Sunday, August 27, 2006

Get ready for a long ramble through 1962 - supporting actress style...

Get ready for a long ramble through 1962 - supporting actress style.

The battle between Lansbury and Duke brings up the whole question of whether to honor the performer or the performance. What's onscreen (in both cases) is devastating. But longterm reactions to the two performances seem to be fuelled by a number of presumptions, generally flattering to Lansbury - to Duke, not so much. First of all Lansbury's career is studded with triumphs. Even in ‘62 she offered herself stiff competition. Her work in Frankenheimer's "All Fall Down" is arguably the second-best of her career. But the Academy's one performance rule meant that either it or "Manchurian Candidate" had to be sacrificed. On the other hand, artistically at least, Patty Duke's subsequent career was pretty much one long anti-climax. So there's a tendency to see her Helen Keller as something of a fluke. Lansbury was an adult - a seasoned pro whose performance might naturally be considered the result of talent, experience, creative choices and active, inspired collaboration with her director. Duke was a child. Yes, she tapped into something primal. But how much was her Helen Keller simply the result of a child's unquestioning obedience to Arthur Penn? Even among admirers of Patty Duke's performance some still see her more as a uniquely effective vessel than as an equal partner in its creation. Lansbury had a relatively short time to rehearse her Queen of Diamonds. Which makes her accomplishment all the more impressive. Duke, on the other hand, had ages to perfect her role. At the end of an extended Broadway run (with the same director and co-star), couldn't one reasonably expect a polished gem of a performance? Of course, this theory ignores the pitfalls of transferring stage successes to the screen, something that's defeated many fine actors over the years - but obviously didn't defeat Patty Duke. Finally, Duke actually won the Oscar. So dare I suggest that among smackdowners there may be an impulse to give Lansbury the laurel this time, thereby righting a (perceived) longstanding injustice? One way or another, posterity's scale seems weighted in Lansbury's favour. But then there's what's onscreen. And that's where Patty Duke gives no ground.

1 comment:

Nick Davis said...

Ken: a man after my own heart! In terms of ♥s awarded, we flip-flopped on Lansbury and Badham; in both cases, I came very close to sharing your rankings, since both perf's were on the ♥♥♥/♥♥♥♥ borderline for me. All that said, I love how nearly we agree on our assessments, and your parsing of the Duke and Lansbury legacies is, to me, very exacting and convincing. A great reminder, too, that judging these competitions in retrospect is inevitably a very different thing than adjudicating them at the time would have been.

Cheers, and welcome to the group! Will you be above-the-title and in the ring with us in September? Hope so.