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« August. Is (Basically) A Wrap | Main | La Strada »
Sunday
Aug302015

Smackdown 1954: Wife, Sister, Secretary, and Passengers

Presenting the Supporting Actresses of '54. Two lonely airplane passengers, a cooly competent executive assistant, a Native American cattle rancher's wife, and a sister seeking justice in her brother's death.

1954's supporting actress shortlist is, as you'll surely discover while reading or watching, a mystifying batch, particularly considering several films released that year that stood the test of time more emphatically. What's more, ALL five nominees sprung from well-populated ensemble films, the likeliest type of film to spur divisive conversations about who really deserved a nomination. Aside from Oscar favorite Claire Trevor (The High and the Mighty) -- rather generously included but when they love you they love you --  all were Academy newbies though Katy Jurado (Broken Lance), Nina Foch (Executive Suite) and Jan Sterling (The High and the Mighty) had each co-starred in recent Best Picture contenders (High Noon, An American in Paris, and Johnny Belinda respectively)... which surely helped their momentum towards placement. But what a bizarre shortlist nonetheless. Eva Marie Saint, newly arrived to the cinema, had the biggest role, one might say a leading role, in the year's Best Picture On the Waterfront, which went on to win 8 Oscars on the big night from 12 nominations.

THIS MONTH'S PANELISTS

Here to talk about these five turns are returning panelists Brian Herrera (aka Stinky Lulu, author of "Latin Numbers"), Mark Harris (author of "Five Came Back") Anne Marie Kelly (The Film Experience), Manuel Muñoz (author of "What You See in the Dark") Todd VanDerWerff (Vox), and your host Nathaniel R (The Film Experience). After reading their thoughts right here, there's a podcast to listen to wherein we discuss the films themselves as opposed to only the performances.

. And now it's time for the main event... 

1954
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN

NINA FOCH as "Erica Martin" in Executive Suite
Synopsis: A CEO's secretary, reeling from her boss's sudden death, keeps her cool as executives scramble to fill his empty chair
Stats: Then 30 yrs old, 25th film, first and only nomination. 21 minutes of screen time (or 20% of running time). 

Brian Herrera: Easily my favorite kind of Supporting Actress performance. One that evinces a complex emotional arc from a mere outline and then proceeds to act the Foch out of that character/arc, staying always at the edges of the screen’s central action. The way she clutches her stenographer’s pen as if it’s a crucifix? Yum. ♥♥♥♥♥

Mark Harris: This seems to be a case of winning a nomination for tasteful underplaying while surrounded by wild overemoting. As a loyal secretary holding her cards very close while mourning the sudden death of her boss, Foch doesn’t lose her cool even while trapped in a scenery-chomping contest. Executive Suite is an overwrought boardroom melodrama without much wit, and she has virtually nothing to play. But she’s appealingly watchful, and by the end, she’s the only character you want to know more about. ♥♥

Anne Marie Kelly: In a movie where Barbara Stanwyck constantly threatens suicide, June Allyson actually yells, and Shelly Winters vamps until she cries, how is it that Nina Foch got the nomination? Whatever the reason, Foch actually gives a solid, restrained performance. If, during the never-ending speeches about manufacturing, American ingenuity, and the soul of Corporate America, you're unclear of who to root for, watch how Nina Foch reacts to them. She delivers emotional stakes quietly in a movie full of loud overacting, and puts Frederic March in his place.  ♥♥

Manuel Muñoz: Her loyal secretary seems a cliché at first, but Foch’s reserve teases out a marvelous ambiguity about Erica’s proximity to power.  Is she privy to just as much insider information as any of the bigshots?  Just as the questions start to build, she breaks down, only to turn a seeming moment of weakness into the resolve she needs for her brave, small denial to the manipulative Fredric March (her best scene).  From overt (her staircase shadow) to near subliminal (that last, extinguished light in the building as the end credits run), the film admirably insists on her importance.  To my surprise, her nearly wordless presence in the finale kept drawing my attention—and reminding me that this is exactly the kind of peripheral but vital presence that the supporting award was meant to honor. ♥♥♥♥♥

Todd VanDerWerff: While I enjoyed this movie, staginess and all, I can't quite fathom how Nina Foch ended up nominated from it. Yes, she's really good with what she's given, but in a movie with a number of at least interesting female performances, I'm a bit flummoxed with why she rose to the top. I think Oscar sometimes gets it in its head that "the women" or "the men" of a certain ensemble piece are really great in totale, but one has to be singled out. I'm guessing that's what happened with Foch here — she's standing in for the film's sometimes blinkered, always fascinating perspective on women in early 1950s America. ♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: Hypnotized by her pre-Joan Holloway pen necklace, I was. Everyone in this large ensemble is falling apart but Erica Martin is the only one that’s good at hiding it. Foch does so much with just her physicality, revealing utter competence, this office as an organic longtime part of her, and her feelings about each co-worker. And yet, she’s all business. That’s why it’s so riveting when her voice catches up to her expressive body in that amazing “those are the facts” face off. Chills. Sub-zero chills. ♥♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "She delivers the most lived-in performance of this slate; that might not be saying much, but Foch is as comfortable and competent in her role and Erica is at her job." - Bennett P. (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns  25 ❤s 

 

KATY JURADO as "Señora Devereaux" in Broken Lance
Synopsis: The Native American wife of an Irish rancher tries to keep the peace between her husband and his boys, the youngest of which is her biological child
Stats: Then 30 yrs old, 28th film, first and only nomination. 17 minutes (or 18% of running time). 

