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Coming on August 30th: Supporting Actress Smackdown 1954

The Supporting Actress Smackdown (and companion podcast), 1954 Edition, arrives in exactly one week. So let's...


We'll be discussing the Supporting Actress Oscar race of 1954 as well as the films themselves: The High and the Mighty, On the Waterfront, Broken Lance and Executive Suite. And you know how these things go. Sometimes other films from the year sneak in. This time we don't have any newbies but an All Stars Edition if you will with all previous panelists. 



Mark Harris is an editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, a Grantland columnist (about the Oscars and other things), and a contributor to New York magazine. He is the author of Pictures at a Revolution (2008) and Five Came Back (2014). He lives in New York City. [Follow him on Twitter]  

(Mark previously participated in the 1973 Smackdown)

What does 1954 mean to you?

I think of 1954 as a year with one foot planted in two different decades. It's just before Blackboard Jungle, just before rock 'n roll, just before Elvis, just before James Dean. In some ways it feels like the last year that you could describe as "post-WWII" before the country transitioned into being "pre-"something else. In terms of movies, I think of a kind of thick, glossy romanticism--Magnificent Obsession, Grace Kelly in Rear Window, Sabrina.

I think of capitalism and camel-hair coats and cigarettes and immense cars--the American dream inscribed in retail objects. And I think of Brando's first Oscar and of what his performance in On The Waterfront meant to the future of screen acting..


Manuel Muñoz is the author of three books, including the Hitchcock-inspired novel, What You See in the Dark.  He teaches creative writing at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

(Manuel previously participated in the 1968 Smackdown)

What does 1954 mean to you?

With the right drink and the right circle, 1954 means me arguing that "Rear Window" was Hitchcock's strongest Best Director nomination and, after that's settled, listening to anyone who can tell me why Jane Wyman was nominated for "Magnificent Obsession".



Todd VanDerWerff is the Culture Editor for Vox.com, where he writes a lot about TV and movies. Before that, he was the TV Editor at The A.V. Club. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Grantland, Salon, Hitfix, and The House Next Door. [Follow him on Twitter]  

(Todd previously participated in the 1989 Smackdown)

What does 1954 mean to you?

I suppose I could say 1954 means nothing to me. Both my parents turned 5 that year, so that's something, I suppose. Wikipedia tells me that Lassie debuted in 1954, and Willie Mays made "The Catch" at the World Series. Those were both things!

When it comes to the films, however, 1954 is a year where I'm really familiar with the biggest hits (Rear Window! On the Waterfront!) and woefully underseen on some of the smaller treats. For example: I loved White Christmas (the year's top film) when I was 9. Would I still? Who knows. Godzilla hit US shores in 1954, something that's worth celebrating, even if it won't factor into our discussion. But I chose this year precisely because I know so little about the nominees. I look forward to getting to know them.


Anne Marie is the author of TFE series A Year With Kate and Women's Pictures.
Her love of film began as childhood adulation of Katherine Hepburn & the Marx Brothers, and grew into a passion for Technicolor, Hays Code movies, and B-picture scifi. This led to a career in film preservation & history. Anne Marie is currently pursuing a Masters in Cinema Studies at USC. When not writing about movies, Anne Marie can be found working on movies, talking about movies, or watching movies. She also has several other hobbies and occasionally goes outside. [Follow her on Twitter.]

(Anne Marie previously participated in the 1941 Smackdown)

What does 1954 mean to you?

Even though I wasn't born yet, 1954 is the year that changed my life. In 1954, A Star Is Born was released, re-edited, and re-released in a shorter version. Thirty years later, a film historian named Ronald Haver rediscovered the lost scenes, and put together a nearly complete version of George Cukor's theatrical cut. And twenty years after that, my mom gave me the DVD of Ronald Haver's version for Christmas. My confusion at finding production stills in the middle of a WarnerColor Judy Garland musical sparked an interest in preservation that eventually blossomed into a vocation in film restoration. And I owe it all to Judy Garland.


BRIAN HERRERA (aka "StinkyLulu")
Brian convened the first Supporting Actress Smackdown and hostessed more than thirty. He is a writer, teacher and scholar presently based in New Jersey, but forever rooted in New Mexico. Follow him on Twitter. Or read his new book "Latin Numbers: Playing Latino in 20th Century US Popular Performance .

