The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1969
Love 1969. Because, as I always say, it’s the year 1967 took effect. Finally, we get a down and dirty film winning Best Picture. Midnight Cowboy is that film. And although I’d have gone with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for Best Picture (it’s a favorite), Midnight Cowboy was a great choice. John Schlesinger also won a well-deserved Best Director statue for the film (talked about here).
Best Actor this year was John Wayne for True Grit (talked about here). I can sum this up by saying: It’s John Wayne. Best Actress was Maggie Smith for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. This is complicated for me, so you can just read my thoughts on it here. And Best Supporting Actor was Gig Young for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (talked about here), which was a good decision.
So, strong year, and we get this category, which — have I got a performance here I can’t wait for you to see.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1969
And the nominees were…
Catherine Burns, Last Summer
Dyan Cannon, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Goldie Hawn, Cactus Flower
Sylvia Miles, Midnight Cowboy
Susannah York, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Burns — Last Summer is a weird little film about, as Wikipedia puts it, “adolescent sexuality.” A bunch of teens go to Fire Island on vacation, and they all — well, it’s hard to explain. It’s nto really a film you can talk about, it’s more one you experience.
But I’ll put it this way — go in cold (and you almost have to, since there’s almost no information available about the film), and just watch it. And in particular watch Catherine Burns. Holy shit I was blown away by her performance. You know how Heath Ledger lost himself playing The Joker, and you felt like you saw a transformation and were watching a real person on screen? That’s what Catherine Burns does here. It’s fucking incredible. And the film also takes on these really — well, just watch it. Trust me on this — Catherine Burns is incredible here.
Catherine Burns is so good here that, if I were basing this solely on performance and nothing else, she wins this hands down, and even on Sunday. That good. However, I have to take into account her relative unknown status, and Goldie Hawn’s (because she gave a really great performance that’s almost as good, but in a very different way) stature within the industry. I have — well, I’ll explain down at the bottom, but I have a weird logic that’s influencing my decisions. Either way, point is — Catherine Burns gives one of the best performances I saw on this entire Oscar Quest. Take that from this.
Cannon — Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is a film about two couples. Natalie Wood and her husband have an open marriage. We first see them as he comes home from a business trip and she tells him she slept with another guy. And he, rather than flip out, is curious and wants to know more and is insanely happy. And he tells her that he slept with another woman, and they both revel in each other’s sexual discretions.
The other couple is Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon. They’re much more conservative, and the idea of open marriage is repulsive to them. It’s very much a sexual revolution film, about old vs. new. And it’s about learning to embrace the new, whether it’s for you or not. About making a connection (hence the really great final shot of the film) with the world as it exists around you. But anyway, the four all go to Vegas together and have these lengthy discussions about love and sex, and eventually Gould admits to an affair, and Cannon flips out, and it leads to Cannon saying they should all just sleep together, and get everything out in the open. And the film ends with them having a foursome (not on camera, obviously).
It’s a really strong film. It’s very much a snapshot of the sexual freedom of the 60s and the changing ideologies. I like that. I like when films give you insight to a side of the culture at the time. All the leads are really good. Cannon is great in the film. It’s a really great performance. Only thing is — her performance is largely comic (it has its dramatic side too, but it’s largely comic), and honestly — I thought Goldie Hawn’s comic performance was better. So as strong as Cannon is in the film (good enough for third in the category, I feel), I can’t vote for her. There are stronger performances here.
Hawn — Cactus Flower is a film about Walter Matthau, a dentist. He’s been seeing Goldie Hawn, a 21-year old. It’s the same ditzy character Hawn made a career playing (only here, it was the first time she played it. That counts for a lot back in the moment. It’s like when Judy Holliday won in 1950. Sure, she basically did that same schtick in most of her films, but when she did that the first time, it was really new and really different). And Matthau isn’t serious about her, but she’s serious about him. So what he decides to do to get rid of her is invent a wife. He says he’s married and can’t be with her until his divorce comes through. And Hawn, rather than take it in stride, says she wants to meet his wife. And he has to find someone to play his wife to go along with the charade.
So he gets his secretary — played by Ingrid Bergman — to play his wife. And she’s had a secret crush on him for years (so much so thats she’s become a spinster hoping he’d notice her), and she starts playing his wife, and this causes all sorts of comic situations as the whole thing snowballs out of control. And of course Hawn ends up meeting someone her own age and Matthau falls for Bergman — it’s a great film. A great comedy.
They made a shitty version of this last year (Just Go With It). It sucked. See this version instead. So you can realize how bad that one was. (Also, they didn’t even acknowledge that they stole from this. At all. It’s shocking how blatant they stole from this and didn’t even mention it.)
