The poster for Voyage of the Damned makes a bold claim, and maybe those who saw Stuart Rosenberg’s star-studded blockbuster in 1976 have remembered it ever since. Until a couple of weeks ago, however, when I saw it in a list of past Oscar nominees, I had never heard of it, and I don’t think it would be unfair to say that it is a film that has not stood the test of time.
Voyage of the Damned, which chronicles the tragic failed escape of 937 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, was nominated for three Oscars (for Best Score, Best Adapted Screenplay, and for Lee Grant for Best Supporting Actress, the lone acting nominee among a boatload of international heavyweights).
Oscar nominations, especially for acting, tend to confer a certain amount of immortality on their recipients (you are forever “Academy Award nominee Lee Grant”) and there are many films and performances that I only know because of their Oscar imprimatur; so I am always surprised when I come across Oscar nominated films and performances that I have never heard of. Going through the list of supporting actor and actress nominees from the late 60s (my childhood) to the early 80s (when I started paying attention to the Academy Awards) I came across a number of titles and names that I didn’t know at all which led me, of course, to look up their posters.
The unique thing about the best supporting acting nominations is they do often highlight smaller films and less well-known names. The list of lesser-known nominees is a roll call of aging character actors getting to chew on the meatiest role of their career, theater stars slumming it on screen, and the occasional ingenue or one-hit wonder.
I may not have the broadest knowledge of American cinema of the 70s, so many of the films I mention below may be very familiar to many of you, but I feel they are obscure enough to merit my using them as an excuse to showcase a number of interesting posters from the 1960s and 1970s and to unearth some Oscar trivia in the process. Though the 70s are one of my favorite periods in American poster design, I’m not holding any of these up as masterpieces of graphic design: simply as fascinating products of their time and place, and as evidence of films that maybe merit further attention, or maybe are best forgotten.
In 1965 the 76-year-old Dame Edith Evans, that great doyenne of the British stage, was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Ronald Neame’s The Chalk Garden, her second nomination after the much better remembered Tom Jones the year before that. Three years later she was nominated for Best Actress for Bryan Forbes’ The Whisperers, another film I have to admit that I don’t know.
In 1966 Jocelyne LaGarde was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her role in this George Roy Hill blockbuster (the highest grossing film of 1966 no less). When I ran a list of lesser-known nominees via some of my film-loving friends, this was the name that stumped all but one of them (and he’s a walking Oscar encyclopedia). LaGarde, who played Queen Malama Kanakoa the Alii Nui, and whom you’ll note is not even credited on the poster, was a 42 year old Tahitian who spoke French but no English and who had never acted before, nor ever acted again. On Oscar night she lost to Sandy Dennis in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
In 1969 the 24-year-old Cathy Burns was nominated for her role in Frank Perry’s Fire Island-set coming-of-age drama Last Summer. Up against Dyan Cannon, Sylvia Miles and Susannah York (all in big, zeitgeisty movies like Midnight Cowboy and Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice) she lost to Goldie Hawn in Cactus Flower, another film I hadn’t heard of, but it starred Walther Matthau and Ingrid Bergman, so I feel as if I should have.
In 1970 Richard S. Castellano, who went on to The Godfather and TV’s The Super, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this ensemble wedding comedy, much loved in its day.
Goldie Hawn again, though the 1972 Best Supporting Actress Oscar was won by 52-year-old character actress Eileen Heckart (who had been nominated 16 years earlier for The Bad Seed) playing the over-protective mother of Goldie’s blind boyfriend.
In 1973 the great 1930s star Sylvia Sidney (Hitchcock’s Sabotage, Lang’s You Only Live Once) received her only Academy Award nomination at the age of 63 for Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, a film for which Joanne Woodward received her third of four Best Actress nominations. The director, Gil Cates, is better known as the producer who re-energized the Academy Awards show in the 1990s.
Maybe better known than I realize, The Turning Point is notorious for sharing with The Color Purple the record for the most Academy Award nominations without a single win. Its three major stars, Bancroft, MacLaine and Baryshnikov, were all nominated, as was 19-year-old American Ballet Theatre dancer Leslie Brown, another name likely to stump people at your Oscar trivia night.
I’m a big fan of Alan Pakula, so I’m surprised that I have never seen this Gordon Willis-shot Western, for which 59-year-old former stuntman Richard Farnsworth, again not even mentioned on the original poster, was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. (He would of course be nominated again, for Best Actor, for David Lynch’s The Straight Story twenty years later.)
I knew this film only for its title, which is ironic because it is believed that it was the title which caused The Great Santini to be a box office flop. After a poor opening in South Carolina, where it was shot, it was tested in various towns as Sons and Heroes, Reaching Out and The Ace. When it was eventually released in New York under its original title, it had already been sold to HBO, which killed its promising run. The film received two Oscar nominations, for Robert Duvall for Best Actor and for 25-year-old Michael O’Keefe, an actor I know very well by face from film and television (he was Roseanne’s brother-in-law on Roseanne) but who, until now, I had no idea was an Oscar nominated actor. Meanwhile, you’ve got to love that tagline.
In 1980 the 81-year-old British theater actress and director Eva Le Galliene became the oldest Oscar nominee to date for her role in Daniel Petrie’s Resurrection, for which Ellen Burstyn received one of her six Oscar nominations. Le Galliene would lose her record to the 87-year-old Gloria Stuart 17 years later.
That year Le Galliene was up against Diana Scarwid—better known as the adult Christina Crawford in Mommie Dearest—for the Richard Donner disability drama Inside Moves, another film with a classic tagline. The Oscar was won by Mary Steenburgen for Melvin and Howard.
I’d be happy to hear of any of your experiences and opinions of any of these films.
Posters courtesy of Heritage Auctions and IMP Awards.