The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1973

This category always makes me perk up. It’s not that it’s a particularly strong category. It’s just that there are two nominees who were so amazingly good that they’d probably be easy winners in most years. And they’re both under the age of 15. That’s what’s so great about it. In case you didn’t know, I’m a sucker for child actor performances. Especially the precocious child role. I love when they give kids adult dialogue. It’s just so entertaining. And Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon is the epitome of that type of performance. That’s why I love this category so much.

As for the rest of the year — it’s pretty great. The Sting wins Best Picture and (finally) Best Director for George Roy Hill (which I talked about here). Jack Lemmon wins a long overdue Best Actor for Save the Tiger, which was a great decision. Then Best Actress was Glenda Jackson for A Touch of Class, which in itself is not a terrible decision, but is terrible based on the fact that Glenda Jackson had already won Best Actress in 1970 in the worst Best Actress decision of all time. I talked about her ’73 win here. And finally, John Houseman wins Best Supporting Actor for The Paper Chase, which I consider a poor, but understandable decision. I talked about it here. So, in all, I consider 1973 an overall very good year, not the least of which is because of this category, which I consider a fantastic decision.


And the nominees were…

Linda Blair, The Exorcist

Candy Clark, American Graffiti

Madeline Kahn, Paper Moon

Tatum O’Neal, Paper Moon

Sylvia Sidney, Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams

Blair — Everyone’s seen The Exorcist, right? I feel like I go through this every time I talk about it. Just fucking see it if you haven’t. It’s a classic film and a masterpiece of the horor genre (but it’s not scary. Fuck what you’ve heard).

It’s about the mother and daughter, in town while the mother shoots a film, and the daughter starts acting strangely. She’s medically fine, and the mother begins to suspect she’s possessed by an evil spirit. They bring in a priest (who is questioning his faith) and he discovers she is, in fact, possessed by the devil. They bring in Max von Sydow and he performs an exorcism on her. That’s it. That’s the story. Of course, if you’ve seen it, you know it’s so much more than that.

Linda Blair plays the little girl, and on the surface, the performance is pretty good, but, you realize the amount of shit that she had to go through for this role. She had to have all this makeup put on, she had to say things like, “Your mother sucks cocks in hell,” because, even though it wasn’t her voice saying it, she had to mouth the word. She had to masturbate with a fucking crucifix (not really, but still) and push her mother’s head down there in the blood. Plus, it’s a memorable fucking role at that. I’d seriously consider giving her this award if it weren’t for Tatum O’Neal. (I tell you, give me a precocious, sarcastic child, and I’ll vote for them every time.)

Clark — Where do you start with American Graffiti? It’s not a film. It’s a nostalgia trip. It’s a hangout film. It’s one of those movies that’s just guys hanging out. It’s steeped in 50s nostalgia. That’s all it is. It’s about a bunch of friends on their last night of high school before they go off to college and stuff, and they’re all just out on the town. Each one has their own storyline. Like, Ron Howard has girlfriend issues, Richard Dreyfuss is trying to find a mystery woman, Paul LeMat is looking for a girl, and ends up with a 13-year old in his car, having to babysit her, etc.

The one storyline we’re interested in is Charles Martin Smith’s. He’s the smart brother of Ron Howard, the one who wears sweaters tied around the neck of his polo shirts. You know the type. This is George Lucas we’re talking about. There is no depth. And they call him Toad, and they figure he’s never gonna get laid. But what happens is, he’s the one that ends up having the best night of them all. He finds Candy Clark, who is this dumb, flirty blonde, and she gets in the car with him. And she sees that he’s smart, so she asks him to buy booze for them, which he does, in that nice little comic scene. And then they go to that lover’ point with the car and fool around. Then they wander around, the car is stolen, and then they find it, and then Ron Howard takes it, and the whole time he’s been telling her how the car is his and how he does all these things, and then it all comes unraveled. And she tells him she had a really good time with him and that he should give her a call the next day. It’s a nice, sweet performance.

However, I feel like if anyone from this movie was going to be nominated for Best Supporting Actress — it should have been Mackenzie Phillips. Come on, she was the best part of this movie. She’s the 13-year old that goes around driving with Paul Le Mat all night. Their storyline is by far the most interesting. I know what you’re saying — “What’s with you loving precocious children?” I am one. Even though I’m 22. — but seriously, watch the movie. You’ll see it. Anyway, it’s nice that they got nominated for something. This is one of those, in order to contend for Best Picture, a film needs at least one acting nomination. This was that film’s acting nomination. Not gonna win, but nice that it’s there.

Kahn — A great film and a double nominee. This is wonderful.

Paper Moon is a film I knew nothing about when I started this Quest. I knew Tatum O’Neal was the youngest person to ever win an Oscar and won for it. I knew she starred in it with her father. I knew Madeline Kahn was in it. And I knew it was directed by Peter Bogdanovich. That’s really all I knew. I saw, from Netflix, that it was about “a young girl traveling with a con man who may or may not be her father.” Which, is what it’s about. I put it on when it was Watch Instant and was expiring, and boy, was I surprised. I’d seen The Last Picture Show when I was younger, and didn’t love it. I thought it was good, but, I didn’t love it the way some people love it. This film, however, I loved.

