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Sunday
May132018

Smackdown '70: Maureen, Helen, Lee, Sally, and Karen Black

Presenting Oscar's Chosen Supporting Actresses of the Films of 1970. The Academy welcomed back one enduring icon (Helen Hayes), two of the eventual giants of this particular category (Maureen Stapleton and Lee Grant), and two new stars of the moment (Sally Kellerman and Karen Black).

THE NOMINEES  

Their characters were a devastated soon-to-be widow, a sneaky old lady flying the friendly skies, a pregnant waitress confused by her man, a wealthy "liberal" snob who is more conservative than she thinks, and a disciplined but highly excitable military nurse. 1970's supporting shortlist was more "pure" than the category often is now (only Karen Black could be argued as a lead... but she's on the borderline so it's fine) but how strong were the roles and how good the work?

THIS MONTH'S PANELISTS   

Here to talk about these five nominated turns are, in alpha order: Mark Blankenship (Critic), Dan Callahan (Author), Denise Grayson (Actress), Lena Houst (Critic), Bobby Rivers (TV/Radio Personality) and your host Nathaniel R (The Film Experience). And now it's time for the main event... 

1970
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN  

Karen Black as "Rayette Dipesto" in Five Easy Pieces
Synopsis: A pregnant waitress tries to keep hold of her wandering moody boyfriend.
Stats: Then 31 yrs old, 4th film, 2nd billed. 1st and only nomination. 31 minutes of screen time (or 32% of running time) 

Mark Blankenship:  Nope. Nope. Triple nope. Rayette Dipesto is an insipid character who's written to be the sneeze guard that Robert Dupea spews his self-loathing anger on. She's infuriating to watch, and Karen Black's simpering, "oh please keep loving me, daddy" performance only makes it worse. 

Dan Callahan: Black is so effective here as the needy, limited Rayette because she makes us sympathize with the helpless woman she is playing but she also makes us see how Jack Nicholson’s Bobby Dupea has got to get away from her. Black never condescends to Rayette.  She makes her just as sweet and as irritating as she should be. 

Denise Grayson: I keep thinking about that lip gloss and makeup! I know that’s not ‘the work’ but those things help you find your way into the character. And boy she’s inside Rayette... so afraid and needy and lonely. It's palpable. I think her neediness strongly helps pave the way for Jack Nicholson's feelings of suffocation. That's an actor's job well done. 

Lena Houst: Helena Kallianiotes and Susan Anspach may resonate deeper as more thoughtful, confrontational characters, but there's something to be said for the cutting sincerity Karen Black brings to Rayette, embittered former pianist Bobby Dupea's mid-western girlfriend. Black's meant to give emotional immediacy to a character who's purely reactive, her best moments turning the tables on Bobby's expectations of slow wit and submission from her, cutting through with frustration at the mixed & barbed signals she's receiving. 

Bobby Rivers: Karen Black was perfect for her role as Rayette the diner waitress. In the fine tale of alienation, Rayette is an odd girlfriend choice for Bobby, the educated oil rigger who plays classical piano. They're an intellectual mismatch. Rayette can be honest with her emotions and connect. He can't. Black gives upbeat Rayette a blunt neediness that keeps her from being like a sitcom character on Alice. The neediness will blind her to the fact that her relationship with a loner who can't be satisfied is headed nowhere.  ♥♥

Nathaniel R: Her signature song "Stand By Your Man" lets you know where Rayette lives, as early as your first glimpse of her. As she pivots from looking at herself in the mirror to looking at Robert (Jack Nicholson), she calls to mind a dim sexbot only activated by a man's presence. The script may be a smidge condescending and her notes repetitive but Black makes Rayette's lack of identity and self-esteem relatable and moving (she really needs to keep looking in that mirror instead of at her man - gurl, he is not worth it!) Black is especially good when Rayette can't quite grasp the conversations around her, especially that beautiful moment with Robert's family when she'd rather be watching TV. ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "'I’m not a piece of crap.' A heartbreaking performance as a woman forced to swallow her pride so often she can barely keep it down." - Mike (Reader average: ♥♥♥♥⅓)

Actress earns 24  ❤s 

Lee Grant as "Mrs Enders" in The Landlord
Synopsis: A wealthy white woman is thrown by her son's sudden move to a black neighborhood and his new biracial girlfriend.
Stats:  Then 45 yrs old, 12th film, 2nd billed. Her 2nd of 4 eventual nominations (all in the supporting category). 25 minutes of screentime (or 22% of the running time) 

Mark Blankenship: In my very soul, I believe Lee Grant improvised the moment in The Landlord where she throws the ham hock in her purse as a treat for later. She has the electric energy of a performer who's reacting to the reality of the moment and not just speaking her lines. But even if that bit IS in the script, Grant makes it feel alive. She carries that zest throughout her performance, and she helps define this weird, brilliant movie  

