The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1966

Love me some 1966. While my personal choice didn’t win Best Picture, a film that was just as good did.

A Man for All Seasons wins Best Picture, Best Director for Fred Zinnemann (talked about here) and Best Actor for Paul Scofield (talked about here). And my personal favorite of the year, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, wins Best Actress for Elizabeth Taylor (talked about here) and this category. All of those decisions are great. Had they gone with either film (the ones where both films were nominated) in any category, it would have been a good decision.

The non-Man for All Seasons or Virginia Woolf win was Best Supporting Actor, which went to Walter Matthau for The Fortune Cookie (talked about here). His only Oscar. Which is awesome.

So that’s 1966. Perhaps the quickest synopsis I’ve ever had. And I don’t have all that much to say about this category either, except — great decision.


And the nominees were…

Sandy Dennis, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Wendy Hiller, A Man for All Seasons

Jocelyne LaGarde, Hawaii

Vivien Merchant, Alfie

Geraldine Page, You’re a Big Boy Now

Dennis — Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is about a married couple and their problems. They drink, they bicker, and they’re entertaining guests. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton are the couple, and Sandy Dennis and George Segal are the couple who come over for drinks and are thrust into the war zone. The entire film is the four of them navigating this night. It’s pretty awesome.

Sandy Dennis plays the demure wife of George Segal, who is very mousy. Very quickly after getting introduced to Taylor and Burton she discovers it’s too much for her to handle, and is way too drunk and is vomiting. It’s like a freshman girl at a bar full of sailors. No match. And later we find out that Segal only liked her for her parents’ money, and married her because she thought she was pregnant even though she wasn’t. And she spends a lot of the film really drunk and not really knowing what’s going on, but then realizes it when Burton tells a “story” that is really about her, and gets hysterical, and then throws up lots and lots, and then she and her husband leave, wholly changed from who they were several hours earlier.

Sandy Dennis plays the role perfectly. You really believe everything about her character. Everyone in this film is fantastic. If I had to rank the performances, I’d rank them thusly: Taylor, Burton, Dennis, Segal. I get why Burton didn’t win the Oscar, and why Segal didn’t, and I think they made the right decisions with the females because they had the weaker categories. Dennis really does put the rest of these performances to shame. This is an easy win.

Hiller — A Man for All Seasons is about Sir Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England who refuses to grant Henry VIII a divorce, and is ultimately imprisoned and killed for his beliefs. That’s pretty much the film. Henry puts pressure on More to grant the divorce, and More won’t, because it goes against God, so he can’t, as a Christian, grant the divorce. And Henry, undeterred, throws him in jail and is willing to wait until someone is willing to grant it. And he stands by his beliefs, is thrown in jail, and defends himself at a fixed trial, of which he already knows the outcome. It’s a great movie. What makes this movie great is its writing, and the performance of Paul Scofield. It’s fucking wonderful, this film. A great Best Picture winner.

Wendy Hiller plays More’s wife, and she pretty much plays the wife role for most of the film — strongly, but, it’s still just the “wife” role — and gets a nice scene when More is in prison and is gonna be executed and has to leave him. Powerful moment, wonderfully done by Hiller. I would normally consider her for a vote here, but, not only did she win an Oscar already in 1958, but I voted for her as Best Actress in 1938, so I feel no need to vote for a performance that I felt wasn’t as strong as Sandy Dennis’s. Strong, but not win-worthy, especially with the prior win (and my prior vote) in the bag.

LaGarde — Hawaii is a three hour epic on the state of Hawaii. Interested yet? Yeah — well — it’s not that great. I mean, it’s okay, but — three hours is too much.

The first, oh, I don’t know, thirty minutes, is Max von Sydow, a priest, or — whatever they’re called when they can get married — marries Julie Andrews. And they get married. And they’re sent to Hawaii, which, at the time, was very — native. And they get there, and try to preach Christianity to the natives. But they don’t care. But, the queen of the island (played by Joyce LaGarde), takes a liking to Julie Andrews, so they allow them to stay. And they become friendly, and try to preach the faith, and seemingly the people convert, but then when LaGarde dies, we find out she actually told her people to bury her in their traditional manner. And the three hours is basically them trying to set up Christianity there. Which is really something that could only be interesting in the 60s. You could never get away with that today. The film looks good, but is pretty boring on the whole, I felt. Too much religion for me.

