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Monday
Aug142017

Smackdown 1963: Three from "Tom Jones" and Two Dames 

Presenting the Supporting Actresses of '63. Well well, what have we here? This year's statistical uniqueness (the only time one film ever produced three supporting actress nominees) and the character lineup reads juicier than it actually is - your Fab Five are, get this: a saucy wench, a pious auntie, a disgraced lady, a pillpopping royal, and a stubborn nun.

THE NOMINEES 

from left to right: Cilento, Evans, Redman, Rutherford, Skalia

In 1963 Oscar voters went for an all-first-timers nominee list in Supporting Actress. The eldest contenders would soon become Dames (Margaret Rutherford and Edith Evans were both OBEs at the time). Rutherford, the eventual winner, was the only nominee with an extensive film history and she was in the middle of a hot streak with her signature role as Jane Marple which ran across multiple films from through 1961-1965. In fact, Agatha Christie had just dedicated her new book "The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side" to the future Dame. Despite Rutherford's cultural popularity, the only women who would return to the Oscar fold (and quickly) would be Joyce Redman and Edith Evans. The latter was beloved -- voters couldn't get enough of Evans in the Sixties during her seventies.

Notable supporting actresses of the year who Oscar didn't nominate were most of the Globe nominees: Wendy Hiller (Toys in the Attic), Diane Baker (The Prize), Linda Marsh (America America), and Lisolette Pulver (A Global Affair). Other key players passed over for this shortlist were: Maggie Smith (The VIPs), Jessica Tandy (The Birds), Claire Bloom (The Haunting), Gena Rowlands (A Child is Waiting), Constance Towers (Shock Corridor), Claire Trevor (The Stripper), Julie Christie (Billy Liar) and any of the women from Fellini's 8½.

THIS MONTH'S PANELISTS

from left to right: McGovern, Scarlett, Bugbee, Mullins, Nathaniel

Here to talk about these five nominated turns are your host Nathaniel R (The Film Experience) and the panelists: Teo Bugbee (freelance culture critic), Kieran Scarlett (screenwriter), and Brian Mullin and Sean McGovern (of the Broad Appeal podcast). And now it's time for the main event... 

1963
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN 

 

Diane Cilento as "Molly Seagrim" in Tom Jones
Synopsis: A promiscuous villager is with child. But is it Tom Jones' or someone elses? Who knows! Who cares? Molly doesn't.
Stats: Then 30 yrs old (and newly married to Sean Connery!), 12th film, 1st and only nomination.  8 minutes of screen time (or 6% of running time). 

Brian & SeánDefinitely the best eye make-up in the film (sorry, Joyce!).  From the instant Cilento’s Molly appears her costume design and breathy moan (“Ahhhhh, Tom…”) typify her as the stereotypical Lusty Wench and the characterization never goes any further.  While nearly everyone in Tom Jones is straight out of a Hogarth engraving, the others do it with more aplomb and technical facility.  Molly’s accent should be West Country but Cilento’s native Australian slides toward Cockney and Irish in every other scene.  She plays Molly as a purely sexual, nearly feral being, constantly writhing and giggling.  Was it the brazen display of sexuality alone that made this seem a worthy nomination in 1963? While it's clear that Cilento is enjoying herself, and that energy sustains the role, we're baffled that Cliento was picked ahead of Joan Greenwood whose cool, coiffed Lady Bellaston could be London's answer to the Marquise de Merteuil

Kieran Scarlett: Of the three actresses nominated for the clearly beloved Tom Jones, Cilento truly embodies the jovial spirit and tone more than the others. She nails her comedic beats with aplomb. She never quite goes
beyond the expectations of the plucky, charismatic sex worker archetype (and the film doesn’t exactly ask her to), but what she does within the confines of the archetype is funny and generally winning. ♥♥♥

Teo Bugbee: The Penelope Cruz in Nine of the year's nominees, Cilento plays her lusty wench lustily, wenchily. I was surprised by this nomination, but the maybe thought Cilento had the benefit of being the Supporting Actress of the clearly beloved Tom Jones to appear onscreen first?.  

Nathaniel R: Molly is meant to be a force of nature but the hair and makeup team do that work, making her elemental, as if she's always just been rolling around in the hay, dirt, and foliage. There's a certain randy defiance and sex-positive joy in Cilento's aggressive close-ups which feel more actressy than written. I also loved her dimwitted joy at the "potent" wine she gulps down which feels spontaneous. But this is, quite frankly, a bizarre nomination for a broadly defined type. Plus, she's barely in the movie! ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: Brings a wild-eyed carnality to the character" - Edward (Reader average: ♥♥)

Actress earns 9 ❤s 

 

Edith Evans as "Miss Western" in Tom Jones
Synopsis: A matchmaking aunt tries to wed her niece to respectable men and yank her away from that rascal bastard Tom Jones!
Stats: Then 75 yrs old, 9th film, 1st of three nominations.  12½ minutes of screen time (or 10% of running time). 

