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Smackdown 1964: Agnes, Lila, Gladys, Grayson and Dame Edith

Behold the Oscar-nominated Supporting Actresses of 1964: two wealthy matriarchs with strained relations to their children, one desperate widow who would very much like relations of any kind, an irritable church group leader watching your every move and one sweaty possessive housekeeper lurking around the corner.


Moorehead, Evans, Kedrova, Cooper, Hall 

1964's shortlist is one of the most senior in any acting category ever with an average age of 61. This 50 year old Oscar contest also acted as a finale for three enduring character actresses who Hollywood adored (Cooper, Evans, and Moorehead) but never quite enough at the right time to hand them the gold man. (In truth Dame Edith Evans, who did not attend the ceremony, was nominated one last time and quite deservedly for The Whisperers but that nomination is sadly almost as forgotten as the confused woman she masterfully played.) 


The actress Melanie Lynskey (Happy Christmas, Heavenly Creatures) joins returning panelists Joe Reid, Nick Davis, Nathaniel R, Stinkylulu and You! We also tabulate reader votes and quotes from those ballots appear.

Without further ado, the main event...


GLADYS COOPER as "Mrs. Higgins" in My Fair Lady
Synopsis: A high society woman mediates the strained relationship between her difficult son and the flower girl he's been molding into a proper lady.
Stats: 76 yrs old. Third nomination. 11 minutes of screen time (or 6% of running time). 

Melanie Lynskey: I'm not a fan of musicals, mostly because I'm allergic to forced cheer, exaggerated performances, and that horrible thing where people slow their speech down until they eventually break into song. My Fair Lady has all of this in abundance, though Cooper is guilty of none of it. She's beautiful, she is able to convey warmth and remove at the same time, and she delivers her lines with an appealing crispness and efficiency, but the character has so little to do that she only registers because Cooper is a bit magic.. ♥♥♥

Joe Reid: Guys, what is with this nomination? I'd seen My Fair Lady semi-recently and couldn't remember Cooper at all, but I figured that was me being distracted by Audrey Hepburn's lip-synching or the hats or something. Having watched it again, I super don't get it. It's not that Cooper's not good, but what is there of this role? It's like Ruby Dee in American Gangster without the slapping scene.  I ran to my trusty "Inside Oscar" for some kind of explanation, but I came up empty. For this we lost out on Glynis Johns in Mary Poppins? 

Nathaniel: She wins admiration with her opening line  “What a disagreeable surprise” since we share her frank annoyance with her screen son. Love the touch that she’s clearly only half listening to his chatter until something interests or annoys her. I’d sing to her ‘You did it! You did it! I knew that you could do it, and indeed you did.’ But what she had to do was almost nothing so… no singing.  ♥♥

Nick Davis: On the evidence of this film, Cooper’s aged more gracefully than Cukor. She seems to be giving a tart but unostentatious reading of Mrs. Higgins, but like many of the actors, she is stymied by her director’s distant, stagebound camera. We don’t spend much time with her and barely see her when we do, making a capable if unchallenging performance seem even more minor.  

StinkyLulu: Who’da thunk that trusty old Gladys would contribute (of all things) a welcome surge of warmth to Cukor’s oddly clinical treatment of My Fair Lady? There’s no questioning Cooper’s capacity to cow the insufferable Rex Harrison, but tiny little Gladys and her nuanced little performance prove no match for Cukor’s steamrolling spectacle. I love that she’s there, but I can barely see her under that hat. ♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "Serves the film well, adding subtle touches and spitting out those haughty lines. But still a boring coaster nomination" - John. (Reader average: ♥♥)

Actress earns 11 ❤s


DAME EDITH EVANS as "Mrs. St. Maugham" in The Chalk Garden
Synopsis: An old woman fears that her long estranged daughter will return to take the granddaughter away. She hires a governness to help control the unruly teenager
Stats:  76 yrs old. Second consecutive nomination (following Tom Jones). 32½ minutes of screen time (or 31% of running time). 

Melanie Lynskey: Evans gives her character a haughty disconnectedness that works, for the most part. It's fascinating to see the complicated affection Mrs St Maugham has for Laurel; how she's completely incapable of giving the child any kind of boundary, even as she's chastising her. I love the almost combative way she flings that desperate question- "Would you stay with me? Would you?"- at Deborah Kerr. But she spends too much of the movie flatly intoning to people and staring blankly at them until it's her turn to speak again.♥♥♥

Joe Reid: It feels like this is the role people thought they were nominating Gladys Cooper for. Upper-crusty dowager truthing all over the film's more complicated characters, hitting all our anglophile buttons, that sort of thing. That she ultimately doesn't have the steel to match up with Deborah Ker (!!!) is a bit troubling, certainly.  ♥♥