(Brian created the Smackdowns originally! He gave us his blessing and participated in the relaunch right here at TFE for the 1952 race)

What does 1954 mean to you?

1954 feels like the decade's pivot year -- the Salk polio vaccine trials begin, Brown v Board is decided, Joe McCarthy goes down in flames -- but it doesn't carry much personal resonance. Aside perhaps from the fact that it was the first year that the Miss America Pageant was televised. (Oscar went live-on-TV the year before.)


And your host...

Nathaniel is the founder of The Film Experience, a reknowned Oscar pundit, and the web's actressexual ringleader. He fell in love with the movies for always at The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) but mostly blames Oscar night (in general) and the 80s filmographies of Kathleen Turner & Michelle Pfeiffer (specifically). Though he holds a BFA in Illustration, he found his true calling when he started writing about the movies. He blames Boogie Nights for the career change. [Follow him on Twitter]

What does 1954 mean to you?

It's rather a horrible Oscar year for me as I am NOT fond of the Best Picture list and it was the monster birth of deglam (it may have started before that but Grace Kelly definitely popularized it as an Oscar tactic). But here are a few things I think of that give me great pleasure:


Marlon Brando saying "I coulda been a contenduh," Marilyn Monroe in general who kind of defines the 1950s (don't you think?) and had gone supernova the year before, and the following musical pleasures: Judy G singing "The Man That Got Away," the "Sisters" number from White Christmas which two of the most popular girls in my high school used to sing at our Concert Choir events, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse's  sexual chemistry while dancing to "The Heather on the Hill" in Brigadoon and that barn dance in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Did you know there were over 20 musicals released in 1954?! It didn't use to be a special event only genre.

What does 1954 mean to you dear readers?

Do tell in the comments.

And remember to get your votes in on these ladies who give the performances within the films that we'll be discussing. Your ballots are due by Thursday August 27th - only vote on the performances you've seen as we weigh the ballots so that underseen or everyone-has-seen-it doesn't hurt or help.

The Nominees

The 95 smackdown was an absolute squeaker so since YOU are the collective sixth panelist you never know when your vote might count. On the smackdown podcast we'll surely consider this odd factoid: Several Oscar-favored actresses had supporting roles this year but none were nominated: Ritter (Rear Window), Moorehead (Magnificent Obsession), Stanwyck (Executive Suite), McCambridge (Johnny Guitar). What was that about?

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Reader Comments (41)

Let me be the first to say Mercedes McCambridge is still quite the confusing performance to me. I love and hate it at the same time. I wonder what everyone else has to say because if I was to put the performance in context for me it was like Lynn mentioning that she couldn't take her eyes off Leigh even though she felt it was a bit much. That's the same for me with McCambridge.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

I've now seen 4/5 of these performances and, so far, it makes no sense to me that Thelma Ritter did not get nominated for Rear Window.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGab

"Rear Window" in general didn't get much attention at the Oscars, which seems odd in retrospect but I don't have much sense of how much of a hit it was or wasn't at the time.

But this is definitely an interesting Supporting line-up, as much for the inclusions as the omissions. I've caught up on all the nominees already and a good four of the five seem unlikely. Not bad, just unlikely.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

How Ritter missed this nomination (and win, for that matter) is beyond me.

I'm very much looking forward to catching Executive Suite, especially now that I find out that the Greatest Actress of All Time has a supporting role in it.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I think I've heard Rear Window didn't do all that well in its initial run - which is baffling, considering what a great and audience-pleasing movie it is.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Goran - big June Allyson fan?

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

One of the few line ups where I've only seen the winner. She was fine. (but felt more leading imo? I've only seen the movie once tbh)

Thelma Ritter is always great. It's sad she's in the "biggest Oscar loser club".

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

So far, I've only seen OTW and ES. Both ladies were tremendous, but without seeing the remaining three, I have to say it's hard to conceive of anyone deserving the Oscar more than the winner. Eva's stunning performance is one of my faves ever in this category. This Smackdown is gonna smack the hell down. For sure.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Did you already do the best actress of 1995 smack-down and I missed it? Why was Tom Cruise standing next to Oprah during her last show, as if he was a king? I know I need to put my manners back in, but his oddity and giant ego is compelling.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

So, I was two thirds of the way through a TERRIBLE disaster movie one Saturday afternoon last year. I love disaster movies so was enjoying it and simultaneously jumped on IMDB for a bit of context.