Brian & Seán: Evans basically nails it.  Her years on the stage in Wilde, Shaw and Coward no doubt prepared her well for delivering Miss Western’s barbed epigrams with wonderfully flared nostrils – and need we even bring attention to her quality old-lady cleavage?  Of the three nominated actresses, she’s the one who most successfully inhabits the anti-naturalistic style of the film while also making her character seem a fully realized creation. Along with her thorny delivery, her stony face and bulging eyes make Miss Western an imperious, prudish gargoyle – a perfect match for Hugh Griffiths’ equally grotesque portrayal of her country bumpkin brother.  The role has very few layers and not much relevance to the plot, but we enjoy each of Evans’ appearances.  She takes a perfunctory part and invests it with the skills of a seasoned old pro. ♥♥♥

Kieran Scarlett: There may be none better at this kind of role than Evans. Performing ironic odes to societal propriety in withering voice is her capital “W” Wheelhouse. However, it’s not particularly revealing work and she
doesn’t bring notes not already on the page. Unlike Skala, Evans seems utterly nonreactive to what her scene partners are giving her, which may be symptomatic of everyone in the film operating at the same register. She’s just fine, but she isn’t more than that. ♥♥

Teo Bugbee: As the hectoring chaperone to besotted Susannah York, Evans has many of the movie's best lines, which are a pleasure to hear in the plummy tones of Evans's best Royal Theater voice. It's a thin role, but Evans plays the scold amiably.  ♥♥

Nathaniel R: In one of the film's zaniest editorial jokes, the farm animals perk their ears up with alarm when Miss Western makes a proclamation. Evans enunciates with such bullhorn force that we're with the beasts or her brother who recoils every time she enters. In a film that demands cartoonish emphasis from its actors and wants you laughing constantly, Evans both delivers the good and gift wraps them, too. It's true that Evans is pulling focus with abandon but Miss Western is an attention hog!  That choice is even there in her physical comedy: watch her shove chickens out of her way that weren't even in her way!  ♥♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Evans is a dithering, haughty delight that only gets better with every scene she's in." - Nick (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns 14  ❤s 

 

Joyce Redman as "Jenny Jones/Miss Waters" in Tom Jones
Synopsis: A maid fired from her employment due to an illegitimate child becomes entangled with the child's fate when he grows up. 
Stats: Then 48 yrs old, 3rd film, 1st of two nominations. 11½ minutes of screen time (or 9% of running time). 

Brian & SeánThere’s a moment at the end of Tom Jones when Joyce Redman turns to the camera and winkingly explains all of the plot’s twists, turns and mistaken identities.  It exemplifies the movie’s tricksy, metatheatrical style and Redman delivers it with total glee, as if she’s in cahoots with the filmmakers.  Her character is more of a plot device than a real person, withholding information for no other reason than to keep the audience in the dark.  She’s a rouged-up red herring, and Redman is essentially asked to play a different person from scene to scene.   It’s a near-impossible task and yet she brings a keen intelligence that seems to belong more to the actress than to the woman she’s playing.  She throws herself into each moment, most memorably for us her sexualized slurping of oysters at the inn.  For all her gusto, though, she can’t quite make all the parts cohere – and she has only the second best eye-makeup in the film  ♥♥

Kieran Scarlett: Only less confounding than Rutherford in that this charming, but unimpressive turn is housed in a film that works and feels coherent. Her nomination provides context for how much AMPAS fell for Tom Jones. She feels swept along for the ride. Despite the narrative importance of her character, the performance itself hardly stands out from the ensemble, who (at the very least) all operate at a baseline of servicing the film. Forgettable is the word that comes to mind. 

Teo Bugbee: Certainly the first time in Oscar history that an actress was nominated for her creative uses of wishbones. The eating scene in Tom Jones is still...memorable. But it's hard to credit its originality to Redman, and even harder to remember her contributions to the movie beyond that scene. 

Nathaniel R: More than any of the other cast members - yes, even Albert Finney as the titular bastard -- Redman has to encompass all of this Best Picture's eccentric impulses in her performance: silent film spoofing, fourth wall breaking, horny naughtiness, should we? Naaah encounters with pathos, slapstick comedy. She's wondrous in the film's most famous scene (a dialogue free feast/seduction) but no coherent character emerges from the disconnected multi-tasking. Who even is this woman? I couldn't tell you and I've seen the film twice ♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Manages to make an impression early with very little dialogue, and is quite funny in the film’s famous scene, with even less." - Mike (Reader average: ♥♥)

Actress earns 10 ❤s 

 

Margaret Rutherford as "The Duchess of Brighton" in The V.I.P.s
Synopsis: A discombobulated VIP worries about saving her estate while her flight is grounded.
Stats: Then 71 yrs old, 34th film, 1st and only nomination.  14.5 minutes of screen time (or 12% of running time). 

