Armchair Oscars – 1973

Best Picture

The Sting (Directed by George Roy Hill)
The Nominees: American Graffiti, The Exorcist, A Touch of Class, Cries and Whispers

The Exorcist (Directed by William Friedkin)
My Nominees: 
American Graffiti (George Lucas), , Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman), The Day of the Jackel (Fred Zinneman), The Last Detail (Hal Ashby)


In a year in which a lot of filmmakers took chances, the academy played it safe. In rewarding George Roy Hill’s The Sting, the second (and last) pairing of Redford and Newman, they put aside their chance to reward such edgy works of art as Mean Streets, Cries and Whispers and The Exorcist and chose a film that was pure popcorn entertainment.

To be sure, The Sting was a great entertainment, following two con artists trying to pull a con job on a mob boss (Robert Shaw) who kills their mutual friend. The movie looks great, it sounds great, the costumes, the production design and Scott Joplin’s resurrected “The Entertainer” (which briefly became a hit again) all mixed into a wonderfully fun movie. For me, however, no film from 1973 has stayed with me longer than William Friedkin’s devastating version of William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist. I know that there are better films from this year that should probably earn my Armchair Oscar, but none has had a longer lasting impact and no other film has truly explored the battle between good and evil.

I think The Exorcist has been sidelined in the recent decades by its reputation. Legends abound about moviegoers who ran screaming from the theater and needed psychiatric counseling after the experience, but those who refuse to revisit the film (or who avoid it completely) are missing the reasons that the film works.

Friedkin takes this bizarre story seriously and grounds his characters in absolute reality so the horror of the possession bubbles up out of their lives and doesn’t come into the film as a stunt. Their reaction is much the same as ours would have been. I revisit the film about every five years or so and I always notice something different. This last time I was struck by the film’s leisure pace. It takes a long time before we get to the actual possession itself and in that time, we get to know the characters whose lives will be torn apart by these horrible events.

I appreciated the slow passages early on in which little Regan (Linda Blair) is taken to doctors who subject her to medical treatments, MRIs, spinal taps and finally hypnosis. I liked a brief moment in which her mother Chris wakes up and finds her daughter lying next to her. The child moans “My bed was shaking.” I appreciated the moment when the mother tells Father Karras that her daughter might need an exorcism. His reaction is completely reasonable as his eyes widen and he says “Excuse me?” He then tells her “The best way to obtain an exorcism would be to take a time machine back to the 16th century.”  He informs her that the church doesn’t grant exorcisms without strenuous investigation because information about psychiatry and mental illness have long replaced such rituals.

There’s something else I noticed upon revisiting the film recently: there is never an origin or purpose given for the possession. The demon has possessed the body of this young girl, but we are never told why. There are several theories: there’s the reappearance of a strange statue of Pazuzu (a Assyro-Babylonian demon) that Father Merrian finds in the Iraqi desert; there are some early scenes the suggest that Regan has been communicating with a certain Captain Howdy through a Ouija board; but we are never given an explanation of what exactly has taken place. We only see the results. I think that’s wise because it give the movie a slant of unpredictability and doesn’t waste time bogging down the plot in overwrought exposition.

The climactic scene, which has become movie folklore, is where the special effects and makeup come to light but not in a showy way. The scenes involving the actual exorcism are so unpredictable because up until that point, we’ve been kept mostly in the dark about what this demon is capable of. We’ve seen the head swivel, the crucifix masturbation scene, we’ve heard the graveled voice of the demon, but it is only setting us up for the pure battle between the priest and the evil the dwells within this little girl.

The Exorcist is a horror movie that got it absolutely right and spawned a generation of worthless imitators who believe that the best way to make a horror film was to hurry along to the scary stuff to give the audience its money’s worth. Friedkin wanted to make a film that made sense, a film that found a foothold in order to make the material much more terrifying.

Best Actor

Jack Lemmon (
Saving Mr. Banks)
The Nominees: Marlon Brando (Last Tango in Paris), Jack Nicholson (The Last Detail), Al Pacino (Serpico), Robert Redford (The Sting)

Robert Mitchum (The Friends of Eddie Coyle)
My Nominees:
Paul Newman (The Sting), Jack Nicholson (The Last Detail), Al Pacino (Serpico), Robert Redford (The Sting)


Perhaps fearing that Marlon Brando would repeat his embarrassing Oscar night stunt from the previous year, the academy granted him a second Best Actor nomination in a row but this time gave the award to someone a little more gracious. At the podium, winner Jack Lemmon answered the snub by previous winners Brando and George C. Scott by saying, “In recent years, there’s been a great deal of criticism about this award and probably a great deal of that criticism is very justified. Whether it is justified or not, I think it is one hell of an honor and I am thrilled.”

