The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1973

And The Oscar Quest is back.

I have a lot of categories banked up now. Since we’re out of Oscar season, I don’t need to do two categories at once. It’ll just be one at a time now. And since many of the things I want to write for this blog require many days of research, it’s nice to have things like this I can go to for a post, while I get all the good stuff prepared. Plus, this is actually the reason this blog exists. So I probably should be chronicling it as often as I can. I think what I’ll do is go back to the categories for a bit, and then if something strikes me that isn’t a major post (like the How to Read a Hollywood Release, or the script stories or whatever), I’ll just post it in addition to the category post that day. And when I feel like switching it up I’ll post something different. No one really knows when that’ll happen.

To remind you, this Quest is me, trying to see all the movies nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Director. (And I’m sure once that’s done I’ll move on to the Editing and Cinematography. Because I’m crazy like that.) It allows me to expand my viewing history as well as be able to, without guilt, say what I think should have won at the Oscars that year. It’s an ambivalent relationship — me and the Oscars. I recognize that it’s nothing more than a bullshit, back-slapping ceremony where the industry rewards people they like. They don’t care about what the public wants anymore than a filmmaker when some douchebag comes up, wanting them to read their script. On the other hand, I like the Oscars. There’s something about it that excites me. Kind of in the way people like predicting which player an NFL team is going to draft. It’s just one of those things. I realize it’s pointless, but it’s fun trying to predict things, especially when you have some sort of interest in it — I like to see the movies I like get some recognition (which then becomes, “What the fuck? How could it lose to that?”) — and I get to see a lot of, by default, well-looked upon movies I probably hadn’t known existed. And the best part — now you get to find out from me which ones the good ones are without having to do any work. Seems like a good deal to me. Everybody wins.

So, what I do is, post the category, show you who won, then talk about each of the performances, pictures, what have you, and tell you what I thought of them, how much I recommend it — I’ll get more into detail for the older films. I didn’t really do that for 2000-2009, since, chances are, everyone’s seen most of those movies — and then I’ll tell you who I would have voted for and who I thought should have won. Then, at the bottom, I’ll rank the performances based on how much I liked them. So that way you can get a gauge of, if you had to choose, which ones to watch (if any). I’ll be sure, in my descriptions, to tell you how close the rankings are, or if #1 is far apart from the rest, or there are only two really good ones. I’m gonna be doing this a lot. You’ll get the hang of it.

Now, 1973. I should probably give you a rundown of the year in Oscar before I get into it. Let you know the situation we’re dealing with — the context, if you will.

1973 was a year where a streaker ran across the stage right before they announced Best Picture. Which went to The Sting, which beat American Graffiti, Cries and Whispers, The Exorcist and A Touch of Class. Chances are you’ve heard of three of those movies. George Roy Hill won Best Director for the film as well. Best Actor went to Jack Lemmon for Save the Tiger, a film I’ll be talking about in just a little bit. Best Actress went to Glenda Jackson for A Touch of Class. Best Supporting Actress went to Tatum O’Neal, for Paper Moon, a record I think still stands as the youngest person ever to win an Oscar. Which brings us to this category…

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1973

And the nominees were…

Vincent Gardenia, Bang the Drum Slowly

Jack Gilford, Save the Tiger

John Houseman, The Paper Chase

Jason Miller, The Exorcist

Randy Quaid, The Last Detail

Gardenia — Vincent Gardenia is one of those actors you probably wouldn’t recognize outside of the two roles he was nominated for an Oscar for. This one and in Moonstruck. Since I’ll get to talk about that one at some point, I’ll stick to this one. This movie is the one that’s basically Brian’s Song for baseball players. Robert De Niro and Michael Moriarty are the players, and De Niro, obviously, is the James Caan of the film. He’s the one that’s dying. Moriarty is the Billy Dee Williams. Though he never got to fly the Millenium Falcon. Or be Two-Face. He just got to be on Law & Order when the show first started. Strangely, between De Niro’s turn in this and his other turn in a movie you may have heard of — Mean Streets — it’s strange he didn’t get a nomination himself this year. But I guess the Academy asked himself that same question, because, guess who won Best Supporting Actor in 1974? That’s right, you guessed it — Frank Stallone. But I guess him playing Vito Corleone in Godfather Part II was kind of a role that would have won an Oscar for anyone. Right? I bet the year he had in ’73 didn’t hurt him any, though.