Nathaniel: Proto-Maggie Smith. She’s laying that fussy dowager blueprint down, rarely to be altered again. Though, frankly, The Chalk Garden could have used some of Smith’s inspired comic bite to make its outré elements more easily digestable. Evans is at her best when she’s revealing the petulant abandoned child within or pretending discourse when she’s all about decrees. But the singsong cadence of each line delivery only makes the film’s symbolism ‘but why won’t my garden grow?’ yet more dumbed down.  ♥♥

Nick Davis: If more people knew this movie, I would say, “Ask about me, Olivia, ask about me!” to narcissists at parties, and my intimates could all chortle.  So GIF-able, Edith!  Otherwise, this feels like a Dench-in-Chocolat nod. I know she’s a Dame, but it’s hardly a peak role, and her emphasis on imperiousness clogs other possibilities in it.  Moment to moment, her choices feel obvious. ♥♥ 

StinkyLulu: Evans is all kinds of delicious as the dotty, doting and devouring Mrs. St. Maugham. In her delectation of language and delight in distraction, Evans reminds me that when I’m an old woman I, too, wish to wear purple velveteen. But in this movie-in-search-of-a-tone, Evans tips a touch too comedic, even in her generally effective emotive moments, thereby slackening The Chalk Garden’s thin conflict right when it needs Mrs. St. Maugham to ratchet it up. ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "She indicates with small gestures both her iron will and vulnerability which she can flash through in a single instant." - Joel  (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns 14 ❤s


GRAYSON HALL as "Judith Fellowes" in The Night of the Iguana
Synopsis: The leader of a women's church group seeks revenge on her clergyman tour guide in Mexico when he's caught with her niece.
Stats: 42 yrs old. First and only nomination. 24 minutes of screen time (or 19% of running time). 

Melanie Lynskey: Hall has a swagger to her that is immensely cool, and her voice and face are both fantastic. But I felt like she set her instrument to "villain" and didn't modulate it at all. A few softer moments played like set-ups for an angry payoff; when she starts apologizing to her ward who she believes is lying in the next bed, I wished I was truly feeling her connection to the girl. Her rigidity is especially jarring next to Burton, who's delicious - lively, sweaty, present♥♥

Joe Reid: I should start by saying how difficult it was to pay attention to anyone else in this movie besides Ava Gardner. But Hall manages to thrash and claw her way to occupying a small corner of the film, certainly with more presence than Deborah Kerr. Hall's character is written in broad nasty strokes, worthy of a Celluloid Closet's worth of post-modern study, but Hall never plays into the film's judgment of her, nor its impatience with the roadblocks to the narrative she represents.  ♥♥♥♥

Nathaniel: She uses her frame so well. She’s standing upright even when seated she’s so stiff. When she blows her top that’s literal, the energy only able to escape out those wide eyes, raw vocal chords and even that unruly hair. I wish her scenes weren’t written so repetitively but bless her for that unexpectedly soft and blank “what is she talking about?” coda. Most actors would opt for dim self-awareness, but instead she only dimly asks for mercy; don’t make her take steps!  ♥♥♥♥

Nick Davis: Hall is even more transfixing than the iguana, and almost more than Ava Gardner caressing shirtless houseboys in the moonlit surf.  She’s the first coming of Grace Zabriskie.  I’m impressed her presence didn’t get staler, given how the script keeps forcing her repeatedly through the same scene: approach neurotically, throw tantrum, swear revenge, repeat.  Sadly, she short-changes the semi-repressed cravings that define the character.  ♥♥ 

StinkyLulu: Oh, poor Miss Fellowes, she’s just so high strung. And with the refined yet feral Grayson Hall in the part? It’s not hard to believe that, at any moment, her little head might actually pop off. Though the characterization does have Fellowes seemingly stunted more by severe chronic loneliness than latent lesbionics, Hall’s performance yanks to the surface the incoherent yet blazing depths of feeling that compel the character’s every wild step. A vivid wonder. ♥♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "She's both kitschy fun and not kitschy fun enough. It's the kind of performance that needs less Susan Hayward and more Agnes Moorehead. But then, what performance isn't?" - Goran. (Reader average: ♥♥♥½)

Actress earns 19½ ❤s


LILA KEDROVA as "Madame Hortense" in Zorba the Greek
Synopsis: An eccentric French widow sets her frequently-married sights on Zorba, a lusty Greek man, when he comes to stay at her hotel.
Stats: 46 yrs old. First and only nomination. 33½ minutes of screen time (or 24% of running time).