Brian Herrera: The role requires a mystical moral stolidity. An odd fit for Jurado, who’s best at serenely conveying roiling inner turmoil. But despite the performance’s discombobulating incongruities — that syrupy brownface makeup, that refined Mexico City accent, all that Navajo/Diné finery worn by a supposed Comanche “princess” — the palpable emotion of Jurado’s screen presence resonates memorably. ♥♥♥

Mark Harris: Sigh. This is not the first or the last time the Academy congratulated itself for taking a step forward, in this case with the first-ever acting nomination for a Latina performer. Jurado plays the Native American wife of Spencer Tracy, and has zip to do except urge her “hosebahnd” to reconcile with his sons. She has an interestingly somber, heavy-lidded, deep-voiced presence, but her delivery of the hamfisted dialogue is very flat, and the character is a sketchy archetype that gives her nothing to play but a really tired definition of “dignity” and “poise.” 

Anne Marie Kelly: Maybe because the characters in Broken Lance obsess over the idea of Senora Devearaux (or more accurately over her mixed-race marriage), the Academy mistook her for someone important. Broken Lance covers a lot of big themes about racism, family, and the hypocrisies of civil society, but unfortunately, the character best suited to speak about such themes is given little time to speak at all. Jurado could be a good screen presence - her work in High Noon shows just how good - but she's wasted here as the Silent Native American Princess archetype

Manuel Muñoz: Quoth Aretha Franklin on Taylor Swift, “Great gowns…beautiful gowns...”  Except for a brief gleam of parental anger when she interjects among the fighting brothers, Jurado has so little to do except fuss with Spencer Tracy’s tie.  On paper, her backstory promises a plethora of potentially dramatic situations, but she ends up being talked about rather than actually being allowed to participate in any meaningful way.  Given her snub for High Noon, this was the Smackdown performance I had hoped would emerge as a triumphant rediscovery.  A frustrating disappointment. 

Todd VanDerWerff: I love '50s Westerns, which pushed the established themes and character types of the format into downright Shakespearean territory. That's true of this film, with its King Lear echoes and its unusual (for the time) flashback structure. Jurado's work falls into the "supportive wife" type Oscar loves in this category. She's, again, fine, and it's great she was the first Latin-American woman nominated for an Oscar. But she's still playing a race (Native American) other than her own and playing a woman much older than her actual years — two unfortunate Hollywood trends that still haven't gone away.  ♥♥

Nathaniel R: Jurado cuts a striking figure even buried in shawls and holds the camera well. That’s good news for the film which hasn’t written her anything to do beyond calming her hot tempered men— all the drama surrounding her racial identity, for instance, is played out in scenes when she’s not onscreen. That she feels emotionally commanding at all in scenes wherein she often has her head down (a defense against years of social umbrage?) and constantly saying ‘my husband my husband’ is a improbable trick. ♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "There’s novelty here, but more in concept than execution.  This isn’t my genre, but including a mother figure in a western at all felt odd, let alone as the younger half of a mixed-race second marriage, all of which the film treats seriously and sympathetically.  A shame Jurado is largely asked to play peacemaker, wise council, and devotee" - Dave S. (Reader average: ♥♥)

Actress earns 13 ❤s 

 

EVA MARIE SAINT as "Edie Doyle" in On the Waterfront
Synopsis: A young woman, whose brother has just been murdered, wants justice and begins to date a man who knows all too much about what happened.
Stats: Then 30 yrs old, debut film, first and only nomination (and win). 43 minutes (or 40% of the running time). 

Brian Herrera: Saint’s luminous in this deservedly acclaimed, star-making role. Saint captures Edie’s guiding conflict, that collision of instinct and ideal. But it’s a lot of screentime, and not every scene offers as clarion a glimpse into Saint’s character as that legendary “glove scene” opposite Brando, where Saint never fails to take my breath away. ♥♥♥♥

Mark Harris: I remembered Saint as the weak link, but revisiting the movie, I was pleased to find that she absolutely holds her own. Her assignment may look easy—she’s “the girl”—but both keeping up with and staying out of the way of Brando as he was reinventing American screen acting must have been challenging. She makes smart choices—as the grieving sister of a murdered man, she holds onto her anger and sorrow throughout, where a lesser actress (or a lesser script) would have let love melt it away. The famous glove scene wouldn’t work without her sadness and tension. And when she finally smiles, it means something. ♥♥♥♥

