The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1967

1967. The landmark year. Hollywood breaks from classical tradition. But not so you’d really notice it, the Oscars seemingly try to mask that change by picking the most watered down version of it. Of the five Best Picture choices, here’s the order in which they’d have been good choices for the year that was 1967: Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, Doctor DolittleDolittle of course would have been a complete rejection of the situation, and that wasn’t gonna happen. And some people might put In the Heat of the Night third (but I don’t). But still — it was not an ideal choice.

I think that’s evident in the fact that Mike Nichols won Best Director for The Graduate (talked about here). Even bad Best Picture choices also won Best Director (King’s Speech, anyone?). Though they did do a good job of spreading the wealth. Best Actor was Rod Steiger for In the Heat of the Night. I wouldn’t have voted for it, but it’s an acceptable decision, since he’d earned one of these from ’65 for The Pawnbroker. Best Actress was Katharine Hepburn for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (talked about here), which, while I wouldn’t have voted for it, isn’t that bad, since all the other potential winners had, or later won, Oscars. Best Supporting Actor was George Kennedy for Cool Hand Luke (talked about here), which I love dearly.

Then there’s this category. Holy shit, was this a great decision. This is also one of the strongest Best Supporting Actress categories of all time.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1967

And the nominees were…

Carol Channing, Thoroughly Modern Millie

Mildred Natwick, Barefoot in the Park

Estelle Parsons, Bonnie and Clyde

Beah Richards, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Katharine Ross, The Graudate

Channing — Thoroughly Modern Millie is, without a doubt, the most fun musical of the 60s.

You heard that correctly.

My Fair Lady is great, but it’s heavy. It’s long, and it’s indulgent. Sometimes you just want to watch the banter and you don’t necessarily want to sit through all the musical numbers. The Sound of Music — great film. But also a bit long, and there are parts in it that I just don’t always want to watch.

Thoroughly Modern Millie, however? Fun, all the way through. The fact that it’s a fun musical about white slavery also helps.

Haven’t seen it? Oh, well let me tell you a thing or two about a thing or two…

Julie Andrews is Millie. She tries to be modern, and get into all the latest fashion trends. She moves to an apartment in the big city. Her landlady has the habit of (with her two Chinese manservants… one of whom is Pat Morita) drugging girls without any family, bringing them to an opium den in Chinatown and then selling them into white slavery. She finds out Julie has no family and attempts to do this to her. It goes hilariously wrong. Then Mary Tyler Moore moves in. She also claims to have no family. So the lady tries all of these methods to drug and kidnap her. This goes on over the course of the film. Also during the film — Julie Andrews tries to get her boss into bed, because she wants nothing more than to be the wife of a wealthy man. And lots of stuff happens, and there are musical numbers and it’s fun.

Also, this may be the most cinematically interesting musical I’ve ever seen. Because there are silent sequences, and Julie Andrews talks to the camera — there are so many technical flourishes, as well as cinematic gags that it’s actually one of the funniest musicals I’ve ever seen. George Roy Hill really directed the hell out of it.

Anyway, Carol Channing plays a really wealthy woman who lives out on Long Island. She’s the rich and eccentric character in the film. I’m pretty sure the first time we see her, she’s hang gliding. She’s that kind of crazy. And at first, when you see her, you’re like, “Oh great, another one of these characters.” And she’s so wildly over the top. And yet — as the film goes on, you just go with it. It becomes funny to see how over the top she is. It’s a really great performance. I’m not sure if it’s one that would ever win this category, but — maybe if you put her in the right year, she’d have a good shot. Here, she’s a distant #3, behind Katherine Ross and Estelle Parsons. Maybe you could make the case for her being #2, but I enjoyed her performance a lot more than the others, and even I don’t think she should have won. She’s probably only third because she’s so wildly fun in the role. Either way — this is all Estelle Parsons, this one.

Natwick — Barefoot in the Park is a Neil Simon play. A fascinating one, too. More so the film than the material. Just because — it’s Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. And Redford is playing the straight man.

Redford is a straight-laced lawyer. A very boring guy. The kind of boring guy — he goes up on the roof and looks down, and he’s holding on for dear life, even though the only reason he’s in danger is because he’s freaking the fuck out. That kind of guy. You know the type. And Fonda is the outgoing vivacious woman, who probably shouldn’t fall in love with someone like Redford, but always does in these movies. And she keeps trying to set the apartment up to be the perfect home for the two of them — and he’s always working and neglecting her.

