raw, timid then charismatic. But the taut work offered by the women playing Maria’s randy lady companions underscores how Carlin’s Maria lacks the connective tissue of characterization. An often compelling, sometimes stirring, but ultimately underwhelming performance, ♥♥

Carlin earns 21.3 ❤s


RUTH GORDON as "Minnie Castevet" in Rosemary's Baby
Synopsis: A childless old busybody and her husband plot to trick a new tenant into bearing Satan's son
Stats: 72 yrs old. 22 minutes of screen time (or 16% of running time). 5th career nomination (second for acting).

Angelo: Midway through Rosemary’s Baby, poor Mia Farrow tells Ruth Gordon’s old fusspot that she can’t possibly accept her gift of a foul pendant. “You already have,” Minnie shoots back, a little more curtly than we expect. Offhand as it is, that moment might be the crux of the performance -- a show of steely reserve, always just an inch beneath the facade of Old World civility and neighbourly concern ♥♥♥♥

Brad: What’s that line about the banality of evil?  She’s a steamroller: hysterical, menacing, ridiculous. I love this performance. She’s always got a point, is always moving, and always wants something while never saying what she means. Her eating and serving cake is a master class. So many little touches that you can see something new each viewing, finding more little things she’s thrown in. One of the best. ♥♥♥♥♥

Manuel: I quibble with her “only living son” line delivery (she’s too in on the joke), but her stony stare at the finale shatters the innocent impulses of Minnie’s pushiness.  She was all business all along.  Her comic, chance run-ins with Rosemary emerge, especially on repeated viewings, as single-minded ruthlessness—she’s physically intrusive, right down to her jangling, extended arm.  Indelible. ♥♥♥♥♥

Nathaniel: This is a wicked potion she’s mixing, stirring physical eccentricity and slurry lines together with an almost ecstatic surrender to (and thus conquering of) the intrusive neighbor / crazy old lady tropes. She gives the film both its comic kick and its chillingly nasty aftertaste: note how seldom she really looks at Rosemary– never in an inscrutable dishwashing scene -- who is nothing to her beyond a vessel. ♥♥♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "The part doesn't require a lot of range but damn if she isn't fun to watch. The effusive energy she brings to the part is the perfect counter to Farrow's frailness" - Jordan (reader avg: ♥♥♥♥

StinkyLulu: No real arc. No emotional outbursts. No nuanced moments of character revelation. None of the usual trappings of nominated Supporting Actressness. Nothing except for the fact that Gordon’s just plain good. In a high-style movie that can’t seem to pick a style, Gordon’s Minnie invests a peculiarly ominous reality to the hammiest coven this side of Hocus Pocus. Which makes her the scariest witch of them all ♥♥♥♥

Gordon earns 27 ❤s


SONDRA LOCKE as "Mick" in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter 
Synopsis: A music-loving teenager befriends a deaf-mute man while struggling with a dead-end future
Stats: 24 yrs old. Debut film. 54 minutes of screen time (or 44% of the running time)

Angelo: Tilda Swinton meets Judy Greer meets an eerie porcelain doll, Locke’s body is a drab melodrama’s lone special effect -- and a good one, too. All saucer eyes and spindly legs as she’s propped up on her porch in her oversized shirt, Locke’s Mick is hard to place: a self-possessed hipster ahead of her time? A delicate southern belle? Damned if the film knows, but the image lingers. ♥♥♥

Brad: This feels like a lead role nominated in supporting. Locke feels fresh and young,with an underlying intelligence that makes the role believable.  She does great newcomer work here in a demanding, rangy role. I loved that she allowed herself to look awful. The character is not likeable all the time, and she doesn’t shy away from those aspects. It’s believable work that roots the film with Arkin. ♥♥♥

Manuel: Mercurial adolescence, especially with an undercurrent of budding desire, is a tough sell.  Her scenes with Arkin could have used more subtext, especially with her physical demeanor and awareness, if only to add a layer of complication to the boyfriend moments.  A solid presence scene by scene, by turns impetuous and guarded, but uneven and too restrained when strung together ♥♥♥

Nathaniel:This (lead) role of a mercurial teen, whose inner life has endless potential but whose actual life fulfills none of it, is a doozy. Locke’s inexperience shows when she’s merely hitting marks or overplaying (the film rarely helps her, frankly) but occasionally she impresses. When Mick tries to describe music to her deaf friend it’s perfectly meta: that’s as much of a struggle as nailing this difficult role.  ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins*: "It's always hard to judge a beginner, but her rapport with Arkin is so effective that she wins my vote by a hair. It also doesn't hurt that her subsequent career showed signs of real talent that was only partially realized… " - Gary (reader avg: ♥♥♥)

*the most divisive performance among readers ranging from "can I give her negative hearts" to 5 hearts!

 StinkyLulu: Not especially consistent or coherent. Not much depth of presence or immediate mystery. Locke’s Mick just is. A vivid portrait of a formidable girl bridling at the limits of her life. Emotions burst to the surface with powerful clarity (and she’s especially captivating when throwing some tantrum or another) but Locke’s measured handling of Mick’s more delicate scenes lend a thoughtful gravitas. A good performance and worthy nomination. ♥♥♥

Locke earns 17 ❤s

KAY MEDFORD as "Rose Brice" in Funny Girl
Synopsis: A saloon owner on Henry Street watches as her daughter rises to fame and fortune and marries a suave gambler
Stats: 54 yrs old. 16th film. 10 minutes of screentime (or 6% of the running time) First and only Oscar nomination. 