Anne Marie Kelly: In a year full of the worst that the dying Studio System had to offer, On The Waterfront was a revelation of things to come. Eva Marie Saint's performance, overshadowed by discussions of Brando and Kazan and Bernstein, is tender, violent, and spontaneous. This doesn't always feel like a supporting performance. Edie's drive to find her brother's killer motivates the first half of the film, though the second half of the film belongs to Brando's Terry. I don't know that Saint was ever better.  ♥♥♥♥

Manuel Muñoz: How different the lead actress race could have been had she been nominated in the proper category.  In the beginning, her Edie is headstrong, rash, and surprisingly physical as she works to convince the men around her to stand up to the abuses evident around them all.  Even at rest, her face in the early scenes is stern and resolved in her search for justice.  She matches up wonderfully with Brando in the famous glove scene, ably translating apprehension, consideration, and relief in a seduction scene that ends up working both ways.  The entire stage is ceded to Brando in the last third of the picture, but it’s still a lead performance.  Oscar made the expected choice in a lopsided race but, for the Smackdown, I’m not a supporter of category fraud (hence four, not five hearts). ♥♥♥♥

Todd VanDerWerff:  I always worry when revisiting a film classic that I won't be able to separate my feelings on an individual element from the film's established place in the pantheon. So while I really love Saint here and think she does a terrific job with a role that could have felt thankless, is that her actual work speaking, or the status the film holds in US cinematic history? I think it's the former, but it can be hard to tell.  ♥♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: Imagine trying to hold your own with Brando at the top of his game in your first picture? To Saint’s credit and, more importantly, in keeping with Edie Doyle’s inner steel and unshakeable sense of justice, she never reads intimidated. Kazan was so good with actors and that surely helped her on camera debut. Maybe she could have leaned harder into grief as a baseline, given the plot, but she’s wonderful with spontaneous mercurial feeling, especially when paired with Brando’s beastly mystique. ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Dominates the crowd scenes...as she started looking directly at Brando, her performance took hold. She really is the strongest secondary character." -Rob S (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns 28 ❤s 

 

JAN STERLING as "Sally McKee" in The High and the Mighty
Synopsis: A former popularity contest winner who has lied about her age fears rejection while flying to meet her pen pal fiancé.
Stats: Then 33 yrs old, 17th film, first and only nomination.  17 minutes (or 12% of running time). 

Brian Herrera: A lovely, minor performance. Fully inhabited. Captivating, charismatic, and often quite adorable. Yet Sterling’s choice to play up the character’s neurotic fragilities overwhelms and obscures the scripted contradictions that seem ripe for the playing. Still, it seems one should never ever underestimate the formidable award-garnering power of taking off one’s makeup on camera. 

Mark Harris: Oh, brother. This movie. These performances. What the hell was going on at the Oscars this year?! This is a groaner of a film—the first all-star disaster movie and a basis for much of Airplane!—and Sterling is there to play a bruised, hardbitten, self-loathing blonde who thinks she’s destined for heartbreak. She clearly got this nomination for one big look-at-me-I’m-old-and-ugly scene in which she scrubs off all her makeup and the hideous truth is revealed (except that she looks fine). It’s so Oscars—a not-old, not-ugly woman rewarded for being “honest” enough to admit she’s old and ugly. Look how brave she is! See how vain she isn’t! 

Anne Marie Kelly: Of the two examples of typical supporting performances on display in this hammy disaster movie, Jan Sterling plays the showier type. The One Scene Wonder gets one large scene to show her chops. Sterling's scene arrives midway through. Despite the fact that she is blonde, gorgeous, and only thirty years old, her character spits out her bitter fear of aging while removing her makeup. She's pitiful in a kind of grotesque way. It's an Oscar bait cliche, but it mostly works.  ♥♥

Manuel Muñoz: Her jello-on-springs intro, complete with leering sailors, goes a long way to helping set up a character who has suffered from the corrosive effects of both unwanted admiration and her vanity.     True, once explained, her dilemma is ridiculous, but Sterling has an easier time merging her character’s internal anxiety with the fact that the damn plane is going down.  When she finally drops the mask, it’s a genuinely startling moment in a movie that can barely hold any of its plotlines together.  An unspectacular but sturdy performance that briefly threatened to make me take the film seriously. ♥♥♥

Todd VanDerWerff: Here's another film where the ensemble elements obviously resulted in certain players being elevated. But I liked Sterling's work quite a bit. It's obviously a bit hammy and campy, but it's definitely in keeping with the tone of the film, and I found her monologue about how she fears the man she loves will realize how deeply she lied to him quite affecting. There were other women I liked more in this very movie, but Sterling is just fine.  ♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: I'd like to think that Sterling’s weaponization of her self-pity is a conscious choice  - purposefully too much, a caged tiger hostility at the man beside her from a beautiful woman angry at her impending middle-age irrelevancy. But nothing in the movie runs that deep. Still… her aggressive makeup removal is a proto-deglam moment that she isn't treating as a gimmick but as a desperate character beat. It earns a bit of (cringey) sympathy at least and she plays fear better than most of her co-stars. ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Does a lot with very little in her few scenes as an anxious catfishing pioneer, but it is undeniably very little.." - Nick T. (Reader average: ♥♥¾)

Actress earns 14¾  ❤s 

 

CLAIRE TREVOR as "May Holst" in The High and the Mighty
Synopsis: An aging good time girl on a flight to San Francisco suddenly worries about lonely old age.
Stats: Then 44 yrs old, 59th film, third and final nomination. 13½ minutes of screen time (or 9% of running time). 