So, the film is about the two of them, good friends, on the Yankees. And Moriarty is a great pitcher, and De Niro is a run of the mill, average catcher. The team’s about to release him for some new prospect. But Moriarty finds out that he’s dying, and then insists the team keep him. He negotiates his contract on the condition that De Niro stay and gets him to catch all his games. And between games they fly out to get procedures done instead of traveling with the team.

Gardenia, is the team’s manager. A good way to describe him would be — salty. He’s the kind of manager that will sit there — “What the fuck do you want?” And the person tells him, and he’s like, “So what the fuck does it have to do with me? Either take batting practice or don’t take batting practice, I don’t give a fuck.” One of those. He’s suspicious of the two, traveling together, but ultimately is like, “I don’t know if you two are a couple of fags or what, but don’t let me see your performance slip because of whatever it is you’re doing off the field.” He’s basically the comic presence that grounds the movie. Without him, the movie would be way too wishy-washy. He is really the force that holds the movie together. It’s also a really good movie. And Gardenia is hysterical in it. He pops up at the right moments when the film is starting to get serious. Like, De Niro’s got a pain in his stomach and almost dies one day, and it gets serious again. Then, bam, Gardenia comes up with a nice scene that brings it back up. It’s a nice balance, and he pulls it off nicely. I cannot recommend this performance enough. If it weren’t for another one, I’d definitely be voting for him to win. But, if you ever have the opportunity to watch this movie, watch it. Don’t even try to remember anything about it. Just know that it’s Brian’s Song with baseball, De Niro’s in it, and that’s it. I promise you will enjoy Gardenia’s performance. And probably the movie too.

To put this performance into a type that I talk about a lot, so you can understand what I’m going for — this is the scene-stealing supporting role. The William Hurt in A History of Violence role. And, to a lesser extent, the Joe Pesci in Goodfellas role. The person who comes in periodically (and doesn’t have that many scenes overall in the picture) and steals every scene they’re in, and just has one of those performances that pops off the screen. This one is like a cross between a William Hurt and a Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War. Hoffman is on-screen a bunch, as opposed to Hurt’s eight minute scene or whatever it is. Gardenia is somewhere in between, but his stuff is just as electric as those other performances. The Scene Stealer is the opposite of the Strong and Steady. The Strong and Steady is the one who is almost like a lead role, and is essentially the rock of the movie. The solid supporter all the way through. Not flashy, but very solid. Morgan Freeman in — well, anything, but especially in — Million Dollar Baby is the one I probably use most often. He’s definitely not flashy, but, the support is clearly there. It’s like that. Usually I prefer the Scene Stealer to the Strong and Steady, but this year, I actually am going with the Strong and Steady. It just makes sense.

Gilford — This is a nomination I don’t understand outside of, it’s a veteran nomination. Not having been around in 1973, I can’t tell you how much of a veteran Jack Gilford was considered at the time. But seeing as how he was a broadway star whose career was derailed because of the blacklist (he was also Hysterium in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), methinks this was a veteran nom. Because I’m not sure what he’s doing here outside of that.

The film itself is one of those star specials. That is, the star wanted to do it, it was a passion project. The star was Jack Lemmon. And while I don’t think this is the strongest performance Lemmon’s ever put to film, I do think it is definitely one of his strongest, and it’s ultimately the one that won him his Best Actor Oscar. He’d won supporting, but, an actor like Jack Lemmon really does need a Best Actor (he was also the first person to ever win two. That is, lead and supporting. Everyone else had won theirs in the same category). This is also a year where, because Lemmon had been passed over multiple times before (to either more deserving performances or less deserving ones), it continues a long line of makeup Oscars, which beat out more deserving performances, which then lead to those actors getting makeup Oscars, and thus continuing the great chain circle of life.

