Best Supporting Actress, 1967
• Academy Award: Estelle Parsons, Bonnie And Clyde
It’s one of the great, sad ironies of Oscar history—which is chockablock with great, sad ironies—that Bonnie And Clyde, a landmark film with career-high work by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, plus a memorable supporting turn from the young, essentially unknown Gene Hackman, won its only major Academy Award for Estelle Parsons’ nonstop screeching. (It also won Best Cinematography, in the first year since 1935 that the category wasn’t divided into separate contests for color and black and white.)
Let’s stipulate that Parsons’ performance as Blanche, the prim wife of Clyde’s brother, was meant to be annoying: Certainly Bonnie finds Blanche insufferable, and the tension between the two women is a secondary engine driving the story. Still, did it really need to be this annoying? Parsons doesn’t modulate the character’s high-strung glottal outbursts in the slightest—Blanche just lets out an ear-splitting bleat every time something violent or upsetting happens, which becomes wearisome in a movie about outlaws on the run. It’s easily the least-impressive significant performance in the film, and I can only assume there was a serious coattail effect involved in her victory, if that phrase even makes any sense when the coat itself was largely ignored. Parsons was nominated again the following year, in the same category, for Paul Newman’s directorial debut, Rachel, Rachel; I haven’t seen it, but would be happy to hear that she demonstrates some range.
• New York Film Critics Circle: Not applicable
This is going to happen now and then in this column, because some of the awards-giving bodies I’m tracking either didn’t yet exist at a given time or (as in this case) hadn’t yet started giving certain awards. (NYFCC first added supporting performances two years later, in 1969.) Rather than just skip to the next item, I’ll use the space to discuss another Oscar nominee: Katharine Ross, who got her sole career nod that year for The Graduate (and won a Golden Globe award for New Star Of The Year—the same prize Pia Zadora later famously received).
For a long time, I considered Ross the film’s weakest element, depicting Elaine as not much more than a kewpie-doll alternative for Benjamin after he becomes disillusioned with Mrs. Robinson. But I was dead wrong. She isn’t as showy or as amusing as Dustin Hoffman or Anne Bancroft, or even the rest of the supporting cast—William Daniels, Murray Hamilton, Elizabeth Wilson. But a movie this jittery dearly needs a measure of stillness, and Ross has the self-confidence and poise to inhabit that role. The scene in which Benjamin tells Elaine about the affair he’s been having with a married woman (without revealing that he’s talking about Elaine’s mother) is remarkable for how sincerely empathetic Elaine appears, and how little Ross does to pull focus from Hoffman even as she quietly controls the conversation. When Benjamin says the affair is over, and Elaine replies, “I’m glad,” her warm smile is like the sun appearing from behind a cloud. And it’s mostly in Ross’ face that you can see that cloud reappear as doubt in the final scene, as Ben and Elaine sit together at the back of the bus en route to a life she suddenly can’t foresee.
• Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Not applicable
LAFCA wasn’t even founded until 1975, so there wasn’t much excitement in 1967. Instead, I’ll briefly address the year’s remaining Oscar nominees, none of whom really merits in-depth discussion; it wasn’t a very strong year for the category. There was Mildred Natwick, who was 62 at the time, dispensing homespun wisdom as Jane Fonda’s mother in the humdrum movie adaptation of Neil Simon’s Barefoot In The Park. She’s very likeable in the role, but hardly memorable; file that one under Essentially Honorary, acknowledging Natwick’s work in earlier films like She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, The Quiet Man, and The Court Jester. Virtually the entire principal cast of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner was nominated—one actor in each of the four categories, à la Silver Linings Playbook last year—and that included Beah Richards, who was among the very few black nominees of that era (or any era, really). It’s hard not to respect her impassioned dignity as Sidney Poitier’s mother, especially opposite Best Actress winner Katharine Hepburn, but like everybody else in that creaky historical time capsule, she’s given little to do apart from speechifying.
And then there’s Carol Channing in Thoroughly Modern Millie, doing her certifiably insane Carol Channing thing. Channing is a taste only a select portion of the population can acquire, and I frankly don’t feel qualified to assess whether this particular decrepit-baby-doll routine, delivered with her standard scary gusto, eyes bulging and helium voice rasping, is superior or inferior to anything or anybody else. Surely the New York and Los Angeles critics would have found more worthy candidates than these.
• National Society Of Film Critics: Marjorie Rhodes, The Family Way
I’d never even heard of The Family Way, a British film adapted from a play by Bill Naughton, who also wrote Alfie (both play and movie). The story, unimaginable today, involves newlyweds who can’t consummate their marriage when their honeymoon plans fall apart; Hayley Mills was the star, and Rhodes plays her mother (opposite her real-life father, John Mills). Judging from the evidence here, Rhodes was the U.K.’s equivalent of Marjorie Main—either that, or there was just some bizarre gumption-related malady afflicting all women named Marjorie back then. In any case, it’s a typically offbeat choice for the NSFC, in the group’s second year of existence, but a defensible one: Rhodes gives the most dramatic performance in what’s essentially a comedy, playing a woman who’s fiercely protective of her child and fed up with her husband’s unthinking callousness. In the context of the era, this was pretty clearly a vote for feminism, but Rhodes does a fine job of ensuring that her character comes across as a human being rather than a mission statement; she also delivers an endless series of crusty anecdotes, including one about her experience accidentally wandering into a men’s room as a young girl: “Two lines of men all wearing raincoats, with the stooped backs and their bloomin’ heads sunk forward, as if they expected to be shot in the back at any moment. If ever I have a nightmare, you can bet your life that comes into it.” Credit Naughton for the pungent dialogue, but Rhodes makes it sing by never acknowledging that it’s funny.
• Performance Review’s Most Overlooked: Geneviève Page, Belle De Jour
Women—what do they want? Luis Buñuel’s Belle De Jour never pretends to know the answer, and while Catherine Deneuve does creditably blank work in the title role, it’s Page, as the high-class brothel’s Madam Anaïs, who truly deepens the mystery. When Denueve’s confused, nervous housewife, Séverine, first shows up to apply for work, not really knowing why she’s there or what she’s doing, Anaïs seems to understand her predicament immediately; it’s great fun to watch her simply ignore all of Séverine’s gestures toward leaving—never actually objecting, merely pretending that they didn’t happen. Anaïs assures Séverine that she has nothing to fear, then leans in for a kiss that’s somehow more than friendly, but less than libidinous. Page plays the moment as if it’s a confidential disclosure, an exchange of secret information from one woman to another. (Later, when Séverine briefly quits prostitution and tries to kiss Anaïs goodbye, the madam cruelly turns her mouth away.)
A brothel’s madam is one of the most clichéd roles in movies, but Page indulges none of the usual affectations (brassiness, cynicism), instead opting for a delicacy and tenderness that suggests she’s working for some humanitarian cause rather than hooking up beautiful women with scary Asian men and their mysterious buzzing boxes. Her triumph is in creating the distinct impression—never actually voiced or even alluded to—that Anaïs has already gone through the emotional/erotic crisis Séverine is now experiencing, and understands. Page crossed over into American films—she’d already appeared in El Cid and Grand Prix at this time, and went on to play the female lead in Billy Wilder’s The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes—but she was never more alluring, or less reducible to a character’s mere words and actions, than she is here.