The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1969
1969 is the year 1967 really took effect. You see, 1967 is generally marked as the year where the Academy — and Hollywood in general — finally turned that corner and embraced more modern films. Bonnie and Clyde is the landmark film here. The depiction of violence was unheard of and was the start of those wonderful 70s films I (and a lot of people, I’d imagine) fetishize so much. But really, when you look at the Oscars — nothing really changed for two years. In the Heat of the Night wins in 1967, which, sure, it’s a look at racism, but, looking at the other four nominees that year, it was the second weakest choice in the bunch. Then 1968 was just a weak year in general (it was kind of like Hollywood releasing the excess water in the pipes while getting the good stuff ready for 1969), and then 1969, they finally went modern.
Midnight Cowboy wins Best Picture, Which was really the turning point for the next decade. Personally, I’d have picked Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but I can see why they went the way they did. Midnight Cowboy was written by a formerly blacklisted writer, and it was a kind of rejection of the old ways. I understand. John Schlesinger wins Best Director for the film, which makes sense. Best Actor was John Wayne for True Grit, perhaps the most acceptable career achievement Oscar ever. Best Actress was Maggie Smith for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which I talked about here. And Best Supporting Actress was Goldie Hawn for Cactus Flower.
In all, I’d consider 1969 a very good year. My preferences lean the other way for the major two awards, but, hey, it’s not like they made a bad decision. So, in all — a good year. A forbearer of (mostly) great things to come.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1969
And the nominees were…
Rupert Crosse, The Reivers
Elliott Gould, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Jack Nicholson, Easy Rider
Anthony Quayle, Anne of the Thousand Days
Gig Young, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Crosse — The Reivers is just a strange film. It’s meant to be a coming of age film, and it is. But it’s a strange one. It’s based on a William Faullkner book or short story or something, and is about Steve McQueen and Rupert Crosse, two ne’er-do-wells in a small town who, for fun, steal a rich man’s new prized automobile and take it out for a joy ride. Or rather, McQueen steals it, by taking the rich man’s young nephew or grandson with him (this boy is the focal point of the story. He, as an older man — Burgess Meredith doing the voice — narrates the film). And Rupert Crosse hides out in the trunk, only to be discovered miles up the road, singing along with them from the trunk.
The film is most about the three of them “the reivers” — meaning thieves — going out and having fun. And it’s the boy thinking back to this time about how much fun it was to be a thief. In that innocent sort of way, of course. And they drive around — McQueen goes and meets his woman (a hooker), and there’s that whole plotline, and then they get a horse that only eats sardines, and the climax of the film involves a horse race in which the kid is the jockey — it’s very strange. And yet, kind of fun. It’s not a bad film. It’s a good time for 110 minutes. It’s not classic cinema, but it’s entertaining stuff.
Crosse is pretty good in the role. He’s very animated. Almost like a cartoon character of sorts. He does a good job with it, but, I can’t see voting for him. The only reason I’d throw a vote his way is because black actors had only won like two Oscars by this point, but, I don’t employ racism when voting normally (like the Academy seemingly did), so I don’t see why I’d automatically go the opposite way and vote for what I feel is a good performance that’s not quite good enough for a vote just because the actor is black. So I won’t do that. He’s good, and the film is pretty entertaining, but it’s just not a performance I can vote for.
Gould — Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is a great film. I was very surprised by it. You see — it’s about swinging. Basically. Natalie Wood and Robert Culp are a couple in an open marriage. They openly sleep with other people and are okay with it. In fact, they like hearing about each other’s sexual exploits. They are best friends with Elliot Gould and Dyan Cannon. They are a more traditional couple. They humor the other two, but can’t understand how they could do it. And the four all travel to Vegas together, where they talk it out and eventually — after Gould admits to having an affair of his own — decide to have a foursome together. That’s the film. It’s actually a very funny film. I really enjoyed it. It’s very open, too, for a film of this era. Well — not really. This is really the first year you could get away with something like this. I really had a good time with this film.