Brian Herrera: Trevor’s giddy garishness — delivering nearly every line as if it were a toast (“Coney Island with Coconuts!”) — is both delicious and deft. Trevor plays May as a gal who knows how to work a room, subtly serving the film at every step. And the way she makes that mink into her tragic scene partner… ♥♥

Mark Harris: The contempt for women in this movie is astonishing. Trevor is great in dramas, but this is essentially a comic-relief role, she’s a loud, vulgar women stuck on a plane in a big blue party dress. And at the end, for no particular reason, the movie has to dismantle her: “There oughta be a home for people like me,” she sighs, “a house with no mirrors in it…the May Holtz home for broken-down broads.” I’m giving her an extra star because she’s Claire Trevor, goddammit, and she nails her compulsories like the pro she was. But come on. ♥♥

Anne Marie Kelly: As the Colorful Side Character, Claire Trevor delivers the other typical supporting performance in The High and the Mighty with a lot of personality and virtually nothing underneath. Trevor's boozy broad is designed for comic relief with occasional melancholy, but nobody can balance the jumble of tones that the movie smashes together. One star for being Claire Trevor, and one star for the way she throws her mink out of the airplane. ♥♥

Manuel Muñoz: There’s no denying that her leg-raising, fur-coat-tossing “broken-down broad” is just the brass and fizz that the film needs to be bearable.  Her sly, predatory smirk as she considers a fellow passenger promises good, campy fun, but once the high drama starts, both the character and the performance are incomprehensible.  She gives her big monologue a good try, but it’s an airless, joyless delivery of a misstep in the script—she looks like she resents it.  Had Trevor been allowed to play only blasé and bemused, she would have been an odd passenger for sure, but far more credible, intriguing, and nomination-worthy. ♥♥

Todd VanDerWerff: I went back and forth on this performance. Her big, dramatic moments fell hollow to me, but when she's basically Auntie Mame bopping around on a doomed airliner, I'm much more into whatever it is she's doing. Still, I should mention that I was more into the work of Doe Avedon, as a sometimes sarcastic, sometimes sweet flight attendant, and Laraine Day as an embittered wife who has a change of heart. The roles in this movie are all types, but those women elevate the types they're handed♥♥

Nathaniel R: You can always count on Trevor to pop in a movie but this role is so beneath her. It’s hard to imagine she wasn’t bored as hell while filming. Even scenes which involve her, like a silly fight between two men, barely make room for her. The visual of her fur coat tossing in blue party dress is fun but that’s literally it for impact. Her big clip scene (and “big” is a generous word for the scene and a too apt description of her choices in it) comes from nowhere; she doesn’t rescue it. 

Reader Write-Ins: "The lady gives good face. In her first scene on the plane, scrubbing the lipstick off her teeth, she delivers not a single line, and then gives the most perfectly composed, yet lascivious, look as she spots the silver fox airline executive across the aisle." - Travis K. (Reader average: ¾)

Actress earns 12¾ ❤s 

 

The Oscar Went To... Eva Marie Saint
And the Smackdown, while thankful that Nina Foch was in the room, seconds the motion.

Would you have chosen similarly?

Want more? The companion podcast is up!

For context of the year we also looked back at Broken Lance's racial drama, the B pleasures of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Life Magazine's view of the Best Actress race, Audrey's suitors in Sabrina, the very big year of Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman's Journey to Italy, the creation of Audrey Hepburn's Style, Federico Fellini's La Strada, looked at 3 animated oddities, heard what the year meant to the panelists and compiled a list of various vintage pleasures

Thank you for attending! 
Previous Smackdowns ICYMI: 1941, 1948195219641968, 1973, 19791980, 1989, 1995 and 2003. (Before that 30+ Smackdowns were hosted @ StinkyLulu's old site.)

NEXT UP: We're doing 1963 on September 27th as the season finale so get to watching Tom Jones, Lilies of the Field and The V.I.P.s. the fewest films ever nominated in the category. You know you have time to watch all three and join us in the Smackdowning. 

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Reader Comments (32)

my votes: missed Broken Lance and Executive Suite, but will watch it tomorrow!