Dan Callahan: Grant is playing a very tricky comic part here. The tone of her first scenes is nervy and dangerous, and she goes all out with that. But then in her big scene where she gets drunk with Pearl Bailey, Grant has to reveal the real human dilemma of her rich, zany, libidinal, frustrated character, and she does it best when her Mrs. Joyce Enders is drunkenly trying to remember which man she married. That’s a scary moment, really, when this woman can’t remember which one of her suitors she eventually wed, and Grant gives it full weight while also keeping her satirical viewpoint. ♥♥

Denise Grayson: One of the first things you learn in acting is to not judge the character you’re playing. Her unapologetic confidence playing this bigoted woman allows her to be completely connected to the material. She’s really paving the way for everyone in the ensemble (so many good performances). She might have gone over the top playing a hateful woman, but in her skilled hands, Mrs. Enders is so layered. I could feel her love for her son in conflict with the fact that she couldn’t help who she was. ♥♥♥

Lena Houst: Grant's work is a skillful case of lending sharp edges to a problematic character who could easily be a vacant cartoon. As the titular landlord's racist-in-denial mother, Grant keeps a steady hold of her character's wavering sense of control over her son's life, the values she ostensibly preaches bending to her goals at the moment. Grant's expression while realizing she hasn't taught her son his actual birthday is a sharp example of how she physically embodies her character's fluctuating contradictions. ♥♥♥♥

Bobby Rivers: Mrs Enders is the kind of woman you'd find in a Stephen Sondheim musical like Company. She's a study in White Privilege.  Her son is the face of gentrification. He bought a brownstone in the black section of Brooklyn that he wants to renovate ... if he can get the poor black tenants out. She considers herself liberal until her son falls in love with, as she calls her, "a Negress."  When she passive aggressively visits the building and meets Marge, played by Pearl Bailey, the two opposites bond over ghetto wine and hammocks.  Lee Grant makes this wealthy mother funny, clueless, repressed and pathetic. She's fabulous. ♥♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: What nervy work! Grant enters the picture with a dizzying boldness, dancing, playing with her cat, bickering with her son, and clamoring for a drink (i.e. booze)... and all of that she's doing simultaneously! She risks going big in nearly every scene and might throw a less fascinating picture off balance. Instead she's an eager spark continually relighting the movie's dynamite blend of social satire, confrontational politics, and in her particular case, legacy angst - her chemistry with screen son Beau Bridges is something.  ♥♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Grant is a both a hoot and a terror as the boozy, racist Mrs. Enders. Her first scene with Bridges is full of lovely, nuanced little moments but it doesn't fully prepare you for the frightening woman who can turn on her son orr booze it up and let loose.." - DJDeeJay (Reader average: ♥♥♥¼)

 

Actress earns 29¼ ❤s 

Helen Hayes as "Ada Quonsett" in Airport
Synopsis: A sneakly old lady's illegal travel habits are disrupted by airport officials... and then a bomb threat!
Stats: Then 70 yrs old, 15th film, 6th billed. 2nd nomination. 1 previous win. 17 minutes of screen time (or 12% of running time). 

Mark Blankenship: Helen Hayes had nothing to prove by the time Airport rolled around, and if she'd wanted to, she could've mugged her way through her scenes and been like, "What? I'm a legend. Be grateful I'm here." But you can disconnect your landline, y'all, because she is not phoning it in. She gives Ada Quonsett layer after layer, letting you see mischief, joy, craftiness, and even righteous indignation as she perpetrates and then defends her stowaway schemes. Watching this movie, I kept wanting her to come back, and by the final scene, I wanted Ada to have a TV show that tracked her illegal journeys around the globe. . 

Dan Callahan: This is the ultimate in “I’m a little old lady and I’m naughty!” audience pandering. The very technical Hayes was never noted for subtlety, and she knows exactly what she is doing here. Her character is a criminal, and Hayes herself is the acting equivalent of that. She robbed at least three of the other actresses in this category, and she smiled ever so cutely while doing so. 

Denise Grayson: When Miss Hayes is on the screen I can't look at anything else but her. She's having so much fun on the screen that her joy is infectious. She savored every second of this role, keeping you engaged for the entire movie. Her walk is unforgettable...kind of an erect waddle. I guess some say the Oscar may sometimes be for the stable of work or maybe simply for being the great Helen Hayes. I'll go with the Academy voters. ♥♥♥♥♥

Lena Houst: George Seaton's ensemble melodrama has a fairly vast cast that he's only able to define in simplistic sketches, none more necessarily so than Helen Hayes' serial stowaway Ada Quonsett. She's the quirky old lady who can't help but continuously cause mischief, a role designed to endear. It doesn't allow Hayes much to play with besides committing to the obvious comic stereotype she's been assigned. 

