February 25, 2011

10 My Oscar Picks, Part 6 Continued: 1965

This completes this year's series of posts on past Academy Awards, comparing the winners with my own choices, that I began last week. Today I'll be covering the year 1965.


The Winner: The Sound of Music
My Pick: Darling

The Winner: Robert Wise, The Sound of Music
My Pick: John Schlesinger, Darling

The Winner: Lee Marvin, The Ballad of Cat Ballou
My Pick: Rod Steiger, The Pawnbroker

The Winner: Julie Christie, Darling
My Pick: Julie Christie, Darling

The Winner: Martin Balsam, A Thousand Clowns
My Pick: Michael Dunn, Ship of Fools

The Winner: Shelley Winters, A Patch of Blue
My Pick: Maggie Smith, Othello

The Winner: The Shop on Main Street
My Pick: Kwaidan

I found little to agree with in the Academy's winners this year, duplicating its choices in only one of the major categories. Some people find Darling dated. But I've seen it more than once, most recently about a year ago, and I find it holds up quite well, a vivid rendering of its time and place, mid-1960s Britain. It's brilliantly written, stylishly directed, and features some great performances, not least of which is Julie Christie's as the mercurial lead character, Diana Scott. This is one of the first portraits of a person who wants to be famous for being famous, and still one of the most devastatingly acerbic of a person whose highest aspiration is to become a celebrity. I've heard it said that Academy voters probably also had Christie's performance as Lara in Dr. Zhivago in mind when they voted for her (her win was a bit of a surprise—I would have expected the popularity of The Sound of Music to carry Julie Andrews through to a second Oscar in a row), but her work in Darling alone is Oscar-worthy, as is director John Schlesinger's and the film itself. Dirk Bogarde is also excellent, and both he and Christie won BAFTA awards for their performances.

The best actor race was a curious one. Rod Steiger received near-universal praise for his intense performance in The Pawnbroker and seemed certain to win. Yet the winner was probably the least likely nominee, Lee Marvin for an atypically comic performance in The Ballad of Cat Ballou, and that surely must have been a huge upset. I'm not a particular fan of Steiger. He's not a subtle actor, and his inability to disguise his large ego makes him a hard actor to like. Despite this, I still picked his performance as the best of the year for the simple reason that it was. I also disagreed with the Academy's choices for best supporting actor and actress. Shelley Winters's harpy in A Patch of Blue seemed awfully familiar, basically a reprise of the character that had won her an Oscar in this category a few years earlier, Mrs. Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank. I much preferred Maggie Smith's gentle Desdemona in Othello. Martin Balsam was a fine actor, but I can't see that there was enough to his tiny and rather bland role in A Thousand Clowns to merit an Oscar. So I went with Michael Dunn as the narrator in Ship of Fools, Stanley Kramer's ponderous adaptation of Katharine Anne Porter's only novel. My choice as best foreign language film was the spooky multi-part Japanese film Kwaidan, based on four stories of the supernatural by Lafcadio Hearn. Biggest omission: Repulsion for best picture, director (Roman Polanski), and actress (Catherine Deneuve).


  1. The other day we talked about Peter O'Toole never winning an Oscar. Richard Burton never did either. He was nominated this year for "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" and he would have gotten my vote. I never saw "The Pawnbroker" though so I don't know about Rod Steiger.

    I second your vote for "Kwaidan."

  2. R.D.

    THE PAWNBROKER is a devastating film and should have won hands down over the sugary clap trapp of THE SOUND OF MONEY (which is what it should have been called). Like WEST SIDE STORY I saw this film with my folks on Broadway at the same theater (Rivoli) on Broadway and honestly have not seen it since and have no desire to ever to do so again. Maybe I am being unfair but I have a deep rooted dislike of this corn fest. I have nothing against Julie Andrews, in fact I like her, but I cringe whenever I hear "The hills are alive with...." A bit harsh?

    Over the years I have occasionally watched THE PAWNBROKER and each time find it a powerful film with Steiger giving one of his finest performances. He can be over the top but here he is just plain brilliant. DARLING I only watched for the first time a couple of years ago and was a bit disappointed by. Not sure why. Christie was fantastic though and deserving. As for the Supporting Actor and Actress categories, I saw all films except for OTHELLO. SHIP OF FOOLS I saw once a long time ago and remember little of the film or Dunn's performance. So, I will refrain from commenting on these categories other than saying that Shelley Winters can be an acquired taste. Like Steiger subtlety is not her strong point. As for REPULSION's omission I agree as that would have been my choice for Best Foreign film.

  3. Kevin, I saw "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" a few years ago and thought this was one of Richard Burton's finest performances, along with "Look Back in Anger" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." He was easily my second choice after Rod Steiger.

    John, I like the songs from "The Sound of Music"--pleasant but a bit on the cute side, and the big song, "Climb Every Mountain," seems a lot like "You'll Never Walk Alone" in both its melody and its hopeful message--but I always am reminded of how formulaic some of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals could be--a gaggle of kids, a sweet leading woman, a stern but ultimately sympathetic leading man, a light brush with a social issue. It almost seems as though they were recycling the elements of "South Pacific." As for Steiger, his performance in "The Pawnbroker" strikes me as an instance of an actor whose style might be a liability in other roles but is exactly right for this one.

