Behold the five Oscar-nominated Supporting Actresses of 1973: a "bitchin' babe" (Candy Clark), a pint-sized con-artist (Tatum O'Neal), a possessed teenager (Linda Blair), a selfish carnival dancer (Madeline Kahn), and a vinegary New York institution (Sylvia Sidney).
Last month's featured year, 1964, gave us an extremely senior acting shortlist of Oscar regulars but the corresponding shortlist of 1973, apart from Sylvia Sidney who had been a respected working actress for nearly a half-century, skewed very new and very young and not just because it gave us the youngest Oscar winner of all time in Tatum O'Neal; she was 10 years and 148 days old. The four actresses nominated with Sidney were in their first flush of stardom and only acting in their first (O'Neal) second (Kahn & Clark) or third films (Blair). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences obviously approved of their career choice.
You've already heard 'what 1973 means to them' and now here to talk about these five performances are authors Mark Harris ("Five Came Back") and Karina Longworth ("Anatomy of an Actor: Meryl Streep"), film critics Bill Chambers (Film Freak Central) and Kyle Turner (Movie Scene), your host Nathaniel R (The Film Experience) and our special guest: two-time Emmy winning actress Dana Delany ("China Beach", "Body of Proof", and the forthcoming "Hand of God").
And, as ever, we must thank StinkyLulu for the original Smackdown inspiration in which we revisit Oscar shortlists of the past without all the campaigning and heat-of-the-moment politics that infect each awards race. Without further ado, part one of the main event.... (here's part two which is a podcast conversation)
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN
LINDA BLAIR as "Regan" in The Exorcist
Synopsis: The daughter of a famous actress begins acting strangely. Can two priests save her from the demon inside?
Stats: 15 yrs old. First and only nomination. 41 minutes of screen time (or 34% of running time).
Dana Delany: William Friedkin clearly created a set where Blair felt free to perform. She is naturally real as a pre-teen and then fully committed in the physicality when she is possessed. I know it's McCambridge's voice, but Blair deserved this nomination just for what they put her through; the crucifix in the crotch, alone! ♥♥♥
Bill Chambers: This isn't one performance but three--four if you count the makeup unto itself. Blair provides the base coat, of course, and the guilessness she brings to her early scenes is perhaps easy to underrate; she's not just natural, she's impossibly ordinary. (Her squirms and grunts in the hospital scenes are also viscerally authentic.) But Regan is a puppet in both concept and execution, manifesting fewer reactions than she provokes. In the end, this isn't unlike nominating Yoda or something. ♥♥
Karina Longworth: In a movie full of terrible performances, at least Blair's gives you something to think about, in that it takes some work to separate out what she's actually doing on her own, and what is being accomplished via makeup, effects, and voice dubbing. The things that are wrong (dated, laughable) with the movie are not Blair's fault, exactly, but she also doesn't exactly give a sense of the agency or invention that she brings to the role that another actress wouldn't. ♥♥
Kyle Turner: Though part of what’s memorable about Blair’s performance has to do with Mercedes McCambridge’s voice work, she adds an absolutely crucial element of that innocence and naiveté suddenly taken over by evil. The film is not only horrifying on a visceral level, but on a human level because we sympathise for Regan. She’s going through Hell. Literally. ♥♥♥♥♥
Mark Harris: Revisiting this, I found myself surprised by how little Blair is in the movie—unlike the adults, she’s not a character but an object, and William Friedkin uses her shrewdly but sparingly, in short, carefully chosen takes, sort of the way Spielberg deployed the shark in Jaws. It’s far from great acting, but her ordinariness works well for the part, and even though it’s a largely lip-synced performance (all hail Mercedes “Pazuzu” McCambridge!), she’s impressively game in every scene. ♥♥
Nathaniel R: Those doctors and priests are such fools. Little Regan definitely has an unholy spirit inside her and its name is "McCambridge". Though the sound design, dubbing, and makeup are doing major heavy-lifting, Blair does just fine with her half portions, believably slipping towards catatonic trouble. Plus: watch her demon scenes with the sound off (I tried it!) and there’s still solid physical acting. In short I believed this young actress scratched “Help Me” into her own stomach from the inside. ♥♥♥
Reader Write-Ins: "Even with all the help this performance gets (makeup, sound, voice actors, etc) I still think Blair was ahead of her age and completely believable. Even after all the spoofs and rip offs I still find her creepy and during the "normal" scenes she's very natural." - Mauro. (Reader average: ♥♥½)
Actress earns 19½ ❤s
4 more actresses after the jump
CANDY CLARK as "Debbie" in American Graffiti
Synopsis: A blonde with an eye for hot wheels and fine upholstery goes driving with a horny teen.