Most of us would have responded to the honor with Lemmon’s joy rather than Brando’s snub. We could always identify with him. He’s a regular schmo, the ordinary guy who wasn’t born with matinee idol looks or an easy patented charm. He was a wonderful actor who could play comedy as well as drama and in his career, he would win Oscars for both. His comedic performance as Ensign Pulver in Mister Roberts got him the Best Supporting Actor prize in 1956 and he won the Best Actor prize for his serious dramatic performance in John G. Avildson’s Save the Tiger.

Lemmon was so passionate about bringing Steve Shagan’s screenplay to life that he helped finance the film and agreed to work for scale. He would win the Oscar for his efforts but in the cannon of his great performances, this one leaves me a little cold. His performance as Harry Stoner, a dress maker whose business and personal life are coming apart at the seams, is not one of his best. I like to see Lemmon’s dramatic side when it contains a tinge of comedy (as in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment) because he always possessed the ability to laugh at himself. He was an actor who knew how to play big and when he plays hard and serious, he tends to overact.

I certainly can’t say that about Robert Mitchum in his unnominated performance in Peter Yates’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle, one of the decade’s great lost treasures. Mitchum is one of my favorite actors because he never seemed to possess an “acting technique.” Watching him I have always felt that the camera just found him and recorded his character’s life. With his hang-dog face and gravel voice you always sensed, even in his youth, that there was a lot of life behind him. His weary eyes betray a lifetime of hard luck.

He plays Eddie “Fingers” Coyle, a blue collar criminal who works within the criminal world as a reliable functionary but never a mastermind. He is more than happy to do favors, to purchase the guns for a heist or scout a location but he doesn’t live in the spotlight. He’s been working in the shadows for most of his life, he has learned a lot but hasn’t developed a lot of common sense. He’s been in and out of prison several times and, at present, is facing a two year sentence in New Hampshire for transporting stolen goods. When we meet him, he knows the trouble that is staring him in the face and tries to reason with a young gun dealer named Jackie Brown (Steven Keats), whom Eddie can sense is smart but reckless.

The underworld that Eddie maneuvers around is filled with men just like himself, middle-aged guys who go about their business, providing pieces and parts to put together a bank job here or gun sale there. But these are guys he doesn’t know too well, guys who would sell him out in a minute just to save their own skins. At present, three men occupy his time, one is Jackie, who is always due for a lecture. Another is Dillon (Peter Boyle), a bartender that Eddie thinks he can trust. Then there’s Dave Foley (Richard Jordan), a federal agent who has a leash on Eddie by offering him amnesty from prison in exchange for turning in his “friends” who are committing a series of bank robberies around town.

Eddie secures handguns from Jackie for the robberies, while Dillon secretly keeps an eye on Eddie’s pals and reports back to Foley. There’s something going on around Dillion, but he can’t tell what it is. There are a lot of people coming and going from his place and a lot of private phone calls going in and out. He rats these men out to Foley, even though he really doesn’t have all the right information. Dillon is willing to rat everyone out, but Eddie stays at odds with his loyalties to his colleagues.

In the middle is Foley, who plays both sides in opposite directions. While he gets bits of information from Dillon that might help, he gets just as many bits of information from Eddie but does little with it. He knows he has good information from Dillion even though he is being fed information in dribs and drabs. He knows he has Eddie over a barrel and keeps his leash very short. He offers few favors and doesn’t seem willing to go to any great lengths to help him. Meanwhile the noose is tightening around Eddie’s neck, even though he doesn’t really know who’s doing the tightening.

All Eddie really wants is a break. Just past fifty, he wants to retire from this life with his freedom and with his dignity intact. He’s a good guy, a guy with a lot of experience behind him and a lot of wisdom to impart. He tells Jackie: “I spent most of my life hanging around crummy joints with a buncha punks drinkin’ the beer, eatin’ the hash and the hot dogs and watchin’ the other people go off to Florida while I’m sweatin’ out how I’m gonna pay the plumber. I done time and I stood upm but I can’t take no more chances. Next time, it’s gonna be me goin’ to Florida.”

He has several conversations with Jackie in which he gives fatherly advice about the life they have chosen. Jackie is smart and cautious but he’s operating in a world that involves hotheads who could get him in a lot of trouble if he skimps on the details. Eddie advises him, for example, that it is a bad idea to deal with multiple clients from the same lot of guns. Later, during a deal, this advice nearly gets Jackie in trouble, but he thinks fast and overturns what could have been a bad situation. This salvation comes from Eddie’s advice but the irony is that Eddie isn’t nearly as cautious. His downfall is tragic but, in a way, it makes sense in the reality of this film.

What makes The Friends of Eddie Coyle so fascinating is that director Peter Yates refuses to give his scenes any juiced-up urgency. The film is almost like a documentary of these men going about their daily routine, making deals, planning jobs and pulling them off. When they pull off a bank job, it has the slow, leisure pace of real-life, no music, no fast editing, nothing forced or overblown. Early in the film, the bank robbers kidnap the bank manager at his home and force him to go with them to the bank while they leave one man home with his family. When they get to the bank, they go through the routine of waiting on the time lock, then stealing the loot and driving the manager to a secure location to let him go. This is one of the best bank robberies I have ever seen in a movie because it is completely devoid of sensationalism, it has a sort of slow pacing as it would in real life. Nothing for the pulse, just the realism. The whole movie is pitched at that level. The men who surround Eddie Coyle could just as easily be selling fruit.