  4. R.D., this entire series of posts has been fabulous! As for 1965, I was bummed that THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX wasn't nominated for Best Pic; it so effortlessly combined character study, suspense, finely-etched performances, and a nice little twist. I haven't seen DARLING in a long time, so would have to go with SHIP OF FOOLS over THE SOUND OF MUSIC (SHIP is indeed ponderous at times, but the acting and mood compensate for me). For Best Actress, I'll probably opt for Elizabeth Hartman. A few years ago, I was on a business trip (I never sleep well in hotels) and was channel surfing around midnight when I caught the start of A PATCH OF BLUE on TCM. I stayed up until 2 a.m. watching it for the first time and then rented the movie when I got home so my wife could see it. Hartman holds her own again Poitier and Shelley Winters has her best 1960s performance (though I think it's a little overrated). I agree that Steiger was superb in THE PAWNBROKER, though Burton was riveting in THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD. Also agree with you on Michael Dunn, who was terrific in SHIP OF FOOLS. Too bad he didn't get a lot of quality film roles, but at least he got a steady pay check as guest star on THE WILD, WILD WEST.

  5. Thank you, Rick. Because of my historical interest in films, I've had fun fantasizing about how I would have voted if given the chance. I liked "Flight of the Phoenix" too and second everything you said about it. The device of throwing a group of characters into adversity and then showing how they react to the challenge is one of classic appeal, and this was a version that made the situation engaging and fresh. I thought it had James Stewart's last great performance after he made "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." The whole cast was good, but Richard Attenborough stood out especially. "Ship of Fools" had so many fine performances that it is worth watching for that alone, not only the Oscar-nominated ones by Oskar Werner (who got the NY Film Critics award over Steiger) and Simone Signoret, but also Vivien Leigh and Lee Marvin. I also agree with you about how good Elizabeth Hartman was in "A Patch of Blue." She was so touchingly fragile and I thought even surpassed Poitier and Winters in a movie with a, frankly, rather corny premise. She makes the movie worth watching. What a shame she never got such a good role again and had such a tragic and brief life.

  6. Great posts. I agree with what everyone is saying about Elizabeth Hartman. She makes that movie work. Love Julie Christie although I confess I remember little about "Darling," having seen it so long ago. I grew up with "The Sound of Music," which was still THE musical for Catholic families in the late '60s and early '70s. My second-grade teacher was Sr. Maria, who was European. How could us kids NOT compare her to THE Maria from THE movie? It still cracks me up thinking about it. I need to write a post about it. But I digress. I wish "the Pawnbroker" had been nominated for best picture. Steiger is just so good in it. That Lee Marvin win was a shock then and is still shocking now.

  7. Filmboy, apparently the Marvin win was a shock to Steiger as well. In one of those soundbytes they do on TCM he tells of how he went to the Oscar ceremony certain he would win and what a humbling experience it was not to. But then he was an actor who could have used a bit of humility, and maybe it even helped him in his performance in "In the Heat of the Night," where his character is all about learning humility from an unexpected source.

  8. R.D., I am in complete agreement about Michael Dunn and Rod Steiger. They were robbed that year. I like Lee Marvin, he was very good in the comic role, but it was nowhere near the performance Steiger gave in the Pawnbroker. And Dunn was a bit of bright light in Ship of Fools that carried it along -- he was a very good actor with limited opportunities.

    I saw in the comments that you and Kevin had discussed Richard Burton never winning an Oscar. Probably his best movie performance, to me at least, was Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe. I watched it recently and focused on Burton, and he stole the show as far as I'm concerned. Elizabeth Taylor was good, no doubt, but if either was going to win, it should have been Burton. Unfortunately, he was up against Paul Scofield in A Man For All Seasons that year, which was a shame because Scofield was so marvelous. Burton was just as marvelous in his very different role, too. Wish it could have been a tie!

    Makes me thing of another modern example of an actor being robbed, probably because of Hollywood politics. William H. Macy should definitely have won for Fargo rather than Cuba Gooding, Jr. for that other thing (was it Jerry MacGuire?). Anyway, what a farce!

    Loved your review!

  9. Becky, I agree about Richard Burton. One of the weird things about the Oscars is that one year there will be so many worthy nominees in a field and the next year so few. I guess that's the drawback of having an award based on the calendar year. 1966 was a year that a tie would have been understandable. I certainly would have been torn between Burton and Scofield myself. And I think your comments about Burton's performance in "Virginia Woolf" are spot-on. Liz had the flashy role and he had the quiet one but like you I thought he did the more impressive job of acting. Control must surely be harder to achieve in a performance than flash, and his control was so appropriate for the character too. That was one of the reasons I also liked him so much in "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold." In "Look Back in Anger," of course, his performance was pure rage, but he was a great actor in either mode.

  10. I have never been able to stomach "The Sound of Music" and, coincidentally, the first time I saw it I experienced another first - a migraine headache.
    I've been enjoying (and comparing notes on) your series of picks vs. winners. The conversation about Richard Burton inspired me to chime in with my vote for his performance in "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold." Powerful and devastating. I cannot imagine how Lee Marvin managed to win over Burton and Steiger.