Joyce LaGarde is pretty entertaining in the role. Though, it’s the kind of thing where, she’s not an actor. She’s just someone they picked out, and they taught her all her lines phonetically. So, her getting nominated is the kind of thing where — if she won, it would take the award away from an actual actress (kind of like Jennifer Hudson in 2006). So, while I enjoyed her performance, and, legit actress or not, she’s still a third choice because the category sucks, I can’t vote for her. I just can’t. I have standards.

Merchant — Alfie is about Michael Caine fucking lots of women. That’s the film. He’s a limo driver with several girlfriends. And we see him as he discusses his philosophy to the camera directly (which influenced Ferris Bueller). And we see him as he slowly grows up, through various ways and means. It’s a pretty great film.

Vivien Merchant plays a woman Caine meets in a rest home after he has a spot of ill health. He starts sleeping with her out of pity, right under the nose of her unsuspecting husband. And they sleep together, until she gets pregnant. And then he has to take her to get an abortion, which changes her drastically. She has a few powerful scenes after the abortion where she has to live with it. I thought she did a really great job with the role, except — she’s not really in the film all that much. Her screen time is pretty much limited to the abortion. And, while she was strong, I feel Sandy Dennis is still the one to beat here.

Page — You’re a Big Boy Now is a strange ass film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. One of his first gigs. It’s a weird, weird movie. It’s about a strangely childish boy who is so sheltered that he knows nothing of the outside world who is now demanding to go off on his own. And Rip Torn is his banker father and Geraldine Page is his coddling mother. And the film is about him going out, getting an apartment, sleeping with a woman — it’s just fucking weird. Here’s a random clip from the middle of the movie (the entire thing is on Youtube):

The whole film was just, odd. Geraldine Page is comic as the mother, but, again, I don’t think I’ve understood more than one of her Oscar nominations. Out of 8 nominations, I think I maybe understand one of them. I never got why she was nominated so many times. (I’m guessing its her reputation as a stage actress.) I would never vote for this performance in a million years. The film is just way too strange, and, really, Sandy Dennis has this shit locked down.

My Thoughts: It’s pretty cut and dry. It’s Dennis all the way. Hiller had her Oscar, and no one else was as good as Dennis was, even Hiller. So there was no competition here. Dennis all the way.

My Vote: Dennis

Should Have Won: Dennis

Is the result acceptable?: Oh hell yeah. Best decision in the category. That’s all there is to say, really. Wendy Hiller had one, she was the only competition — great decision.

Performances I suggest you see: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a film you should probably see. I’d probably label it essential. It’s one of the best acted films ever. It’s brilliant from top to bottom. Has two of the biggest stars of all time — there’s really no reason not to see it. So see it.

A Man for All Seasons is a brilliant, brilliant film. Perfect from top to bottom, Oscar-winner, Best Picture and Best Actor. You have no reason not to see it. This is one of the most engaging films you will ever see, no matter who you are. I, personally, would make you see this. So I say you need to see it.

Alfie is a great movie. Michael Caine gets to be awesome. The film is pretty revolutionary for its era. And it’s better than the Jude Law remake. See this one. It’s great.

Hawaii — meh. Not that great. Big it’s big, epic. Maybe parts of it will interest you. Maybe not. Use your instincts on this one.

You’re a Big Boy Now is too crazy for words. It’s just batshit insane, is really counterculture — see this if you’re into the 60s or are into Academia in some way and want to research the really unique films of certain eras that reflect those eras. But, as a regular viewer, you’d probably find this way too weird.


5) Page

4) LaGarde

3) Merchant

2) Hiller

1) Dennis

One response

  1. j

    Eh, I found Dennis terribly histrionic and annoying. Segal is bland. Taylor is good but some of her yelling scenes were kinda over-the-top and the ending scenes with the crying while likely my favorite part of her performance didn’t seem quite earned based on what came previously. Burton is quite excellent though, one of my favorite male performances ever.

    October 8, 2011 at 7:25 pm

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