It was The High And The Mighty.

Not that either actress is especially bad (is Sterling's the ultimate "de-glam" performance?), in fact all performances are just fine.

However, this is like Deep Impact gaining Oscar nominations for Redgrave and Innes. So weird.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterkermit_the_frog

Tom Ford -- yeah, we just did it this weekend - READ IT

August 6, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

This is actually one of the first times I have seen all the nominees in this category. I love all of the actresses, but I feel like it's a typical case of the Oscars nominating people for the wrong performance. None of these perfs were bad, but 4 of them were competent.

I guess I'll start from worst to best.

5. Claire Trevor is an excellent actress, and is usually the bright spot of every movie she's in. She walked away with Key Largo and 100% deserved the Oscar and was stunning in her single scene of Dead End. There were so many other films she should have been nominated for like Born to Kill, Raw Deal, and Murder My Sweet.

However, other than one badly written monologue, Trever didn't do much. The High and The Mighty didn't really give its actors much to do (I can see why many actors turned down roles), so it's surprising that two actress got nominated.

4. Katy Jurado, I think we all know this is clearly a make up nomination for the egregious High Noon snub. She gives a sensitive performance, but it's a one-note role and the pairing with Spencer Tracy is awkward.

3. Nina Foch, an excellent character actress who took a lot of spinster, bitchy and "other woman" roles that many vainer actresses would probably refuse. However, this role is sort of thankless, though Foch does ok, considering what an unfun, frigid role it is (Stanwyck was better in this film). She gave a more awards-worthy turn in An American in Paris.

2. Jan Sterling, definitely the best performance in the film, but that isn't saying too much considering how dull and un-friendly this movie is to actors. However, her scene where she removes her makeup and talks about her floozy life is affecting, but too self-contained to be awards worthy.

Methinks it was the Academy covering their asses for the epicly stupid snubs for Ace in the Hole and Johnny Belinda. I also thought she should have been nominated for her heartbreaking turn as a widow in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.

1. Eva Marie Saint. She elevates this "girl" role with her otherworldly grace; her scenes with Brando have a dreamlike grace to them. At 30, she adds a wisdom that a younger actress might not. For the most part, she eschews sappiness, until the very end. (That said, I'd be curious how Janice Rule, another candidate, might have played this role).

However, Saint without a doubt does her best work in North by Northwest, as an alluring and sexy spy, and does the part with great wit. She had way more sex appeal than most directors realized. It's a shame that other directors didn't capitalize on it.

Yet, I think Saint was the right winner for this year.

I concur with the other posters that the Thelma Ritter snub is inexplicable, especially since she was a favorite in the 50s and was nominated for lesser performances like With a Song In My Heart and Pillow Talk.

Here were some other overlooked perfs:
Denise Darcel - Vera Cruz
Ginger Rogers - Black Widow (a hoot as a Tallulah Bankhead-like diva)
Ruth Roman - The Far Country

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Tawfik

I saw "The High and The Mighty" when it was brought back into circulation nearly a decade ago.

Highly entertaining and hilariously awful, it was like watching "Airplane," the spoof it partially inspired. I love the scene where the passengers are pitching belongings out the side of the plane to lighten its load! With only a slight breeze indicating they might be in the air!

I thought the "Mighty" ladies Trevor and Sterling were fine, but their parts were so small and stereotypical that I was amazed they got Oscar nods. But "The High and the Mighty" was a big hit and studios dictated Oscar voting...

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterrick gould

Dave S. - lol

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Thelma Ritter should have been nominated!

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Eva Marie Saint blows the competition out of the water, but in my opinion, all 4 of the actresses still manage to give performances ranging from decent (Sterling & Trevor) to good, not great (Jurado & Foch). Still, these 4 actresses have given better performances in better films.