Stats: 26 yrs old. First and only nomination. 16 minutes of screen time (or 15% of running time).
Dana Delany: I was delighted by this performance. In some ways it holds up more than the movie. Clark has a great combination of innocent and freak. She gets kind of a crazed look in her eyes and licks her lips while she says the goofiest stuff. It is a uniquely offbeat character she is creating and not a Monroe/Dee rip off. ♥♥♥♥
Bill Chambers: From the moment Clark appears like a fembot awaiting an activation key ("Connie Stevens"), this is an endearingly unorthodox take on an archetypal bimbo. In outline, Debbie's submissive, gullible, and opportunistic, but Clark plays her as merciful, ironic, and just trying to get hers; in the sequel, she has more agency--a response to Clark rather than anything in Debbie's biography. Love that Clark scored the film's only acting nod, considering the absence of female characters in that famous post-script ♥♥♥
Karina Longworth: In a film with this much talking, you really feel that some of the actors are left adrift by George Lucas' lack of direction. Clark's performance is notable because it's kind of odd; her line readings veer between interestingly off and sort of nonsensical, making her seem alternately like a non-actor and a first-time film actor who has had a lot of theatrical training and hasn't quite figured out the transition to performing for a camera. Still, she's got something -- a magnetism that's innocent and sexy and a little sad, all qualities the Academy seems drawn to when it comes to crowning new starlets. ♥♥
Kyle Turner: Clark is fine, with her large, platinum blonde do, but her subtle performance has to compete against the louder ones from everyone else in the film. Even Charles Martin Smith’s Toad is a more overt, visible performance in comparison, and while Clark is very good at registering different levels of her character. they don’t register as strongly as they maybe should. ♥♥♥
Mark Harris: Academy voters have always rewarded actresses for finding humanity within dumb-blonde stereotypes, and Clark, as a sad good-time girl under cotton-candy hair, does that affectingly as someone just self-aware enough to know she’s probably going to make a lot of dumb decisions down the road. It’s an underimagined role, and it’s surprising that she got singled out without a big scene. But she mines her subplot for every ounce of poignance. ♥♥♥
Nathaniel R: She sure is an odd one. And that’s thanks entirely to Clark since there's barely a written role. Debbie could have easily tilted so far into stock ‘girl who helps guy have character arc’ that she would never be remembered fondly… or at all. Clark brings welcome specifity in memorable line readings and body language, smartly keying into Debbie’s restless boredom rather than assumed vapidity. Plus, she nails that sympathizing dismount without losing the character for sentiment. ♥♥♥♥
Reader Write-Ins: "Has a really expressive and thoughtful moment but is otherwise consistently undercut by the filmmaking – shot from a distance or in profile or in too-dim lighting. Strong within limits is still limited." - Dave S. (Reader average: ♥♥)
Actress earns 21 ❤s
MADELINE KAHN as "Trixie Delight" in Paper Moon
Synopsis: A "dancer" quits her carny job to shack up with a small-time crook. His little girl ain't having it.
Stats: 31 yrs old. First of two consecutive nods. 12½ minutes of screen time (or 12% of running time).