Claire Trevor- The High and the Mighty
she gets bonus points because a) she's Claire Trevor b) she is the only passenger not dripping with DRAMATIC baggage and c) because she is the only person who looks like she is having fun. Trevor herself described the shoot as "dreary" but we see none of that on screen. Trevor may not have a big scene, but instead used many little bits and gestures that add up to a solid performance. For example, the way she uses her hands when comforting her fellow passenger, her face while flirting, and pulling up her leg twice. both times that felt like it was an improv moment. It didn't feel forced or scripted. That's what good acting is.- 3 hearts

Jan Sterling- The High and the Mighty
Her "We're on fire!" moment is the only time I genuinely believed that a passenger was truly afraid. She is so shocked and horrified she has to audibly take in a gulp of air first. But outside of that I wasn't really interested. I thought Lorraine Day, Doe Avesden, even Joy Kim would have been acceptable substitutes for her nomination. However, when I went back to rewatch some scenes, they all had her in them. I decided to rewatch her big scene, the only real scene any woman in the movie is given, to see if I missed anything. While I think she plays it well, I just don't see it as a nomination worthy performance. I found myself wondering if Donna Reed had the courage to shave her eyebrows she would've gotten another nomination. - 2.5 hearts

Eva Marie Saint- On the Waterfront
When you are making your screen debut opposite 2 acting giants, one of two things is going to happen. You either wither under their star power and fade into obscurity, or you bring your A game and steal a few scenes. The latter is what Saint did. The movie is legendary and her performance is also justly regarded that way as well. Her sheltered young woman who slowly begins to see the world for what is it is a great transformation and she more than holds her own with Malden and Brando. - 4.5 hearts

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered Commentertom

wow, people aged fast in the 1950s...

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterpar

par -- or they thought they did. two of these roles are about fear of old age and the oldest nominee was only 44. but i do think people looked more mature faster back then. I'm always alarmed when i realize how young lauren bacall was in her pictures.

August 30, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Eva Marie Saint. Of course. She's wonderful - though personally I would like to see her in the history books for North by Northwest.

I just watched The High and The mighty yesterday. What a strange film, and it's continual obsession with how horrible it is to age is disturbing. Sure, the women in the cast get the worst of that, but there are similar comments (whether sneering insults or self-loathing confessions) about John Wayne and the navigator.

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

Call me naive, but I'm surprised there wasn't a single Marie Saint dissenter. Granted, I didn't much care for "Waterfront" as a whole, but in a year of nominees who worked to elevate underwritten or misguided roles, Eva Marie Saint is the one who I feel delivers less than is promised by the writing. She actually has multiple layers to potentially work with but most of the time I couldn't see her motivation at all

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

I can’t say I’m surprised by the result given the field. Even with the outcome more or less a foregone conclusion this was still a terrific read. I’m just glad that I’ll never have to watch The High and the Mighty again!!!

Nina Foch-Executive Suite:
An acknowledgement nomination for a veteran performer who has had better roles. Foch’s Erica is a stock character which the actress infuses with strength and does well indicating how she feels about the other characters that enter her sphere by subtle facial or body gestures but the part just doesn’t offer her enough to work with to merit this nod. A nomination for her cast mate Shelley Winters (warm and subdued-her airport goodbye to Paul Douglas is beautifully done) would have made more sense and been more deserved. 2 ½ hearts.

Katy Jurado-Broken Lance:
Having completely screwed up and denied the brilliant Jurado a nomination for her great work in High Noon previously the academy attempted to make it up to her by granting her a nomination here. The problem is that while she gives her customarily excellent performance her role is an almost less than nothing supportive wife part. Within the parameters that the role affords her she does what shading she can but whereas High Noon’s Helen Ramirez was a fiercely self-possessed woman Senora Deveraux is a subservient hand maiden given little to do. Despite getting the final shot she’s barely in the film. 2 hearts

Eva Marie Saint-On the Waterfront:
All her competitors are exemplary actresses but in this field with the roles those performers were given there is simply no contest between them and the complex Edie and what Eva Marie is able to do with the part. The justly famous glove scene is just one example of the delicacy with which she infuses the role. Of all the performances that year she wouldn’t have been my choice but in the context of these five there really is no question she’s the winner. 4 hearts.

Jan Sterling-The High and the Mighty:
Another makeup nomination for a quality performer who has had much more to work with elsewhere. She nails her big scene beautifully showing all the pent up fear and anger that her character feels while basically stripping naked for all the world to see. But it’s one scene, which she does truly own, in a too packed ensemble where otherwise she’s a flashy bystander who pipes up every now and then. 2 ½ hearts.

Claire Trevor-The High and the Mighty:
I love Claire Trevor…however I don’t understand this nomination at all! At least with Foch, Jurado and Sterling the nod was making up for past omissions but by this point Trevor had not only nominations but a win under her belt. Her part is a next to nothing fill in the gaps with Claire’s personality overdressed doll. Not that there is much of a point to anybody’s story in this silly film except for Jan Sterling’s but Claire’s seems to have less than most. She’s professional and precise as usual but to think of the other superior work that missed out to make room for her is infuriating. 1 heart.

More deserving-Lauren Bacall-Women’s World, Brenda de Banzie-Hobson’s Choice, Mercedes McCambridge-Johnny Guitar, Thelma Ritter-Rear Window-the omission of Academy darling Thelma is an especial puzzler here in a role that was truly worthy and should have been a winner for her.

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

"Then proceeds to act the Foch out of that character..."
"Quoth Aretha Franklin..."
"One star for the way she throws her mink out of the airplane."
"Subzero chills."

This was a DELICIOUS read, and with such grim material to work with. I could quote ten more lines. Just wonderful. And when the battle lines get drawn, I'm on Team Foch. We'll all have football helmets and pen necklaces.

