The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1966

The thing I remember best about 1966 is that it’s one of, if not the only — double checking on this right now. Yes it is — it’s the only year in the history of the Academy (with five Best Picture nominees) where the Best Actor category matched up exactly with the Best Picture category. That is — all the Best Actor nominees were all the male leads of the five Best Picture nominees. No other category can boast that. There are a couple of fours, and 1964 has four matches and one repeat, but, the other nominee didn’t really have a male lead, so, 1966 will always be the only year (unless they go back to five nominees) where Best Actor matched Best Picture.

It also was a pretty good year overall, with A Man For All Seasons winning Best Picture, Paul Scofield winning Best Actor for it and Fred Zinnemann winning Best Director for it, and then every other award going to the other film that was just as great that year, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, with Elizabeth Taylor winning Best Actress and Sandy Dennis winning Best Supporting Actress. The only other category that wasn’t won by either of those two films (but not for lack of trying), was this category, which is a pleasant little change up. Because who doesn’t love Walter Matthau?


And the nominees were…

Mako, The Sand Pebbles

James Mason, Georgy Girl

Walter Matthau, The Fortune Cookie

George Segal, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Robert Shaw, A Man for All Seasons

Mako — The Sand Pebbles is Steve McQueen’s big dramatic turn. Well, this and Papillon. This was his one big dramatic role that got all the Oscar nominations. The film is made to get Oscar nominations. I never actually found out if this was a passion project of his or he just got to star in it. Either way, it’s a pretty good movie.

The movie’s about a navy machinist during — some conflict in China. And he’s not supposed to be working on the machines if he’s an enlisted man, but he does anyway, because he likes it. And of course, this gets him in trouble, because, well, he’s being a rebel. So he gets an ultimatum where he needs to train a — local guy, whatever the racist term they had for Chinese people in the film was. Maybe it’s just Chinaman, I forget. But, that’s Mako. So, for a while Mako become’s McQueen’s protege, and really his only friend. Well, his other friend is Richard Attenborough, who has his own subplot, where, in the bar/brothel that the men frequent, he falls in love with the star woman there. Kind of a Moulin Rouge sort of thing. The poor navy man in love with the “beautiful flower.” And their whole storyline is, they’re in love, and no one wants it to happen, and eventually he escapes to be with her and dies of hypothermia or something. That was actually the part of the movie I liked the best. But, anyway, back to the part that’s relevant to this nomination. So, Mako is McQueen’s protege, and the men don’t like him, because, I forget why. Maybe a Chinese guy isn’t supposed to be the machinist and McQueen did it to piss everyone off. But, the men hate Mako, and they order a boxing match, and Mako wins, and then he’s fired eventually, and then once he’s off the ship, the locals hate him because he’s friendly to the whites, and they beat him up, and then from the boat McQueen mercy kills him with a rifle to end his suffering. Oh, and, the rest of the film ends with an uprising and McQueen being shot and killed.

The film is pretty good, albeit long. I felt it could have been thirty minutes shorter and still got its point across. It’s one of those films you know should be nominated but also know won’t win. As for Mako’s performance, he’s fine, but, personally Richard Attenborough should have been the dude to get this nomination. His storyline was by far the most interesting. But, Mako was “The Wizard” in Conan the Barbarian, so that counts for something, right?

Mason — It’s strange how James Mason had such an illustrious career and only managed three Oscar nominations. The first, he was never gonna win for, was for playing Norman Maine in the Judy Garland A Star is Born. If Frederic March didn’t win for the role, Mason certainly wasn’t going to. And then this was his second nomination. His third was also Supporting, for The Verdict in 1982. I’m actually kind of surprised they didn’t give it to him that year. It was rife for a veteran win. Anyway, this one.

