Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Power of Oscar Compels You

John Houseman:
Best Supporting Actor for
The Paper Chase


The 46th Academy Awards had some of the most memorable winners, and one jaw-dropping moment that the cameras didn't quite capture.

We were coming to the end of the ceremony, and David Niven was introducing Elizabeth Taylor, who would announce the Best Picture nominee.  As he was speaking, Robert Opel, a man who had mysteriously managed to get a very rare pass, ran behind Niven completely nude and flashing a peace sign as he streaked across the stage.  The audience was shocked and amused, the orchestra quickly playing Sunny Side Up

Niven was clearly at a loss for words, but soon rebounded magnificently.

"Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings," the veteran raconteur quipped.  Taylor, who had the unenviable task of following THAT up, quipped herself, "That's a pretty hard act to follow".  When presenting Best Picture, she was visibly flustered by it all, remarking that it really upset her, then adding, "I think I'm jealous". 

To this day no one knows exactly how Opel managed to get the pass or make it past the various security levels.  Moreover, rumors that this was a publicity stunt to boost ratings have emerged, though that has been denied by both Opel and the Academy.  If that was the case, neither Niven or Taylor were let in.  Sadly, Opel is not here to reveal more (no pun intended).  Five years after this, Robert Opel was murdered in a robbery at his studio.

Adding to this rather shocking moment is the fact that Taylor's announcement made history.  The Sting, announced as the Best Picture winner, had as one of its producers Julia Phillips, making her the first woman to win a Best Picture Oscar.  Another female made history, when ten-year-old Tatum O'Neal won Best Supporting Actress, making her the youngest Oscar winner in history.  Her Best Supporting Actor counterpart, John Houseman, was 71 years old and had made very few films before The Paper Chase, known mostly as a producer and acting teacher. 

We also had the very rare moment of Katharine Hepburn making her only Academy Award appearance.  Despite her four wins and twelve nominations (the former yet matched, the latter outdone by Meryl Streep), she never appeared when she was a nominee.  However, to honor her friend, producer Lawrence Weingarten, with the Irving Thalberg Award. 

The 46th Academy Awards were indeed historic, chaotic, wild, elegant and outrageous.

As always this is just for fun and should not be taken as my final decision. I should like to watch all the nominees and winners before making my final, FINAL choice. Now, on to cataloging the official winners (in bold) and my selections (in red). Also, my substitutions (in green).

1972 Academy Awards


(You're So) Nice to Be Around: Cinderella Liberty
Live and Let Die: Live and Let Die
Love: Robin Hood
A Touch of Class: A Touch of Class
The Way We Were: The Way We Were

Well, let's put this in perspective.  Live and Let Die is among the greatest Bond Songs in the franchise (screw you, Skyfall and Writing's On the Wall).  In any other year, it would have been a no-brainer to have had Paul McCartney win.  HOWEVER, it was up against one of THE songs from film, the title theme to The Way We Were.  Everyone knows the first line "Memories...light the corners of my mind", and it is such an iconic song, with an incredible delivery by Barbra Streisand that there is no way I could disagree with this choice. 

My own memory of The Way We Were was that I didn't want to see this chick flick at first, but by the end I was all but crying and yelling at the screen, "NO, NO...YOU NEED TO STAY TOGETHER!"  It's one of the few chick flicks that I openly admit to liking. 

Despite this, I select another song, creepy, haunting, erotic, and so brilliant.

From The Wicker Man, Willow's Song, music and lyrics by Paul Giovanni.

Zuckerman's Famous Pig: Charlotte's Web
Live and Let Die: Live and Let Die
Knockin' On Heaven's Door: Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
The Way We Were: The Way We Were
Willow's Song: The Wicker Man

Willow's Song, also known as How Do, is a brilliant song that works within the film.  Few melodies can evoke the pagan elements within the story and mix it with both hints of eroticism and almost innocence.  As the temptress attempts to seduce our virginal evangelical through song, the song becomes a charged one, tinged with sex and desire along with the need to suppress said desire.  Willow's Song evokes the temptations of the pleasures of the flesh wrapped in loveliness.  All the other songs I named are brilliant in their own way, and it was not easy not picking something like Knockin' On Heaven's Door by my beloved Bob Dylan.  However, how can I not say, 'How Do?'