Bobby Rivers: Helen Hayes was called "The First Lady of the American Theater" and as the old lady who's a known stowaway, she's supposed to come off as plucky and amusing.  Hayes makes this widow calculatedly cute... but come on. She's an admitted stowaway and a thief. This old lady should have been taken away in handcuffs by the FBI during her first scene.  And she's seated next to the guy with the bomb on the plane. Helen Hayes got the Oscar because she was Helen Hayes.  ♥♥

Nathaniel R: In her first scene I was smiling broadly as this little old lady's amusing pride in her crimes. But as the scenes piled up I kept waiting for a surprise, an undercurrent, a smidgeon of depth. Was Hayes's own confidence a problem? She’s an old school pro of stage, screen, and television, but it’s basically a one-joke role. I found her more than a little broad where she might have been sly had she been properly challenged.  ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "I know it is an unpopular win, but she's clearly having fun with her character, which puts her miles ahead of most of the cast who are barely trying." -James (Reader average: ¾)

Actress earns 17¾  ❤s 

Sally Kellerman as "Major Margaret 'Hot Lips' Houlihan" in MASH
Synopsis: An uptight "damn good nurse" struggles with the unruly discipline-free doctors around her during the Korean war.
Stats: Then 33 yrs old, 7th film, 4th billed. 1st and only nomination. 25 minutes of screentime (or 21% of running time.)

Mark Blankenship: There's lot to debate about MASH and whether its admirable intention to satirize the insanity of a pointless war is invalidated by its cruelty toward so-called villains like Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan. But one reason I even want to have that argument is because Sally Kellerman makes Houlihan seem like a real person. Watch the way she flushes with pride when she talks about the Army being her home, or the way she blanches with misery when she realizes protecting her dignity may require resigning her beloved commission. The other characters treat Houlihan like a joke, but Kellerman lets us see she's not. 

Dan Callahan: Kellerman’s character, Major Margaret O’Houlihan, is first presented as a broad comedy type, an uptight stickler for rules who is attempting to suppress her own ravenous sexuality, and Kellerman finds the right comic attitude in her first scenes. But then the movie keeps harassing and humiliating her character long past the point where it could feel like justified payback. The scene where Margaret is exposed naked in a shower while most of the base looks on as audience members is brutally cruel. And then suddenly Margaret is a cheerleader at the climactic football game after this happened to her? Considering that her character makes no sense, Kellerman does the best she can to try to make this woman coherent, but she is defeated. 

Denise Grayson: She brings an extraordinary physicality to this role. The image of her clutching her clothing or scurrying across the camp after sex remains in my mind. The scenes are uncomfortable -- you couldn’t make so many of these movies today -- but she throws herself in with abandon. She makes Major Houlihan a fun and intricate part of the movie. I’m sure her strong work laid the foundation for the character that could be more fully explored and developed over the years on the TV series. ♥♥♥♥

Lena Houst: At the heart of what's most repulsive about Robert Altman's war comedy M*A*S*H is the treatment Major Hot Lips Houlihan, though that's in no way Kellerman's fault. If she does struggle, especially towards the end, to resist the misogynistic conceptions of her character, she does an effective job undercutting those perceptions until then. Houlihan's the butt of M*A*S*H's cruelest pranks, but Kellerman lends her a transfixing, endearingly cocky authority that makes her humiliation all the more infuriating. ♥♥♥ 

Bobby Rivers: Sally Kellerman visually gives us the essence of Major "Hot Lips" Houlihan when first we see her.  She's in full military attire as she departs a helicopter that just landed at the MASH base in South Korea. Her skirt hikes above her knees. We catch a glimpse of stocking and panties. Kellerman shines as the officer who's at war with herself. On the outside. she's all military. But under that conservative exterior she has the same sex urges as the liberal MASH unit surgeons she annoys with her stiffness. Sally Kellerman manages to be both irritating in a funny neurotic way and likeable. ♥♥

Nathaniel R: You can tie yourself in joyless knots judging this movie from a modern perspective. Or you can admire how deftly she inhabits the comedy of this impossible character that swings lustily on a misogynist pendulum from nagging shrew to horny sexpot fantasy. She's top-notch in that big scene with Robert Duvall landing the difficult joke of virtue-signalling as repressive's turn-on. Later though, the character becomes less interesting. There’s a fine moment during an operation in this irreverent comedy when a doctor remarks “You’re a pain in my ass but you’re a damn good nurse.” That’s the same way I felt about the role versus the actress!  ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "She shows Margaret’s frustration as a spit and polish career military person against the juggernaut of rebellion and high jinx foisted upon her without losing the humor of the situation" - Joel (Reader average: ½)

Actress earns 22½  ❤s 

Maureen Stapleton as "Inez Guerrero" in Airport
Synopsis: A waitress realizes her unemployed husband may be about to commit an atrocity when he suddenly boards a plane to Rome.
Stats: Then 45 yrs old, 6th film, 8th billed. 2nd of 4 eventual nominations (all in the supporting category). 11 minutes of screentime (or 8% of running time).