Elliott Gould plays the conservative husband. He just can’t understand how those two could sleep with other people and be okay with the other sleeping with other people. Then he has a crisis of conscience and admits an affair to his wife, which causes her to suggest the foursome. Or agree to it. Either way — Gould does a good job here. All four actors do a good job. Is this a performance I could vote for? Probably not. He’s probably a solid three. All the performances in this category this year aren’t particularly standout. That is — there’s no real clear winner to be found. It’s more of a, “Meh, this’ll do.” And Gould — while good — I just can’t vote for him.
Nicholson — This was Jack’s first nomination. Interesting that they chose him as the one person to recognize from the film.
If you don’t know, Easy Rider is considered a landmark film. Now — I find it kind of dated, and the product of what it was — Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda driving around, doing drugs, drinking lots of alcohol (I think Hopper said he was up to a quart a day at one point), and just shooting random shit. That’s why people find it revolutionary, and I guess in order to really understand its impact, you had to have been around at the time. I do understand its impact and do respect the film and find it interesting for various reasons — but I will say — this isn’t exactly the most fun film to watch. It’s seriously just a random assortment of scenes of them on motorcycles, them doing drugs, them wandering around, drugged and listening to music.
Nicholson plays a civil liberties lawyer the boys pick up randomly. That is — they’re arrested in a town for being “long hairs.” A lot of the film is about the conservative people not liking them because they ride motorcycles and listen to rock music and stuff. And they get arrested simply for being. And in jail, they meet Nicholson, who’s in the drunk tank. It’s clear he’s regularly in the drunk tank. And in the morning, while they’re arguing, he comes in and talks circles around the officers and gets the two of them released. And they take him along. And he’s a college educated boy who’s sort of a bridge between regular society and the two of them. But he’s very sheltered and isn’t really used to their type of lifestyle. He’s never smoked grass before, and his motocycle helmet is a football helmet. He’s like that smart kid who wants to be cool. And he rides around with the two of them, until one morning, when they’re camping out in the woods, and the two of them wake up to find Nicholson dead, with his throat cut by a machete. Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense to me either.
The film is interesting, and like I said, should be seen by all because it’s such an important part of film history. Nicholson is good in the film, and really, I rank him second for a vote just because he’s Jack and because there’s really no one to vote for here. But, really, my vote, if it does go to him, would be for the film and not for him. That’s really all that is.
Quayle — Yeah. This nomination was never winning. The Academy wanted nothing to do with this type of film this year. It’s one of those period pieces, in the vein of The Lion in Winter, A Man for All Seasons and Becket — those films of the 60s that take place in castles and are basically plays on film of British people playing royalty and talking about matters of succession and shit.
This one deals extensively with Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. Burton is Henry and Genevieve Bujold is Anne. As the film starts, Henry wants to annul his marriage to his wife because she can’t give him a son. He’s having an affair with Anne’s sister, and, shortly after meeting Anne, diverts his attentions to her. He does so because she isn’t interested in him at all. But eventually he demands to have her as his mistress, and she obeys. Soon he falls in love with her and she’s seduced by power. She falls in love with him and goes from strong girl who is willing to speak her mind to the kind, to woman in love, to strong queen who isn’t afraid to use her power. It’s a really great film. Probably my second favorite of this bunch of films, after A Man for All Seasons, which is just fucking phenomenal.
Anthony Quayle plays a cardinal who is Henry’s chancellor. He’s basically his hitman of sorts, going around making arrangements and stuff. And he’s kind of a schemer of sorts, but not wholly a bad dude. And then when Anne gets power, she starts to undermine him with her power, eventually driving him away. And when he’s driven away, you’d expect a villainous character to be upset or whatever, but he’s like, “Oh, this is a shame. Go ahead. Take the house. I hope you enjoy it. I did my best. Now this is your fault when shit goes wrong. Ta ta.” That’s basically what he does. It’s a nice little performance. I just rank it fifth because — this isn’t the nomination from the film that should have won. If neither Burton or Bujold, both of whom were good enough to win (moreso Bujold), Quayle should not ever come close to winning. So, he’s my #5.
Young — And, Gig Young. He was really the only vote this year, just because, his character made the most sense.