Ingmar Bergman: Cries and Whispers
Bernardo Bertolucci: Last Tango in Paris
William Friedkin: The Exorcist
George Roy Hill: The Sting
George Lucas: American Graffiti

I have nothing against Hill winning, as The Sting is a great film with a very slow and methodical conclusion.  I will say that I had figured out the twists a bit before I was suppose to and found them quite logical. Having said that, and with Friedkin's masterful work of the demonic possession film, I am going with a more critically acclaimed filmmaker and giving it to the Swede for his portrait of sisters in spiritual despair.

Ingmar Bergman: Cries and Whispers
William Friedkin: The Exorcist
Robin Hardy: The Wicker Man
George Roy Hill: The Sting
Terrance Malick: Badlands

There was some strong competition from both nominated and non-nominated directors, but I'm going with the forlorn Bergman this time too. 


Linda Blair: The Exorcist
Candy Clark: American Graffiti
Madeleine Kahn: Paper Moon
Tatum O'Neal: Paper Moon
Sylvia Sydney: Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams

We had two children fight it out as ten-year-old Tatum O'Neal and thirteen-year-old Linda Blair fought it out for Best Supporting Actress.  That sadly left Madeleine Kahn, one of the great comedic actresses, in the dust.  How does one compete against both a child and the figurative spawn of Satan?  Now, it has been argued that O'Neal was "in the wrong category" and that she was really a leading character, and that her inclusion in Supporting was more to give her a better chance to win. That I cannot say, but I think that it is Blair's performance that is more remembered.

Also, we should add that perhaps Blair lost due to a controversy that was not of her own making.  Mercedes McCambridge, who had won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for All The King's Men, performed the voice of the demon in The Exorcist.  It's unclear whether McCambridge had asked for no credit for her work on the film or not.  Regardless of the truth of that, the fact that it was McCambridge's voice and not Blair's might have hurt with the Academy voters.  This is speculation of course, but one wonders whether the controversy revolving around Blair/McCambridge cost one person an Oscar. 

Finally, we have a rare moment: a time when two actresses nominated in the same category from the same film didn't cancel each other out.

Linda Blair: The Exorcist
Eileen Brennan: The Sting
Madeleine Kahn: Paper Moon
Diana Rigg: Theater of Blood
Kari Sylwan: Cries and Whispers

For the longest time I had Rigg win for her turn as the devoted daughter of the deranged Shakespearean actor in Theater of Blood, part horror film, part camp.   However, I decided that such a thing might be a bit much.  Instead, I turned to the overlooked Brennan as the moll who helps bring down the kingpin in The Sting, one of the few female characters of importance in this almost all-male show.  I'm genuinely surprised that despite some really great performances, The Sting managed only one acting nomination.  Even stranger, The Sting marks Robert Redford's only acting nomination. 


Vincent Gardenia: Bang the Drum Slowly
Jack Gilford: Save the Tiger
John Houseman: The Paper Chase
Jason Miller: The Exorcist
Randy Quaid: The Last Detail

Out of all these nominated performances, only one became so well-known that the actor recreated it for a television series based on the film.  Houseman was not known in film circles, though he was a highly respected teacher and had worked with Orson Welles when both were on Broadway.  Out of all the nominees, it is Houseman's tyrannical Professor Kingsfield that stands far above them, perhaps to Houseman's regret.

Kingsfield was a villain only in that he had great power, knew he had great power, and used it coldly over those he had power over.  Highly intelligent, his wit and disdain was what made him frightening.  He was also aware of who he was and how he was perceived.  When one of his law students, in a rage, called him "a son of a bitch" to his face in the midst of the entire class, Professor Kingsfield retorted as his errant student walks away, "That is the most intelligent thing you've said today".  Houseman's towering performance was so great he reprised the role for a successful television series of The Paper Chase, and did a variation of it in Smith Barney Brokerage Company commercials where he told people Smith Barney made money "the old fashioned way...they EARN it!"

For better or worse, the haughty Kingsfield was now permanently tied to Houseman.  In later years, he would play variations of Kingsfield, whether as the disapproving father of the man-child in Silver Spoons or in guest spots like on 227 or The Naked Gun

Finally, I can say that after watching The Paper Chase, I was so unnerved by Kingsfield and the whole legal education system that I opted not to become a lawyer.  Thanks, John Houseman...