Mark Blankenship: It's startling that a movie as schlocky as Airport has not one but two brilliant performances in it. It's even more startling that one of them is as funny as Helen Hayes' while the other is as devastating as Maureen Stapleton's. But here we are, with the latter seeming like she's stepped out of an Arthur Miller play to portray a woman whose love for her mentally unstable husband eventually tears her apart. The scene in the coffeeshop, where she gently accepts him for the wastrel he is, and the moment in the airport, when she apologizes to the room for his terrorist act, are both gonna stick with me for a while. If I'd been a voter this year, I'd have had to flip a coin to choose between these co-stars. 

Dan Callahan: Stapleton’s role here is in many ways a thankless one. She has to play all kinds of unattractive things: worry, shame, fear. And she does this in such a grounded, soulful, personal way that she breaks my heart when her character goes around at the end trying to apologize to the people her husband has put through hell on that airplane. This is Method acting at its best

Denise Grayson: A naive and simple character finely played. She brings a different color to the movie since the rest is more comic or soap opera like. As a theater actress, she clearly did beautiful work on this character -- she’s really inside Inez, giving you the feeling of this woman’s whole life. I found her quite moving, but unfortunately there is very little of her in the movie. ♥♥♥♥

Lena Houst: Of the put-upon wives in Seaton's ensemble, Inez Guerrero seems like an obvious choice. She's the most actively traumatized throughout, stunned by the terror & guilt of her husband's suicide bomb mission. However, while Dana Wynter gets into a tense dialogue with her character's husband, all Stapleton gets to do is crumple in grief and regret. Her expression is effectively vacant of all hope, leaving a tremulous shell behind. As with Hayes, though, she's serving a machine without much serve her in return. 

Bobby Rivers: Maureen Stapleton was a gifted actress.  Airport was a big hit movie based on a best-selling novel. The box office success does not eclipse the fact that this movie is one big hunk of cheese with wings. It's obvious how much of this movie inspired the hit comedy, Airplane! Stapleton's talents aren't really challenged as the middle-aged, loving diner waitress whose poor unemployed husband is depressed and suicidal. Stapleton mostly displays a frozen stare of disbelief when airport officials tell her her husband's bomb exploded in flight -- and one stewardess was injured. But everyone else is ok. ♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: Stapleton’s autobiography is called “A Hell of a Life.” The title is perfect because, if you imagine it in her voice, it sounds like working-class weary fact rather than self-mythologizing boastfulness. Her work always had vanity-free depth and that’s true even with this vague character. She's got the only truly internal role in all of Airport (most characters address their “issue” in dialogue) but she fills the empty space with feeling. She’s maybe too good for this movie? Her near catatonic silence and fearful wandering in the airport are almost as unnerving as the bomb scare. But I needed a lot more of her. ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "The heart and soul of the fun and campy and very very 70's Airport.  Everyone else is playing for the paycheck. " - Rob (Reader average: ½)

Actress earns 23½  ❤s 

 

Helen Hayes took the Oscar
but in the Smackdown she got, well, smacked down to last place!


...and Lee Grant emerges as the surprise winner!

We hope you enjoyed the Smackdown!

Want more? Here's a companion podcast in two parts in which we discuss the films and performances in more detail.

Previous Smackdowns: 1941, 194419481952, 1954, 196319641968, 1973, 197719791980, 1984, 19851989, 19952003, 2016, and 2017 (prior to those 30+ Smackdowns were hosted @ StinkyLulu's old site)

NEXT UP? 1994 in June. 1943 in July.

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Reader Comments (39)

Incredible smackdown! Love seeing such passionate takes on these divisive performances!

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAdrian S-G

I'm thrilled by Grant's win! Along with "Fat City," I think it might be one of the most unsung films of the 70s, hiding a real performance gem. Envious of your readers who seek it out soon.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterzig

What an unexpected turnout! I’m glad Black got runner-up at least, though I’m curious if everyone thinks Grant is the best performance in her film. Diana Sands and Pearl Bailey are quite a pair of gems. Can’t wait for the podcast, and I’ll be reading this over for the rest of my shift, I’m sure.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNick T

As soon as I saw The Landlord, I thought this could happen. She's so funny in it. Between her and goddess Karen Black, it was a toss-up for me. (Stapleton a distant third.)

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Nick -- we discuss the rest of the cast of The Landlord on the podcast. Everyone LOVED Diana Sands in it. Clearly the movie made Oscar voters uncomfortable since its only nomination went to someone who was already famous who they might have been nominated for other exterior reasons (welcome back and all).

but honestly you could fill up this category with multiple women from only two movies: Five Easy Pieces and The Landlord and have a great category.