Brian & Seán: This is the performance that sparked the most debate between us. In a film that probably has too many plot threads, Rutherford is essentially a solo player.  She spends most of the time bumbling along by herself, and yet she turns all the bits of business with handbags and hat-boxes, passports and pills, into endearing comedy.  The Duchess is at once a woman of superior social station and an old lady in a disorienting situation.  Not only is she flying for the first time, but her family finances are forcing her to take up paid work – the horror - so that she can save her crumbling estate.  Rutherford’s gentle humour and helplessness help us care about this hopelessly upper-crust dilemma.  We longed for a necessary emotional payoff, playing opposite the film's stronger players Richard Burton or Maggie Smith.  Instead, she is left mostly stranded, cloying panflutes underscoring her already sentimental soliloquies. But the sympathy her character must have garnered is as dated as the glamour of air travel. ♥♥♥♥

Kieran Scarlett: A baffling nomination and an even more baffling win, though it’s not entirely Rutherford’s fault. She’s saddled with an albatross of a film, utterly uninterested in her character beyond some cute, but
hardly praiseworthy dowager-ing. I’m surprised it was her and not Maggie Smith who garnered awards consideration (though, to be clear, I wouldn’t have nominated either of them or anyone else from this film).
Her best scene is the bit with the hatbox. I don’t say this charitably. 

Teo Bugbee: Rutherford was a pleasant surprise as the Duchess of The V.I.P.'s. Where I expected haughtiness, Rutherford offers only a gentle and endearing dottiness. It's not a complicated part, but Rutherford is charming and fresh in what might have easily been a moth ball of a role.  ♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: In a case of 'less would have been more' Rutherford is instantly endearing but then redundant. One perfect line reading in which she casually foresees her own impending "advanced state of drug addiction" had me cackling but Rutherford fusses so much with this fussbudget I grew nearly as desperate to be on my way as this grounded VIP as to be back home while killing time in an airport lounge. Every scene is more of the same ---character arc? what's that? --  and the score is like aural flop sweat, triggered by every second of Rutherford's shtick and desperately begging you to be amused. ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "entertaining, truly *supporting* role in a star-studded movie" - Marco (Reader average: ♥♥)

Actress earns 13 ❤s 

 

Lilia Skala as "Mother Maria" in Lilies of the Field
Synopsis: A mother superior believes her prayers are answered when a stranger arrives. Can she convince him to build a chapel?
Stats: Then 67 yrs old, 6th film, 1st and only nomination.  52 minutes of screen time (or 55% of running time). 

Brian & Seán: Could this be one of the earliest examples of egregious Category Fraud?  Skala is definitely not a supporting player but the opposing force pushing against lead actor Sidney Poitier.  Her performance has technical qualities that are certainly admirable, delivering lines dually in German and fractured English (and knowingly underplaying her abilities as a tactic for dealing with Sidney Poitier's “Schmidt”).  She makes the mother superior's determination enjoyably bossy and yet the conflict - like the film overall - lacks heat.  We get little indication of how Mother Maria’s faith has been shaped by her experiences under totalitarianism.  In the rare moment when Poitier’s genial, inoffensive character loses his cool and compares her to Hitler, the response is too muted and brief to really land emotionally – which is largely the responsibility of the filmmakers and not Skala herself. Only in the luminous final close-ups do we see Skala playing in a different register, softening as she feels herself in the presence of something divine.  Rougher edges throughout the performance, which hinted at Maria’s struggles with true darkness, however, would have made this final epiphany even more meaningful. ♥♥♥

Kieran Scarlett: Look…is it difficult or insightful work? Hardly.  But Skala serves the tone of her film. There’s palpable chemistry with Poitier (key to selling the conceit of the narrative). She exhibits some shrewd actorly reaction skills (suspicion melting away into warmth during the call-and-response song sequences), even in a role that on the page is rote, bordering on cartoonish. I did find myself longing for more of this woman’s internal life, but she does sell the dynamic with Poitier’s character well ♥♥♥♥

Teo Bugbee: I grew up in the land of the Pennsylvania Dutch, where every adult I knew had memories of being put upon by the good sisters of some church or another. This is to say: I believed in Skala's staunch German character. But is she a lead?  ♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: I kept wondering if Skala had been a stage actress. There's more than a bit of playing to the back row in less than subtle facial expressions and hand gestures, though that's maybe a necessary evil with a character so restricted in expressiveness by the confines of clothing which swallows her whole and limited language skills. Still, she totally gets the movie's uncomplicated desire to uplift the audience and its comic spirit. That odd couple chemistry with Poitier counts for quite a lot, too. Fine work but I have to dock one heart for this being basically a lead role. ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "A nice performance, and she and Poitier are great together." -Aditya (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns 16 ❤s 

 

The Oscar Went To... Margaret Rutherford
(and you really should watch this clip)

 

THE SMACKDOWN disagrees...
Though none of the contenders won anyone's unqualified support (from panelists or readers - everyone seemed to have a different but mild favorite) the win goes to Lilia Skala's endearingly stubborn nun. Dame Edith Evans edged out the Oscar-winner for the runner-up position.