So, the film is about Lemmon, a dress salesman — not like that — he owns his own dress factory. It’s a 70s dress factory, though. It looks like the 70s. It’s one floor and real gritty, and all the clothes look like shit, because they’re vintage, even though they’re brand new. Actually, for those who went to Wesleyan with me — you know that broken down laundromat that’s over there, not doing anything? That building is kind of what his dress shop looks like, only smaller. It has that kind of feel to it. (Note: If you ever see the movie, you will understand exactly what I’m talking about.) And the shop is mostly successful, in a moderate way. Though a new corporation is popping up an offering the stuff at discount. The usual problems. And he’s losing clients left and right. He usually arranges hookers for the traveling businessmen, one of them dies mid-coitus. Problems like that. So he decides, fuck it, he’s gonna hire an arsonist to torch the building so he can collect the insurance. But that’s not really what the film’s about. It’s about him being out of touch with the new generation. He doesn’t understand the whole hippie thing, and it’s about his isolation from the world around him.

Gilford plays Lemmon’s partner in the dress shop. He’s the one that’s always working the store, while Lemmon goes around and does shit all day. Like most owners. They show up at 10, 11, noon, whatever. Pop in, see how things are going, make a few business decisions, calls, then go out whenever they want to. Gilford is the guy that’s there all day. No matter when the boss shows up, this dude is there working. He’s a partner, but that kind of partner. The one who does all the work. And he’s there to basically be the conscience to Lemmon. Like, “Maybe torching it’s not such a great idea,” and things like that. Honestly I don’t really remember his presence on screen all that much, except maybe one line that made me chuckle. Other than that, he’s just kind of there, providing support.

That’s really all you need to know about this. If you’re gonna see the film, you’re going to see it as an artifact of the 70s — because it’s very 70s — when I picture it I picture that brown/gold look that everything seemed to have in the 70s. The colors are just horrendous. Like when carpets used to be orange and chairs were bile green. Those 70s. And you’d also be watching it for Lemmon’s performance. I don’t think anyone watches for Gilford’s performance. I don’t mind that he’s nominated, whatever, I just would not be voting for him. There’s always one of these performances in there, so, nothing out of the ordinary.

Houseman — John Houseman is definitely the veteran nod here. How can you tell that? He won. The difference between him and Gilford is — Houseman is a very, very respected actor. This is a dude that was in the Mercury theater with Orson Welles back in 1938. Yeah. I think that explains it. This is also a dude that had never been in a movie before this. He was in a short Orson Welles directed and had a brief, uncredited role in Seven Days in May. This was his first time actually being billed in a picture and having a substantial role. I guarantee you the only reason he won this Oscar is because of who he is. I could have told you that before I’d even seen the movie. He was winning this Oscar no matter what.

Also, for those not familiar with Houseman’s work, you may remember him from other supporting turns as Mr. Wabash in Three Days of the Condor (small role. I thought he was the dude he takes hostage at the end, but apparently he’s someone else), he was in The Fog and Rollerball. But really the role I remember him most vividly in is that of the driving instructor in The Naked Gun. During that chase with the doctor from the hospital? Drebin gets in the car with the student driver. Houseman is the instructor. And he’s the one who tells her — “Extend your left arm. Now — extend your middle finger,” and has the girl flip off the trucker. That’s John Houseman. But don’t worry, he’s a classy actor.

In this movie, Houseman plays a professor. But not just any professor. An infamous one. He’s that hard ass professor whose class everyone wants to take, even though it’s difficult as hell and most people end up doing poorly in it. But he’s thought of as such a genius, everyone wants in. And the movie’s about some student — and is really about the student. I underestimated just how little Houseman was going to be in it at all — who takes the class, and is trying to be a lawyer. And it’s about him taking the class for the year. That’s it. Him and other students take it, and we follow them. He also has a relationship with Houseman’s daughter, but, that’s beside the point. Houseman is that hard ass, and he calls on people even though they haven’t volunteered, and he berates them when they don’t know the answer, and he’s the kind of guy that expects you to be on top of your shit at all times. The guy who will ask you questions about shit that wasn’t in the reading, but expects you to take the reading and figure out the problem all on the spot — because that’s what it takes to be a lawyer. He’s that guy.