John Houseman: The Paper Chase
Christopher Lee: The Wicker Man
Jason Miller: The Exorcist
Edward G. Robinson: Soylent Green
Robert Shaw: The Sting

In this category, I'm going for the actor who never got the credit he deserved.  Christopher Lee was an iconic figure in horror, though he was much more than just a bogeyman.  Highly cultured and educated, with a superb voice, Lee was essentially pigeonholed into being the heavy.  Out of all his roles, I think his Lord Summerisle is perhaps his best role: seemingly charming, sophisticated, yet downright bonkers in his beliefs about sacrifices.    We're rather spoiled for choice where I think any of them would have been magnificent recipients, but this year, it goes to Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man.


Ellen Burstyn: The Exorcist
Glenda Jackson: A Touch of Class
Marsha Mason: Cinderella Liberty
Barbra Streisand: The Way We Were
Joanne Woodward: Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams

Well, we are in a bit of a quandary, aren't we? We have Babs in one of her most iconic performances, and we have Glenda Jackson picking up her second Oscar.  Maybe it isn't too much of a quandary, as I would make the long-suffering mother to a demonically-possessed child my choice.  I love Ellen Burstyn, so maybe I'm a bit prejudiced in this area.

Ellen Burstyn: The Exorcist
Tatum O'Neal: Paper Moon
Maria Schneider: Last Tango in Paris
Sissy Spacek: Badlands
Liv Ullman: Cries and Whispers

Well, I've looked around and am puzzled as to why Maria Schneider, partner to the nominated Marlon Brando, was overlooked.  I moved O'Neal from  Supporting to Leading, but there's something about Ullman that makes me wonder whether Cries and Whispers should have made her at least a nominee. 


Marlon Brando: Last Tango in Paris
Jack Lemmon: Save the Tiger
Jack Nicholson: The Last Detail
Al Pacino: Serpico
Robert Redford: The Sting

I don't dislike Jack Lemmon by any stretch, but wonder whether the fact that the funnyman went dramatic had anything to do with his win.  All I can say is that people still talk about Brando's performance in Last Tango in Paris, and it is on reputation alone that I make this choice.

Marlon Brando: Last Tango in Paris
Charlton Heston: Soylent Green
Vincent Price: Theater of Blood
Martin Sheen: Badlands
Edward Woodward: The Wicker Man

I am going for another choice, and that is Woodward as the devout Christian police officer caught up in a web of pagan decadence in The Wicker Man.  As an evangelical myself, I can say that Woodward's Sergeant Howie is not too far off the mark, though perhaps a bit harsher than I would image my brothers to be.  However, the rigidity of Howie was not indicative of a bad or stilted performance, but of one who was determined to avoid sin and all its lures only to end up devoured.


American Graffiti
Cries and Whispers
The Exorcist
The Sting
A Touch of Class

I don't have an issue with The Sting winning, though initially I had pegged The Exorcist as my choice.  I think The Sting is a great film, worthy of its reputation as a clever romp.  I also think The Exorcist, the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture, still stands as a landmark in film.  Giving this a lot more thought, I am going by reputation again and selecting the foreign-language exploration into the sad heart.

My friend Fidel Gomez, Jr. loves Bergman, and it was he who introduced me to more foreign-language films.  I don't know if he has this Bergman film, but from what I know of it, it is a masterful work; with that, I select Cries and Whispers as the Best Picture of 1973. 

Cries and Whispers
The Exorcist
Soylent Green
The Sting
The Wicker Man

I many times have referred to something as "the Citizen Kane" of XYZ to denote that it is the apex of whatever I'm talking about.  The Wicker Man has been referred to by others as "the Citizen Kane of horror" and I think with justification.  This tale of a devout Christian investigating the disappearance of a girl on an island where paganism and the occult are celebrated, where the pleasures of the flesh are taught openly in school, and where rituals are commonplace has one of the most shocking twist endings in history.  I was stunned by the twist in The Wicker Man and horrified by its fiery conclusion.  It is one of the great films of any genre, much better than the silly remake (which curiously, starred my beloved Ellen Burstyn.  Seriously, what were you THINKING!?).  The original is almost always the best.

With that, I select The Wicker Man as the Best Picture of 1973.

Next Time, the 1974 Academy Awards.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Views are always welcome, but I would ask that no vulgarity be used. Any posts that contain foul language or are bigoted in any way will not be posted.
Thank you.