The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1962
I love 1962. Because you get the great Lawrence of Arabia winning Best Picture and Best Director for David Lean (taked about here), which is one of the most perfect pieces of cinema ever created, but you also get To Kill a Mockingbird, which is one of the most beautiful films ever made. And then you have these other films, like The Miracle Worker, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Manchurian Candidate, Cape Fear, Days of Wine and Roses, Dr. No, Lolita, Birdman of Alcatraz, David and Lisa, Requiem for a Heavyweight, The L-Shaped Room, Lonely are the Brave — I get goosebumps just thinking about it. So many good movies this year, it makes me happy to just be able to watch them all.
Then you have Gregory Peck winning Best Actor for To Kill a Mockingbird, and Anne Bancroft winning Best Actress and Patty Duke winning Best Supporting Actress for The Miracle Worker, and they’re all perfect decisions. There were no better decisions in those categories. So you have a year that’s fantastic movie-wise that’s also wonderful Oscar-wise as well. It’s rare that you get them both to link up like that.
And of all the six major categories of this year, the only one I don’t agree with is this one. Which is amazing, to have such a relatively minor category be the one you don’t like. And even then, it’s not like it’s egregious. It’s just — there were better decisions. But still, 1962 is a great year for movies. And that’s something to be happy about.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1962
And the nominees were…
Ed Begley, Sweet Bird of Youth
Victor Buono, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Telly Savalas, Birdman of Alcatraz
Omar Sharif, Lawrence of Arabia
Terrence Stamp, Billy Budd
Begley — Quick, show of hands — who knew Ed Begley Jr. had a father who won an Oscar?
Sweet Bird of Youth is based on a play — of course it was — and stars Paul Newman. He’s a dude who left his small town for Hollywood, looking to be a big star, and returns. He comes back with a fading movie star (played by Geraldine Page), who he’s keeping in a drunken stupor, because when she sobers up, she’s gonna get the fuck out of there. Basically, it’s the kind of thing where he got the send off like, “I’m gonna make something of myself,” and he hasn’t, but he comes back to pretend like he has. He has the actress, and is making like he’s dating her, meanwhile he’s basically just a gigolo, a dude she’s sleeping with to feel young, and has no interest in the movie idea he’s trying to pitch to her (though he’s telling everyone she’s gonna do it). And he goes back to town and meets his high school sweetheart, and her father, played by Begley, who pretty much runs the town. His name is “Boss.” He’s the boss. He ran Newman out of town years earlier because he didn’t want him with his daughter. And some shit happens — honestly it doesn’t matter. It’s a play and it’s all theatrical.
Begley plays the boss of the town, and he does a good job. He’s mostly a big blowhard. He plays him as a big blustery prick. And he’s fine in the role — it’s something you can see would obviously be nominated — but him winning seems way too on-the-nose. It’s just like, “Really?” I can’t vote for this. There were much better, subtler, and more nuanced performances to choose from here.
Buono — What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is the first film in the wonderful subgenre of “psycho biddy” films that popped up in the 60s. Great title, right? The psycho biddy film is basically this film in a nutshell. Everything this film is about. Basically middle-aged women being crazy bitches.
What makes this film better is that it stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who notoriously hated one another and had a huge rivalry. There’s a whole undercurrent of that going on here to. The movie knows this, and that’s why it (and especially its final line) works so well.
Also, I just want to point out that Bette Davis here looks so — I joke that I want to show people a double feature with this film and Death Becomes Her and call it “makeup and no makeup.” If you’ve seen both films, you know what I’m talking about.
The film is about two sisters. Bette Davis was a former child star (like, Shirley Temple huge) whose career went way downhill as she got older. And Joan Crawford is her sister who was not famous as a child (and was very jealous of her sister getting all the attention) who did end up becoming a big star in her 20s. And what happened was, Crawford got very famous as Davis fell out of the public eye. And what happens is, one night, Bette Davis is really drunk at a party and accidentally drives her car into Joan and paralyzes her. Or so we’re lead to believe.
And we cut to twenty-five years later, and now both are older (and looking like they do). Crawford sits in the house and watches TV all day and Bette drinks and tries to look like she did when she was younger (yeesh). And Crawford is dependent on Davis, but Davis hates her. She abuses the shit out of her. She throws all her fan mail in the trash, kills her pet bird, that sort of stuff. She cooks a dead rat and gives it to her for dinner, and Crawford tries to send out notes for help but Davis keeps her away from the phone and makes sure no one hears her. It’s like when hostages try to escape from captivity.
And Davis also has dreams of going back into show business. Because she’s nucking futs. There’s this creepy ass scene where she sings the song she was famous for as a child, and it’s the kind of thing that would have given me nightmares when I was five.
Did I say five? I meant twenty-two.
