The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1963-1964)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1963

Diane Cilento, Tom Jones

Edith Evans, Tom Jones

Joyce Redman, Tom Jones

Margaret Rutherford, The V.I.P.s

Lilia Skala, Lilies of the Field

Analysis:

Well, this one will be relatively quick. Three performances from the same film.

Tom Jones is one of the five least known Best Picture winners of all time. If you took the now 88 (89 if you count Sunrise) Best Picture winners… off the top of my head, probably the five that the least amount of people have even heard of: Tom Jones, Cavalcade, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Broadway Melody and probably The Life of Emile Zola. Maybe flip one of those off for Cimarron. Those are clearly the ones.

Anyway, this is based on the Henry Fielding novel about a ne’er do well who goes out to seek his fortune. He’s a bastard child taken in by a wealthy family. But ultimately he has no title. So he bounces around, sleeping with a bunch of women and getting into sticky situations, and in the end all turns out okay.

Let’s run down our supporting performances…

Diane Cilento plays an early girlfriend of Tom’s. She’s a local girl, very common. But feisty. She’s basically the town whore. Definitely memorable, though she doesn’t have much screen time or really have significance on the plot. Probably the least of the three nominations. Sexy and feisty is pretty much all she is in this.

Edith Evans plays Tom’s love interest’s aunt. She’s the loud old woman of the film. You know the character. I’ve seen this a bunch, and some people might think she’s hilarious in the film. I thought whatever. My general feeling of not really caring about this movie all that much is making this category really difficult to gauge.

Joyce Redman plays a woman who may be Tom’s mother. She’s in the opening scenes as a servant, being driven out for having a child with another servant. Then she meets Tom later on at an inn, and there’s the really famous scene where the two of them eat food together. It’s the sexiest dinner scene ever put to film. Then they fuck, which is a problem, since she might be his mother. She’s the most substantive character in the film, I feel. If you’re gonna vote for everyone, it should probably be her. But honestly a year like this is such a blank, historically, that it really ultimately doesn’t matter.

The V.I.P.s is basically a play, but it works on screen. A bunch of different people are stuck at an airport due to fog, and we weave throughout their stories. The woman about to leave her husband for another man, who starts having doubts when the plane is delayed. The man who’s trying to sell his business and is going to lose out on the deal if the plane doesn’t take off (and his secretary, who is secretly in love with him). The film director about to be forced to pay a giant tax bill who is trying to flee the country before he has to pay. And so on. It’s a good film. Really engaging. A lot to like.

The one story we’re interested in is Margaret Rutherford’s. She’s… have you see the movie Airplane? We’re gonna talk about it soon. She’s basically the Helen Hayes of this movie. The kooky old woman in the airport who gets all the comic relief scenes. She’s a duchess whose house has fallen into foreclosure. She’s in desperate need of money, so she’s traveling because someone told her if she flies to New York, they’d give her the money she needs to save her house. And in the end, everything works out in unexpected ways, you know the drill.

She’s funny in the role. She does a good job. Not someone you’d usually vote for, but here, what the hell else is there? She’s the talkative old lady no one takes seriously who’s annoying for some but funny for the audience. She’s endearing, but there’s no real substance to the character. I honestly wouldn’t think to vote for her in any other year.

Lilies of the Field is a bizarre film. Broad strokes — a migrant worker stops at a convent where a bunch of nuns get him to help build them a chapel. That’s it.

Sidney Poitier is the worker, and all the nuns are various European ethnicities. And the film is him building the church for them. I’m not really sure what the point of this is, and I don’t particularly love the film. The religious aspect notwithstanding. That is what it is. On a pure film level, I’m not really sure what the point of it all is.

Lilia Skala plays the mother superior. She’s the stern European woman who isn’t forthright with her feelings. But we find out from others all the shit they’ve had to go through and get the sense that she’s got much more going on than we see. We find out she helped the sisters get over the Berlin Wall, all the way to America. So there’s depth to the character, but we never see it! She’s just there to argue with Poitier over what she wants vs. what he wants. It’s fine, but there’s no way I vote for this, even in a year like this. No way.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This is one of those situations where you wish someone like Angela Lansbury were here instead of last year to make your life easier. But she isn’t, so we trudge onward.

The only two performances I’d have higher than fourth in any year are Redman and Rutherford, automatically making them the two I’d consider voting for here. I don’t love either performance. At least Redman has the famous food scene going for her. So, on that alone, I’m taking her.