For the record Mother Maria would like to thank God for this honor and NOT any of you Smackdowners who voted for her.


Would you have chosen similarly?

Want more? There's a two-part companion podcast discussing these films and this year in greater detail. For context check out other 1963 lookbacks: Shock Corridor, Cleopatra, Melvyn Douglas and Hud, two art direction nominees in How the West Was Won and Come Blow Your Horn, Oscar night flashback, as well as an overview of the year in general

Thank you for attending! 
Previous Smackdowns ICYMI: 1941, 19481952, 195419641968, 1973, 197719791980, 19841989, 19952003 and 2016 (prior to those 30+ Smackdowns were hosted @ StinkyLulu's old site)

NEXT UP? Dates TBA but the Smackdown will return

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Reader Comments (38)

I'm surprised how polarizing the ladies were in this category. My votes

Lila Skala- Lilies of the Field.

Skala plays Mother Maria, the superior sister to a small fledgling group of nuns struggling the the American southwest. Mother Maria runs the convent, and is in desperate need of a car and a chapel to hold service in. Enter Sidney Poitier and the story starts. Mother Maria is a sterm taskmaster, essentailly strongarming Poiter's Homer into building a chapel for her and her sisters for free. But sterness is all Skala is allowed to show us. We learn later that she was in Germany during the war and afterwards escaped Soviet controlled Berlin to come the US to farm land and can't grown anything. Throughout all of this Mother Maria put all her faith in God and lost faith in her fellow man, thus she refuses to give Homer credit for what he did, defering it to the Big Guy Upstairs. There is only one brief moment, when her sterness gives way to just how desperate she is when Homer threatens to leave. You can finally hear the worry of a woman who survived Nazi's and communists only to be reduced to clawing the earth for her survival. Skala doesn't show us this vulnerable side of her character enough. We get mostly stern looks. But she can't be that stern if all the other nuns are so wide-eyed and playful. The performance seems one sided, as if the director just told her to look disapproving and don't do anything else. 2 hearts

Margaret Rutherford- The VIPs

Rutherford is the Duchess traveling to America to work to be able to pay for her expensive family home. The Duchess is the kind of lovingly dithering batty old lady you can't help but cheer for. However, outside of a few chuckles and providing the only humor in this film, she is completely unessential to the plot. If you cut her out of the movie entirely, you lost a few laughs and 10 minutes of a movie that needed to be shorter anyway. This is the kind of performance even Maggie Smith would accuse of British sleepwalking. We needed more Lady Violet in this Duchess. 1.5 hearts

Now on to the ladies of Tom Jones!
First up is Susannah York, in a star making performance...wait she wasn't nominated? Really? But she was great! Oh well,I can let it go. It would have been category fraud anyway.
So on to Joan Greenwood, who plays the deviously delicious...wait she didn't get nominated either? Really? But she had an actual supporting part and was funny and sad and great and I was perversely kind of rooting for her. How many women are left in this movie?

Diane Cilento. Wait THIS got picked? What did she do? Ok, so they needed an ingenue I guess,since this category is tilted older. And she has a heaving bosom. And.. OK I can't find anything else. 1 heart

Joyce Redman. This one I can understand. Redman is a floozy who gets involved with the story. I give her points for absolutely going for it. During the food scene (I still don't know what the hell I was watching there) She literally devours it while Finney looks confused/embarrassed/already full. Better to overplay than underplay. But the whole thing is overplayed. I get that it is a comedy but there is too much. 2.5 hearts

Edith Evans. Leave it to a Dame to show the others how it is done. More stern than Skala (she would have put the nuns to better work) funnier than Rutherford (I am no midwife!) and also wide awake in her British-ness, shows more subtlety than Redman (you at first believe she will aid the young lovers in their quest before surprisingly becoming the most capable antagonist) and quite frankly has a better ample bosom than Cilento. The main reasons the others got nominated, Evans eclipses then all in her performance. She turns the cliche of dottering old aunt on its head and just about walks off with the picture. 4 hearts

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

From the moment Mother Maria sees an angelic vision in white, the answer to her prayers, she begins wrestling with this answer from God. The answer takes the form of Homer Smith, who departs(dressed in white again) having answered her prayers and restored her faith in, and gratitude to, God. The wrestling match is the finely attuned performances of Lilia Skala and Sidney Poitier. She may be the 'supporting actress', but his performance supports hers as well. It's hard to separate one from the other and gives this modest little film abiding warmth. 5 hearts

