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The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1974

1974. The year of The Godfather Part II. The year of career achievement awards and veteran awards. the year where they scarcely got anything right besides Best Picture. In fact, in anything not related to The Godfather the Oscars woefully fucked up this year.

Just to get who won out of the way, Coppola won Best Director for Part II and Robert De Niro won Best Supporting Actor. Art Carney won Best Actor for Harry and Tonto, and Ellen Burstyn won Best Actress for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Which leaves us with this:

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1974

And the nominees were…

Ingrid Bergman, Murder on the Orient Express

Valentina Cortese, Day for Night

Madeline Kahn, Blazing Saddles

Diane Ladd, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Talia Shire, The Godfather Part II

This is a real tough year because, the performances I want to vote for — actually, all of them, in fact, or at least, almost all of them — are barely on screen at all. You remember them being there, but, when you look at it, they have relatively few scenes in their films. Which makes picking a winner here tough, and almost certainly contributed to the end result.

Bergman — Ingrid Bergman is a wonderful actress. She has played many great parts in many great movies. But she did not deserve this Oscar by a long shot. It’s clearly a career achievement award. She is in exactly two scenes in this entire movie. She speaks in exactly one scene in this entire movie. Just so you know:

The movie is based on the Agatha Christie book. Albert Finney plays a spot-on Hercule Poirot. They’re all on a train, going somewhere, when suddenly one of the people on the train ends up dead. So they stop the train — or rather, the train is stopped at a blocked passage — and he interviews everyone on board about what they know about the murder. What they heard, who they are, everything. And the whole thing eventually ties in to an unrelated story they tell you at the beginning of the movie — as it always does in this movies. Unrelated story is introduced only for it to have everything to do with the actual crime. So, he interviews everyone. And literally the middle hour of the movie is him interviewing each person or persons separately for five to ten minutes at a time. And Ingrid Bergman shows up somewhere in the middle. She’s a slow-witted woman who worked as a missionary in Africa. And she gets questioned, and that’s it. That’s literally it. It’s a quick scene, and you keep waiting for more, but you don’t get anymore. She comes back later when Poirot makes his big speech explaining what happened and how he figured everything out (it’s like a ten minute monologue), and Bergman is sitting in the car with everyone, and gets about one, maybe two closeups during the entire scene. And it’s revealed that basically everyone on the train did it. They all stabbed the dude one time apiece. And I think she shows up in that flashback (maybe she doesn’t) and might say something over his body before she stabs him, but, still, it’s literally one scene. And she won an Oscar for it.

Clearly I do not like this performance and find it unworthy of an Oscar. If you don’t believe me, watch it. Here’s the entire performance, all four minutes of it:

Now tell me which of those two performers more deserves an Oscar.

I rest my case.

Cortese — Here’s a movie that Netflix thought I was going to love that turned out just the opposite. I was pretty indifferent toward this movie. Anyway, it’s a movie about the making of a movie and Cortese plays an aging, alcoholic movie actress — as they all do — and she gets like five scenes in the movie. She gets to be drunk and demanding, she gets to be drunk at a party and tell a loud story. The usual drunk actress thing. I really was indifferent toward this movie, and am keeping this review short because — maybe the performance didn’t translate for me. The more I write, the more I’d have to take back if I see it again and do get why it’s so great. Ingrid Bergman apologized to her at the Oscars for winning the award because she thought Cortese should have won instead. So maybe Bergman was right. Personally, I don’t see it. No vote.

Kahn — Oh, god, I might have to vote for this performance on principle. Keep in mind she was also in Young Frankenstein this year too. I could that as a bonus toward the performance. Also, she does a fucking great Marlene Dietrich impression here.

If you haven’t seen Blazing Saddles, a) what the fuck is wrong with you? and b) know that she plays — oh boy, this is going to sound confusing if you haven’t seen the movie — here we go —

The movie is a western spoof, about a town that has its sheriff killed by the men hired by a businessman to drive the people out of the town so a railroad can be built through it. The man basically has the mayor — who is essentially a half-wit, who fucks his secretary instead of making business decisions — in his pocket and tells the mayor to hire a black sheriff for the town. Basically to keep them in chaos until they can get everyone out and can get the railroad built. But, the sheriff ends up actually winning the town over and the plan starts to backfire. So, the businessman says, “if the beast didn’t work, why not bring in beauty instead?”

Cut to Madeline Kahn, “The Teutonic Titwillow” Lili von Shtupp. She’s a German burlesque singer who is hired to “seduce and abandon the sheriff of Rock Ridge.” She also talks in a ridiculous German accent. And she’s like, “done. Ten minutes with me and he’ll be wet sauerkraut in my hands.” Then she does her big musical number, which is essentially about how she’s tired of fucking so many men and how she’s tired of “playing the game.” Afterwards, she asks the “she-wiff” to meet her in her “dwessing woom” after the show. And he goes back there, and all goes according to plan, except — once you go black you never go back. Cut to later, after they fuck, and she’s now doting on his every whim, and he’s got her wrapped around his finger. It’s a hysterical performance. She even pops up later to make a Producers reference. I love the performance, and really, in a category like this, might just vote for her. Because, when you factor in that she was also hysterical in Young Frankenstein as well — that to me is a great year.

