Beautifully coiffed, her consonants cleanly crisp, reigning Best Actress winner Maggie Smith rolls out with a lineup of one-and-doners (plus Gene Hackman) before handing off the night's second competitive statuette to her fellow countryman:
John Mills' filmography spans 72 years and over 100 works, including In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Great Expectations, Oh! What a Lovely War (Hollmann Awards nominee, in fact!), and PBS's late-90s telecast of Cats. By the time Ryan's Daughter came out, he had been working 38 years, and fathered two successful actresses, Juliet and Hayley (of The Parent Trap and Tiger Bay). His win, though, was no sure thing.
The movie itself was the main obstacle: its failure with audiences and critics so traumatized director David Lean that he wouldn't return to filmmaking until 1984's A Passage to India. Revolving around a young Irish woman who weds her much older former schoolteacher then begins a very hot affair with an occupying British soldier, it's an admittedly uneven film. Gorgeous cinematography, fine performances, but at three hours, it's a long time to spend with mostly shallow characters and under-realized tensions.
The other obstacle? Little Big Man's Chief Dan George, the sole representative of a critically and commercially successful film (#6 of the year). A satire nut-checking the mythology the American west, Little Big Man follows Jack Crabb, a white man raised by Native Americans, who spends his life passing between both cultures. As horrifying as it is funny, it's an unflinching look at the atrocities against the First Peoples without reducing them to martyrs or victims. A terrific movie. George, only the second of six Indigenous performers to ever be nominated, would have been the first - and, as of this writing, still only - Native winner. Even the experts predicted it!
Other films nominated here, and which will be discussed much, much more in the days to come, are the father-son drama I Never Sang for My Father, the romantic drama Love Story, and the ensemble romantic comedy Lovers and Other Strangers:
Richard S. Castellano as Frank
Lovers and Other Strangers
first and only nomination; NYFCC Awards second runner-up for Best Supporting Actor
I don't think his expression ever changes, even as the volume of his voice does. It's that lack of change that clues you in to the relationship between him and his wife Bea (a tremendous Beatrice Arthur). They may be more content than happy (their words), but there's confidence, both in each other and in the vow. Castellano communicates decades of duty as father, husband, breadwinner.
Chief Dan George as Old Lodge Skins
Little Big Man
first and only nomination; NYFCC Awards winner for Best Supporting Actor; Golden Globe nominee for Best Supporting Actor
Exudes enough light wisdom, enough seemingly absent-minded trust, enough warmth, to straddle that line between genre satire and genuine character. The scene where he broken-heartedly condemns the white man is as mournful as his final scene where "the magic doesn't work" is amusing. The sequence where he is blind but believes himself invisible from marauding soldiers is the perfect in-between.
Gene Hackman as Gene Garrison
I Never Sang for My Father
A dull role, the frustrated son of a successful father, having to decide between filial piety and personal distaste. Still, there's never an insincere moment, and while much of the film can be shrugged off, his performance hits. That said, he's clearly the lead. He has book-ending voice-overs, is in every scene, has relationships and interactions outside his father. It's his arc that we follow. For that, I remove one star.
John Marley as Phil Cavilleri
first and only nomination; Golden Globe nominee for Best Supporting Actor
The best thing about his movie. The affection and protectiveness Phil feels for his daughter is expressed with his eyes, and while there's also some reticence, he just wants to see her happy. He communicates a lifetime of hopes and fears in the wedding. His hospital visit breaks your heart: in just a brief moment, he shows a man, beaten down, angry, helpless...and carrying on.
John Mills as Michael
first and only nomination; Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actor; BAFTA Awards nominee for Best Supporting Actor
Not a word is spoken, he bears broken teeth and a bum leg, he pantomimes about. A gimmick of a character in a film that doesn't need him. Mills isn't bad in the role, it's just...odd. I'm surprised by the nod, flummoxed by the win!
With two five-star performances, my final seal of approval goes to....
CHIEF DAN GEORGE
LITTLE BIG MAN
Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Supporting Actress: Karen Black (Five Easy Pieces), Lee Grant (The Landlord), Helen Hayes (Airport), Sally Kellerman (MASH), and Maureen Stapleton (Airport).