May 13, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nathaniel R - SERIOUSLY THO. I can’t believe how good those two ensembles were, and how it’s mostly just those two ensembles in that category. Tuesday Weld in I Walk The Line was about the only other performance I found and she’s almost a co-lead. Weirdly slim pickings this year. Still, I’m happy everyone loved The Landlord, and I love that Grant’s nomination kept this film from vanishing completely. Even if her shortlisting was for more cynical reasons, it put The Landlord in the record books and kept it from vanishing completely, which is the kind of nomination I’ll always love Oscar for doing with risky films it can’t quite sidle up to.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNick T

Hi everyone! Mark here, from the panel. I loved doing this so much, and I just had to pop in and acknowledge that I am apparently the ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD who doesn't care for Karen Black's performance. I love it when things like that happen. It makes for such interesting debate, and I have really enjoyed reading what everyone has to say about all these roles and actors.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Blankenship

Mark -- Karen was the leader in the readership votes so you probably made some enemies. Uhoh.;) That said even with 3 or 4 stars from you she still would have lost to Lee Grant.

I did love that all of these performances were all over the place this year in terms of response (save Grant who everyone appreciated a lot)

May 13, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

@Mark Blankenship- I had a best mixed feelings about the performance as well. I didn't care for it that much so you are not alone!

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Can we all please give hosanas to Helena Kallianiotes's "CRAP" speech,my pick for that years Best Supporting Actress.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

The strange, marvellous Karen Black is my pick for this year, although Lee Grant runs a close second with her wonderful performance. If I'd picked the nominees, it'd be a "Five Easy Pieces"/"Landlord" love-fest. To wit:

Karen Black, "Five Easy Pieces"
Lee Grant, "The Landlord"
Helena Kallianiotes, "Five Easy Pieces"
Diana Sands, "The Landlord"
Lois Smith, "Five Easy Pieces"

and both "Airport" (surely the blandest of all disaster pictures) and "M*A*S*H (skillfully made, but gleefully misogynistic) would have nowhere near the number of nominations they garnered.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMatt L.

I love Lee Grant! She is such a great actress - and what an interesting career - broadway, then winning best actress at Cannes with her first (and tiny) film role, blacklisted, becoming a critical & industry darling in her 40s, then transitioning into directing.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJames

I had my money on Karen Black, but I'm totally fine with Lee Grant. She's so much better here than in Shampoo.

I googled Diana Sands and, well, that's a sad story.

Sally Struthers broke my heart with her drunken monologue, yes the one about her dimple, and what can I say about the rude waitress... genius!

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Airport needed levity so badly, and Helen Hayes brought it. I was always so glad when her sly, little smile reappeared on screen.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCash

I am in full agreement with the choice of Lee Grant. Back in the day I was all about Karen Black but I had not seen " The Landlord". I do see why the voters went sentimental and gave Helen Hayes an Oscar but as your ratings show, she gave the weakest performance that year.
Can't wait for the podcast.
Think of this Karen Black performance and then take a look at her in Nashville.
A very under rated actress these days, she did good work.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Great reading. I was too late to vote but did watch a few of these for the first time ever. "Airport" was a dreadful relic and bored me to pieces. "Five Easy Pieces" I liked way more than I expected primarily on the strength of the ensemble/every character who wasn't Jack Nicholson. I'm kind of dubious at the "5EP"s overall intentions and loyalties, but I can't dismiss a movie that makes room for that many weirdo actress moments.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

Lee Grant was awesome in The Landlord though I would personally give the award to Hot Lips.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

I'm stunned! I thought this would be an easy win for Karen Black!

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

Matt L: There HAS to be room there for Anita Pallenberg in Performance. Also: I think the NUMBER of nominations MASH got (5) isn't wrong so much as WHERE that number was applied. Move Director, Picture and Screenplay to Original Song, Lead Actor (Donald Sutherland over Melvyn Douglas) and Sound and you've got something closer to the mark.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Thanks for quoting me!!

While she wasn't my choice I'd never say that Lee Grant is a bad choice. I am however a little shocked that she won. I had hoped for Maureen Stapleton but expected Karen Black to take it, Lee was a stealthy surprise.

While there are other performances that could have, and in some cases should have been here this is a pretty strong lineup-save the winner. Others who would have made more sense in Helen Hayes place include Margaret Leighton in The Go-Between, Simone Signoret in The Confession and perhaps Pearl Bailey in The Landlord. Diana Sands was excellent as well but if it was a choice between the two I'd have rather seen Pearl there.

