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'Silence of the Lambs' Sweeps 5 Major Oscars : Movies: Thriller is only the third film to take all key categories. Palance, Ruehl win for supporting roles.

March 31, 1992|TERRY PRISTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"The Silence of the Lambs," the suspenseful but gruesome psychological thriller centering on an FBI trainee's battle of nerves with a diabolical psychiatrist-turned-cannibal, swept the Oscars Monday night, winning the statuette for best picture and picking up four other honors during the 64th annual Academy Awards ceremony.

The award for best actress went to Jodie Foster, who played the FBI trainee assigned to hunt down a second serial murderer. She won the Oscar in 1988 for her role as a rape victim in "The Accused."

Anthony Hopkins became the third British actor in a row to win an Oscar for best actor for his performance as her sparring partner, the sadistic Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Jonathan Demme was named best director for the same movie, based on Thomas Harris' best-selling novel of the same name, and Ted Tally won the Oscar for best screenplay adapted from another source.

Only twice before--with "It Happened One Night" in 1934 and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in 1975--has a single film been recognized in the top five categories of best actor, actress, director, screenplay and picture.

Threats by gay groups to disrupt the proceedings to protest the treatment of homosexuals in such films as "The Silence of the Lambs" did not materialize. But outside the Music Center at least 10 people were arrested during a noisy protest by hundreds of demonstrators.

In winning the top award, "The Silence of the Lambs" beat "Beauty and the Beast," the first animated film ever to be nominated as best picture, as well as "JFK," easily last year's most controversial film, "The Prince of Tides" and "Bugsy."

Jack Palance was named best supporting actor for his role as the crusty trail boss who leads the yuppie cattle drive in "City Slickers." It was the first Oscar for Palance, who was nominated twice before as best supporting actor--in 1952 for "Sudden Fear" and the following year for "Shane."

In mocking reference to the way older actors have to prove themselves to directors, Palance, 72, surprised the audience by stepping away from the podium and doing pushups.

Mercedes Ruehl won the best supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal of the video store owner who nurtures a burned-out radio talk show host in "The Fisher King." Recalling that success has not come easily, Ruehl said that in light of the Oscar, "all of those sort of doleful memories transform themselves into amusing and charming anecdotes for my memoirs."

Although initially considered a dark horse, "The Silence of the Lambs" saw its chances improve after director Demme won this year's Directors Guild awards, and Tally's script garnered the Writers Guild award for best adapted screenplay.

The first of the five nominated films to open, "The Silence of the Lambs" has grossed $130.7 million in U. S. theaters, making it the last successful movie released by the now-bankrupt Orion Pictures, the company also responsible for last year's best picture, "Dances With Wolves."

"I know everyone feels the incredible irony of what's happened to Orion," Demme said in accepting his Oscar.

Although the movie was very well received, skeptics wondered if the academy, which usually recognizes films with more uplifting themes, would break with tradition and bestow its top award on a movie with such grisly subject matter. With this in mind, perhaps, Demme referred to Harris' book as "extraordinarily moral."

The object of Foster's manhunt, a cross-dressing, misogynistic serial killer known as Buffalo Bill, had drawn fire from gay rights groups who said the character embodied anti-homosexual stereotypes.

In accepting her award, Foster said: "I'd like to dedicate this to all the women who came before me who never had the chances I've had."

Said Hopkins, who follows fellow Britons Jeremy Irons ("Reversal of Fortune") and Daniel Day-Lewis ("My Left Foot") in the best-actor category: "I can't believe it. This is really unexpected."

Although it was not nominated in any major categories, "Terminator II: Judgment Day," gathered four awards--for makeup, sound effects editing, sound and visual effects.

"Bugsy," about a dapper but psychopathic mobster and his tempestuous romance with a wisecracking Hollywood actress, was nominated in 10 categories but won awards in only two: art direction and costume design. Of all the nominated films, it has had the poorest box office showing: $47.5 million so far.

"JFK" was honored in the categories of film editing and cinematography. Oliver Stone's thriller sparked a national debate about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Although it was nominated in seven categories, "The Prince of Tides," a family saga of a South Carolina man who travels to New York to help a suicidal sister and winds up reconstructing his own life, failed to win an Oscar.

The award for best original screenplay went to Callie Khouri for "Thelma & Louise," a controversial film about two women who take off on a weekend trip and find themselves running from the law.

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