You see, Ryan O’Neal is a con man who goes around to recently widowed women, claiming to have sold a very expensive Bible to their husbands shortly before they died. He looks through obituaries and has the man’s name inscribed in the Bible, which causes the widow to overpay for it. Tatum O’Neal shows up, looking for him. Her mother was a prostitute who had an affair with him and it’s possible he’s her father. Her mother died in a car crash with a man, and, O’Neal, Ryan, hearing this, gets the man’s brother to give him $200. And Tatum, seeing him do this, demands a cut of the money. But, he’s already spent it. And she’s about to raise a big stink, because she’s smart enough to do it in such a way that she comes off as an innocent and victimized child, but he knows she’s much more of an adult. So he agrees to take her with him until he can pay her back. Once she finds out about his scam, she joins in, pretending to be his daughter, which makes things go even better (the family aspect always works). As they travel, they meet up with a stripper, played by Madeline Kahn. I’ll get to her in a second. The rest of the film deals with both O’Neals devising a scam to get over on a bootlegger and that going wrong and such — it’s really a nice little comedy about a father and daughter playing people who may be father and daughter.

Anyway, Kahn plays a stripper who O’Neal (Ryan) becomes infatuated with. He starts turning his attention over to her instead of to his daughter. And his daughter doesn’t like it. And Kahn is traveling with her African-American maid (who doesn’t want to work for her and would rather go home to her mother) who she constantly berates and puts down. And what happens is, Ryan falls for her, but Tatum sees she’s not a good influence, so she and the maid contrive a scheme whereby Ryan “catches” Kahn in bed with another man — which is a brilliantly staged screwball scene. That’s mostly her storyline.

The reason Kahn was nominated was because of how she plays the part. She’s really good. She’s the right amount of ditziness and charm. It’s one of those roles of someone who’s clearly not sophisticated, trying to be sophisticated, but fooling nobody except the dude who doesn’t care. She plays it really well. Watch this:

That’s the performance in a nutshell. The only problem with it is, Tatum O’Neal outshines her, and that’s the only reason I’m not even considering voting for her. But Kahn is very much a bright spot in this movie, as she is in most of her movies. But, really, Tatum O’Neal was definitely the better vote in this category.

O’Neal — Like I said, Tatum O’Neal is my vote. The reason is because, she’s 9 years od, and mor than holds her own against her father, a man who’s already been nominated for an Oscar.

How she does it is, rather than trying to outdo him, she just looks at him angrily a lot of the time, then comes right in and steals the scene. Watch this. This is the scene right after he swindles the guy who’s brother got Tatum’s mother killed in the car crash out of $200:

And if you think, “Yeah, that’s okay, but, the editing is making it look better than it is,” watch this scene. This one is one continuous shot.

She really holds her own and steals this movie. It’s a great movie too. She really should have won. And I think everyone should see this movie. It’s really great.

Sidney — Oh boy. This film. Thank god this is the last time I have to talk about it. I hated this film. Hated, hated, hated it. Hated it. This film will make my list of top ten films from this Quest I did not like. Like, legit did not like. I tell people to avoid this film, because there’s literally about only 10% of the moviegoing public that will like this film. It’s one of the few I actually tell people to avoid. That’s how boring I found this film.

It’s about Joanne Woodward as a housewife who has dreams. She dreams about shit. She goes over her relationships with other people, wonders what he life could have been like if she went a different way. That’s really all it is. It’s so fucking boring. Sylvia Sidney plays Woodward’s mother, and she shows up for about — oh, six minutes of the film. They walk around, shopping, and then she has a heart attack in the middle of the street and dies. That’s literally all that happens. How either of these two got nominated, I have no idea. At least this one, you can pass off as a veteran nom, but, seriously — she’s in the film for six minutes. There is no way anyone could ever vote for this performance.

My Thoughts: Honestly, for me, Tatum O’Neal wins this by a landslide. It’s not even close. Maybe one could make a case for Linda Blair, but, other than that, those really are the only choices here. And that’s great. Now I don’t have to go against the grain and vote for the precocious child performance. That is the grain.

My Vote: O’Neal

Should Have Won: O’Neal, Blair

Is the result acceptable?:Absolutely. Who else could they have voted for here? Madeline Kahn? Okay, but, they’re from the same film, and when you watch it, it’s pretty clear that Tatum is the one to vote for. I love it. I think this is a potential top 20 decision all time for the Best Supporting Actress category.

Performances I suggest you see: Paper Moon is a near perfect film. The play between father and daughter (actual father and daughter) is perfect. There’s something great about comedy where the adult is more childish than the child. It’s amazing. Everyone should see it. And The Exorcist is a film you must see as a human being. Don’t give me any of that “I don’t watch horror movies” shit. Bullshit. Watch the movie. Stop being such a wimp. It’s not that terrifying. And American Graffiti is a fun film. I recommend that one too. Lot of fun. Not the best, storytelling-wise, but, it’s a lot of fun to watch.


5) Sidney

4) Clark

3) Kahn

2) Blair

1) O’Neal

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