And really, most of his time is spent standing in front of the class, lecturing. That’s all he does. Even his beratement of students isn’t all that great. He just gives them a look like, “What a fucking waste of life you are,” then tells them they’re wrong and move on. Which, is fine, since he’s the type of professor that doesn’t need to tell you that you fucked up, he just looks away, and you feel like an asshole for the rest of class. The only other time he’s on screen is when the student sees him outside of class, with his daughter or whatever. And the student’s goal is to get Houseman to notice him, and he thinks that by participating a lot he’d gotten that. Then Houseman meets him in the elevator and is like, “Who are you?” And then he has another scene where he’s like, “I have a briefing I need looked at. It has to be done by Monday. Are you up for it?” And the student, looking for points, is like, “Yeah, sure.” But he was also scheduled to take Houseman’s daughter away for the weekend. It’s unclear whether Houseman knows of this trip — or of the fact that the kid is even dating his daughter — or not. And the kid spends all weekend working, pissing off the girl in the process, only to get sick from lack of sleep and turn it in a day late. And Houseman’s like, “I don’t need it anymore. I needed it on Monday.” And the kid’s like, “But all this work is here.” He’s like, “So just because it’s late you don’t want it at all? Didn’t it need to get done?” And Houseman’s like, “I had one of my graduate students take care of it.” And it’s a real bitch slap.

The scene is cold, but the performance is just — I don’t know. I don’t see the appeal of it as an Oscar winner. I can see why he got nominated, and I’m all for that. But I’m pretty sure everyone widely regards this as a veteran nomination and win and doesn’t actually think this is a deserving winner. It’s probably on the list of the least deserving winners for this category.

But still, I guess it’s worth checking out if you’re looking to see John Houseman act. Or, are a graduate student taking any kind of law classes or anything of that sort. Because this is an interesting look into the difficulties of difficult classes. I would know nothing about such things. The closest I ever came to anything in this movie was when I took my Film History class, and we had so much information to digest, people would break off into these study groups of 8-10 people and just compare notes, take whole chunks of the material and make study sheets for it and work together. I was invited to study with them once, but ended up doing things my way — make a four page study guide, in which I rewrote my notes and just read those again. Guess who ended up doing just as well as everyone else? This guy. Anyway, that’s what they do in this movie. Study groups and shit. It’s about taking a class. And, I guess, romance and shit, but that’s just filler. It’s not that great a movie. 3 stars on Netflix.

Oh, also, to the two people this applies to — you could also see this movie as a way to laugh at how CSS people bitch about having all that work to do. You can watch this and see how much harder real people have it in the real world.

Miller — Oh, man, I loved this performance. I loved this movie. But I especially loved this performance. Dude, his mother sucks cocks in hell.

If you don’t know The Exorcist — which, what kind of fucking rock do you live under, Patrick? — it’s one of the greatest movies ever made. And before the women in the audience (I’m counting the men who don’t like horror movies. In this case, you count as women. You will be going onto the lifeboats first, gents) start going on, like, “Oh, it’s too scary for me, I can’t do scary movies” — This is NOT a scary movie. This is an unsettling movie. In the way that The Silence of the Lambs is not a scary movie. In the way that From Justin to Kelly is not a scary movie. It has scary elements, but it is not a horror movie. The movie is actually a police procedural. Much like Silence of the Lambs is. There’s a specific horror movie term for it, but I took that class second semester senior year (at 9 am), and was still drunk most of the time it was taught. I can’t tell you the term — complex discovery. Fooled ya. Shit, fooled me — but, it’s basically a film that’s like — okay, quick example:

Movie starts. Person gets killed. Say by a werewolf. Scratch, scratch, scratchity scratch. That’s the werewolf attacking. We’ll add some swooshes and swarms for effect as well. Then, next day, “Oh shit, Jim’s dead.” They realize there is, in fact, a monster. We, the audience, already know there is a monster, because we just saw it flossing its teeth with Jim’s jugular. The villagers must now set out to figure out what the monster is. Normally this part becomes — they know there’s a monster, then more people know there’s a monster. Like, one dude is like, “Something killed Jim!” and they’re like, “Oh, fuck, Jim got drunk and fell off a bridge.” And he’s like, “Motherfucker, he has no head!” And they’re like, “That’s what we were saying!” And then while they’re laughing about it on the way home from the pub, the werewolf comes up and fucks one of the guys in the ass. And the other one gets away. Now everyone knows, for a fact, there is a monster. And that it is, in fact, a werewolf. Damn shame what they did to that other guy. Now, they must confirm that the monster does exist. Stakeout. They watch. “A-oooh, a-ooooh,” werewolf goes running across the plain. Hark, a werewolf. I see it. Boom. Everybody knows. Now, the last part, is confronting the monster. How do we take down this son of a bitch? This is usually where most plots get military. Fuck if the monster is friendly or misunderstood, we must kill it. This is why I hate Battle: Los Angeles so much. They dispensed with all the previous steps, and got right into, “let’s kill these sons of bitches.” Among many other problems the film has. But enough about that piece of shit. Back to the example. They confront the monster, and try to defeat it. Boom, the end. Basically. Back to The Exorcist.

This movie is basically a complex discovery plot. They literally spend 75% of the movie figuring out that monster, in fact, exists. The first ten minutes take place in Iraq and have almost nothing to do with the plot (yet, have everything to do with it. Sneaky, sneaky, Mr. Friedkin). Then, we meet the protagonist, see her acting all weird. Goes to a doctor. Then she fucks herself with a cross and spins her head around while thrusting Mama’s head down there in the bloody snatch. I think this is a time for an exorcism too.

So, they call in Jason Miller, whose story is intercut with this other one this whole time. He’s a Greek priest who is losing his faith. His mother is dying and is in a home (because he put her there, and is very guilty about it), and he’s one of those — “I just don’t have the passion for it anymore.” And he agrees to see if there is a demon inside this child. And they spend a long time figuring it out. And finally, they call in the big gun — Max von Sydow. He comes in, then they confront the demon in literally the last twenty minutes of the movie. Usually the confrontation happens a bit earlier. But, here, it’s the very, very end. And his character is very strong throughout, because once they confront the demon, his weakness in his faith can be very hurtful to their cause. The demon starts to twist him, taking on the voice of his mother, like “Why you do that to me, Demi?” Really fucking with his head. And he’s got to overcome that for the sake of the child.

It’s a really strong fucking performance. And for me, the one that anchors the film. It’s almost a lead role, but is one I can consider supporting mostly because Ellen Burstyn is the real lead of the film, Karras comes on a bit later, and von Sydow basically takes over the exorcism job at the end. So really he can be considered a supporting performance. And I think that his performance is so strong compared to Gardenia’s because without Karras, you don’t have the emotional hook that makes the rest of the movie work. Sure the film has other tricks to make things more realistic, and has the whole, “this is a child” aspect to it — but Karras is the character that really keeps the whole thing held together, and is really what makes you believe in this movie about an exorcism. Without him, you get all those shitty exorcist movies you see nowadays. The ones that try to recreate his character but can’t. Because they mix him and the Max von Sydow character together. And you can’t do that.

So, ultimately, I say, this is the performance I am voting for, I think it was truly the best supporting performance of the year, and I think you all should see this movie because it really is a movie that, if The Sting weren’t up this year, wins Best Picture hands down. In fact, most people say it would have/should have won anyway. It was the favorite going in. So, see this goddamn movie, people.. Fuck that being scared shit. It’s better than that. It’s intellectually scary. Not Texas Chainsaw scary.

Quaid — Fuck, remember when Randy Quaid wasn’t batshit crazy? Me neither. Dude burst onto the scene something fierce with this role. One that John Travolta turned down. Why would you turn it down? Did you want to play Vinny Barbarino that badly? Travolta took another four years to get famous after turning this down. Then Quaid ended up not doing anything after this anyway, so I guess it all worked out.