The supporting actress 'winner', Margaret Rutherford, seems to dither around the sets to give support to the supporting actors who portray the airport staff in 'The VIPs'. She has only one scene with one of the lead actors (Orson Welles) and he doesn't even acknowledge her presence. By the time we get to the revelation about this dotty character, we're so bored by the drama surrounding the various other airport hostages, we don't really care. There's nothing to chew here, but she sure gives it a go. 2 hearts

The first nominated cartoon character (this is not a slam) we are introduced to in 'Tom Jones' is Jenny Jones (aka Mrs. Waters), played by Joyce Redman. She has the most fun with the hijinks going on (with winks to the audience) and has the good fortune to be in one of the most acclaimed dinner scenes in film history. A funny and inviting performance, I think. 4 hearts

The second nominated cartoon character we meet is Molly Seagrim, played by Diane Cilento. She is portrayed as unabashedly free with her body and consequently held in low repute by those of 'higher' born status. She plays the wench with sly abandon and gives her nobility despite her wayward ways and means. 3 hearts

Finally we meet Miss Western, as portrayed by the formidable Dame Edith Evans. She gets into the spirit of the proceedings as the scolding, civilizing influence on her boor of a brother's daughter, Sophie. Her opinion of Sophie's love for Tom Jones switches from apoplexy to acceptance with the realization of his true breeding and gives the Dame moments of genuine charm, though the scolding is far more entertaining. 3 hearts

One final note on the performances in “Tom Jones” - All the performances are supported superbly by the Oscar winning score. It really sets the tone for all the crazy antics of the characters.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

robert -- are you happy your fav won?

tom - love what you said about Evans. she would have my vote here (edging out Skala) ... though the category is dire. Now i'm eager to watch a bunch more '63 movies so i can have a great list. becasuse of these the only people i'd be comfortable nominating would be Evans and Skala but not even sure I'd nominate them (need to see more '63 pictures first).

August 14, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nathaniel: Yes, Skala was my favorite...but, this was a very weak line up, as you said. Even looking at the other movies released that year, I think I might have nominated some birds.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

I really had higher hopes for Tom Jones. The Godfather movies and On the Waterfront do right by their triple supporting male noms, but Tom Jones was no fun, and Joan Greenwood was better than the lot of them.

Here's what I had to say:
Diane Cilento *

As the disreputable Molly, the nasty slut, once broken, never mended… The names the character is called are more memorable than the actual performance. In a movie with such a softcore-ready plotline, Cilento never gets much further than softcore acting. In her defense, all her scenes are very early, before the movie has quite established its tone, and she’s fine in the bedroom breakdown scene, although that’s over in seconds.

Edith Evans **

“Brother, I think you are a perfect goat.” It’s a bit of honking, shrieking standard fare, but it’s welcome and sometimes very funny. And she lets loose one of cinema’s great tally-hos.

Joyce Redman **

As Mrs. Waters, “involved in an accident and deprived of her clothes,” Redman may be the best of the nominated trio, but there are better supporting performances in this movie. Manages to make an impression early with very little dialogue, and is quite funny in the film’s famous scene, with even less.

Margaret Rutherford *

As part of the quartet of stories, she meanders in every so often to her ridiculous theme music to take some pills and ramble; learns how seatbelts work and then disappears for like an hour. Odd that the Academy would remember a performance that even the movie forgets about for so long. Consistently played, but unremarkable.

Lilia Skala ***

As the leader of the kidnapping ring that captures and renames Homer Smith (“Schmidt!”), Skala manages to do accents-are-cute comedy without being condescending, and be a frustrating antagonist without being unlikeable. There aren’t a lot of notes offered by the script, but she gets across how desperately she needs this miracle to be true. Plus, she nails her big scene.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Kieran S: Your note about Edith Evans being nonreactive to her scene partners reminds me of something Melanie Lynskey mentioned in the podcast about Evans' performance in 'The Chalk Garden'. It was something along the lines of her seeming to be acting alone, without acknowledging her scene partners.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

I'm disappointed that Skala won this, if only because it is a leading role and I hate when those when the supporting actress smackdown. Having said that, I can't really make a compelling argument for any of the other nominees (besides a mild preference for Evans), so I guess I'll just make my peace with it.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPoliVamp

hate to take this off topic but did u see what Aronofsky said about Pfeiffer in mother! ? "Exceptional. Brave and bold performance, she brought her A-game"

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLaLaBland

Such an underwhelming set of nominees. I enjoyed reading everyone's take on their performances, though!

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

While I thought Skala was more deserving than the Tom Jones ladies she wouldn't get my vote. Plus as has been pointed out she's a lead. What a crazy mixed up year when the best and rightful supporting performance wins in lead and a true lead goes into supporting.

Anyway this is how my ballot would go:

Okay I just have to start this by saying, the three nominations for the Tom Jones ladies….WHY??!!!!! I love Diane Cilento and Edith Evans, I’m not familiar with Joyce Redman but she did well, and all of them contribute nice work in the film but the only person who was nomination worthy is Albert Finney.