Hawn is really great here. Like, really great. If you hadn’t seen a Goldie Hawn performance before (and I’m sad to say that I actually hadn’t) watching this, you’d say that she was actually good enough to win, and that you understood why she did. I really do understand. Of course, the repetition of the persona kind of diminishes the performance a bit, but the strength of the performance, plus her stature within the industry, plus the weirdness of Burns’s movie (and the fact that the Academy would never embrace a film like that, no matter how good she was), makes Hawn a legitimate vote here. Definitely not the best performance, but a legitimate vote.
Miles — Midnight Cowboy is a very famous movie. You should probably know about it.
Sylvia Miles plays a middle-aged woman that Joe tries to pick up when he first arrives in New York. He meets her on the street, comes onto her, and she thinks he just wants to sleep with her, and doesn’t know he’s trying to sell himself to her. And they go to her apartment and sleep together, and then he awkwardly tries to talk business. And then she realizes why he slept with her, and bursts into tears and gets hysterical. She’s upset because she thinks she’s getting old and isn’t attractive to men anymore. And he, being the nice naive Texas boy that he is, tries to calm her down, and ends up lowering his price like, “Don’t cry. I’ll only charge you $30. $20? 10?”, and ends up paying her money. It’s a funny scene. Miles is great in it. Though that’s really all she does in the film. It’s a strong performance, but minor, overall. There are more substantial performrances to vote for here.
York — They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is a great, great film. It’s about a dance competition in a seedy gymnasium. A bunch of disparate people coming in, in the hopes of winning the cash prize, and having to go through this grueling competition (organized for the benefit of others and made extra grueling on the,. Kind of like reality TV shows. Like Amazing Race or something. They make it extra difficult and fuck with them so other people can benefit). And eventually what we realize is that the winner won’t even get the prize they offer. Most of the money comes out and they end up with some ridiculously low amount.
And the film, out of nowhere, at this point, becomes about assisted suicide. It’s a pretty sudden turn. What’s great about it is how it immerses you in this very specific situation, wins you over (because you don’t think this type of situation would be very interesting at first), and then takes you on a complete 180 and you’re like, “Wait, what? No! I don’t want to go down this road!” And it’s too late — you have to go down that road. It’s really great.
Susannah York plays one of the competitors, an aspiring actress. And over the course of the competition, she suffers a nervous breakdown. And she has this great scene in the shower where she’s totally lost it, and they put her under the water as she sobs hysterically. It’s a very powerful performance. Again, though, very minor in terms of the film, and with the two very substantial roles in this category, she ends up falling by the wayside. A shame, but, it happens. It’s a strong category.
My Thoughts: Let’s dispense with the ‘never gonna happens’. York is off, Miles is off and Cannon is off. The reason is because of the other two performances.
First, we have Hawn. She was utterly delightful. And you have to understand, she had never been in a movie before. So no one had seen her particular brand of comedy before. (Neither had I, really.) And she’s really strong here. Really, really strong. She jumps off the screen and makes you take notice of her. I can completely understand why she won, and her career after this film helped make this decision a great one.
Now — Catherine Burns. Holy shit. I am not kidding when I say she is jaw-droppingly good here. Just watch the film. Watch the film. You’ll see what I’m talking about. She gave a performance that I was just spellbound by.
Of course, you’d think that would make her an easy vote here. Wrong. She didn’t make that many films, and honestly, the film didn’t need this win. A lot of people wouldn’t necessarily care for it, and, honestly, I like that it didn’t win. It’s something I can show people and help them to discover.
Plus, based on their careers, Goldie Hawn was a better choice. So I’m actually gonna vote for Hawn. Don’t ask my why, it’s just my logic.
My Vote: Hawn
Should Have Won: Hawn, Burns
Is the result acceptable?: Yes. Hawn was really good, and she’s had the better career over Burns, so historically she was the better choice.
Performances I suggest you see: Midnight Cowboy is Midnight Cowboy. You probably need to know you need to see it. So see it.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is an amazing, amazing film. Trust me on this. See it. You won’t be disappointed. It’s incredible.
Cactus Flower is such a great comedy. Highly recommended. Plus, when you see it, you can see just how shitty and watered down the version they made of it this year (Just Go With It) is.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is a great film for many reasons. First you get Natalie Wood and Dyan Cannon and Elliott Gould — and you get a nice snapshot of a certain type of section of the ’60s, and you get a great comedy — plus it’s literally about swinging and open marriages. It’s pretty forward for its time. I think it’s a really fascinating film, and really landmark in a lot of ways. I highly recommend it. People who love film history will enjoy this more, but most people will enjoy this simply as a film, I think.
Last Summer — I loved it. Just because it’s so — not normal. It’s totally unlike almost every other film on this Quest. And Catherine Burns is amazing here. She really is. The performance needs to be seen to be believed. I’ll highly recommend this one, but, by all means, don’t see it. This is a real hidden gem. The type of gem that most people won’t see when I recommend it, so that the people who do see it will really see just how much of a gem it is.