Anyway, this is one of the better, yet underseen movies of all time. It’s one that’s in that second level of film viewing. When you’re first starting out, watching films, you get your upper echelon movies that everybody sees — your Apocalypse Now, your Chinatown, your Taxi Driver — those films. The second tier are ones that you probably wouldn’t run out to see immediately. I’m thinking Cool Hand Luke is on this tier, but maybe that’s first tier. Or first and a half. I’m thinking of films that are classics and are held in real high regard, yet are ones people generally find when they have that first batch of films and are looking for more. Like, “If you like this, how about this.” And this film is the second “this.” Coppola’s The Conversation is one like that. Films off the beaten path but very firmly in a well-received spot in history.

This film is about Jack Nicholson — and trust me, his character name doesn’t matter, he’s Jack Nicholson anyway. But I’m gonna tell you his character name anyway, because it’s awesome. Billy “Bad Ass” Buddusky. He’s on shore patrol, and is assigned to bring Randy Quaid, a young enlisted men who assaulted an officer, to prison. He picks him up at one place, and has three days to transport him to another. And Nicholson — which, I know his character name is awesome, but, as you’ll see if you watch the film, this is where the Jack Nicholson persona fully emerges. This is him working it out, before going full Nicholson in Cuckoo’s Nest — Nicholson is like, “We have three days. Let’s give this motherfucker one last fling before he goes in the clink.” So they take Quaid out to drink, get hookers, shit like that. And eventually the goal is to bring him to jail, but they figure, let’s have a little fun with it. Let’s use every minute of freedom you have left.

Quaid plays the prisoner, who is very quiet. If Nicholson is the loud mouth, picking fights with bartenders, shouting, “I am the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker!”, then Quaid is the dude sitting there, quietly, just listening to him and answering Nicholson’s questions with simple answers. Like, “What’s some son of a bitch like you gotta do to earn yourself two years in stir?” And he’s like, “You know. I did some stuff.” And Nicholson’s gott pry it out of him. He’s just quiet, and goes along with it. And over the course of the film, we learn more about him, his background, and why he is who he is. And it gets to the point where, for a minute, you think, and maybe even Quaid thinks, that Nicholson will feel bad for him and let him go. Say he escaped. He starts to open up a bit, and eventually starts enjoying himself, which, also ends up being too late — since jail awaits.

It’s a nice, mature performance by Quaid. A very solid one at that. You need a solid, quiet performance to counteract that force of nature that is Nicholson in this movie. Seriously, if you’re going to watch this movie (and you should, it’s great), watch it for what Nicholson does. Going full Nicholson is like going full Cage. Instead of bees you get eyebrows. That Nicholson grin. But you can watch Nicholson going batshit while also admiring Quaid for — “Wow. Nice job.” That’s what this performance is — wow, nice job. The problem is, “Wow, nice job” performances don’t get voted for. Which is bad for Randy, but fine for this category, because there are two other performances worth voting for, and this helps make the decision easier.

My Thoughts: The two best performances here, by far, are Gardenia’s and Miller’s. I’ve already said that, while I normally go with flashy, I’m going with solid this time. My vote is for Miller. However, I’m ranking Gardenia’s performance #1 just because I enjoyed his the most. This may change in the future, but I want to point you toward the more entertaining performance first. You should have seen The Exorcist anyway. Bang the Drum Slowly isn’t a film you’re guaranteed to ever see. So I’m using the publicity space to give that one more of a boost that the other one needs. Actually, let’s do it this way. New addition:

My Vote: Jason Miller

Should Have Won: Jason Miller

Is the current result acceptable?: Yes and no. Okay that they wanted to give Houseman an Oscar, but really, no. 75% no. The performance really isn’t good compared to the other two. So, ultimately, I will say I am not okay with this outcome.

Ones I suggest you see: 1, 2 + 3.

Rankings:

5) Gilford

4) Houseman

3) Quaid

2) Gardenia

1) Miller

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