How they all made the shortlist is puzzling, true the best supporting actress performance of the year, Patricia Neal in Hud, won the prize in lead actress but there was more substantial work turned in by several other actresses, Suzanne Pleshette in The Birds, Shelley Winters in Wives and Lovers, both Wendy Hiller and Geraldine Page in Toys in the Attic, and even one of the co-stars of the winner-Maggie Smith in The V.I.P.S. to name a few. I know the film was an enormous hit but even so three tagalong nominations is insane!

Diane Cilento-Molly Seagrim-Spirited and saucy but so short the nomination is baffling. 1 ½ hearts.

Edith Evans-Miss Western-Droll and imperious with a sense of fun but a typical Edith Evans performance. Hers is the strongest of the nominated trio but not enough to warrant a nod. 2 ½ hearts.

Joyce Redman -Jenny Jones/Mrs. Waters-Again she’s funny and impish and her big feast scene is certainly memorable and expertly played but as with the others there just isn’t enough here to justify her inclusion in the race. 2 hearts.

Margaret Rutherford-The Duchess of Brighton-Utterly delightful ramble of a performance that is what supporting acting should be all about. She pops in occasionally in high anxiety, fretting, fussing and befuddled, throwing off masses of charm and delivering her dialogue in exasperated gasps. She’s there for comic relief from the sufferings of the other lush participants and on that basis she’s a champion. Then she has that one small slice of a scene late at night in the lounge full of wistfulness and memory and her character becomes whole. Easily the best of the five nominees. 4 ½ hearts.

Lilia Skala–Mother Maria-Her major traits are a strong resoluteness and indomitable fortitude and those are great as far as they go but her implacability and bullheadedness is wearing after a while. She and Poitier make a terrific team as they crash against each other’s wills but I was never swept away by the story. 3 hearts.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I am glad Smackdown is back, but this is not an interesting line-up at all.

Then I did some research on movies with two performances nominated in supporting actress to find which ones deserved a third nomination. Only these 3, I think:

Gone With The Wind: Butterfly Mcqueen, hell yeah
Nashville: Barbara Harris
Gosford Park: Kristin Scott Thomas

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

cal roth - Good choices. Frankly, I think you could fill up 1975's supporting actress line up with ALL Nashville women.

I'd give All About Eve another supporting actress nomination as well. I would nominate Marilyn's radiant, funny, and scene stealing work along with Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

@Robert
"Even looking at the other movies released that year, I think I might have nominated some birds."
BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Another fun smackdown despite one of the most lacklustre lineups ever.

My own vote for the win goes to Joan Greenwood. Because, seriously, WTF? Especially Cilento.

And I'm surprised people were so charitable with Skala

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Always good to see a new Smackdown materialize. But - as others have indicated - it's not a stellar field of nominees. Capucine (The Pink Panther"), Wendy Hiller (Toys in the Attic), Rachel Roberts (This Sporting Life) and Tuesday Weld (Soldier in the Rain) should have been in before any of these gals. Leaving Edith Evans to fight it out for that fifth spot with Suzanne Pleshette (The Birds) and Claire Trevor (The Stripper).

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKen

This has to be one of the weakest set of nominees in any category over the entire history of the academy awards. I am a Skala voter from this list and maybe it's because she's given more meatier material to work with or maybe it's because when I think of Tom Jones supporting women I think of Susannah York and Joan Greenwood. The Rutherford win I in no way get nore do I want to, she isn't asked to perform much depth in the character and when Maggie a clearly greater actress is outperforming you in the same film focusing attention on Rutherford is difficult.

I think my list of nominees are this year are:
Anouk Aimée, 8½
Linda Marsh, America America
Ethel Merman, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Suzanne Pleshette, The Birds
Jessica Tandy, The Birds

I'm exited that the smackdown is back and after two long years the 1963 race is finally covered and we can no move onto more exciting lineups as I just can never get excited by this list of women as none are performances that I would even consider nomination worthy in the slighest.

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

IMO, Patricia Neal shld've been nom n won in this cat. She was nom along Skala as supportin in Golden Globes but promoted to Lead at the Oscars.

I wld replace Cliento n Redman w Neal n Joan Greenwood. two BSA noms for Tom Jones is more than sufficient. Thank you v much.

I tink Leslie Caron wld've won best actress had she not gone head to head w Neal. It wld've been perfect had they both won in BA n BSA respectively.

The vacancy left by Neal could then b filled up by Moreau either for Jules n Jim or preferably Bay of Angels. It's a shame Moreau was never nom for an Oscar.

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

Since Newman's or Finney's work is superior to Poitier's ('good' people seem to triumph over 'bad people,'), I would take Sidney's award and hand it to Skala. Both LOTFields acting outcomes seem to be 'winners' of their time periods...
Poitier did have a better knack of producing winners acting Opposite him (Shelley Winters, Steiger & Katherine Hepburn). Ashamed that Skala couldn't start the wave.