Melanie Lynskey: Kedrova plays Mme Hortense as a woman who so expects ridicule and disappointment, that even her grandstanding is half-hearted; her joy has a messy edge that suggests she doesn't trust it. Even when she should be swept up in a romantic moment, she's nodding anxiously, already anticipating the end of her lover's story, preparing for him to leave before he even knows he wants to. Her physicality is that of a woman exhausted by hard work; she appropriates the mannerisms of a refined lady, without ever letting go of that heaviness♥♥♥♥

Joe Reid: I can see why she won, as Kedrova plays an incredibly sympathetic character. She plays a rather sad creature, but does a decent job advancing a few moments where her inner life becomes the most interesting thing on the screen. It's nice to see, but there are limits to the sad-sympathetic-whore archetype. Hollywood tropes aside, Kedrova does strong work playing with the main narrative of the movie and, even better, running counter to it, occupying a corner of the story far more interesting than Zorba's logging schemes.  ♥♥♥

Nathaniel: When she flashes back to her youth her performance gets so lyrical that you think she’ll burst into song. But she only dances awkwardly through an act she should have retired but can't let go of. Kedrova doesn’t always feel like she’s in the same movie as everyone else but hers is better, so, thank you. The film can’t decide whether to pity or ridicule this hotelier and maybe Lila feels the same? or is slyly covering her bases to play both sides: Lila aims for laughs but thin-skinned Madame Hortense doesn’t like it when she hits the target. ♥♥♥♥

Nick Davis: I object to the role, which forces its interpreter through serial stereotypes: the delusional coquette, the gaudy epicurean, the whimpering toddler in an aging courtesan’s body. Kedrova leans into some of these clichés, mugging with her face and body, limiting the impact of her sorry fate when it (inevitably) comes. But she works with what she’s got, livening up this weirdly self-serious travelogue picture.  ♥♥♥ 

StinkyLulu: The instant we see Kedrova’s Madame Hortense, we know devastation will come to her (as it seems to all women in the world of this film). Yet Kedrova’s Madame Hortense wears her vulnerability as a veil, which the actress exploits for enigmatic peeks into the character’s deeper reserves of strength and complexity. Kedrova’s deftly humanizing work in the role permits us, when destruction does finally visit, to still care.  ♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "I can see why she won.  The role is showy (but not substantive) and she gets to play the funny ditzy sexy older woman. But this movie belongs to the men" -Tom. (Reader average: ♥♥♥⅓)

Actress earns 20⅓ ❤s


AGNES MOORHEAD as "Velma Cruther" in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte
Synopsis: A loyal housekeeper tries to keep her (possibly) homicidal employer shut off from the world. But why?
Stats: 64 yrs old. Fourth nomination. 22½ minutes screen time (or 17% of running time). 

Melanie Lynskey: It's great when people understand the campiness of the movie they're in and play accordingly (see: Gershon, Gina), but shouldn't the actor at least look like they're having fun? This performance feels like it must have been almost painful to execute. Moorehead spends almost the entire movie crouching, screeching, and aggressively popping her head around corners. I found myself warming to her in moments where her character is forced to move with some urgency and speak in a whisper, making me long for a weirder, quieter, more secretive Velma♥♥

Joe Reid: I almost feel like I shouldn't get a vote when it comes to Agnes because, as a gay man, I've been improperly campaigned to. How are people not dressing up as Velma for the Village Halloween Parade to this day? Those faces she pulls!  That wild-eyed take on the loyal domestic, fermented in isolation in that big dark house. In eight out of ten movies, Moorehead would have been awfully over the top. Thankfully, she knew exactly what movie she was in.  ♥♥♥♥♥

Nathaniel: So broadly cartoonish that it’s no surprise to learn her sitcom career took off this same year (Bewitched). A film filled with severed hands, menstrual dresses, fake nightmares, and Bette Davis in pigtails, hardly needs any strenuous attempts at scene-stealing. Even the way she tiptoes is so over the top that there should be thundering footsteps in the sound mix. I don’t have the genealogy records to prove it but The Cruthers in Louisiana  are direct descendants of Ruby Thewes in 1860s North Carolina.  ♥♥

Nick DavisCharlotte should be delicious but instead it tars everyone involved, giving them too little (Astor) or goading them to vandalize their talents (Davis).  De Havilland proves you can enjoy yourself without sacrificing dignity. Hopefully Moorehead at least had fun.  She’s a kick to watch, appears to recognize what claptrap she’s in, and overacts as only a great actor could. But an Oscar, for cartooning? ♥♥ 

StinkyLulu: Moorehead’s full-throated verve in this cardboard cutout of a character is a peculiar delight to watch — truly an alchemical marvel of actressing at the edges. Sure, I have no idea how this hill woman (with no hint of bayou) came to this Louisiana manse. But stop yer thinkin’! Behold the magic that is the Moorehead! Watch as, in her hands, the film’s shtickiest performance somehow becomes its most vividly human.  ♥♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Moorehead delivers the goods in what amounts to her big-screen swan song. Manages to be at once funny, pathetic and disturbing" - Paul. (Reader average: ♥♥♥⅓)