The category isn’t good at all, so I’m not gonna waste time trying to think my way through it. She’s the only that even moderately appeals to me, so that’s who I’m taking. I’d rather just move on and leave it at that.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Joyce Redman, Tom Jones
  2. Margaret Rutherford, The V.I.P.s
  3. Diane Cilento, Tom Jones
  4. Edith Evans, Tom Jones
  5. Lilia Skala, Lilies of the Field

Rankings (films):

  1. The V.I.P.s
  2. Tom Jones
  3. Lilies of the Field

My Vote: Joyce Redman, Tom Jones

Recommendations:

Tom Jones won Best Picture, which makes it essential for Oscar buffs. Outside of that, there’s really no reason anyone needs to see it. It’s fine, it’s funny, if you’re into its brand of humor. Otherwise, take it or leave it.

The V.I.P.s is a solid film with a lot of famous actors. It’s an ensemble, which always makes for an interesting film. I think it’s worth it because of all the people in it (Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Orson Welles, Maggie Smith, Rod Taylor, Louis Jordan). But not particularly essential.

Lilies of the Field — Sidney Poitier won Best Actor for this. So it’s essential for Oscar buffs. I don’t particularly love it, so I’m not one to really recommend this. Another one, take it or leave it.

The Last Word: One of the five worst Supporting Actress categories of all time. Three nominees from the same film, none of them particularly outstanding. And then two other nominees that are okay at best. Do whatever you want here. It doesn’t really matter. If you can make a strong case for someone, take them. Even historically, for them, whoever they took wasn’t really going to matter.

– – – – – – – – – –

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1964

Gladys Cooper, My Fair Lady

Edith Evans, The Chalk Garden

Grayson Hall, The Night of the Iguana

Lila Kedrova, Zorba the Greek

Agnes Moorehead, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Analysis:

My Fair Lady is a story you know, so let’s not waste time. Pygmalion. Henry Higgins. Eliza Doolittle. Music. The Rain in Spain. I Could Have Danced All Night. Wouldn’t It Be Loverly. With a Little Bit of Luck. It’s very famous.

Gladys Cooper plays Higgins’ mother. She really doesn’t have much to do in this movie at all. She doesn’t show up until the latter part of the film, and basically plays Higgins’ conscience. She likes Eliza, and he won’t admit he does. Mostly this is a veteran nomination. She’s old, they nominated her. Because she really doesn’t have a whole lot to do in this movie at all.

The Chalk Garden is based on a play, and it shows. This is one of the more difficult (but not impossible) films to find from the Quest.

Edith Evans hires Deborah Kerr as governess to Hayley Mills, her granddaughter, who just won’t behave. Kerr has a mysterious past, and Mills does everything she can to try to uncover that past.

The big thing about Evans is — she hasn’t spoken to her daughter in years, and is raising Mills to hate her mother. She acts like her daughter wouldn’t love or care for Mills and that only she can, when really she just lets the girl run wild.

The performance is good. She’s mostly just a cranky old lady. A little bit of depth to it, but otherwise not a particularly revelatory performance. This is Maggie Smith before Maggie Smith. Fine, but I’m not voting for it.

The Night of the Iguana is, surprise surprise, based on Tennessee Williams. You’ll notice that as we get further into the 60s, the less nominations these movies get. Not that they get worse in quality, that’s just, what happens.

Richard Burton, a disgraced pastor, is now giving shitty tours in Mexico. On one of the tours is Sue Lyon, aka Lolita. She’s there with her aunt. The aunt acts as the leader of the group and takes a disliking to Burton. She thinks he wants to fuck her niece. She’s about to get him thrown off the tour, so he hijacks the bus and takes it to a hotel run by Ava Gardner. There, he sits with both temptation to fuck the underage girl and drink as well as the failure of his life. The movie’s not bad. John Huston directed it. So there’s a quality there.

Grayson Hall plays Lyon’s aunt, the strict mother overly protective of her daughter. I think the performance veers too much into antagonist rather than three dimensional portrait of a woman, so I don’t think I’d ever actually vote for it, but it is solid work. She’s memorable in the film. Maybe a third choice in the category.

Zorba the Greek is such a weird movie. I love it.

Alan Bates inherits a mine in Greece from his dead father. He decides to go see it. There, he meets Zorba, who agrees to work for him in the mine. Bates is a meek writer. Zorba’s a free spirited peasant. Zorba teaches Bates how to live. That’s the movie, and that’s all you need to know. It’s awesome.