The majority of the film has to do with Mildred Natwick and Charles Boyer. Boyer is the quirky neighbor who lives in the attic. And he’s another free-spirit. He’s always doing weird shit, eating all these crazy cuisines and stuff — the kind of guy that will come home with a goat and it won’t seem weird. And he goes on a double date with Redford and Fonda and Fonda’s mother — played by Natwick. The idea was to get Natwick to fall for Boyer (which, when you first meet her, is a funny prospect). And she’s kind of like Redford, in that she’s very reserved and doesn’t do crazy stuff. And over the course of the dinner, Redford and Fonda argue over their different characteristics, and eventually have a big fight. And Fonda, the impulsive one, says she wants a divorce. Then Redford goes outside in the park, without shoes (get it?), and gets really drunk. Meanwhile, Fonda sees that Natwick ended up sleeping with Boyer and has fallen in love with him, and this convinces her to go out and find Redford. And there’s a happy ending.

It’s a pretty funny film. Not Simon’s best, but he has so many good ones that it would be hard-pressed to be one of his best. But it’s still really good, and you get Redford and Fonda, which more than makes up for the fact that this isn’t exactly The Sunshine Boys or The Odd Couple or The Goodbye Girl or Murder by Death (see what I mean? So much good shit).

Natwick is fine here. She never really had a shot to win, but she is very good in the role. It’s the kind of performance that really strengthens a year. Usually you can se your clear winner, clear competition, and clear obvious choice. The one that seems like, “Of course it’s nominated.” And the other two — mixed bag. You can get a veteran who is there because they’re old — things like that. But a nomination like this — it strengthens the category and makes it feel really, really strong, even if it is clear cut. I like that. (She really had no shot, though. She’s clearly a #4 or #5 here.)

Parsons — I’m pretty sure everybody knows about Bonnie and Clyde by now. If not, you need to see it. you’re a terrible person for not having seen it.

Estelle Parsons plays Blanche Barrow, the wife of Buck Barrow, played by Gene Hackman, who is the brother of Clyde Barrow, played by Warren Beatty, who went on a crime spree with Bonnie Parker, played by Faye Dunaway, who, along the way, picked up C.W. Moss, played by Michael J. Pollard…

Parsons is really fucking great here. I’m not gonna spoil it if you haven’t seen it, but — wow. Just wow. There’s no way you can vote for anyone else in this category. There really isn’t.

Richards — Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is another one of those films you should have seen by now. Therefore, you don’t get a synopsis.

Beah Richards plays Sidney Poitier’s mother. She doesn’t have terribly much to do in the film, but she’s the conscience of the film. She’s the wise black mother character. And I understand why they nominated her. In terms of this category, though, I personally think she’s easily a #4 or a #5. Maybe a #3, if you weigh Channing’s performance against another black actor having an Oscar — but I loved Channing’s performance, and the film. So, for me — Richards really had no shot here at all. It’s clearly Parsons, and then Ross. Good that she was nominated, but no way should she have won.

Ross — The Graduate. Another film you need to have seen by now. I’m also withholding a synopsis, if you haven’t seen it. If you have, then you already know how great it is.

Katherine Ross plays Dustin Hoffman’s girlfriend. Her mother is Mrs. Robinson. She is Elaine. You may remember Dustin Hoffman banging on the glass, yelling, “Elaine!” Yeah, she’s Elaine.

She’s really good here. And she’s Katherine Ross. Between this and Butch and Sundance, I have a permanent crush on her. I considered actually voting for her here for the longest time, but, really — no one was beating Parsons in this one. No one. She’s too good. So, close, but no cigar. Sorry Katherine. If it’s any consolation (and I think it is), you’re married to Sam Elliott, and he’s awesome.

My Thoughts: It’s not even close. Estelle Parsons just owns this category. Once you see all the performances, it’s clear as day who should win. Parsons all the way. (I’d put Ross second for a vote, then Channing, then Richards, then Natwick. But that’s just me.)

My Vote: Parsons

Should Have Won: Parsons

Is the result acceptable?: Oh hell yeah. Just watch the performance. You’ll see.

Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen Bonnie and Clyde, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner or The Graduate, you’re dead to me.

You really need to see Thoroughly Modern Millie if you haven’t. Even if you don’t like musicals that much. Trust me on this. It’s the best (and only) musical about white slavery you’ll ever see. This movie will win you over no matter who you are.

Barefoot in the Park is an enjoyable film. Neil Simon, starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford (and Charles Boyer). Is there any reason not to see it, once you know that?

Rankings:

5) Natwick

4) Richards

3) Channing

2) Ross

1) Parsons

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