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Also, I'd like to give a shout out to the other women in "High and the Mighty", many of whom made quite a good impression, if not awards-worthy. The chummy stewardess who made it through the exposition parade with her humor intact! The dizzy, horny newlywed who pushes far past innuendo! And the delicious ice queen whose main trait was a limitless supply of Canada zingers. Y'all, she really, really hated Canada. Until she didn't!

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

I love that there are Foch Forever People and What The Foch People, with no evident middle ground. That could be one of the main schisms currently operating in the world. (I know Todd gave ***, but it sort of sounds like a ** write-up.)

I think Stanwyck's not on her game at all in that film, at least in her early scenes. But I pretty much like everyone else in it. Easy BP nom for me.

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

it occurs to me after the fact that this might be my first full range of heart ratings from a smackdown:

FOCH - 5
EVA - 4
JURADO - 3
STERLING - 2
TREVOR -1

but maybe that's justly slightly generous ratings for all five :)

August 30, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

My favorite part of The High and The Mighty is when Sterling dramatically removes all her makeup, only to appear with it all back on in the next scene.

Among the nominees, I'd vote for Saint, too, but come on, Thelma Ritter was robbed! Saint was "acting," Ritter was being.

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Four stars from all for Eva Marie! It's like nobody could deny her greatness yet everybody was hoping to look for something surprising from the other nominees due to how inevitable Saint's win even on the Smackdown was.

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

1. Eva Marie Saint in „ON THE WATERFRONT“ (USA)
2. Kinuyo Tanaka in „SANSHÔ DAYÛ“ (Japan)
3. Chikako Hosokawa in „BANGIKU“ (Japan)
4. Katy Jurado in „BROKEN LANCE“ (USA)
5. Kyôko Kagawa in „SANSHÔ DAYÛ“ (Japan)

6. Yûko Mochizuki in „BANGIKU“ (Japan)
7. Thelma Ritter in „REAR WINDOW“ (USA)
8. Joan Greenwood in „MONSIEUR RIPOIS“ (France)
9. Nina Foch in „EXECUTIVE SUITE“ (USA)
10. Barbara Stanwyck in „EXECUTIVE SUITE“ (USA)

11. Shelley Winters in „EXECUTIVE SUITE“ (USA)
12. Mercedes McCambridge in „JOHNNY GUITAR“ (USA)
13. Noriko Tachibana in „SANSHÔ DAYÛ“ (Japan)
14. Valerie Hobson in „MONSIEUR RIPOIS“ (France)
15. Anna Proclemer in „VIAGGIO IN ITALIA“ (Italy)

16. Natasha Parry in „MONSIEUR RIPOIS“ (France)
17. Teruko Nagaoka in „YAMA NO OTO“ (Japan)
18. Brenda De Banzie in „THE PURPLE PLAIN“ (Great Britain)
19. Keiko Tsushima in „SHICHININ NO SAMURAI“ (Japan)
20. Chieko Nakakita in „YAMA NO OTO“ (Japan)

21. Claire Trevor in „THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY“ (USA)
22. Shelley Winters in „MAMBO“ (Italy)
23. Agnes Moorehead in „MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION“ (USA)
24. Pearl Bailey in „CARMEN JONES“ (USA)
25. Jan Sterling in „THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY“ (USA)

26. Germaine Montero in „MONSIEUR RIPOIS“ (France)
27. Flora Robson in „ROMEO AND JULIET“ (Great Britain/taly)
28. Olga James in „CARMEN JONES“ (USA)
29. Dolores Moran in „SILVER LODE“ (USA)
30. Renate Mannhardt in „LA PAURA“ (Italy)

31. Sadako Sawamura in „BANGIKU“ (Japan)
32. Gaby Basset in „TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI“ (France)
33. Margaret Johnston in „MONSIEUR RIPOIS“ (France)
34. Yôko Minamida in „CHIKAMATSU MONOGATARI“ (Japan)
35. Donna Reed in „THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS“ (USA)

36. Jeanne Moreau in „TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI“ (France)

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

I suspect if Mercedes McCambridge had been among the nominees for "Johnny Guitar", the Smackdown winner would have had a real fight on her hands. As it was, considering the actual competition, it was always likely to be a cakewalk for Saint. In its day, though profitable, I'd guess "Johnny Guitar" was largely written off by the Academy as a garishly disreputable Republic sideshow. But posterity's been kind to both the film and McCambridge's unbridled exhibition of sustained road rage. I Know I'd have given her the prize. But among the deserving ladies who never got near nominations that year I'd cite the following:
KINUYO TANAKA "Sansho Dayu"
MARGARET RUTHERFORD "Mad About Men"
CORINNE CALVET "Le Ragazze di San Frediano"
NIMMI "Amar"
VIDA HOPE "Marilyn"
JILL BENNETT "Hell Below Zero"
ROSEMARY HARRIS "Beau Brummell"
Several of the above probably didn't qualify because of delayed U.S. release dates. But that certainly doesn't apply to the wonderful trio of supporting actresses from Fox's plushly delirious "THE EGYPTIAN". GENE TIERNEY and JUDITH EVELYN were generally just ignored, while BELLA DARVI , memorably purring her way through a part that fit her like a glove, was practically tarred and feathered by the press. But , in fact, all three were pretty sensational.

