Gladys Cooper in My Fair Lady
Oh, she's amusing, certainly, and her unconcealed annoyance at her son, Henry Higgins, does its job well. Cooper's his equal, and you can see where he gets that witty snobbery from, though she's much warmer than he is. Still, there's not much there, is there? Does she even change expression?
Dame Edith Evans in The Chalk Garden
It's not her fault she's saddled with a dull character in a dull film, but she could liven it up a little. Bonus point: she and Gladys Cooper are making the exact same face -- Grande Dame Haughtiness.
Grayson Hall in The Night of the Iguana
As chaperone to a lusty Sue Lyon, Hall is the chief antagonist of Richard Burton's shamed Father Shannon, a minister given to drink and the ways of the flesh. She is also the best thing about this movie. Give her a secretly "butch" spinster to play and Hall will deliver a lonely woman fighting herself with her faith. As written, she's a harpy, but as played by Hall...I mean, my God! Her tears at the beach as she begs the beautiful nymphet to get away from Shannon. Her maternal cooing as she tries to win the girl back to her side. Her fear and confusion when Ava Gardner's Maxine calls her out on being a lonely butch. Aw, hell, just watch her in the background, look at her ever-watchful eyes as they follow Shannon and Sue Lyon (I forget her name in this, obviously) simultaneously, even if they're on opposite sides of the room. She's incredible, and the film is rarely as exciting as when she's on screen.
Lila Kedrova in Zorba the Greek
I shudder to think what others might have done with such a role, since it's a character that is so tempting to overplay: bawdy stories, silly foreigner, incurable illness, etc. Kedrova underplays so much of it while giving her character a great zest for life. She plays it with both sadness and a glimmer of hope, and breaks your heart in the meantime.
Agnes Moorehead in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte
Moorehead surprises via the deglam approach, as the po' white trash housekeeper who mutters under her breath in her Louisiana patois, shuffling slowly, her big ass hanging in the air. Well, don't just stand there: applaud the woman, for she uses all the tricks of a broad comic without compromising the believability of the characters of the tone of the film. Her almost feral approach to the role makes Elvira a devoted dog, baring its teeth at the intruder who threatens her mistress. This truly is one of Moorehead's most accomplished performances.
Kedrova won the Academy Award for her role -- a role for which she learned and quickly mastered English. Awesome feat, great performance, but I give the Oscar to...
THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA
if only it was The Night of the Chaperone!