The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1971

I love 1971 because a real 70s film won. There are few films that perfectly encapsulate the 70s more than The French Connection. What a great film. All due respect to A Clockwork Orange and The Last Picture Show (and even Nicholas and Alexandra and Fiddler on the Roof… strong year), but The French Connection should have won.

Gene Hackman won Best Actor for the film (talked about here), which I love, and William Friedkin won Best Director for it (talked about here), which he deserved (between this and The Exorcist, he deserved a statue).

Best Actress this year was Jane Fonda for Klute, which was also a very 70s decision. I like it. And Best Supporting Actress was Cloris Leachman for The Last Picture Show (talked about here), which I’m okay with, even though I’d have gone another way.

And then there’s this category. I don’t like it. Not even a little bit. I just don’t see it at all. I don’t see it in the performance or the actor. Add to that one of my favorite actors in a great film, and I just can’t abide this one.


And the nominees were…

Jeff Bridges, The Last Picture Show

Leonard Frey, Fiddler on the Roof

Richard Jaeckel, Sometimes a Great Notion

Ben Johnson, The Last Picture Show

Roy Scheider, The French Connection

Bridges — The Last Picture Show is a pretty famous film. You probably should have seen it. There are a couple of main storylines running throughout it, so I’m only going to deal with the nominated ones.

Jeff Bridges is the captain of the football team (right?) who is dating Cybill Shepherd. And he wants more than the town, which is kind of a running undercurrent of all his scenes. And Shepherd is only dating him because she wants to get with another guy, and is only using him to lose her virginity, since the other guy won’t be with her if she’s a virgin. And after they break up, he joins the army.

It doesn’t read very well, but Bridges is good in the role. I wouldn’t vote for him, but he’s good in the role. He certainly has more to do than Johnson, that’s for sure.

Frey — Fiddler on the Roof is pretty famous. You should probably know what it’s about. Biddy biddy bum.

Leonard Frey plays Motel the tailor, who has been friends with Tevye’s daughter since they were children. And the two of them really want to marry one another, but the whole thing is really up to Tevye, who thinks of him as a nobody. Tevye had already agreed to let her marry someone else, but when he sees that the two love each other, he gives in and lets them marry. And then after they get married and start a family, Motel buys his wife a sewing machine that he’d been saving up to buy for a long time, and also develops a close relationship with his father-in-law.

It’s a nice role. Frey plays it really well. There’s a great scene early on where Tevye is interrogating him about his daughter and Frey is scared shitless and stuttering and stuff. It’s really well done.

I liked the performance, but I wouldn’t vote for it. It’s worth the nomination but not the win, I feel.

Jaeckel — Sometimes a Great Notion is a film that I bet no one has really seen outside of the hardcore film/Oscar people. Just so you know up front — it was directed by Paul Newman and stars Newman and Henry Fonda. Just something to know before you decide you’ll never see it.

It’s about a family of loggers and all their problems and stuff. It’s a nice film. Fonda does a great job with it, and it’s interesting enough to watch. Jaeckel plays the oldest brother (or middle brother. I forget), who is the happy-go-lucky one in the family. Newman is all business, and Jaeckal is very optimistic about everything. So naturally he’s the brother who will end up dead by the end of the movie. There’s a terrific scene where they cut down a big tree that falls in the water, pinning Jaeckel. And he’s stuck there, barely treading above water, and Newman has to find a way to get him out. And he tries to cut the tree without moving it, because if it moves, Jaeckel slips under water and can’t breathe. It’s a really, really well done scene. Very riveting to watch. And Newman and Jaeckel act the hell out of it. That alone is worth this nomination.

I wouldn’t vote for him, but he definitely deserves to be here. Great job on this one.

Johnson — Ben Johnson, no joke, is literally in the film for two scenes. He’s the cowboy waxing poetic. Kind of like Jack Palance in City Slickers. Johnson plays the dude that basically owns the town, all the shops and stores and stuff. And he also has had a secret affair with Ellen Burstyn. And he is on screen for one major scene, where he takes Bridges and Timothy Bottoms fishing, and has one small monologue, and then dies off-screen. No joke, that’s it. He has one major scene that’s less than three minutes long.

This is one of those instances where they just decided he needed to have an Oscar. This performance should not have won in a million years.

Scheider — It’s The French Connection. You probably should have seen it.

Scheider doesn’t really have all that much to do here. I mean, he’s there, and he probably got nominated because of the film, but honestly, in a category like this, where I don’t see a #1, and just the simple fact that Roy Scheider was good enough to win Best Actor for All That Jazz — he’s my vote. I don’t care. I’m voting for him.

My Thoughts: I don’t get it. Johnson didn’t really do anything in the film. Bridges did a better job than he did. I even liked Jaeckel’s and Frey’s performance for a vote over Johnson’s. But either way, I vote for Roy Scheider. Between this, all his other badass 70s performances, and All That Jazz — I vote for him. I don’t care that Johnson won or who thinks he should have won. I say he shouldn’t have and I vote Roy Scheider. To me, Scheider earned this Oscar over all the other actors on this list (except Bridges, who got his Oscar in 2009 anyway).

My Vote: Scheider

Should Have Won: I don’t know if I really have a preference here. I say Scheider, just because I really want him to have an Oscar.

Is the result acceptable?: No.

Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen The French Connection, you’re dead to me.

And The Last Picture Show and Fiddler on the Roof are so major, either culturally or within the canon, that you should probably see them, because you’ll look like an asshole if you don’t. Don’t be an asshole.

Sometimes a Great Notion is actually a strong film. Really solid, really underseen. Paul Newman and Henry Fonda. Why wouldn’t you see this? Strongly recommended.


5) Frey

4) Jaeckel

3) Johnson

2) Bridges

1) Scheider


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