Georgy Girl is a strange film. It’s about a girl who — well, she’s naive. She’s very up front and charming, but, completely naive about love and sex and stuff. Actually, if you’ve seen the film Happy Go-Lucky, this film seems like a natural forebearer of that. Not completely, but, you can see strains. Anyway, the girl basically goes around being herself. And James Mason plays an associate of her father, who has watched her grow up, and, in a loveless marriage, desires her. And basically it gives James Mason the chance to be a humorous and well-meaning pervert. Not pervert, but, you can tell he wants this girl, but he does it in a very charming way. He basically tells her, if she’ll be his mistress, he’ll keep her living well, in a nice apartment, and will always provide for any children that might result from their time together. I have friends who are seeking this kind of relationship out of life. Georgy, however, is uninterested. While all this is going on, Georgy has a female roommate, who is clearly kind of a whore. It’s one of those things where, she’s very shallow and isn’t really friends with Georgy, but thinks she is mostly because she likes to hear herself talk and Georgy makes her feel better about herself. But very quickly, the roommate gets pregnant and has to marry her boyfriend. And he moves in with the two of them, and, very quickly, he and Georgy start sleeping together. Then the roommate gives birth, and, not wanting it, Georgy takes it and she and the boyfriend start caring for it as if it were their own. And then after a while, the boyfriend moves out, since he realizes he means nothing to her and all she cares about is the child. And by this point, James Mason’s wife has died, and he proposes to Georgy, and she accepts, because this will allow her to keep the child. That’s pretty much the movie.

The film is — interesting. The performances are good, but, I can’t really vote for them. Mason, though, is very charming. I liked him a lot. I like how awkward he was. And how Georgy pretty much ignores him for most of the movie, and he dotes on her all the time. It’s a very well-done performance. I can’t vote for it though because there are better options.

Matthau — It took a very specific mindset for me to enjoy this film. Because it’s not as good as most of Billy Wilder’s films, but on the other hand, it is a very good film. So I had to watch it not expecting a “Billy Wilder” movie but also not treating it like everything else. That seemed to do the trick.

The film starts out kind of slow. During a football game, Jack Lemmon, a cameraman, is accidentally run into by the star running back, Luther “Boom Boom” Jackson. And he falls and ends up a little concussed from it. And he wakes up in the hospital, fine and expecting to leave. However, his brother-in-law, Matthau shows up, and here’s where the film starts to pick up.

You see, Matthau is about as crooked a lawyer as you’re ever going to see. And what he does is, without running it by Lemmon, tell everyone he’s suing on Lemmon’s behalf. Because it was on national television. And he’s figuring, it’s an airtight case. They’ll have to settle for a big figure just to not have to go to trial. So Matthau convinces Lemmon to pass off an old neck injury as a new neck injury, which Lemmon doesn’t want to do. But eventually Lemmon agrees and goes along with it. So Lemmon is now pretending to have all these problems from the injury, just so his brother can get the settlement for him, but things get complicated because “Boom Boom” Jackson shows up, deeply upset by the injury. He’s so distraught for what he did, it starts to affect his mindset and his playing. And this makes Lemmon unhappy, because he knows he can fix everything by just telling the truth, which is what he wants to do anyway. And then he has to go through all these hoops, like being in a wheelchair and in traction, and has to put up this whole facade just for the sake of his sleazy brother. And the film turns into a screwball, since the other side believes he’s faking and hires people to bug him, so it becomes like a whole thing where, things get worse and worse, and he gets deeper and deeper into the lie, and he wants more and more to tell, and Matthau keeps forcing him to keep going — it gets very funny toward the end.

What makes this movie work as well as it does is Matthau. His character is this movie. Without him, this movie would just be mediocre. The level this man will sink too just for some money is incredible. And what really makes the character work is — he’s in his own movie. That’s the thing. He thinks he’s in one kind of movie, meanwhile he’s in a completely different kind of movie. Matthau plays the character as if he’s the protagonist in a noir film. And he’s walking around, all shady-like, talking as if he’s delivering voiceover. Meanwhile he’s in a comedy. It works really well. He definitely deserved this award just because his character single-handedly made this movie.

Segal — And now, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The film is about a married couple, a professor and his wife, who, for lack of a better word, hate each other. Something happened to them, and since then they can’t stand one another, so they spend the day snapping at one another and spend the night drinking and pretending to be married when they go to parties. And this film takes place as they invite another professor and his wife over to dinner. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are the couple, and George Segal and Sandy Dennis are the younger couple. And the film basically plays out during this meeting. There’s a lot of shit that happens. First it starts out okay, then one couple starts bickering, and the younger couple tries to smooth it over, then they get involved, and then they start bickering, then they pair off, almost, and they go out to a diner at one point, then they come back and there’s more bickering, and everybody’s yelling at somebody, then the one couple leaves, and really the whole thing has to do with the fact that Burton and Taylor have never been able to have children and have all this time pretended to have a son. The film is incredible, and the performances are some of the best you’ll ever see put to film.

