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The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1957

Love 1957. 4 out of 6 really strong decisions. The Bridge on the River Kwai wins half the major awards (rightfully so), winning Best Picture, Best Director for David Lean (talked about here) and Best Actor for Alec Guinness. All perfect decisions. And Best Actress was Joanne Woodward for The Three Faces of Eve (talked about here), which was also a perfect decision.

Okay, that takes care of almost everything. Now we’re at the two Supporting categories. First was Red Buttons, winning Best Supporting Actor for Sayonara, which, as I said here, I hate very much as a decision. And the second was here, which I also hate very strongly and consider one of the worst decisions ever made in the history of the Best Supporting Actress category.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1957

And the nominees were..

Carolyn Jones, The Bachelor Party

Elsa Lanchester, Witness for the Prosecution

Hope Lange, Peyton Place

Miyoshi Umeki, Sayonara

Diane Varsi, Peyton Place

Jones — The Bachelor Party is a film about a bunch of men — well, you get the idea. They’re all out, bar-hopping, but then some serious issues get in the way — it’s a whole thing. That’s pretty much irrelevant to this performance. Jones — this is the entire performance:

That’s all her screen time in the films. She has very little to do with the plot, but manages to be the most interesting aspect in the film, because — well, you can get a sense of her character from just that clip. She’s someone who goes to lots of parties and is constantly picking up men to go home with because she can’t stand to be alone. So she’s just having empty sex all the time and is making up for it by pretending the men care for her. And she gives a good performance — it’s fascinating to watch her. I just wish she mad more screen time than those six minutes. Then I could have seriously considered her for a vote. I can’t really do that here. She really wasn’t in the film enough for me. The performance was strong, though.

Lanchester — Witness for the Prosecution is a great, great film. Charles Laughton is a barrister who has worked himself into ill health. And his nurse — Lanchester — tries to get him to take a vacation, but he keeps avoiding it. He ends up taking the case of Tyrone Power, who is accused of murdering an old woman in order to inherit all her money. He says he was just friends with the woman and had nothing to do with it. He says he went there because his wife turned cold toward him. His wife, Marlene Dietrich, testifies that he did kill the woman. But, stuff happens, and her testimony is thrown into doubt, and he ends up getting off. But then we realize that he did kill the old lady and that she organized this whole testimony thing because she knew it would get thrown out and that it would help him. But then he’s revealed to have a mistress and Dietrich kills him. And then Laughton, who had agreed to take a vacation after the trial, starts working on defending Dietrich.

It’s a really great film. One of Wilder’s best. Lanchester, as I said, is Laughton’s nurse, and basically acts as a comic foil for most of the film. She’s constantly trying to take care of him, and he’s finding reasons to avoid her caring. And she’s constantly reminding him to take his medication and stuff — it’s that kind of role. She’s great in it, as she often is, but I’m not sure if I’m gonna vote for her. It really comes down to her performance (which I consider second best in the category) and her stature against Hope Lange’s performance. We’ll see what happens.

Lange — Peyton Place (double nomination!) is a great film, and one that surprised me. I didn’t think I’d like this film, considering it’s openly a melodrama that gave way to the soap opera of the same name. But it’s a really strong film. It has a lot of different and interconnected stories. I won’t bother with most of them, just the two that are pertinent to the category.

Hope Lange plays Diane Varsi (you can read about her down there)’s friend who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. She lives in a cabin outside town with her father. Her mother is dead, and her alcoholic father has abused (i.e. beaten and raped) her since she was a child. And one day she gets pregnant and has to have an abortion. And the town doctor makes the father sign a confession that he raped her and tells him that if he ever comes back to town, he’ll show everyone the confession. So the father leaves, and then comes back a few years later. Lange has been caring for her siblings, and the father returns on Christmas. And he comes back, trying to ask for forgiveness, but she won’t have any of it. Then he gets upset and starts chasing her, and she ends up killing him in self-defense. And she buries the body and pretends nothing happened.