My ranking:

1. Eva Marie Saint
2. Katy Jurado
3. Nina Foch
4. Jan Sterling
5. Claire Trevor

Question: Suppose Saint was nominated in lead, any guesses as to who would be the replacement nominee? Me thinks Ritter or McCambridge would have had very good chances of taking that slot.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAditya B

It'll be fun to catch these performances and read the Smackdown column, but I do wish y'all had chosen a year when the (inevitable) winner wasn't such a foregone conclusion. This is Eva Marie Saint in a landslide. Kinda takes some of the fun out of it. '95 was the best yet because of the razor thin margin of victory.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKBJr

KBJr -- we can only choose by years which a) haven't been done already and b) where the films are avialable which limits the pool by quite a lot. I personally remember loving FOCH way more than SAINT but i haven't seen either movie in a long time (and i've never seen the other two movies) so i'll be curious ... at least about my own ballot ;)

August 6, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I certainly won't be in the majority, but I don't rank Saint first on my ballot. It was my first time watching "Waterfront" and was really underwhelmed - other than some distracting eye movement, I didn't find her especially memorable.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

I feel like this is a makeup year for many of the nominees.

Katy Jurado- oops sorry about that High Noon omission ( and thereby robbing the smackdown audience of an actual exciting race for the gold) Here is your nomination

Nina Foch- oops, sorry that you started in a Best Picture winner and took an unlikable role and turned her into an interesting 3 dimensional character. Here is your nomination.

Jan Sterling- oops sorry that you were the only person not nominated for Johnny Belinda. Here is your nomination.

Clare Trevor- oops, sorry we didn't give you a nomination for your other superior movie with John Wayne. Here is your nomination.

and then newcomer Saint wins it all in the end.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commentertom

Oh, so the smackdown is only limited to best supporting actress? I was hoping you would include the best actress nominees (Susan, Meryl, Elisabeth, Sharon and Emma), and also reallocate that award if appropriate based on the panel's current revisit of their work (and really amp up the advocacy and drama). And if you already did it, you can ignore me. I have a demanding job in high fashion and I do appreciate that you spend so much time covering film.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

A western and a movie about the army? You're killing me!

I don't care it has been done already. We need to do 1985 again. There's no way Oprah won over Anjelica. Travesty! Recount!

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

peggy sue yes! I think only 2 people were on that panel. more people are needed. not trying to take away from Oprah's great performance, but anjelica was better.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commentertom

What an odd lineup of roles to garner these fine actresses nominations. As has been commented on all but the breakout role for Eva Marie are pallid parts filled by superior actresses. That's bad enough when it happens in one slot for a year but FOUR!!

The killer about that is that it wasn't a weak year for supporting roles. To put those women there the academy ignored, beside the already mentioned Thelma Ritter and Mercedes McCambridge, the fantastic work by Brenda de Banzie in Hobson's Choice, Pearl Bailey in Carmen Jones, Lauren Bacall in Women's World, Glenda Farrell in Susan Slept Here and on and on. Hell there were two better roles and stronger performances in Executive Suite by Barbara Stanwyck and Shelley Winters then by nominee Foch.

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/3001/Executive-Suite/ Showing on TCM on August 31

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/4749/On-the-Waterfront/ Showing on TCM on August 17.

Nothing for the other two, though.

While Brando was spectacular and alive, I don't know how Eva Marie won this award, other than playing the 50's version of "Rocky"'s Adrian. Thelma Ritter for the write in win!

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Interesting that Thelma Ritter picked up an supporting Oscar nod the year before in a smaller movie, "Pickup on South Street," which became a cult classic. But not for a scene-stealing role in a much higher profile movie the next year, "Rear Window," which made over 26 million at the time. The vagaries of Oscar nominations...

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterrick gould

just watched "executive suite" and "the high and mighty" this week for the smackdown and feel like eva marie saint is winning this in a landslide. such strange choices for nominees...what was going on that year?

i second the write-in vote for thelma ritter in "rear window" - hell, i'll even take a write-in for grace kelly from that movie...

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

I am glad to see such support for my big favorite Thelma Ritter. Had she been nominated I believe she would have taken the gold. I mean, that would have been her FIFTH consecutive nomination with no wins! NAmely, All About Eve (50), The Mating Season (51, that was category fraud), With a Song in My Heart (52) and Pick-up on South Street (53). I am going to watch Rear Window again and sulk!

August 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

I do miss being a panelist on the Smackdown (1990, 1999, 2007, 2008). My favorite would still be 1990 when Diane Ladd won and we all went IN on Mary McDonnell's hair.