The realistic feel in this film is what you remember. Yates casts the film with ordinary faces: Alex Rocco, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Joe Santos, Steven Keats – but none more so than Mitchum who always seems such an organic presence in film; he doesn’t look like a movie star, just a guy. Here he plays one of the saddest and most tragic of all the men he’s ever played. He never played the hero in the ordinary sense, his characters were men who found themselves over a barrel and in too deep. Here he offers a man who has a lifetime of experience but hasn’t learned how to keep his nose clean. That lack of common sense has put him on a downward slide from which he cannot return and in that downward slide, he attempts to save a smart young kid from falling into the same trap.

Best Actress

Glenda Jackson (A Touch of Class)
The Nominees: Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist), Marsha Mason (Cinderella Liberty), Barbra Streisand (The Way We Were), Joanne Woodward (Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams)

Barbra Streisand (The Way We Were)
y Nominees: Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist), Tatum O’Neal (Paper Moon), Maria Schneider (Last Tango in Paris)


Melvin Frank’s A Touch of Class came packaged as a throwback to the screwball comedies of the 1930s with the twist that it was modern and sophisticated. It stars George Segal as a nice family man who falls in lust with dress designer played by Glenda Jackson. The somewhat funny affair is funny but the film makes the mistake of having its main characters fall in love.  When the film allows their affair a hint of carnality, the characters are easier to believe but when they fall in love, the movie loses crediblity.  The biggest false note in the film is Jackson, who plays a character supposedly modeled after those intelligent, tough women like Katharine Hepburn, Carole Lombard and Barbara Stanwyck, but her character grates on my nerves. Where there is supposed to be intelligence and confidence, I only see anger and hostility.

My choice for the Best Actress of 1973 was a little easier to spend time with, even though at the time it wasn’t hip to like The Way We Were. It has become an anthem for hopeless romantics. It isn’t a perfect film but I can’t resist Barbra Streisand in what I think is her best performance. She plays Katie Morosky, whom we meet in the 1940s working behind the scenes on a radio program. One day in a bar, she spots an old flame who brings back her best memories. He is handsome Hubbell Gardner (Robert Redford), a man she met years ago in college and thereafter fell in love with. We flash back to the 1930s to their days in college when she was a political activist speaking in favor of the Communist Party and he is a gentile, an All-American golden boy, whose good looks and charm will get him any career he wants.

They fall in love despite the fact that he thinks she’s too serious and won’t take the time to listen and she thinks he’s not serious enough and hates his friends who turn the world and its problems into a constant stream of jokes. Hubbell is a brilliant writer who was praised in his college class for one of his short stories. Katie loves his writing, but he doesn’t share her determined spirit. He is essentially weak and won’t pursue his work with any fiery passion. He writes a novel that she thinks is perfect, but she gets angry when he accepts the offer to go to Hollywood to help turn his book into a film instead of working on a follow-up.

Hubbell goes where the wind takes him and doesn’t have the fighting spirit that Katie exhibits. She pushes him to take his talent more seriously and he determines to remind her to take it easy and relax. Yet, despite their opposition to one another, they are drawn to each other. They both know that they can be better people together.

I have seen all of Streisand’s performances and, in Katie, she creates her most complete character. She isn’t gorgeous in a conventional way. There is a great deal of frustration just under the surface which only comes to the surface in her political activism. She knows that Hubbell can be better if he only takes things more seriously. She wears her heart on her sleeve; she is fierce in her determination to fight for what she knows is right; she has moments when she is sensitive and vulnerable; she is not weak, but she wears her emotions on the end of her nose. There are moments when she looks at Hubbell that are magical. When she tells him that she is pregnant, there are stars in her eyes. I love the moments when she embraces him, closing her eyes and letting a complete peace wash over her face.

What is all this? | Contact Me

2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998 | 1997 | 1996 | 1995 | 1994 | 1993 | 1992 | 1991 | 1990 | 1989 | 1988 | 1987 | 1986 | 1985 | 1984 | 1983 | 1982 | 1981 | 1980 | 1979 | 1978 | 1977 | 1976 | 1975 | 1974 | 1973 | 1972 | 1971 | 1970 | 1969 | 1968 | 1967 | 1966 | 1965 | 1964 | 1963 | 1962 | 1961 | 1960 | 1959 | 1958 | 1957 | 1956 | 1955 | 1954 | 1953 | 1952 | 1951 | 1950 | 1949 | 1948 | 1947 | 1946 | 1945 | 1944 | 1943 | 1942 | 1941 | 1940 | 1939 | 1938 | 1937 | 1936 | 1935 | 1934 | 1932-33 | 1931-32 | 1930-31 | 1929-30 | 1928-29 | 1927-28 |

Contact me @