The film is about random people who enter a dance contest for money. The two main characters are some actor — I forget his name. I don’t think he ever really did anything after this — and Jane Fonda, who, not having partners, pair up. And the point of the contest is this: the couples dance together, and cannot stop. If they stop, they’re eliminated. And they do this for hours on end, every day, until one couple wins. And there are other couples involved — all of whom need or want the money — like Bruce Dern and Bonnie Bedelia (she’s pregnant), and Red Buttons, an old sailor, or Susannah York, an aspiring actress. And they all go through the rigorous contest, which is basically put on for the enjoyment of spectators. The contestants go through hell, and are made to go through hell. And when it gets monotonous, they introduce games, designed to eliminate couples and make things more exciting. Like, there’s a roller derby where the couples are tied together with one foot apiece. So they have to skate together around a rink. And the last five couples to finish are eliminated. And they’re all exhausted when they do this, so it’s just extra grueling.
Anyway, by the end of the film, Fonda and the main guy, they make it to the end, when Fonda finds out that the money they’re gonna get isn’t really accurate. You see, they get, say $1000. Of that, they have to pay all these fees, and they pay room and board, and all this stuff, and eventually they’d end up with some insanely low amount of money for what they went through to get it. Which causes Fonda to withdraw and leads to the real point of the film — assisted suicide. I’m not kidding. Fonda tells her partner she doesn’t want to live, but can’t kill herself, so he pulls the trigger for her, and at the end of the film is him being questioned by the police, and when they ask him why he did it — he responds with the title of the film. It’s a fucking great movie. Directed by Sydney Pollack too.
Anyway, Gig Young plays the emcee of the competition. And his job is basically to make it as entertaining as possible. And he makes it extra grueling on the couples, and puts them through all this shit to make it more entertaining. Like, he introduces the roller derbies, he even gets the couple to marry during the competition (while still dancing) as a publicity stunt — all of that. And then at the end, when he tells Fonda she won’t make any money, it’s like a big fuck you to her. He’s really just this uncaring prick who’s unnecessarily cruel for the sake of minor entertainment. It’s a pretty good performance. I can see why he won. In fact, I’m gonna vote for him, just because. I did like this film the best of the bunch, so — why not? It’s not like there were many choices here. This category sucked, relatively. So, why not vote for Young?
My Thoughts: I’m voting for Young — because — like I said, why not? Who the hell else you gonna vote for? This category is weak as hell
My Vote: Young
Should Have Won: No preference. The category sucked.
Is the result acceptable?: Sure. It’s pretty much a dead category. So, yeah. Why not. Does it really matter who wins here?
Performances I suggest you see: Easy Rider is a film you must see if you like movies. It’s one of the most historically significant films ever. It’s short too. Just fucking see it, so you don’t have to deal with not having seen it. And They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is, I feel, the best film on this list. It’s really just incredible to watch. There’s something about it that pulls you in, and you go from wondering what’s going on, to becoming strangely invested in this dance competition, which is just so meaningless, and then, out of nowhere, the film takes an abrupt left turn and becomes about assisted suicide. It’s great. Highly, highly recommended. I think a lot of people are gonna enjoy this one. It’s really well made. And Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is also a funny film and an interesting one at that. I really enjoyed it. I’m big on films that feel like particular snapshots of the era — and this one feels like one of them. The final shot of the film is just incredible to watch. It’s just the four of them, post foursome, wandering out in a see of people, looking to make a connection. It’s so great. I really, really recommend this one. Forget the subject matter, it’s just so fascinating to watch because it’s so 60s. And the acting is great too. Really great film. And, Anne of the Thousand Days, as I said, is my second favorite costume drama of the 60s, after A Man For All Seasons. Burton and Bujold are perfect, and the film is just so fucking well-acted. It’s also about a big moment in history, which, usually makes for some interest. Most historical events have a definitive film about them, and this one, I feel is the one for this event. That is, from Anne’s perspective. A Man for All Seasons is the same event from Sir Thomas More’s perspective. Anyway, the film is perfect and I recommend it really highly. Also, The Reivers, if you happen to catch it on TCM or something, is worth a watch. It’s a nice fun film to watch one afternoon.