Dana Delany: It's really unfair for she and O'Neal to be in the same category it's instinct v. craft. Kahn is giving a complex, funny, heartbreaking performance in such a short span. Her transitions in her speech to Tatum on the hill ending in "Let o' Trixie sit up front with her big tits" are masterful. And the fact that she was uncomfortable saying "tits" makes it even better. I wish she were still showing us her genius. ♥♥♥♥♥
Bill Chambers: Trixie seems die-cut for Kahn's brassy shtick, which exasperates me as much as it does Addy. She transcends caricature, though, in a tour-de-force monologue that's like the five stages of confronting a child's cold shoulder--a stream of babble Kahn beautifully modulates from condescension to anger, desperation, and self-pity, until finally Trixie's levelling with Addy, woman to woman. It's recognizably human, and Khan finds the humour in it without torquing the laughs. A one-scene wonder, maybe, but what a scene! ♥♥♥♥
Karina Longworth: I love, love, love her, and I really have nothing critical to say about her performance in this movie, BUT! The subplot involving Kahn is a) my least favorite part of a pretty much perfect movie, and b) most interesting for the way it gives Tatum a chance to show more about who she is and how she feels through action. Of the two performances nominated in this category, what this one has going for it is that it's legitimately a supporting performance, unlike Tatum O'Neal's. ♥♥♥♥
Kyle Turner: What I adore about Kahn is her ability to play a complete fool, but play that fool “straight” in a manner of speaking. Trixie Delight is a kind of a moron, and it’s a fairly easy aspect of that character to play. But there’s a little wave of nuance and humanity that Kahn adds when she walks up the hill trying to win over little Addie. ♥♥♥♥
Mark Harris: Unimpeachable work, supporting and supportive. I hesitate to use the word “perfect”, but this is what it’s all about: In and out in just 20 minutes, Kahn gives the movie something it really needs, imparting all the hunger and grit and gnawing fear of the Depression in a magnificent comic turn as an exotic dancer who is desperate not to let her desperation show. Her hillside negotiation with O’Neal—one uninterrupted shot—is both laugh-out-loud funny and completely emotionally true. ♥♥♥♥♥
Nathaniel R: Showy small parts often win praise, whether deserving or not, merely by breathing new energy into a dull picture. Paper Moon doesn’t need Kahn’s help to be marvelous (abundance of riches here!) but she’s still a highlight coming on strong enough to justify the words "truly indelible”. This is major comic alchemy: she’s winning sympathy (that speech on the hill!) while still playing the comedy broadly and bitchily enough to also be the person you’re rooting against as Addie plots her downfall. ♥♥♥♥♥
Reader Write-Ins: "With the talent of a true comedienne, she found all the possibilities of her role and added so much more to create a character that is hilarious, poignant, pathetic, a woman hungry for life and money who uses all (ALL!) the talents she has to get it." - Fritz. (Reader average: ♥♥♥¾)
Actress earns 30¾ ❤s
TATUM O'NEAL as "Addie" in Paper Moon
Synopsis: A newly orphaned girl hits the road with a "friend" of her mother's. She quickly adapts to his grifter lifestyle.
Stats: 10 yrs old. First and only nomination. 95 minutes of screen time (or 93% of running time).
Dana Delany: Having acted with many children before, you cannot underestimate Sargent's script and Bogdanovich creating a safe atmosphere to play and a co-star who is right there with you. (I'd forgotten how good Ryan O'Neal was.) Yes, Tatum has great instincts but you are also awarding her precociousness and in this case the eerily prophetic father/daughter relationship. With her croaky voice lack of sentiment and fetching androgynous costumes she is wonderful. ♥♥♥♥♥
Bill Chambers: I can't think of many performances that are so conspiratorial without directly addressing the camera, and yet maintain a certain privacy in individual moments, when there's no one for us to root with Addy against. Nigh feel like I shouldn't be witness to that flicker of remorse as she sends Moze off to catch Trixie, or her girlish poses in the mirror, which begin in disappointment and end in an enigmatic smile. But they're the heart of an acting miracle. ♥♥♥♥♥
Karina Longworth: The only criticism I have of this performance is that it doesn't belong in this category -- it's a lead. The subjectivity of the movie is hers; she's in almost every scene, and her story is the driver of the action. I guess Oscar politics requires children to be pushed as supporting? She's really stunning in this movie, and so much of what she does starts as physical action, which is really interesting. But her casting is such a great narrative, and she has so much more to do than any of the other nominees, that this wasn't really a fair fight. That said, the Academy got this right. ♥♥♥♥♥
Kyle Turner: I had heard that O’Neal was the youngest performer to win an Oscar, so I braced myself for people acting off her or for her or that she was merely cute. But she is able to hold her own and give a unique push and pull in the film that is certainly aided by the fact that Ryan is her father. There’s a sharpness in her performance that’s present especially when she pulls off the dollar bill exchange scene. ♥♥♥♥
Mark Harris: Yeah, it’s a lead, and any Oscar a kid wins should probably be shared by the director. That said, O’Neal’s performance as a budding con artist is a delight, partly because of the delight she takes in it. It’s not just her stony self-possession, her watchfulness, her control; it’s that she knows how to let you see her mind at work. Watch the long, silent take in which she poses as her mother in the mirror. It’s unadorned, lovely acting. ♥♥♥♥
Nathaniel R: Bogdanovich exploits her perfect poker face and real life lineage with onscreen/offscreen father Ryan O'Neal for all it's worth. And that combo turns out to be worth quite a lot in this gigantic role. Tatum's best contribution on either side of that mask-like mug is not the punctuations of childish volatility and adult composure but the fascinating way they intermingle when she's "acting" like a child while at her most adult pulling her cons. ♥♥♥♥
Reader Write-Ins: "Literally the single most conspicuous case of category fraud that was ever perpetuated, but O’Neal’s way of letting us see her con artist’s calculation and precocious wisdom while hiding it from all the adults in the cast is so precise and ingratiating, I can’t bring myself to care." - Tim B. (Reader average: ♥♥♥¾)
Actress earns 30¾ ❤s
SYLVIA SIDNEY as "Mrs. Pritchett" in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams
Synopsis: An old prickly woman, who lunches weekly with her daughter, has a heart attack
Stats: 63 yrs old. First and only nomination. 10½ minutes screen time (or 11% of running time).