Actress earns 18⅓ ❤s


In a very tight three way race between the widow, the Baptist, and the housekeeper... Madame Hortense just barely edges out her competition for one more ephemeral triumph to add to her nostalgic recollections. The voting this month was truly all over the place this time with no consensus among readers (where Grayson Hall took top honors but by the fractional slimmest of margins). Most of the panelists agree that the Academy should probably have looked a little further than this exact quintet. The most divisive performance came from Agnes Moorehead. Oscar trivia buffs should note that she is tied for second place with Amy Adams for Most Supporting Actress Nominations For Oscar Losers. (Thelma Ritter leads that pack with a 6/0 record.)

We recorded a podcast to expand on our thoughts! 


Thank you for attending! 
If you enjoyed it, share it on facebook or twitter. We have another Smackdown related treat coming for you real soon, too. If you're new to the Smackdown we've revisited 1941's catfights,  1952's pie-throwing brawl,  1968's sinister sapphics, 1980's warm hugs, and 2003's messy histrionics. Previously over 30 Smackdowns were hosted @ StinkyLulu's old site

Further Reading? Nick has an alternate ballot and you can read more 1960s flavored articles are here

What's next for the Smackdown?
We've scheduled this whole summer in advance for your viewing pleasure. For July we'll be looking at 1973. So queue up this interesting quartet so that you can vote and play along: The Exorcist, Paper Moon, American Graffiti, and Summer Wishes Winter Dreams.

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Reader Comments (52)

A-MAH-ZING. Love to everyone, but having Melanie on this one made it extra special!

Such a weird group of performances.

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterwill h

Yay! I love the smackdowns. Close race this time. I showed this to people at work and now my coworkers want to vote next time!

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertom

That is one of the cutest Oscar speeches of all time. "Michael Cacoyannis,it is your fault, not mine!"
Grayson Hall looks exquisite.
Thanks so much for having me Nathaniel- so fun. xo

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Lynskey

I'd have given it to Kedrova too. And nominated her again a couple of years later for singlehandedly salvaging a few minutes of Hitchcock's turgid "Torn Curtain" (as the desperate little woman in search of a passport). I may have left Grayson Hall in the '64 mix, but the other three would definitely be ejected in favour of Mary Astor (Hush... Hush), Ann Sothern (Lady in a Cage) and a new on the block Jessica Walter. She and Gene Hackman make a memorable pair of unhappily marrieds in "Lilith".

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKen

Great stuff. I loved reading an actor's take on acting. Thanks, Melanie Lynskey!

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Thanks for this first round of comments, everyone!

Adding to the mix, and following up on the ever-reliable Canadian Ken, click here for my thoughts about who else could and should have been nominated.

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

I really enjoyed reading this. Loved how different the opinions were.

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

Will - it was a strange group. even stranger when you think about the movies they liked that year.

Melanie -- no, thank you. So great to have an actor's POV for once.

Ken -- I keep hearing Ann Sothern but for different pictures. Guess she had a good year in 64.

Nick - LOVE your alternates.

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

This one was fun, definitely.
And thanks to Ken & to Nick for broadening the scope.

If you want more of my obsessing on 1964 -- fermented in my own isolation -- see my TwitterExperiment, #64StinkyThoughtsOn1964. (I'm only up to #54, so you'll be seeing me wheeze through the last twitter bends in real time.)

But thanks, again, all -- this one was a HOOT.

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterStinkyLulu

Supporting Actor comes across as SUPER WEIRD from a modern perspective just from the lack of Sterling Hayden. Eminently quotable and wacky in concept, completely straight faced in execution, becoming the movies scariest AND funniest character. (Based on the categories of the time, I'd guess Strangelove deserved double the nom count it got: In addition to the four it had? Supporting Actor (Sterling Hayden), Adaptation or Treatment Score (When Johnny Comes Marching Home is slightly on the nose, but still wildly effective and the "We'll Meet Again" use is an inspired poignant ending song, so how it missed there is completely bizarre, unless there was a corrupt song count minimum on display, to make this a "musicals only please" category), B&W Art Direction (PERFECT recreation of a modern restricted bomber through guess work. Ignoring things like that for yet more period work is why normal people ignore most of the tech categories), Editing.)

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

@Ken: I've seen Lilith twice and can't remember Walter or Hackman. I'm going to check it out again. Have Lady in a Cage sitting here, too.

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Loved Melanie in Win Win ... She needs more movies - more screen time...

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark

I enjoyed all the insights into this weird gaggle of nominees.