This is how it played out for me:

Karen Black–Five Easy Pieces-The quirkiest of quirky talents Black could often ruin roles with strange choices and hamminess but that’s not the case in this film. She conveys Rayette’s fragile grasp on her self-esteem and her determination to hold onto it even as it takes a battering from Nicholson’s difficult, selfish Bobby. 3 ½ hearts.

Lee Grant–The Landlord-At first her Joyce Enders seems all frilly Southern obliviousness to anything but appearances. But as the film progresses Grant reveals layers deep within that outer shell, particularly in her drunk scene with Pearl Bailey (who was worthy of a nod herself), and conveys how they surprise her as well as others around her. Not a winning performance but a very good one. 3 hearts

Helen Hayes–Airport-Despite my love of Helen Hayes and enjoyment of her elfin Ada Quonsett the performance is a vaudeville turn, appropriate for the role but hardly worthy of an Oscar. She dithers and rambles and charms the audience but there isn’t, nor does there need to be, any depth to Mrs. Quonsett. She’s a plot device enlivened by an endearing performer. 2 hearts.

Sally Kellerman–M*A*S*H-Seeing Sally from the vantage point of all these years and Loretta Swit’s ability over the TV series 12 years run to deepen and enrich Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan is a hindrance to her portrayal but it is still very strong work. She shows Margaret’s frustration as a spit and polish career military officer against the juggernaut of rebellion and high jinx foisted upon her without losing the humor of the situation. 3 hearts.

Maureen Stapleton–Airport- Stapleton's Inez is meticulously observed and full of subtle touches illustrating the hardscrabble existence which has led her to the sorry state she now finds herself in. The scene where she finds out her husband is on the plane and watches in hopeless bewilderment as it leaves is worth the statue alone. 4 ½ hearts.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Dave S -- right? On the podcast we talk a bit about that ensemble but it's easy to picture Lois Smith as a nominee too and the movie has all sorts of fine short performances, too.

Lady Edith -- agreed on Black. I really have to see DAY OF THE LOCUST because I always like her when I see her.

Peggy Sue -- !!!! YES SALLY STRUTHERS come through. I had no idea she was in this and that monologue is priceless.

Matt L -- i'd be tempted to fill the category with just those two movies as well, though I'd pick a different Five Easy Pieces player and go with Anspach

May 13, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Glad to have played along. I've always been a little scared of MASH: even though I'm an Altman fanatic, I've been worried I wouldn't totally jive to it, and I was write. Still glad to have seen it, as well as The Landlord, which should really be more easy to track down, it's so interesting.
Here was my ballot:

Karen Black: “I’m not a piece of crap.” A heartbreaking performance as a woman forced to swallow her pride so often she can barely keep it down. Often sullen and childish, it hurts to see her light up at the slightest kindness. Her mood is entirely relative to how Bobby is treating, if he would just be good to her for a change. Bonus points: Karen Black sings. Four stars.

Lee Grant: A riot as the self-centred queen of a mother. Rises above the facile satire of her portions of the movie, and somehow builds a consistent characterization, even if her scenes never quite connect to each other. Very funny whether accepting a begged-for compliment, over-drinking and over-sharing or eating ham hocks in white gloves. Four stars.

Maureen Stapleton: Often very little to do besides show the wheels turning in her head, but the viewer is still very happy when attention shifts to her in this very long movie. Able to build a character worthy of the devotion of her desperate husband. Her breakdown near the end when she puts it all together is devastating. Three stars.

Sally Kellerman: Great at first, showing both the necessary bravado of a female outsider with rank and the hypocrisy of a person who feels entitled to the high ground by virtue of position. Does her best to avoid sympathy without sacrificing humanity as the victim of the movie’s most memorable setpieces. But extremely let down by the script after the midway point. Not great in her freak-out after the shower prank, and forced into complete nonsense during the final cheerleading scenes. Two stars.

Helen Hayes: Dull. No spin or personality in her jokes. Plays everything bizarrely subtle in a movie that really needs her to stand out and bring it. So little effort to the performance that she must have been surprised to win. Bonds so little with the audience, that there’s no concern for her when she turns out to be in danger. One measly star.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

O wow, there are actually people who love Helen Hayes in Airport. And hate Karen Black in Five Easy Pieces. Color me surprised.Well my main takeaway is that I really have to see The Landlord, it sounds so good! Really enjoyed this smackdown, violent disagreements and all, and look forward to listening to the podcast.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob