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

Loving all the mentions of Suzanne Pleshette here. I'd never have thought of her as a nominee for The Birds, but especially considering this field, I wish she'd been nominated.

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

@Ken: Bless you, always. This year more than most, we need these recommendations!

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Nathaniel, pleased as punch to see we agreed that Skala is a lead!

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTeo

Very generous of you to give each of these performances such kind quotes from the readers Nathaniel. If any year deserves it.

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNick T

Loved reading all of these writeups! Pleasantly surprised to see Skala take the win, even though I agree that she is a lead. She really is such a lovely presence in the film. It is really hard to believe that Edith Evans only had 12 ½ minutes of screen time, she was my MVP from the film. Even so, that Tom Jones was the film to produce multiple BSA nominees rather than The Birds or 8½ is terribly tragic.

Here's my own lineup:

Anouk Aimée, 8½ *WINNER*
Sandra Milo, 8½
Suzanne Pleshette, The Birds
Vicky Redwood, Mahanagar
Jessica Tandy, The Birds

Looking forward to the next Smackdown!

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAditya

Oh, I almost forgot, thanks for quoting me in the reader write-in!

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAditya

Echoing the Suzanne Pleshette stuff. The only supporting female performance to stick in my mind from The Birds. I completely forgot Jessica Tandy was even in that.

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterArlo

@ Brad

Agreed that All About Eve should have had three Supporting Actress nominations -- Anne Baxter would be better placed in Supporting rather than Lead. But you are correct about Monroe -- she was pitch perfect in her role with only a small amount of screen time. So compelling, and it's hard to view any other actor when she is in a scene. Imho, probably the best (and my favorite) actress film ensemble.

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

Yeesh!

Not to sound hyperbolic but could this be the weakest of all Best Supporting Actress line-ups? A pair of other contests (1965 and 1967) from this decade also leave me shrugging my shoulders but at least those categories sport a few terrific pictures. I struggle to muster enthusiasm over any of these films or performances.

Among the wannabe-contenders stuck on the sidelines, Hiller most stands out to me as deserving of recognition, with Bloom and Rowlands also in strong form. Then again, I’ll take Maureen Stapleton in BYE BYE BIRDIE over the Academy’s five.

Cilento, believe it or not, would be my pick here. At least there’s some blood flowing through her veins. It’s a sexy, vibrant performance that very much pops off the screen. Problem is, the screen time really isn’t there and there’s no Beatrice Straight in NETWORK-level material for what is a glorified cameo. Not that Redman and Evans have much more to do.

Like Cilento, Redman makes the most of her scenes. She has a vivacious screen presence and some nice comic timing but again, there’s not really an ‘Oscar scene’ to speak of, or anything that much proves her chops as an actress. Evans is fun but this is the weakest of her three nominated performances for sure. She doesn’t command the screen as she does in THE CHALK GARDEN and this of course isn’t a tenth the effort she gives in THE WHISPERERS.

I would concur that Skala, who has more than twice the screen time of Best Actress winner Patricia Neal, is Lead here. I enjoy her rapport with Poitier and can appreciate her ability to craft a character both so imposing and endearing. That said, the proceedings are oh so very modest in all respects.

Finally, sigh, there’s Rutherford, who’s perhaps the best/most watchable part of THE V.I.P.S , which is to say she’s not an entirely ghastly drag. She’s kinda-sorta enchanting in parts but Rutherland aficionados know what a half-hearted effort this really is.

Three hearts a piece to Cilento, Redman, Evans and Skala, with a mere pair for the winner.

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

Very interesting takes on, yes, a very weak lineup. The only film I've seen in this category is Tom Jones (The VIPs is on its way from Netflix) and total agreeance that Joan Greenwood was clearly the superior SA performance to nominate from the movie - and then they didn't even nominate her! (Oh that wacky academy)...Also, as much as I love both Suzanne Pleshette and Jessica Tandy and their movie (an all-time fave), not sure either was all that nomination-worthy, though certainly either or both could have replaced Cilento, who clearly was carried along w/ the academy's love for Tom Jones. At any rate, the panelists all did a great job and I'm looking forward to future smackdowns!

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Nathaniel: Thanks for including my quote in the Diane Cilento write-up!

I'm a bit surprised that these performances have been received so tepidly. I gave four hearts to each of the three women from Tom Jones. (I haven't seen Rutherford or Skala's work.) In each case, I feel that, though they aren't give much to do, they do it very well.

That said, I do agree with much of the tenor of the comments here - certainly that Suzanne Pleshette or some of the women from 8 /1/2 or some other contenders might have been equally or more deserving of the nominations. Certainly in Tom Jones itrself I think that Joan Greenwood is the strongest actress in a supporting role. The Globes got it right!