If I had my way Gladys Cooper, Lila Kedrova and Agnes Moorehead would not be here. Substitute Glynis Johns for Mary Poppins, Angela Lansbury in Dear Heart and my choice for winner Ava Gardner for Night of the Iguana. I know she could be considered a lead but her screen time is short enough that she could also be supporting and since Burton is such a strong presence all the women seem to satellite around him making them all supporting.

Can't agree with goran though about performances needing less Susan Hayward! I adore her and find her grand style totally entertaining. True there were times where she could consume her fair share of scenery but what big star hasn't? It's her birthday today too!! Think I'll have to go watch one of her films in celebration.

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

As I wrote to Nathaniel when voting, the marketing for The Night of the Iguana referred to "one man - three women," leaving Grayson Hall out of the equation, but she holds her own beside Gardner, Kerr and Lyon in a clash against Burton. The performance is solid if a little predictable, lacking some of the batshit qualities of her multiple-character work on the original Dark Shadows, a job she might not have taken had she won the Oscar. Who knows?

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

A pleasure to read, but even after all this I'm still not curious enough to sit through "Zorba".

I would say "Lady in a Cage" bests "Charlotte" in most regards, but I'm not sure about Sothern in particular there. I'm overdue for a rewatch.

Also, Joe kind of alluded to this - but *what* is the deal with Deborah Kerr? She's terribly miscast in "Iguana", like she auditioned for Hall's part and then they just slotted her in anywhere as a consolation.

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave

What a Tour-de-force Melanie L was in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World!

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlen Risdon

Oh! For more cute/weird speechifying from Lila Kedrova, see her Tony acceptance for "Best Featured Actress in a Musical" (for the same role). Click HERE to see video of that moment.

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterStinkyLulu

Wonderful commentary. So happy that the Smackdown is back!

I think that Yootha Joyce would have been a worthy winner for her brief but haunting performance in 'The Pumpkin Eater.'

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike M.

I wish I could share ALL the reader ballots but if you wrote one you should definitely put your commentary right here. Why let it go to waste?

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Looks like Agnes Moorhead must have rushed over to the Oscars directly after a busy day on the on set of "Bewitched."

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjimmy

Dave -- we recorded a podcast (coming soon) and we do go into Deborah Kerr a bit. I often struggle with her but I love her in From Here To Eternity and Black Narcissus and The Sundowner at least.

June 30, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

LOVED reading this! Thanks guys. :)

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

"I'm not a fan of musicals, mostly because I'm allergic to forced cheer, exaggerated performances, and that horrible thing where people slow their speech down until they eventually break into song."
This was beautifully written (close to what I think).

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

Love the disparity of opinions this round! Wish I could have seen them all, but I was only able to get to NOTI, which was fun, if uneven. I liked what Hall was doing with the character. And Damn, Ava Gardner was awesome. I have never seen a door opened with quite so much dramatic body language (I actually giggled). And I've seen My Fair Lady, but couldn't remember a single Gladys Cooper scene.

Invite Melanie back in the future :) And, Glen R, I agree about Melanie in Seeking a Friend... sooo good (and the film too, which I liked more than most, it seems). It's great to look at her IMDB page and see so many upcoming projects.

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTravis

I saw MY FAIR LADY with Joe last year and do not remember Cooper either, so I think that says a lot.

The only other nominee I have seen is Moorehead, but that was many, many years ago so I have a better excuse to not remember the film well.

June 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

I'm not surprised to see that Nick couldn't bring himself to give more than three hearts to any of these performances when his alternate suggestions include Glynis Johns' humdrum shtick in The Rise Of Evil, Maggie Smith's brief appearance in The Pumpkin Eater, Ann Sothern, the weak link in the otherwise very good ensemble of The Best Man, and Ava Gardner's worst performance ever - give or take Earthquake - in Seven Days In May. Contrarian theories like that only serve the rather senseless purpose of proving Oscar right.

I am however very surprised to see that the marvelous Miss Moorehead, who's only given one bad performance over the course of her distinguished career - Okay, two if we count her few minutes in Dragon Seed. -, apparently managed to fool one of the panelists even though she clearly did not intend to fool anyone at all. But at least she fooled only one, cause - unlike Joe - StinkyLulu is of course in on the joke. Notice how he calls a mostly humorless approach "a peculiar delight to watch", deliberate ham-acting "truly an alchemical marvel of actressing at the edge" and a cartoon by intention and execution "most vividly human". And to top it all, He Who Once Trashed One Of Moorehead's Greatest Performances now emphatically proclaims "Behold the magic that is the Moorehead!". Okay Stinky, we've got it and we all have laughed heartily. But please don't let this joke go too far and the next time you want to sneer at a performer, do so by returning to simply telling us what you really believe. Just imagine if the four hearts you gave her just for fun might have resulted in a performance we both hate so much actually winning the Smackdown...