Now, George Segal, playing the younger professor, is really good in the film. Everyone is here. But, I don’t think he’s a shoo-in to win. Of course, it would be totally cool if he did, but, for me he’s just one of three up for a vote along with Matthau (who is most likely the one I’m voting for), and —

Shaw — Robert Shaw. I fucking love Robert Shaw. Ya follah?

This film is the one that’s basically the Henry VIII story, but as told from the point of view of Sir Thomas More. Remember, it’s like the companion film to Anne of the Thousand Days? Yeah. It’s great. It’s Thomas More dealing with Henry wanting the divorce and struggling with whether he should do what his king wants if it means going against God (since at that time divorce was “illegal,” or “immoral” or whatever the church decided). And he decides not to grant it, despite what the pressure put on him to do so. And then Henry has him imprisoned and put on trial and stuff, but he never wavers in his beliefs, which is why he’s a man for ALL seasons, and not just spring and summer. Ya follah?

Shaw plays Henry VIII. He does a great job here. Whereas in Anne of the Thousand Days, Burton had to play him for the whole film, Shaw only has three scenes as Henry, so what he does is compress the character into those scenes. So Henry’s volatility shows a lot more here — or rather more often — than it does in the other film. So what it amounts to is Robert Shaw being like dynamite in this film. He shows up and things go up a notch. He’s very, very lively. Which amounts to a really great supporting performance. And because I love Robert Shaw, I’m always looking to vote for him. Some people might see him as overacting a bit here, but I didn’t mind it so much. To each his own. For me, this vote comes down to both Shaw and Matthau. And, unfortunately for Shaw, Matthau had several other nominated performances that I wanted to vote for him for but couldn’t, so, I think that tips the scales in his favor. It sucks, but, we’ll always have The Sting, and Jaws, and The Taking of Pelham 123, and From Russia With Love, and — ya follah?

My Thoughts: What a great category. You have the two films duking it out fighting for another category, and then this wild card in Walter Matthau. Of the three that were the best here, Segal, Shaw and Matthau, I lean naturally toward Shaw and Matthau, just because I like them the best. And of the two, I have to pick Matthau here, just because he had more screen time, he was just so goddamn funny in the film, and because he needed to have one more than Robert Shaw did. So, Matthau is my vote.

My Vote: Matthau

Should Have Won: Matthau. Or Shaw. Or Segal, even. Those three were all the best choices.

Is the result acceptable?: Oh yeah. Walter Matthau winning this Oscar  made up for all the years after this where he didn’t win one and was nominated. It’s kind of a shame that he didn’t win the second one like Jack Lemmon did, but, I do kind of find Lemmon to be a bit of a better actor than Matthau, as much as I love Matthau. It’s a shame that Robert Shaw never won one, but, shit happens. So, yes, very acceptable. Who doesn’t love Walter Matthau?

Performances I suggest you see: The Fortune Cookie, is, for the most part, a great film. It’s not Wilder’s best at all, but, once it gets going and Matthau takes over, it gets to be really funny. I do recommend it, because, for one, it’s Billy Wilder, and even an above-average Billy Wilder movie is better than most comedies. Plus, it’s Lemmon and Matthau, and that automatically makes it worth seeing. Next, A Man for All Seasons is a fucking great movie. I can’t recommend this movie highly enough. It’s just fantastic to watch it unfold. Whoever wrote that play wrote a fucking great script, because this shit is riveting from start to finish. Definitely one of the better Best Pictures. And, on the same coin, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is just as good as A Man For All Seasons. It has the added bonus of seeing two of the best leading performances or all time with those of Taylor and Burton. It’s a film that’s probably my favorite on this list, just because everyone in it (all, four of them, plus the two random people who are there for like, three minutes) is so fucking good. And then, The Sand Pebbles is also a really good movie, but, it’s long, can get tedious if you’re not ready for it, but on the whole is a very engaging film. I do recommend it as well, especially for fans of Steve McQueen or Richard Attenborough.


5) Mako

4) Mason

3) Segal

2) Shaw

1) Matthau

One response

  1. My rankings:
    1. Walter Matthau
    2. George Segal
    3. Robert Shaw
    4. James Mason
    5. Mako

    September 5, 2013 at 3:26 am

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