But then soldiers come looking for him (turns out, he enlisted and was on leave, and hadn’t reported back and is AWOL). And she confesses to Lana Turner what she did, and Lana, not knowing what to do, informs the police, thinking it’s the right thing to do. And Lange is put on trial, and since she’s an outcast, everyone assumes she killed him in cold blood. And she refuses to testify, because she doesn’t want everyone knowing about the abortion. Then the doctor comes and tells everyone, wanting to save her life. And she’s acquitted.

Lange is fucking great in this film. Seriously, she’s really, really good here. I’m really surprised she didn’t win. This is a perfect performance to give an award to. For my money, the best in the category, easily.

Umeki — Sayonara is a film about airmen stationed in Japan. And Marlon Brando and Red Buttons are the main two. Brando is engaged to the general’s daughter, and is the quintessential all-American. And Buttons is engaged to Umeki, a Japanese woman. And he’s in love with her, but none of the Americans can understand it. And Brando eventually realizes their love is true, and falls in love with a Japanese woman himself. And then the army, upset that the men are marrying Japanese women (racists), transfer all those men back stateside. And Buttons and Umeki, rather than be separated, kill themselves.

The film itself is okay. I came around on it a bit. Still, though — Umeki does nothing here. Nothing at all. She’s a meek Japanese woman, married to an American. The character doesn’t say anything, because Umeki doesn’t speak English. She speaks only Japanese, and basically spends most of the film bowing and sitting there, looking at Buttons. This isn’t a performance. It shouldn’t have won. They voted for what the performance represents. And I can’t stand that. Like Harold Russell, Haing S. Ngor — I can’t stand when non-actors win Oscars. This was the single worst Best Supporting Actress decision in the history of the category. It was really bad.

Varsi — Diane Varsi is the “main” character of the story. She narrates the film as the writer who is writing about her experiences in the town. It’s like the Barbara Bel Geddes role in I Remember Mama. And he main storylines, aside from the writer one (she wants to get out, see the world, be a writer, and feels the confines of the town), are: first, her and Lana Turner. Turner is repressed, because she used to be a wild woman, and got pregnant from a traveling salesman, and then relocated to Peyton Place and told everyone that her husband was a soldier who died. And she’s strict with Varsi, because she’s completely shut down the sexual side of herself as a reaction to her youth, and doesn’t want Varsi doing anything like that. So they quarrel a lot, and then eventually Varsi finds out about her real father, and it’s a big scene.

Also, she’s dating Russ Tamblyn, a meek boy from her class. And they have this awkward sort of dating thing, and start to get close, but eventually she says she can’t be with him, because she has plans and doesn’t want to stay in the town and get married. So he goes off, joins the army, and comes back all cocky and a ladies man, and there’s this huge disconnect between them.

Varsi is good in the film, but she doesn’t nearly reach the heights that Hope Lange does with the performance. And then you have Elsa Lanchester, whose stature puts her ahead of Varsi for a vote. So, while she was good, I can’t vote for her at all.

My Thoughts: Well, I think we know my feelings on this one already. To me, this comes down to either Hope Lange or Elsa Lanchester. Lanchester has the past performances to boost her performance up to vote status, and Lange has the strength of this performance, which I consider to be the best in the category.

My Vote: Lange

Should Have Won: Lange, Lanchester

Is the result acceptable?: No. One of the worst of all time in the category. Diversity aside, of course. Diversity means nothing to me because it should be about performance. This performance was not good.

Performances I suggest you see: See Witness for the Prosecution. It’s really, really, really good. And it’s Billy Wilder. That practically makes it essential.

See Peyton Place. It’s really good.

Sayonara is okay. It’s colorful, and pretty decent.

The Bachelor Party — not for most people. But some people will like it. If you’ve seen Jones’s performance, you don’t really need to see the rest of it. Utterly skippable.

Rankings:

5) Umeki

4) Jones

3) Lanchester

2) Varsi

1) Lange

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