And so as not to treat the otherwise amazing Agnes all too harshly, I'd like to add one thing in all fairness: When compared to the two by far worst acting nods of 1964 (Camp Queen Henry and Awfulness Descending From The Clouds), Moorehead in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte suddenly strikes me as a relatively worthy nominee.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWilly

Amazing, as always. Thanks to all the panelists and especially the host, Nathaniel.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

Ah, I love the Smackdowns!

Wonderful to take in a (great great) actor's perspective alongside the regulars' usual articulate, thought-provoking commentary.

Meantime, here are the votes I sent to Mr R

Gladys Cooper - My Fair Lady - 1/5
Great actress, nothing performance. Merely one of those cases where someone gets nominated for maintaining an impeccable British accent into their 70s. And of course, popping up in a bloated Best Picture juggernaut.

Edith Evans - The Chalk Garden - 2/5
I have a pulse and I therefore love Deborah Kerr. But one of my least favourite things about her films is the mandatory supporting character of Deborah Kerr's Walking Talking Sexual Repression Manifested. At least (the otherwise great) Dame Evans looks happy to be working.

Grayson Hall - Night of the Iguana 2/5
Something's both very apt and a tiny tad off about that one gorgon note she hacks at for her every minute of screentime. It's both too piercing and not piercing enough. She's both kitschy fun and not kitschy fun enough. It's the kind of performance that needs less Susan Hayward and more Agnes Moorehead. But then, what performance isn't?

Lila Kedrova - Zorba the Greek - 2/5
A bonus point for sneaking in a couple of tiny notes of a recognisable human being amid the grotesquery. But dear Lord, such grotesquery! Though I blame Cacoyannis and his script more than I do Kedrova.

Agnes Moorehead - Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte - 3/5
Moorehead plays Meryl Streep auditioning for the role of Aileen Wuornos. Which is precisely what one should do when stuck playing housekeeper to Bette Davis in a Southern Gothic kabuki. I picture her bursting into hearty laughter at the end of every take.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergoran

goran -- as i told you earlier i loved your write-ups. Fun and also true. especially the Deborah Kerr through line

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Since Nathaniel mentioned Ruby Thewes, can we please get Melanie's defence of Zee's Oscar win. Possibly as the first part of 'Melanie's Monthly Musings' on the blog. Or a standalone, whatever, I'm easy. :)

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterYoYo

@Willy: You're right, we're a bunch of rubes! Thanks for helping us.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

I'll start by saying that the actress that should have won this year wasn't among the nominees. Ava Gardner is simply great in The Night of the Iguana. Along with her achingly beautiful performance in Show Boat this is her best work. Another academy oversight.

Gladys Cooper-My Fair Lady- A great actress she's charming and funny but this is without question a tagalong nomination on the My Fair Lady Ship. Her gracious posture and way of effortlessly delivering a quip adds several nice vignettes to the film but the part doesn't utilize more than an ounce of her talent. 2 hearts.

Edith Evans-The Chalk Garden-The imperious grande dame of the group her seeming dottiness and stubborn determination that her way is the right way is a shield for a yawning fear of being left alone. She indicates with small gestures both her iron will and vulnerability which can she can flash through in a single instant. 4 hearts.

Grayson Hall-The Night of the Iguana-While Ava's work overshadows hers Grayson's finely etched performance of long buried feelings is quite impressive. Playing someone unlikable and making them even remotely sympathic is a hard thing to achieve but Hall manages it. Considering the time it was made and Williams built in self loathing of the character, Grayson makes her barely concealed lust for both Charlotte and Rev. Shannon palpable. Her near breakdown on the beach when Charlotte and Shannon are taking an innocent swim is tragic to behold because it's clear the woman herself doesn't understand why she's so disturbed. A showy part well played. 3 hearts

Lila Kedrova-Zorba the Greek-An expansive performance in a grating film. She injects some lovely moments when Anthony Quinn gets out of her way, which is unfortunately rare. She makes you like and pity poor Madame Hortense and her performance is very good but it didn't stay with me after the film was over as others did. 2 1/2 hearts

Agnes Moorehead-Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte-Perhaps the most fun performance in the running, certainly the biggest. But biggest isn't always best, a high quality piece of work as all the nominees are, unsurprising given the talent of the actresses involved. Moorehead's flashy character work is even more noticeable since it's such a departure from the dignified, glamorous actress's own persona. She pulls out many things from her bag of tricks making Velma a distinct presence in the film from her careworn walk to her darting curmudgeonly but insightful looks. The only person to see through Miriam's honeyed false front from the beginning she is a tremendous asset to the film. Still it is a broad interpretation, highly enjoyable but unsubtle. 3 1/2 hearts

So in lieu of Ava Gardner's actually being able to pick up the prize she so richly deserved (I would have rated her performance 5 stars) my choice is Dame Edith Evans in The Chalk Garden.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

What an awesome year. I love Cooper, so I am immune to your (although true) criticisms of this nomination. I haven't seen Night of the Iguana or The Chalk Garden, but those other three performances are worthy in ANY year.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

"@Willy: You're right, we're a bunch of rubes!"