Ladd — This is meant to be the “flashy” supporting role, I believe. The only problem is, it’s a Martin Scorsese film, and his films tend not to have the — shall we say — greatest, female presences. Granted, this is his one movie primarily about a female protagonist. So that’s something. But, the movie is about how she can’t live without a man.

The movie, if you haven’t seen it — Ellen Burstyn is married, has a kid, like ten, and the husband is a douche. One of those — she’s the doting housewife, makes him dinner, he complains, selfish in bed, otherwise ignores her as long as she does her job around the house — marriages. The kind that all women’s films are built on (especially in the 70s). It’s pretty much either that or the rationalization of why the woman cheating is noble. I guess realism is just too much to ask for in these situations. Anyway, the husband dies (which was really her only way out) and she goes on the road with a kid to be a singer, since that’s what she was trying to do before she got married. And they go to several places, having to move out of each one because of man problems. Then finally they get to this last one.

Diane Ladd plays a waitress at a diner on the last stop. Ellen Burstyn finally gives up on the singing and instead decides to suck it up and be a waitress. And Ladd is the old hand at this. She says risque things to the line cook without whispering so the customers can hear her. She announces that it’s Alice’s first day in front of the entire diner, and is like, “look at them tits. Big, right? But stay away from her, all right? Let her work. If any ass is gonna be grabbed, make sure it’s mine.” The cook constantly gets on her ass about slacking off and she shouts back “go jerk off an leave me alone,” and gets into an argument with him from across the restaurant and then goes and seats customers, like, “Hi, welcome, let me sit you over here and get you something to drink.” One of those performances.

It never really feels like she has much of a character for much of her time on screen. Then, at the end, they try to shoehorn one in, as she’s consoling Alice, and is like, “my daughter needs all this dental work I can’t pay for. My husband hasn’t talked to me in years. My life’s not that great either.” It just felt like, well, to put characterization in modern moviegoing terms — it was like 3D conversion. If you don’t shoot in 3D and just try to convert after the fact the movie’s gonna look like shit, even if it is entertaining. Ya follah?

I did enjoy her foul-mouthedness, but as a supporting character, she was meant to just be funny and two-dimensional. And if we’re going by funny, Madeline Kahn was funnier, and was more of a three-dimensional character. Mostly because her song set up her character before she even came on screen. So the hilarity actually fit with her character. So, Diane Ladd was good, and entertaining, but I can’t vote for her because Madeline Kahn was better in the flashy, funny supporting role this year.

Shire — This is tough. I thought Talia Shire should have came away with at least one Oscar in the 70s. Between The Godfather, this one, and Rocky — those are three really good performances. She got two nominations out of it. This one is the one she was more likely to win. Only trouble is, she’s not really in this movie all that much. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen Godfather Part II, but thinking back, the only times I remember seeing her on screen are — no, scratch that, I guess it qualifies as enough. She goes into Michael’s office telling him she’s going to get married and needs money. And we see her being self-destructive because he killed her last husband (which is great in itself, because he beat the shit out of her constantly — whether sincere or not, since he was getting paid, he still did it) and then being the annoying sister, making snide comments at dinner. Then she shows up later, like, “I’m sorry, I was an idiot, take me back in,” and then she argues that he needs to forgive his brother at the funeral, and then she pretty much is there at the end, chauffeuring the kids back and forth between him and Kay. So I guess that does count as a solid supporting role, which is important, because it means now my vote does go solidly to her. It’s a fascinating character, Connie, especially when you factor in part 3, when she basically becomes the Lady Macbeth of the whole thing. Her and Andy Garcia basically take over the fucking family and she’s whispering into his ear like Iago, “That motherfucker needs to die.” She’s one of those people in the trilogy that really doesn’t get enough notice for how good she really was in all the films. John Cazale was another one. How was he not nominated for Fredo in Part II? Seriously. I know three people were nominated already, but still. Don’t hate the player hate the game.

Anyway, she was great in this, and I’m voting for her.

My Thoughts: The best two performances here were her and Madeline Kahn. And really, either one would be worthy of a vote. I’m taking Talia, because I think she got snubbed for Rocky and am making it up after the fact.

My Vote: Shire

Should Have Won: Shire, Kahn.

Is the result acceptable?: No. A four minute performance is never acceptable unless it’s fucking astounding and insanely memorable.

Ones I suggest you see: Shire (if you haven’t seen Godfather II, you’re dead to me), Kahn, Ladd.

Rankings:

5) Bergman

4) Cortese

3) Ladd

2) Shire

1) Kahn

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