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKen

Nina Foch—Executive Suite TWO HEARTS
Her sole and thankless purpose in the script appears to be to bring a measure of niceness to the cutthroat proceedings. Foch is always a welcome presence (I just watched her in Mahogany and she emerged relatively unscathed—that’s saying something). But she really is hampered by brevity and lack of connection to any of the characters. Her great scene with Fredric March crackles with portent—then fades from both the film’s and our memory. Still, I adore this actress.

Katy Jurado—Broken Lance THREE HEARTS
The male-centric genre, of course, shortchanges her, but all the necessary backstory is right there on Jurado’s face. The actress assuredly conveys a profound sadness that comes from realizing your family, your children, will never be whole. Lovely and touching, Katy nearly manages to break out of the confines of the screenplay. Affecting work that is both restrained and specific.

Eva Marie Saint—On the Waterfront FIVE HEARTS
A seamless performance. In movie critiques, we throw around the word effortless, but this is a true example of really not trying. It barely even qualifies as acting—it’s more like being. Yet it bears so much soulful force, with an emotional immediacy that stops your heart. Eva so completely inhabits this girl that it stands as a model for supporting actresses throughout time. Astonishing and groundbreaking work.

Jan Sterling—The High and the Mighty TWO HEARTS
Sterling finds herself in one of Oscar’s least-friendly genres—the disaster movie. But she acquits herself well and finds an emotional honesty none of her costars can muster. But even as a fan of and advocate for disaster films, I found Airport 1954 to be unbelievably silly and stupid. The dialogue is horrendous, the staging laughable. Amid all this, Sterling manages to nail her big scene and is quite touching in the film’s best performance. But it rankles that this nomination happened, and 20 years later, Jennifer Jones was robbed of a deserved nod for The Towering Inferno. Sigh.

Claire Trevor—The High and the Mighty ONE HEART
Here, Claire is a hoot. Still, not quite as funny as her getting an Oscar nomination. I don’t understand this one at all. There were some notable snubs that year, so this one is particularly bizarre. Her one big moment doesn’t have the impact to even coast down this road. In a movie stinking with lousy performances, Claire stands out with sheer competency. At least she’s having fun. Much more than the viewer. This one really could have used Helen Reddy singing to Linda Blair.

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Originally Claire Trevor's part was offered to Ginger Rogers, who would have been a hoot, and then to Joan Crawford, who I can't imagine in the role at all. Rogers might have won.

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered Commentertom

Nina Foch—Executive Suite TWO HEARTS
Her sole and thankless purpose in the script appears to be to bring a measure of niceness to the cutthroat proceedings. Foch is always a welcome presence (I just watched her in Mahogany and she emerged relatively unscathed—that’s saying something). But she really is hampered by brevity and lack of connection to any of the characters. Her great scene with Fredric March crackles with portent—then fades from both the film’s and our memory. Still, I adore this actress.

Katy Jurado—Broken Lance THREE HEARTS
The male-centric genre, of course, shortchanges her, but all the necessary backstory is right there on Jurado’s face. The actress assuredly conveys a profound sadness that comes from realizing your family, your children, will never be whole. Lovely and touching, Katy nearly manages to break out of the confines of the screenplay. Affecting work that is both restrained and specific.

Eva Marie Saint—On the Waterfront FIVE HEARTS
A seamless performance. In movie critiques, we throw around the word effortless, but this is a true example of really not trying. It barely even qualifies as acting—it’s more like being. Yet it bears so much soulful force, with an emotional immediacy that stops your heart. Eva so completely inhabits this girl that it stands as a model for supporting actresses throughout time. Astonishing and groundbreaking work.

Jan Sterling—The High and the Mighty TWO HEARTS
Sterling finds herself in one of Oscar’s least-friendly genres—the disaster movie. But she acquits herself well and finds an emotional honesty none of her costars can muster. But even as a fan of and advocate for disaster films, I found Airport 1954 to be unbelievably silly and stupid. The dialogue is horrendous, the staging laughable. Amid all this, Sterling manages to nail her big scene and is quite touching in the film’s best performance. But it rankles that this nomination happened, and 20 years later, Jennifer Jones was robbed of a deserved nod for The Towering Inferno. Sigh.

Claire Trevor—The High and the Mighty ONE HEART
Here, Claire is a hoot. Still, not quite as funny as her getting an Oscar nomination. I don’t understand this one at all. There were some notable snubs that year, so this one is particularly bizarre. Her one big moment doesn’t have the impact to even coast down this road. In a movie stinking with lousy performances, Claire stands out with sheer competency. At least she’s having fun. Much more than the viewer. This one really could have used Helen Reddy singing to Linda Blair.