Angelo: A one-liner delivery system -- “Nothing aches; you’re built like a horse” -- Kay Medford is a supporting actress in the purest sense, there to swell a progress and start a scene or two, as J. Alfred Prufrock would say. It’s a thankless role, the kindly photo negative of Mama Rose, but Medford cinches it with poker-faced pride, and the most enticing beer invite in the medium’s history ♥♥♥

Brad: Though sentimentally one of my favorite performances, there is not much for her to do here. What she does do, she does beautifully, and it would have been wonderful to see her in the larger role the character had in the stage version.  She’s funny, sweet, caring, and the love she has for her daughter is evident and motivates everything she does, and all executed with perfect timing. ♥♥♥♥

Manuel: There’s certainly nothing wrong with her proud, suspicious, protective mother, but the film’s staging (and its focus) leaves her little room to shine.  As great as her flat, tough lines are, the film hardly needs that single comic register to fill itself out.  Just when she gets to interact with Streisand, she’s swallowed up.  Supporting and sturdy, but not essential. ♥♥

Nathaniel: We could praise her unforced delivery of funny quotable lines or those lived-in ornery relationships but there’s so little of her… even in scenes she’s in! This ‘Mama Rose’ never demands her turn. That gift of a line reading in her intro “so she looks a bit off balance, she possesses golden talents…” hands the whole film lovingly to Babs (who would take it by force anyway) ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Warm and wise and the one person who lays it on the line with Fanny. Those who dismiss her performance need only to look at Funny Lady and take note of Babs ability to wipe everybody else off the screen something she couldn't do with Kay" - Joel  (reader avg: ♥ ⅘

StinkyLulu: Although I live for Mae Questel as Mrs. Strakosh, you gotta give a worldly wink to Kay Medford too. (I’d happily watch a whole movie about that poker game.) Medford performs her plot-expediting duties with warm wit and acerbic aplomb and, without missing a breath, she tosses in a few captivating glimpses into who this Rose Brice woman actually is. Truly an expert, clarifying bit of actressing. ♥♥♥

Medford earns 15.8 ❤s

ESTELLE PARSONS as "Calla Mackie" in Rachel, Rachel
Synopsis: A born again teacher struggles to maintain her closest friendship after emotions run a little wild and sapphic at a church service. 
Stats: 41 yrs old. 3rd film, 2nd nomination. 17.5 minutes of screen time (or 17% of running time). 

Angelo: “I’m always pushing things out of their cages,” Estelle Parsons beams like a vain Mother Teresa in her last scene. Calla’s simultaneously repressed and outré town lesbian is an impossible part, but Parsons gives it her game best, embodying a hearty woman with a dainty name. Parsons strikes a nice balance between matronly and girlish, her voice too sonorous and worldly for a schoolteacher’s, which is the point. ♥♥♥

Brad: The performance ranges from loopy to hysterical to naturalistic. Parsons is always interesting to watch as it seems she might come completely unhinged at any moment, and this role is no exception. I found it hard to connect to the character, though, and I don’t know whether it’s the role, the performance, or the film. She felt like a different person in different scenes, lending to the disconnection. ♥♥

Manuel: Quoth Hilary Swank, “We have come a long way.”  The script can’t decide if she’s a loony free spirit, an entranced religious zealot, or a concerned (and desexualized) therapist/confidante.  That shakiness makes a key moment more implausible than awkward.  Credit to Parsons for sidestepping the tragic suggestion of her last—and better—scenes, imbuing Calla with much-needed hope and confidence. ♥♥♥

Nathaniel: Sure, Parsons is a total ham but she grounds the showboating in character truth. It’s Calla, not the actress, that’s overcompensating; she roars to fill the spaces where her mousy friend squeaks. You can feel the yearning, sexual and altruistic, to rub some life into her. She’s often not-so casually watching for tremors because this friendship has major fault lines. “That’s the second time you’ve been bitchy today!” ♥♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Thankfully, she never crosses that line from overstating to coarsening and, in allowing us to see Rachel through the same lens of rueful adoration and carefully hinted-at anger as Calla does, is frequently an advantage to her film, unexpectedly becoming its sad-eyed, self-deprecating voice of reason" - Matthew (reader avg: ♥♥♥

StinkyLulu: As the protagonist’s brave-faced compatriot in schoolteacherly spinsterhood, Parson’s Calla is a jangly bundle of fervent nerves, a character whose oddly directed devotions fail to mask her deeply felt longings. Yet, because of Parsons’ deft and humanizing performance, by the movie’s end, I long for Calla’s happiness almost more than I hope for Rachel’s — which, in its way, is what actressing at the edges is all about.  ♥♥♥♥

Actress earns 19 ❤s


And The Oscar AND Smackdown Go To... Ruth Gordon

You have no idea how encouraging a thing like this is."

Ruth took that rarest of acting prizes: an Oscar for a horror film. It would be another 22 years until that happened again with Kathy Bates in Misery!

The Smackdowners wholeheartedly agree with Oscar's historic decision and give Ruth another prize. And, get this, we've done that deed on Devil's Night which also happens to be Ruth Gordon's birthday!!! Perhaps it was meant to be...

Or perhaps you think we all stink of tanas root!?!


Thank you for attending the Smackdown! 
If you enjoyed it, share it. If you're new to the Smackdown here is September's warm actressy hug, and August's pie-throwing brawl plus the old archives @ StinkyLulu. Previously this month in the 1968 party we covered The Best Actress tie, the abundance of Exclamatory Titles, the Born in '68 Wonders, and Oliver!'s snubbee

Final Smackdown of the Year!
Sat Nov 30th ~ Supporting Actresses of 2003 
A 10th Anniversary Party for Cold Mountain, Mystic River, Pieces of April, thirteen, and The House of Sand and Fog.

Article originally appeared on The Film Experience (
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