Dana Delany: It could have been subtitled, "I Never Sang for My Mother." My favorite part was watching Sylvia Sidney walk past my building in the village in 1973. She does bring some life to a dull film but her performance is large and somewhat coarse. Is she meant to be sophisticated? I think the Academy was happy to see her back on screen after 17 years. ♥
Bill Chambers: This nomination seems partly intended to commemorate Sidney's return to movies after a decade-long hiatus, as it's an unusually front-loaded performance for the Academy to single out. Granted, these latter-day smoke- and acid-spewing turns of hers all emit a whiff of self-parody for me post-Beetlejuice, but the real problem is "Rita's Mother"* exits before her arch haughtiness can be grasped as the salty complement to Woodward's vinegar, or capitalized as a tonic against the autumnal moroseness that engulfs the picture. ♥♥
Karina Longworth: I know this was considered a "she's old and due" career nomination (more vintage Academy), but within an odd, sometimes jaw dropping, slightly embarrassing film, Sidney pretty much kills it. It's probably my favorite of the genuine supporting performances on this list: she shows up and in a very short time creates an indelible presence. But I have a weakness for salty old broads. ♥♥♥♥
Kyle Turner: There’s nothing particular defining or distinguishing about the performance. She plays her character competently, yet nothing really seems to stand out or leave a lasting impression. Although it is amusing to hear her on the phone, so confident, saying, “I’m at Saks”, there’s an odd mix of staginess and subtlety that makes the short performance jarring, yet mildly forgettable. ♥♥
Mark Harris: Just 22 minutes in, Sidney, after a spectacular do-not-go-gentle heart attack, is gone. Boy, does this deeply glum drama of middle age miss her. I grew up around women like her character—tough, caustic, vital old New York crones who knew how to turn nicotine, rage, and resentment into their own form of Red Bull. This is funny, unsparing work, and also honest, both emotionally and physically; she even knows how to shove eyeglasses into an eyeglass case angrily. ♥♥♥
Nathaniel R: I always feel terrible for elderly actors who have to do death scenes. That can’t be a rehearsal anyone really wants to prep for. Especially when the death scene is so frighteningly well-acted, vanity free and fully in character – she even chastises her screen daughter for the way she’s holding her as her (next to) last words. Sidney has this impossible-to-please woman pegged - but there’s so little to peg. ♥♥♥
Reader Write-Ins: "Maybe there's a secret clause that forces voters to save a spot for venerable actresses and we don't know it." - Peggy Sue. (Reader average: ♥♥¾)
Actress earns 17¾ ❤s
THE SMACKDOWN GOES TO... THE GIRLS OF "PAPER MOON"
Neither Addie nor Trixie likes to share, as evidenced by their memorable competition for Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal), but they'll have to learn to do just that since they've tied in the Smackdown battle. Oscar famously went with Tatum O'Neal, the youngest competitive Oscar winner in any category. And though it is the single most blatant case of category fraud ever for an actress at the Academy Awards, it's a wonderful star turn in a great movie and the whole panel loved her... so it's hard to begrudge the win.
But why not include her in that year's oddly weak Best Actress lineup, AMPAS? Especially since she deserved to be there and there was room.
* this is our second tie in only our seventh smackdown (1941 also had a tie). Any suggestions for tiebreakers in the future?
Want more? LISTEN TO THE PODCAST where we flesh out these feelings and talk about the films themselves and our moviegoing histories
Thank you for attending!
If you enjoyed it, share it on facebook or twitter. In previous Smackdown we've watched 1941's catfights, 1952's pie-throwing brawl, 1964's exasperated dames, 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? 1970s articles are here
What's next on the Smackdown?
In August we'll be looking at the year 1989, Panel TBA. So queue up these four films: Enemies: A Love Story, My Left Foot, Parenthood and Steel Magnolias