So what she does, in the hopes of this comeback, is put an ad in the paper for a pianist. And Victor Buono is the dude who answers. Now, he’s a very overweight dude who lives with his mother. He shows up, watches her do her thing, and is horrified. Because it’s a horrifying sight. But, he realizes he can make money off of this. In a freak show kind of way.
And one time, after Crawford tries to call for help, Davis ties her up in her bed and leaves her there. And she fires all the people that come to help out, basically ensuring that no one will find Crawford. But then the maid ends up finding Crawford all tied up and Davis kills her with a hammer. And she goes and gets rid of the body, and that’s when Buono shows up again and sees Crawford all tied up and sickly (because she hasn’t been given anything to eat or drink in days), and he runs out to go call the police. So, Davis loads Crawford into her car and brings her to the beach. And she sits on the beach with her dying sister, just sitting there. And the police found the maid’s body and are out looking for them, and then we find out what really happened, which was, Crawford tried to run over Davis, and ended up paralyzing herself when she moved out of the way. And then Davis says the wonderful line, “You mean all this time we could have been friends?”
And then she runs off to go get ice cream, because her mental state is just gone, and the police find her dancing around on the beach with her presumably dead sister just laying there next to her. It’s so supremely fucked up. But that’s what makes this film work. It’s so fucked up that it’s entertaining. You literally watch this film because it’s so fucked up.
Anyway, Buono is — interesting in the film. I’m not sure I’d personally have nominated him here, but hey, whatever. He’s my #5. He didn’t do nearly as good a job as the other four nominees, and it shows when you watch the performances. No one would vote for him here.
Savalas — Oh, Telly. I love Telly Savalas. Here’s a dude you know was just the biggest badass. Not necessarily on film. I’m talking about in life. You know this dude was a badass. He’s the type of guy that should have Chuck Norris facts written about him.
Birdman of Alcatraz is based on a true story of a dude (played by Burt Lancaster) serving a life sentence in prison who became the foremost expert on bird care. He’s a very rebellious prisoner, fighting against the system. He ends up killing a guard when his mother is told she can’t see him, and ends up stuck in solitary confinement for the rest of his life. Then, one day, he adopts a bird. And he soon starts adopting other birds, and ends up with a bunch of them. And while caring for them, he becomes an expert on their diseases and how to treat them — he even writes a book about it. Then he gets transferred to Alcatraz, and is unable to take his birds with him, but does end up stopping a riot that breaks out, and makes it so the guards can reenter the building without being shot. And eventually he gets transferred to a minimum security prison and talks to reporters and biographers and stuff like that. It’s a really, really great movie. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Telly Savalas plays a cellmate of Lancaster’s who is also in solitary confinement in the next cell over. And he’s a surly son of a bitch, but then Lancaster gives him a bird, and he softens up as he cares for it, and soon has a bunch of birds as pets as well. But then they all die of the same illness and he blames Lancaster. He’s actually really good here, Savalas. The thing is, though, he doesn’t really have that substantial a role in the film to warrant a vote. Don’t get me wrong, he’s great, and plays a big role in the film itself, but for a vote in this category, I don’t see this as a performance I can get behind. Not with this next performance on the list.
Sharif — Sheriff Ali. This is a performance that most people assume won. Hell, I assumed Sharif won this award until I got into the Oscars. Seriously, I thought he won until I started this Quest.
Lawrence of Arabia is a perfect film. I honestly don’t even need to summarize it because it’s a film you need to see if you’re serious about loving film. And if you really want to experience this film (whether you’ve seen it or not), see it in 70mm. Holy shit, it’s glorious. I’ve had few (if any) better theater experiences than this film in 70mm. If I ever have my own movie theater (and you can be damn sure if I get rich enough, I will), this is definitely the first print I’m getting to show on it.
Anyway, briefly, the film is about T.E. Lawrence who gets sent to the Middle East to assess the prospects of the Arab tribes in their revolt against the Turks. And he goes, and meets them and takes up their cause. And he helps them conquer Damascus through various ways and means, however the end result is that they can’t set up a stable government so it all kind of falls apart. But those of you who’ve seen it know it’s so much more than that.
And Omar Sharif plays Sheriff Ali. He’s one of the first men Lawrence meets, and it’s probably one of the most iconic entrances in the history of cinema. He comes out of the mirage, rides all the way up to Lawrence, and shoots the guide Lawrence is with. It’s pretty awesome. And Ali (eventually) becomes Lawrence’s best friend over the course of the film. It’s quite the performance by Sharif. It’s seriously so good that people really can’t believe it when you tell them he didn’t win. This seems like an absolute no-brainer.
Stamp — Though I will say, this is the performance a lot of people point to as the one that should have won. And I can kind of see it. But I’ll tell you why I’m not voting for it in a second.