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

@brookesboy- yes to Jennifer Jones. we have to do a 1944 smackdown to vote for her though

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered Commentertom

Thanks, Nathaniel & all, for this odd but totally fun Smackdown.
And KUDOS to Nathaniel for that brilliant poster mockup.

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterStinkyLulu

This was an exciting smackdown overall because revisting a film from my favourite director (Elia Kazan) is always fun and thankfully Saint won because she deserved to and while it's the lead female role actually seeing the states she was in less then 50% of the film which is shocking because of her continued presence so knowing this I have no problem with the placement.

Also today I watched the nominees from 1963 and oh boy am I not looking forward to this discussion because the films and performances just aren't anything I feel will inspire much conversation.

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

So good! I love that even mystifyingly unsatisfying nominations can make for great Smackdowns. Shout out to Manuel!

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterK.M. Soehnlein

I believed tt Marie Saint was entered in the sup category to avoid the Kelly-Garland best actress battle, & what a wise choice the studio had made. Had she been nom for best actress (at the expense of Jane Wyman, maybe?), she wldn't hav stand a chance (the tight race was between Kelly & Garland).

Its interesting tt this was her sole nom, beside North by Northwest, she was also highly lauded for her performance in A Hatful of Rain (1957), garnering a win at Venice & noms at Golden Globe & BAFTA. Strange tt Oscar snubbed her that yr.

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

I'm very sad I didn't get a chance to see all the films so I'll bookmark this for future reading.

But in the meantime the bits I read (re. Foch and Saint) were as always a delight (if admittedly, a partly mistifying one, since I still can't quite fathom what Foch was doing in this slate).

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Oh, and yay for Saint's win! A performance for the ages. I'm surprised it didn't get more five-hearts.

August 30, 2015 | Unregistered Commentergoran

If Saint had been nominated as Best Actress, she might have siphoned off support from Kelly. And then... ::sigh::

Can't believe Foch got three five-heart reviews from the panel and Saint not a single one.

August 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Look at her! That's the way you should accept an Oscar. So glad she won.

I guess I got a lot of malice in my heart because I loved reading the comments of the performances you all hated.

Brian Herrera -- "To act the Foch out" I will borrow that one!!!

August 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

this smackdown was "high"-ly enjoyable to read thanks to the academy's bizarro choices this year. the panel's takedown of the disaster (in every sense of the word) film ladies is even better than the ones about truly excellent bits of acting (no offense to saint). and that poster is completely genius, nathaniel, perfectly capturing my same sentiments on this year. what the foch were they thinking?!? My own takes on these 1954 nominees are up at my blog

August 31, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

abstew -- thanks for sharing. I hope people enjoy the podcast conversation. I found it so fascinating because there was so much to discuss in the actual movies so we don't spend a lot of time on these particular performances.

August 31, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

finally saw Executive Suite. Foch was good, Stanwyck was better. Still glad she got a nomination anyway. A nomination helps keep the memory alive. Foch was a great actress and if this helps people discover her down the road, then i am glad.

September 1, 2015 | Unregistered Commentertom

Everyone did such fantastic write-ups. I love that two people independent of one another gave Claire Trevor an extra star simply for being Claire Trevor.

September 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Glenn -- right? that's actually why i didn't even want to give her even 1 though. JUST NO, CLAIRE. SAY NO TO BAD ROLES.

September 2, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I think Saint in "Waterfront" is like Jessica Lange in "Tootsie"- she's the lead female, but still in a supporting role, as there is one main male character each film is centered around. I have no problem with the Supporting Actress classification (and the win!). Judging Saint's work in the film, it is surprising to not find one five star rating here- c'mon! Sure glad she won, anyway- at 91 she's still out there giving great interviews, and I'm sure she'd be pleased to know her work holds up well enough to earn another victory with the Smackdowners sixty years after her original win.

Regarding Foch and why she may have received the nod for "Suite" instead of someone else, Barbara Stanwyck and Shelley Winters were both leading ladies during the period, and back then Oscar wasn't giving out too many nods in supporting categories to stars, even if they were in supporting roles as was the case in "Suite." I'm glad to see the thumbs-up for Winters' work. Always have felt it's one of her best performances, but it's not commented on too much (maybe due to the film's "All Star Cast" categorization sucking up so much attention).

"The High and the Mighty" was a smasharoo in 1954, which did Trevor and Sterling no harm in gaining nominations over others. Love Sterling in just about everything, and I'm glad she gained at least one Oscar nod in her career. I'm kind of WTF regarding Trevor's nod, though- she didn't even have a big scene to take off makeup or something in. Have to admit I wouldn't give Trevor an extra star for being herself or anyone else, although I did cheer along with the rest of the audience when she slipped Bogart the gun, thereby helping to save the day in "Key Largo," but that's another Smackdown.

As several mentioned, I'm not sure how Ritter missed the cut and didn't at least nab Trevor's spot, either. "Rear Window" scored great business and reviews, and Ritter was as spot-on as usual. Maybe the Academy thought four noms in a row was enough for a while, but what about her performance that year? Ritter, I'd give an extra galaxy or two.

September 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterShawn

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