Friday, August 23, 2013

Supporting Actress 1952: The Performances

So, Nathaniel at The Film Experience is restarting Stinkylulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown series, which is great, because I loved it.  He picked the year 1952, and I dutifully watched the 5 nominated performances so that I may rank them and offer my thoughts.

And the nominees are...

 Gloria Grahame in The Bad and the Beautiful

Jean Hagen in Singin' in the Rain

Colette Marchand in Moulin Rouge

Terry Moore in Come Back, Little Sheba

Thelma Ritter in With a Song in My Heart

The Rankings:

In fifth place:  Colette Marchand, Moulin Rouge
Good grief, this performance.  Marchand plays Marie Charlet, a street walker who becomes friends with and (maybe?) loves Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (Jose Ferrer, in a phenomenal performance) after he rescues her from a policeman one night.  I can see what the role was supposed to be:  a volatile woman whose high and lows are quite trying on Henri, but has an air about her that nevertheless enthralls him.  However, in Marchand's performance, it is impossible to figure out why anyone would want to spend more than five minutes with the woman:  Marie comes across as genuinely spiteful, with no soft emotions whatsoever.  It's a paper-thin characterization where the quick changes in temperament come across more as 'The Script says I am ANGRY now' as opposed to 'Henri just offended me' and what is meant to being cloying sweetness comes across as fake and unnatural.  In a film filled with subtle, nuanced performances, she threatens to derail it with an aggressive attack on the character.  Easily outshone by the others in her own film (Zsa Zsa Gabor, Suzanne Flon, and Katherine Kath), its a wonder she got this nomination at all.

In fourth place:  Gloria Grahame, The Bad and the Beautiful
Graham plays Rosemary Bartlow, the Southern belle wife of Dick Powell's James Lee Bartlow.  She convincingly plays the flaky but loving wife, but there is very little for her to do in the performance except interrupt her husband's working and be awestruck by the Big City and all of its magic.  It's not a bad performance, but hardly noteworthy and more of a cameo (which, if they are going to nominate a barely-there performance, why not Elaine Stewart, who gave a much more vivid and breathed-in performance?).  In fact, the role is so small and inconsequential, I'm not quite sure how it got noticed, much less won the trophy that year.  And maybe it's because I am from the South, but her accent grated.

In third place:  Terry Moore, Come Back, Little Sheba
Moore plays Marie Buckholder, a young college student who boards with married couple Doc and Lola Delaney (played by a solid Burt Lancaster and a fantastic Shirley Booth).  The character exists more as a plot device:  her sole purpose is to be fixated upon by Doc.  She has her own scenes of being courted and interacts with just Lola at parts, but this sketch of a character doesn't seem fully realized - and a tad self-absorbed.  Like Grahame, there isn't much for her to do, but Moore fills out the details of the character better, though this is an easier task given the amount of screen time she gets compared to the former.  However, she doesn't make the character interesting (or innocent) enough for Doc to fixate on her.  She doesn't overplay anything, and does create a few nice character moments, but ultimately it is an unfulfilling performance overshadowed by the two lead characters.

In second place:  Thelma Ritter, With a Song in My Heart
Ritter plays Clancy, the nurse who first takes care (and eventually travels with to take care of) Susan Hayward's Jane Froman.  Ritter fills the role with emotion, and - more importantly compared to Grahame and Moore - feels like a necessary and irreplaceable role/performance for the film.  Far too little of the film focuses on Froman's plane crash recovery, but Ritter and Hayward both play these meaty scenes as if the movie depended on it - Clancy's comic relief works against the seriousness of what Froman's going through, but Ritter convincingly makes a sudden shift to drama during the darkest moments of the film - her 'I guess you don't have the guts' speech is a clip-worthy moment where she hits all cylinders to zero in on the humanity of the character and sell the depth of the friendship that has developed between the two.  Sadly, this great work keeps getting interrupted by the marital drama that director Walter Lang apparently thought was more interesting, but is ultimately less satisfying to watch.  Given a sharper focus, Ritter could easily have fought for the win.

And the Angry Gay's favorite performance from 1952 is Jean Hagen, Singin' in the Rain
Has there ever been a performance that so believeably came across as both cunning and dumb at the same time?  Hagen plays Lina Lamont, the silent film actress whose real voice is so awful that Debbie Reynold's Kathy Selden is brought in to dub over the performance once they decide to make it a talking picture.  Hagen is mostly around for comedic relief (her delivery of 'I liked it!' after the disastrous premiere of The Dueling Cavalier cracks me up every single time) but she also provides the antagonism for the film's second half, and she walks the tightrope of keeping Lina dimwitted, but conniving enough to steal all credit from Kathy once the film is complete.  If at any point it came across as unbelievable, the film would start to fall apart, but Hagen nails it.  The performance is so far above everyone else in the category, it is hard to believe she didn't waltz away with the win.  A stellar turn.

Next:  A comparison of the movies represented in the categories.

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