How quickly the years pass. Saw four of these films in theaters when they were new. Caught up with "The Landlord" some years later on videotape. Can't say that I enjoyed much about any of them. But I did like Sally Kellerman's work in MASH. Of the five performances cited, she's the only one whose nomination I'd endorse. I've always had a soft spot for this lady - and would have handed her the 1987 supporting actress Oscar based on the wonders she performed in Henry Jaglom's delightful "Someone to Love". My 1970 supporting nominees would have included Canada's Jayne Eastwood for the still potent "Goin' Down the Road" and Austrian actress Heidelinde Weis, part of the near-flawless ensemble in Harold Prince's sly "Something for Everyone" (Angela Lansbury missed a much deserved Best Actress nomination for that one). But in the end I'd have given 1970's supporting trophy to veteran British actress Dorothy Tutin for lovely work in the historical drama "Cromwell". The picture itself was something of a misfire and Richard Harris, whom I generally like, did little of note with the title role. But Alec Guinness and Ms Tutin each drew on deep wells of talent and decades of experience to make their characters( Charles I and his wife Henrietta) quietly devastating. For me, both performances remain undimmed highlights of the 1970 movie season.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKen

Nat - Just an idea - reach out to Lee Grant and interview her for a podcast - I met her recently and she is very vibrant, lives on the upper west side. I'm sure she'd love to talk to you.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEllsworth

Love the Lee love!

Also in the should have been nominated category - Eva Marie Saint in "Loving," Estelle Parsons in "I Never Sang for My Father," and Janet Fay in "The Honeymoon Killers."

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

Those characters have some amazing last names! :0

May 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

The slap gif is priceless and I thank you.

May 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Santy C -- don't they though? Rayette DiPesto is one of the weirdest names ever in a movie but kinda great.

May 14, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

A total delight to read. I'd have a hard time deciding between Black and Grant, with Stapleton a clear third. Totally agree with Nick T about Grant's nomination being an ideal version of how Oscar serves the world. Totally agree with Ken about Kellerman in Someone to Love. Totally agree with everyone that Five Easy Pieces and The Landlord could have filled this whole category, though I do like Stapleton. I watched about 50 movies from 1970 a few years back and the only other Supporting Actress contender I found was Holly Woodlawn in Trash, who is arguably a lead. But wouldn't that have been an amazing nomination? And people did campaign for her!

May 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

I also have to put in a word for Eva Marie Saint in Loving, a very good drama. Caught it a few years ago and was impressed with both the film and Saint's performance. A melancholy aside: at one point you see the World Trade Towers under construction at the time.

May 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Grant?! Woah. For what it's worth, these were my two cents...

Karen Black, Five Easy Pieces - five hearts

Talk about a no-brainer. Black more than holds her own against Jack Nicholson (also in prime form) in this quintessential piece of New Hollywood cinema. Black's Rayette is an altogether alluring, suffocating and pathetic creation. As is he case in all Black performances, she brings an idiosyncratic touch to the turn that makes it all but impossible to look away. When Rayette crashes the Dupea home late in the picture, it's a welcome development, as the scenes without her aren't quite as compelling as the ones with her. It's a magnificent turn from an actress who deserved far more roles on this level than she ultimately received.

Sally Kellerman, M*A*S*H* - three hearts

Well, she does have a ravishing screen presence and is always a pleasure to see grace the screen in such a testosterone-packed picture. But the role is sadly underwritten in the film, giving Kellerman far less material to chew on than Loretta Swit would have over 11 seasons of the subsequent television series. Kellerman makes a fabulous Hot Lips but it's Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould who get to have most of the fun.

Maureen Stapleton, Airport - three hearts

The weakest of her four Oscar-nominated turns, Stapleton enters Airport on a promising-enough note. Her first scene is terrific, even if it feels lifted out of an entirely different and more satisfying picture. Stapleton's weary waitress Inez seems destined to emerge film MVP - after all, everyone around her seems cut from cardboard. Then, however, she too veers toward the one-note side, as Inez becomes increasingly frantic and insufferable. Her turn has a vitality that's sorely lacking among her co-stars, yet doesn't quite transcend the mediocrity of the proceedings around her.

Lee Grant, The Landlord - two hearts

For all of the immense talent involved here, from Grant and leading man Beau Bridges to Hal Ashby in the director's chair and Gordon Willis on cinematography duties, I find it curious that The Landlord never quite gels as splendidly as it should. As for Grant specifically, this is pure caricature, a parody of some of her old Peyton Place co-stars that must've sounded like a scene-stealing winner on paper, yet plays as unflattering and irksome in actuality. Grant does get one great scene opposite Pearl Bailey but it's hardly enough to warrant awards recognition.

Helen Hayes, Airport - two hearts

Oy. I mean, God bless this legendary EGOT winner but this is surely among the worst performances to earn the Best Supporting Actress trophy. Like another champion in this category, Margaret Rutherford in The VIPS, Hayes isn't flat-out terrible. She has an amusing moment here and there and looks adorable but ultimately, Hayes does nothing to lift her middling film in any meaningful way.

May 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

My favorite of the Smackdowns. I'm glad the guests were so enthusiastic about the too little seen THE LANDLORD (I watched it on YouTube about four years ago. Grant would've been my pick too – she or Karen Black

Like Rob said, I'm a fan of Eva Marie Saint' work in LOVING. I would've replaced Hayes with Saint.