Billy Budd takes place entirely on a ship. Like Mutiny on the Bounty if there weren’t a mutiny. Billy Budd (played by Stamp) is a young and optimistic sailor. The kind of guy who is so upbeat about everything it makes everyone hate him and be even more pessimistic. Nothing can get him down. And there’s a cruel officer on the ship who really takes a disliking to him, and starts harassing him more than most. Kind of like how R. Lee Ermey tortures Vincent D’Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket, only more sadistic. At least Ermey did it to make D’Onofrio a better marine, and congratulates him when he passes. Here, the dude is just sadistic.
And he keeps torturing this kid, and the kid just takes it, figuring “he has his reasons.” And eventually, the kid, despite what the man did to him, stops a planned mutiny (the other men hate the dude as well, and planned to kill him). But the officer, still a dick, tells the captain that the kid was planning the mutiny. And everyone on the shop knows that’s not true. But it’s an official matter, so they have to question him. And in front of the captain, the officer just berates the shit out of the kid, until the kid finally snaps and punches the officer. And in the one punch, the dude falls over and hits his head and dies. So now, they really have to discipline him (he was about to get off until the officer provoked him). And the captain (played by Peter Ustinov, who also directed the film) decides, ultimately, that even though Billy didn’t mean to kill the officer, he did, and orders him to the gallows (he feels to not do so would be to set a bad precedent). And Billy goes along with it, figuring he did kill the man. And right before they hang him, he says “Long live the Captain,” which really makes Ustinov lose it. He realizes he fucked up by condemning this kid to death. And then another ship comes and attacks them and kills most of the people on board, including the captain. It’s a pretty good film. I liked it a lot.
Now, Stamp plays Billy Budd. And, he’s great in the role. Like, really great. I can see why people would want to vote for him. Problem is — he’s the lead role in the movie! Like, really obviously. The fucking film is named after his character! I can’t in good conscience vote for a lead performance in a supporting role. Because I thought Sharif was just as good as Stamp, and he was a supporting character in his film. I can’t promote category fraud, even though I’d have gladly taken Stamp over Begley. Still, I can’t vote for him.
My Thoughts: Like I said, Sharif is the vote. I can’t vote for Stamp because he was really the lead of the film. And Savalas, while I love him — Sharif was better. So he’s the vote. Seriously, when people assume the dude won this category and actually have to be told that he didn’t, and then are like, “Really? He didn’t win?”, I think that says something.
My Vote: Sharif
Should Have Won: Sharif (Or, over Begley — Sharif, Stamp or Savalas.)
Is the result acceptable?: No. It’s not. Because — just look at it broadly. Look at the five actors in this category. Which three are actors who should probably have Oscars? Terrence Stamp, Terry Savalas and Omar Sharif. For different reasons. And more specifically — because they all gave better performances than Begley! Begley winning this category (for a performance that’s basically theatrical — it’s very much play acting) is like when Hamlet won Best Picture over The Red Shoes and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre — it’s like, “You have these great pieces of cinema and you gave the Oscar to the play? Really?” So, no, no matter how you look at it, it’s not very acceptable at all.
Performances I suggest you see: Lawrence of Arabia. If you love movies, you need to se this. See it or go home. Because then you’re not serious about loving movies. The end.
Birdman of Alcatraz is an amazing, amazing film. It’s so captivating, and it’s one of those movies that non “film” people also love. Like, one of those people who doesn’t really watch movies, haven’t seen almost anything pre-Godfather, this is one of those movies they would like. It’s one where they’re looking through your DVD collection of what to watch, and don’t really know what half of them are (and you know they’re just gonna be like, “Oh, Old School! I love that movie!” and you’re like, “And you just skipped over the page with The Great Escape and Cool Hand Luke without saying anything?”), but then they’ll be like, “Lot of old movies. You must really like old movies, huh? You know — I watched this one movie with my grandpa one time — Birdman of Alcatraz, with Burt Lancaster. That was a great movie.” I don’t know why, but it just feels that way.
What I’m saying is, this is a really amazing movie, and you should definitely see it, because I’d say there’s about a 15% of the population who won’t like this movie. That’s how good it is.
Billy Budd is an awesome film. It’s really well acted. And, it takes place on a boat. Which is awesome. I love nautical movies. You don’t need to see it by any means, but I do recommend it if you want to see a great performance and a nice complex story.
Sweet Bird of Youth — I liked it, but you don’t need to see it. Unless you want to see all the Oscar winners or really love Paul Newman. Otherwise, it’s not very essential at all. As a film — moderate recommendation. It doesn’t suck.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a film I recommend to everyone, just because it’s so batshit insane. Watch it with people. The more people, the better. Drinking — I don’t know. High? …Maybe. But definitely watch it with people, because everyone will be like, “Holy shit this is the craziest movie I’ve ever seen.” It’s so fucked up. But it’s awesomely fucked up. Seriously, if you see this movie (and you appreciate movies), you will like this. Or at least appreciate how insane it is. It’s impossible to hate this movie unless you’re totally illiterate when it comes to movies.