Lila Kedrova plays Madame Hortense, the owner of a hotel who starts sleeping with Zorba. She was widowed long ago and is now basically a prostitute. She falls in love with him and becomes engaged to him. She’s also dying. And she’s definitely one of those characters who you completely understand and feel for. It’s a heartbreaking performance, and in a category like this, it makes complete sense that she won. Easily top two no matter how you slice this category.

Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte is an extension of a genre that began with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, the psycho biddy film. Crazy old women in campy situations. If you’re into the American Horror Story, Ryan Murphy kind of tone, you’ll love shit like this.

When she was younger, Bette Davis planned to run off with Bruce Dern, but then her father makes him break it off, so he does. Then Dern is found murdered, and Davis is holding the machete that did it (we’ve all been there). Cut to forty years later. Davis is living alone in the dilapidated mansion, everyone afraid to go there because they assume she’s a murderess.

She lives in the house (which they’re trying to tear down… really this movie begins exactly like Up. People trying to tear down the house… murder with a meat cleaver) with her housekeeper, and not long after her cousin comes to visit. And pretty much as soon as the cousin shows up, Bette starts losing her mind. Some real Gaslight shit. It’s real depraved shit. The film’s no Baby Jane, but it’s good.

Agnes Moorehead plays Bette’s housekeeper, who has loyally worked for her these forty years. She’s suspicious of the cousin (Olivia de Havilland) of wanting to steal Davis’ money. It’s kind of like a B movie version of Thelma Ritter in All About Eve. She doesn’t distrust the other character, and Davis slowly becomes poisoned toward her, even though she’s shown nothing but loyalty.

Agnes is great. Agnes is always great. That’s nothing new. I’m not gonna gauge this against her other performances, which I have a desire to do because she’s so good she puts herself on another level from the competition. She’s good in the role. Memorable. I’d want to take her because she hasn’t won, but even without it, she’d easily make herself top two or three in the category. It’s a weak category and even in a fairly broad role such as this one, she manages to bring a lot of depth and wrinkles to it.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Another really boring category. Cooper is barely in the film, and only the film keeps the performance from seeming completely unnecessary. Evans — whatever. Maybe some people think about taking her. I don’t. Hall — same thing. Third, but fourth in most years. It’s either Agnes or Kedrova. And to be honest, Kedrova has almost the total package. Put her in a stronger year, maybe she doesn’t win so easily. But here, there’s really no one else you can take. Pretty open and shut for her.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Lila Kedrova, Zorba the Greek
  2. Agnes Moorehead, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte
  3. Grayson Hall, The Night of the Iguana
  4. Edith Evans, The Chalk Garden
  5. Gladys Cooper, My Fair Lady

Rankings (films):

  1. My Fair Lady
  2. Zorba the Greek
  3. Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte
  4. The Night of the Iguana
  5. The Chalk Garden

My Vote: Lila Kedrova, Zorba the Greek

Recommendations:

My Fair Lady is an essential film. The story’s great, the songs are good, the stars are iconic. The movie is overdone and too long, but hey, shit happens. You still need to see it all around as a movie buff.

Zorba the Greek is essential for me. That is to say, I say it’s essential, even though it’s probably not objectively essential. It’s just great. Anthony Quinn is incredible, and it’s just a lovely film. I say you need to see it.

Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte is worth it if you liked What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? It’s not as good as Baby Jane, and it’s way more weird and campy (deliberately). And you may even think it’s terrible. That’s fine. The stars are great and it’s worth seeing for how fucking weird it is. And again, if you like Ryan Murphy’s campy tone, you’ll appreciate this.

The Night of the Iguana is John Huston. Plus Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. So there is that. It’s pretty good. Not great, but worth a watch for the people involved. Not even remotely essential at all though.

The Chalk Garden is all right. Not something I need to recommend, but if you’re into 60s nostalgia, this might be worthwhile. Otherwise, it’s just okay and only worth seeking out if you’re deep into the Oscars or like seeing hard to find movies.

The Last Word: Kedrova seems like the only choice. Maybe Moorehead. Evans… really? Would you take her? And same for Hall. Good, but for a vote? And then I firmly believe no one in their right mind actually votes for Cooper. So Kedrova or Agnes Moorehead seem like the only two reasonable choices in the category, and I think the Academy went the right way on this one.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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