One of you is.

But rest assured, Nick, I wouldn't go so far as to call you a bunch of willful contrarians. I do however find it quite telling that five hearts were let out only once (and then for the worst performance) even though this Supporting Actress roster is on the whole quite respectable (and even the already mentioned worst performance is at least entertaining). Therefore I seriously wonder what's going on in the minds of the panelists. Distaste for everything that isn't Mary Poppins? Certainly, but the explanation for the Smackdowners', um, restraint is probably even simpler: It's always so much more fun to diss something than to praise it, isn't it? You for sure know what I'm talking about here.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWilly

Willy - cute, but if anyone around here is being both willful and contrarian, I think that person might actually just be...

Anyway - totally enjoyed these write-ups and comments and have made an honest vow to watch both Sweet Charlotte and Iguana this summer. Looking forward to 1973 - a year in which I've seen 4/5 fairly recently!

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

@Willy : Yes, Nick loves to diss movies and actors. That's why he took the time to mention his favorites in the supporting actress category from that year. Favorites which you, mostly, ...dissed.
So, basically, the panelists' sin is that they don't agree with you.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

Mike -- those two movies are SUPER interesting even if you don't end up liking them. They were the most fun to watch and discuss for sure.

July 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Yes Mike, pointing out that the woman who's forever spoiled my enjoyment of the movie musical can neither act nor dance won't make you any friends "around here". (And while we're on it, I wonder what Melanie Lynskey's take on Mary Poppins is.) Be that as it may, unlike someone else I know, I'm not keen on becoming our lord and master's special favorite.

James T, once again and only for you: the panelists' sin is their general approach which - to me at least - seems to be rather keen on deriding the Oscar nominees simply for being the Oscar nominees. And that they can't bring themselves to fully embrace the performances they like best only proves my point here.

And that Nick took the time to mention his favorites in the supporting actress category from 1964 doesn't impress me that much, since it's my interpretation of his preferences that many of his favorites are his favorites simply because they were not among the Oscar nominees. Naturally, you don't have to agree with this reading.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWilly

@Willy: Your theory just doesn't add up. Some years you just can't love any of the nominees. It happens. At least re: Nathaniel, Joe and Nick I know that they love many performances, movies etc that Oscar loved too. And they have all convinced me that whatever subjectivity they bring to their opinion-making (we're all unique, after all), favoring a distance from Oscar tastes in a dogmatic way isn't part of it.
Example: Nick didn't love Evans in Chalk Garden but he adored her in The Whisperers.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

I often wonder why I don't engage in the comments very much. I don't wonder for long.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Reid

James T, even if I would agree that the majority of the panelists wouldn't favor a distance from Oscar's taste in a dogmatic way - which I don't -, then I'd still have my problems with this particular Smackdown. Not all, but many of the comments strike me as unnecessary vile and condescending. There's also the special case of one of StinkyLulu's write-ups where I just don't know if he's talking in earnest anymore. And worst of all: Not one of the contributors can bring him- or herself to give five hearts to Hall or Kedrova? Hm, all of this I do find strange. But your mileage may vary of course.

Joe, your arrogant way of shooting the audience is in many ways the more "sophisticated" version of a 3rtful comment. People who can't stand criticism shouldn't go public with their opinions. Now go and watch Mary Poppins. You sure are in dire need of a spoonful of sugar.

I assume that Nathaniel will ask Joe to apologize. Then again, I don't. After all, we know whom Joey meant.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWilly

I need to see Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams!

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Willy-These are OPINIONS not insults to someone's favorite pieces of work. None of the panel was moved enough by the work to give the full score, neither was I but it's still worthy. No need to get your knickers in a twist, which you obviously have and start condescendingly putting down what others think. You've made it extremely apparent you find no value in Mary Poppins, okay you're entitled to feel that way but by acting as if others liking it is somehow wrong, and being rude about it too boot!, you're basically doing what you are carping about the panel and others doing to work that you admire.

I though Edith Evans was best out of the group but that wasn't the consensus, oh well I'm not going to wail and gnash my teeth about it, I still enjoyed reading the opinions of others.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

@Goran: Do you have favorite Kerr performances? Since you sound like a dyed-in-the-wool fan of most of her work?

@Mike: I agree with Nathaniel that several of these movies are perplexing and rich to ponder, even if they're not entirely successful. That might be true of all of them except My Fair Lady, which doesn't feel all that slippery. Whatever you love or don't on first viewing will probably stay that way later, whereas the others are real shapeshifters, at least for me. I'd seen them all before and even though I'm still not wild about any of them, there's a lot to keep sorting through. Eager to hear what you'll think of those.

