The 45th Annual Academy Awards held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles began with an Angela Lansbury musical number, as everything should (Seventh Heaven! What a callback!). Father-and-son team Eddie Albert (nominated for The Heartbreak Kid) and Edward Albert (star of Butterflies Are Free) presented Best Sound to Cabaret, Merle Oberon gave The Poseidon Adventure a Special Achievement Oscar for its visual effects, and Beatrice Arthur and Peter Boyle (of The Candidate) did the short subjects. Now it was time for reigning champion Cloris Leachman and The Godfather's Robert Duvall to present Best Supporting Actress:
What a group of films to honor! There's The Heartbreak Kid, painfully hilarious in its depiction of a newlywed abandoning his bride (Jeannie Berlin) during their honeymoon. Fat City is a depressing drama about a fading alcoholic boxer repeatedly falling off the wagon alongside a barfly (Susan Tyrrell). Pete 'n' Tillie is a rom-com with dramatic elements about the relationship between two people, brought together by a mutual friend (Geraldine Page). The Poseidon Adventure is a disaster epic, more an effects showcase than a performance one, and yet its large ensemble (Shelley Winters, et. al.) is undeniably superb. Finally, there's the winner, Butterflies Are Free, whose synopsis about a young hot blind man falling in love with a kooky free spirit, much to his mother's (Eileen Heckart) chagrin, makes you wanna roll your eyes...and then you see it and realize what a thoughtful, effective film it really is! Five very good movies. And as for the performances...:
Jeannie Berlin as Lila Kolodny
The Heartbreak Kid
first and only nomination; NYFCC Award winner for Best Supporting Actress; Golden Globe nominee for Best Supporting Actress
Berlin is a woman on her honeymoon in Miami, her deep sunburn leaving her bedridden - giving her husband time and opportunity to fall out of love with her and pursue a rich shiksa. Berlin, to my mind, is never playing the laugh, working to make sure her character is never some grotesque stereotype of a Jewish woman. No, this is someone who's who she is, who has the normal hopes and expectations of a newlywed, whose every word and deed have become anathema to her husband. Inviting neither scorn nor pity, off-handedly hilarious, marvelous in the way she plays her suspicions and heartbreak.
Eileen Heckart as Mrs. Baker
Butterflies Are Free
second and final nomination
Heckart reprises her Tony-nominated Broadway role of a mother who's tracked her blind son to a San Francisco loft and immediately tries to coddle and take him back home. You could almost call her a lead, so dominant is her POV, so aggressive is her presence, so clear and complete are her arc. Heckart takes Mrs. Baker from suffocating to understanding without fundamentally changing who she is - it's all part of her great love for her son. Rarely playing the beats how you'd expect, she instead creates a woman who is sharp, funny, and not as closed off as you initially imagine. No caricature, she.
Geraldine Page as Gertrude
Pete 'n' Tillie
Page plays a socialite pal and matchmaker, the lady who initially introduces Pete and Tillie. The actress's knack for playing eccentric characters makes for a broad performance that may purposely skewer "society" types, but whose interludes ultimately are to the movie what a stick in the spokes is to a moving bicycle. I don't believe for a moment any of these people are her friend, nor that she would be the center of a whirligig of parties and do's. The lip-pursing, eye-rolling, head-tilting, hand-wringing mannerisms are out in full force. One should never dread a Geraldine Page appearance, and yet...
Susan Tyrrell as Oma
first and only nomination; NYFCC runner-up for Best Supporting Actress
Tyrrell is a barfly who begins a relationship with boxer Stacy Keach. There is no new lease on life, there are no moments of connection other than that made through the fog of drink. It is a horror movie performance, a possession tale: Oma is a self-destructive alcoholic with no intention of, not even any desire to, get better, sucking others into her orbit. Tyrrell is ghastly, she is grotesque, she is heartbreaking, she is recognizable, not a Hollywood-ized version of an alcoholic, but the real thing.
Shelley Winters as Belle Rosen
The Poseidon Adventure
past two-time winner, fourth and final nomination; Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actress; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Supporting Actress
Winters is one-half of an old married couple on their way to visit Israel and see their grandson for the first time - when disaster strikes! A reliably watchable actress, here she trades in the expected brash, braying, rough-around-the-edges schtick for tough tenderness. You believe in the years of love and marriage between her and Jack Albertson (according to his set memories, a true testament to their acting skills!), you believe she can hold her breath for two minutes and swim through the darkness, you believe that she does have the strength and determination to get through this night - and help others get through it, too.
Would you believe? I think the Academy made the right decision here, so my vote goes to:
BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE
Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Supporting Actor: from Cabaret, Joel Grey; from The Heartbreak Kid, Eddie Albert; and from The Godfather, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Al Pacino.