I just don't have a problem with Patricia Neal winning lead - even given her screen time. She is the main woman in the film and pivotal in all of her scenes. To me, it's an example of a role with somewhat limited screen time that can be argued as a lead. Indeed, it feels more right to me as lead than supporting.

I really enjoyed this Smackdown. I always enjoy them. This was the first one I participated in (in terms of voting in advance) and I'm looking forward to the next one. Maybe 1965 one day? (Joyce Redman is excellent in Othello.)

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Oh, and in case anyone is interested in my more positive takes on the three Tom Jones women, here goes (this is what I sent Nathaniel):

Diane Cilento as Molly Seagrim: Molly is a sly, unpredictable character but she also has the courage of her own convictions. Diane Cilento captures all of this very well, and brings a wild-eyed carnality to the character while also remembering to convey her girlishness. Cilento doesn't have much screen time, but she absolutely makes the most of the role. This is a very well-deserved nomination. ****

Edith Evans as Miss Western: Edith Evans is fun as Miss Western, and there's not a false note in her performance: she's regal, a bit dotty, and totally in-period. So why do I feel it lacks something crucial? Is it because Tom Jones is unusually stacked with excellent female supporting performances? Did I want Evans to be the one and only scene-stealer? Possibly. But that's my fault, not hers. So: a very good performance, and definitely worthy of a nomination. ****

Joyce Redman as Jenny Jones/Mrs. Waters: The most-talked-about aspect of Joyce Redman's performance in this film is the eating scene with Albert Finney, and both actors are delightful in it. Redman has a tricky role to play: it's a plot point, a case of mistaken identity. Redman doesn't have a great deal of screen time - but this is fine: it's a supporting performance. And she shines in it. She plays the role as saucy, confident, and with a pinch of melancholy that enriches the film. ****

So, you can see that I rate all three performances the same. I must say, not to take away from any of these three wonderful actors - and with a shout-out also to Susannah York, who also deserved a nomination as Sophie Western - that I believe that the best supporting actress in the film is Joan Greenwood. That's five-star work.

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Does anyone here remember the book "Alternate Oscars"? The author picked his own winners for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress.

As long as I live, I'll never forget that out of all the movies released in 1963, for Best Picture he selected NO WINNER. And now it seems like he was right, that this was just a dead year. What happened that year?

(He probably should have picked Hud or The Birds tbh)

August 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJJ

HEY EVERYONE -- the entire 1 and 1/2 hour podcast is up. Hope you enjoy it. Deep dive on Tom Jones, Sidney Poitier, and more... loved recording it. love these panelists. Hope you do too.

August 15, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

So happy to hear Brian's love for Tom Jones. It's a very singular Best Picture winner that has a lot going on under the surface. And the Broad Appeal podcast is lotsa fun.

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

@brookesboy - Yeah, I really did get a kick out of TJ, though I know it's an acquired taste. I think it's Kieran in the pod who says it's "not an indifferently made" film and we could certainly do use more of those most years. The TJ ladies are acting very much at their service of Richardson's unique, anti-naturalistic vision which is part of what makes the lineup so odd.

Glad you like our pod, too! For those who haven't listened we're on hiatus currently but there are forty mostly actress-centered episodes up there to check out. We'll be back in October and it's looking like we may be Pfocusing on one if Bathaniel's Pfavorites! ;-)

@nathaniel - THANK YOU SO MUCH for having us, truly a dream come true.

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Mullin

Happy to see another Smackdown, even though it's coming from a lackluster year. To be fair, all five actress are fine enough, but sweet Jesus, those three movies are terrible! I felt bad for the panelists, slogging dutifully through all those misfires. For me, the hilarious Margaret Rutherford is easily best in show, pumping much-needed comedy into the drab, timid soap opera known as "The V.I.P.s." Lilia Skala is not my idea of fun.

It's difficult to find five good movie from this year, let alone five nominees to fill the Supporting Actress category. "The Birds" is clumsy and unsatisfying; "Hud" does nothing for me; and I stared numbly at "8 1/2" in college. I love "Charade" and "The L-Shaped Room," and I find much of "America America" fascinating. Anyone see "The Leopard"?

P.S. Love your comment about the chickens, Nathaniel. You always come up with interesting insights that no one else points out.

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Fine with Rutherford winning. The one deserving supporting actress that should have been nominated for "Tom Jones" wasn't (Joan Greenwood) and I'm assuming there was category confusion for Susannah York. Skala won this? Gawd, whatever.

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterIan

Matt -- thank you!

August 16, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Tuesday Weld's terrific work in "Soldier in the Rain" matches any of the ladies mention, IMO.

October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterShawn

Several people here are saying 1963 was a weak year for movies. Not so--simply weak for English-language movies. Fellini, Visconti, Kurosawa, Bergman, Olmi, all at their best or close to it--8-1/2, The Leopard, High and Low, Winter Light, Il Posto. Any year with five masterworks is a great year.

November 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNick Jason

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