@Paul: Can't wait to watch that again. Is there any current equivalent to Woodward? Someone who makes astringency into a kind of signature style, and makes it that fascinating?

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

I am sorry to say I still haven't seen The Chalk Garden and only a portion of Zorba, which I had to turn off. The majority of comments about Cooper are spot-on--I love her, but she got in because she was on the right train. I adore Moorehead's performance, and it's interesting because this is a strange bird for Oscar, both in performance and movie genre. She deserved the nom for entertainment value alone, but there's something very affecting under that broadly stretched scowl. But my favorite if Hall, who is quietly relentless, and never overplays when it would be so easy. NOTI is so underrated. One of Burton's top two performances, and Ava Gardner should have gotten a Best Actress nomination for going to seed glamorously and with a devastating weariness.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Dear Willy, the wayI feel about Mary Poppins is probably best expressed in this trailer:

I wanted to love all the nominees, but I just didn't.

For me, five stars would be reserved for my favourite performances EVER. Like, Emily Watson gets five stars for Breaking The Waves. Joaquin Phoenix gets five stars for The Master.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Lynskey

Joel, my so-called condescending rudeness never came even remotely close to what was thrown at me on this site. And after Joe - obviously aiming at me - just topped all the reproaches by 3rtful and TB and whomever, I'll simply ignore your childish lecture. So, back on topic.

My criticism is not of the panelists' opinions. What I'm criticizing is that they all - with the exception of Melanie - show a (to me at least) rather obvious "I know better" mentality. And some of them do so for quite a long time. Therefore I think it's time for them to pause and to question their (more or less) cynical writing style.

And just for the record, when either Nat or Stinky or Joe can misuse every single posting about the Supporting Actress category to bring up Mary Poppins in one way or the other, then I do feel entitled to do so in the comments as well, yes. And I will do that without asking for your permission, Joel. You're not asking anyone for permission before writing your Katharine Hepburn soliloquies either.

But believe it or not, as long as neither Julie nor the children are in the frame (which is more often than you'd think), I do find value in Mary Poppins. But not in The Sound Of Music.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWilly

Fun Smackdown, as always, and I'm glad to see Lila Kedrova emerge the winner. Special note to newcomer Melanie: I enjoyed your perceptions, and you were astonishing in "Heavenly Creatures." (And you brought something "real" to "Up in the Air.")

Nathaniel kindly suggested I add my own comments about the nominees (Thank you, Nathaniel.) Here they are:

Gladys Cooper, My Fair Lady, (1 heart). Did the Academy voters of 1964 struggle to pencil in a fifth nominee? Cooper looks elegant in her Cecil Beaton finery and provides simple, forthright support. But she misses some potential laughs. And, more to the point, this is an itty-bitty boutonniere of a performance.

Edith Evans, The Chalk Garden, (3 hearts). Edith Evans is almost the only (mildly) interesting element of this overly genteel, dull film (which stars Deborah Kerr . . . as an ex-criminal?), offering solid support and managing to keep the viewer at least semi-conscious. I wish she would’ve camped things up, though, because this movie sorely needed a lot more vitality.

Grayson Hall, The Night of the Iguana (2 hearts). She plays a Sapphic! With “unnatural” designs on Sue Lyon! Heavens to Betsy! Since it’s 1964, this means that Hall—striking and forceful in her own right—is obliged to pack the role with enough snarling camp villainy to befit a Batman nemesis, and her character must endure a public comeuppance and humiliation. And, to top it all, the original source material was penned by . . . Tennessee Williams?

Lila Kedrova, Zorba the Greek (5 hearts). A pint-sized performer with outsize talents, Lila Kedrova creates an emotionally fragile, ridiculous, rapacious, yet lovable character; her Madame Hortense evokes Blanche DuBois, Blanche Deveraux, and a lusty Oompa-Loompa. Alternately hilarious (her dancing scene) and heartbreaking (her final scene), Kedrova plays the role with such skill, charm, conviction, and emotion, that we feel as protective toward her as Anthony Quinn’s Zorba does. One of the best wins in this category’s history.

Agnes Moorehead, Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte (2 hearts). Moorehead’s role makes no sense—she seems to be playing the grimiest housekeeper in film history. Nevertheless, she manages some audience empathy in her final moments and tries to create a realistic, believable character. But when an actress is trapped in a film as sourly grotesque as this one, garishly directed by the subtle-as-a-truck Robert Aldrich, what can she do?

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Matt - "lusty oompa-loompa" is my favorite description of Madame Hortense EVER

July 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Mine, too. Love all of these write-ups, in fact. "Batman nemesis" and "itty-bitty boutonniere" are also especially choice.

July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

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