August 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

Nina Foch is eeeeeeasily my favorite. Love that performance.

August 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Eva Marie Saint has this one in the bag!

August 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterStan

This field outside Saint was hard to get through because they other four didn't do much for me expect make me want to be watching something else. I hope Saint wins in a landslide because she deserves to.

August 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

It IS EMS for all the reasons espoused above. And in a movie that is a touch stone, for both good and bad reasons, from Kazan's justification and Brando's iconic speech. Add Malden, Steiger and Cobb; why would you EVER watch High and Mighty or Executive Suite?

I agree, particularly with the adjectives that drive a performance that could have descended in to a cliche. She carries a wisdom and innocence that seems perfect in black and white.

And BTW, not only was Miss Ritter cheated from this nomination which would have been in 5th in a row, more importantly, she never won the statuette.

August 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie19

Hell of a lineup for actresses and panelists

August 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Zitzelman

I love the Thelma Ritter love here. She's so much fun in Rear Window. And a win for Rear Window would made up for her losing before. Her death scene in Pickup on South Street is one of the best scenes out there. So heartbreaking.

As for the actual nominees, I don't think any of them are particularly good, even Saint. I guess I take Foch, but it's not a winning an Oscar type of role really.

August 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

I can't understand why Thelma didn't get in. Should have won in 50 and 53. But two of my favorite performances from her are in "Rear Window," and in "The Misfits," from 1961. No nods for either!

August 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

Leslie19 -- oh i actually love EXECUTIVE SUITE. I guess a lot of people don't though.

August 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Hmmm, I thought Jurado was nominated for High Noon. So what happens next. Do people go any further and pick things?

August 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterOrrin

Hmmm, I thought Jurado was nominated for High Noon. So what happens next. Do people go any further and pick things?

August 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterOrrin

Too late for this, but "Executive Suite" will be on TCM on August 31.

As I've only seen Eva Marie Saint's not very interesting performance (especially next to Brando), I'll be DVR'ing that one.

August 25, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

For a year with such strong lead female performances, it was a letdown viewing the five supporting actresses. Four of them had very little to do, and probably should have been replaced by any of the seven brides for seven brothers.
Let's start with the winner:
Eva Marie Saint dominates the crowd scenes, as she's the one among all those union men with the guts to stand up to the bosses. In her early scene, with Brando, in the park, I was distracted by her constantly darting eyes. As the scene progressed and she started looking directly at Brando, her performance took hold. She really is the strongest secondary character and she comes into her own as she defies, not only the union, but Malloy and her own father. 4 hearts

Nina Foch's character, Miss (mrs?) Martin, could have been played by a sheep dog...she herds people around the suite, getting them where and when they're expected. I think the academy was unwilling to demote either Shelley Winters or Barbara Stanwyck to supporting, given their star status. Either one would have been a strong contender in the category. Miss Foch does have a couple of outstanding moments, silently reacting to those around her. 2 hearts

Katy Jurado has the advantage of playing a character you might want to know more about. I'd like to see the story of the Indian princess falling for an old coot like Spencer Tracy and defecting the tribe to raise his sons. She spends most of her scenes looking worried and slightly disapproving to the goings on. When she's alone with her husband, or with her son in the final scenes, you can seen the strong, proud woman behind the men. 2 ½ hearts

Then we come to the 'passengers in peril' sub genre of acting nominations (see Winters, Stapleton, Hayes, et.al.).
The inexplicable nomination of Claire Trevor must be attributed to her previous win. She gets one scene to nail the character, a woman who likes to throw things! As she cavalierly related her disillusion with her past and present, I really didn't care. Why should I...she didn't. 1 heart

Jan Sterling also gets one scene to nail her character. At first you think she's a candidate for the May Holst Home for Broken Down Broads, but she gets at something deeper in her insecurity. Fortunately for her, she didn't throw her make up case out of the plane. She made good use of it smearing the mask off her face and defying the man next to her to pity her. That he didn't (and , of course, facing her mortality), gave her the strength to face her mail order (?) husband. 3 hearts

To be fair to the passengers, I didn't care about anyone else on that plane. That the lyrics to the nominated title song were removed from the movie, sums it up for me.
Which brings up the best song category, but that's a whole other conversation for a very WTF year at the Oscars.

August 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterROBS

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