May 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAlfred Soto

Never heard of "The Landlord" or how to watch that, so okay then. Yay Lee Grant? Thought this would be an easy win for Karen Black. "Airport" is just the worst. I've never supported Helen Hayes's sympathy career win and never will. "M.A.S.H." isn't top-tier Altman, but I generally liked it from the one time I've seen it many years ago. That might be up for a rewatch. Pretty contentious smackdown this time around! Can't wait for 1994! I'm expecting a steamroller for Dianne Wiest, but maybe I'll be surprised.

May 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBenji

Great smackdown! Love some of the extreme disagreements here but very happy that Grant won.

Not being very familiar with other films this year, I'd easily swap out Hayes for Sands. Otherwise, here's my ballot (I'd actually maybe adjust some of these stars by now but this is what I thought a few days after watching all of them):

Karen Black - 3 stars - Let's be honest: Black gets to work in the highest-quality film of these five nominees. Luckily, she's great with the opportunities she's given. She finds moments for Rayette's childlike playfulness, her eagerness when trying to connect with a roomful of snobs, and her anger at obnoxious hitchhikers. Unfortunately, the film sometimes doesn't have much for her to do but be the pouty, put-upon girlfriend so this wavers between 3 and 4 stars for me. When I saw it for the first time a week ago I thought I would give it 4 stars and now for some reason I'm leaning toward 3.

Lee Grant - 4 stars - Grant is a both a hoot and a terror as the boozy, racist Mrs. Enders. Her first scene with Bridges is full of lovely, nuanced little moments that clue you in to this woman's priorities. But it doesn't fully prepare you for the frightening woman who can turn on her son when he frustrates her, or who boozes it up and lets loose with one of his new tenants, or who then goes on to fall back into her old patterns and snap at her chauffeur the very next minute. You get the feeling Mrs. Enders thinks she's the star of her own movie and everyone else is there to support her and you can't take her eyes off her because of it.

Helen Hayes - 1 star - Look, Hayes is a pro and knows both what movie she's in and her place in it. She's charming, sure, and doesn't try to do anything more than what's asked of her...but nothing remotely challenging is asked of her. This wouldn't even be Emmy worthy if we saw this exact same performance on a sitcom which is where it belongs. I'm assuming all the old white Oscar voters wanted to vote for their friend one last time as a career win. Otherwise, I don't get it.

Sally Kellerman - 3 stars - Poor Kellerman. No sooner is she introduced as an enthusiastic, earnest, competent authority figure then the movie has to humiliate her over and over again. In her big breakdown scene demanding consequences against her tormentors, she perfectly captures the frustrating inarticulation that happens when you're too flustered to explain what should already be perfectly clear to someone who clearly doesn't understand or care. But then the movie forgets about her until she bizarrely has to enthusiastically cheerlead for the very men who had been constantly degrading and undermining her. Both the actress and character deserve better. (Also, did she and Black ever play sisters? They have very similar unconvential looks.)

Maureen Stapleton - 4 stars - God bless Stapleton. She works wonders as the weary Inez Guerrero. Look at how she drops eye contact during the diner scene when her loser husband starts making empty promises they both know he can't keep. She won't stop him, but she won't look at him, either. Or later, the moment mid-sentence when she finally puts all the pieces together about what her husband has done and how he's done it. She inhabits this woman with no muss, no fuss. This is the kind of actressing on the edges this series is meant to spotlight.

May 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Thanks for this amazing Smackdown.
Reminded me that I had done a stand-alone profile of Stapleton's turn, way back when.
http://stinkylulu.blogspot.com/2006/03/maureen-stapleton-in-airport-1970.html

May 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterstinkylulu

Stinky! good to hear from you. glad you enjoyed. Really interesting year partially because opinions are all over the place.

May 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Karen Black was robbed.

May 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobMiles

Volvagia: I agree with you that "M*A*S*H"'s nominations are in all the wrong categories--in fact, you could substitute "The Landlord" in each of those five categories, and the ballot suddenly makes better sense: Hal Ashby's movie is just as hip and irreverent as Altman's--and Ashby never feels the need to condescend to (or reduce and humiliate) any of its more ridiculous characters as Altman does here. Just compare the film's treatment of Joyce Enders with that of Margaret Houlihan, and you'll catch my drift. I'd give "M*A*S*H" nominations for Sound and for Editing, but that's about it (though I also like its cinematography).

I saw "Performance" a million years ago, and I don't remember Pallenberg, or anything else about the movie, although Nicolas Roeg's contributions to film as a cinematographer or director are often eerily stunning. By the way, have you seen Pallenberg in "Barbarella"?

May 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMatt L.

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