It's Hard Playing A Less Cool Version of Michael J. Fox
For every bland vanilla flavoured leading actor there are dozens of quirky character actors earning a crust in Hollywood. Many stick to a particular type of role and spend whole careers doing the same thing to all intents and purposes. I’m not knocking that, take the likes of Slim Pickens you can’t see him in a Merchant Ivory production now can you? It’s like trying to imagine Derek Nimmo not playing a vicar, it’s just wrong. However I’m about to fly the flag for some of my favourite actors who are well loved by fans but barely register with the mainstream.
You might remember her as Mary-Lou the local girl who hooks up with David Bowie's Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Or you might be more familiar with her from American Graffiti (1973) as Debbie the blond girl looking for a good time with Charles Martin Smith's Terry the Toad. Either way she was great and really made an impression on me as a young man. She has a rare quality that you also see in the likes of Marilyn Monroe and more recently maybe Juliette Lewis or Patricia Arquette, that of being sexy, vulnerable and quirky.
She's one of those actresses who hit a high very early in their career and was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress for 'Graffiti which was only her second film. She would not get this kind of recognition again despite putting in an astonishingly emotional performance alongside Bowie three years later. In fact I would go so far as saying she was the difference between that being a pretty ordinary star vehicle and something memorable. The devotion and love she shows to Bowie's alien is both touching and uncomfortable, the rest of the film just doesn't have these levels if intensity.
I'm not sure there is an actress around today who could even come close to that level of performance. Several accounts say she was considered for the part of Princess Leia in Star Wars (1977) which would have been interesting and she put in a fair shift in The Big Sleep (1978) too. They give the top prize to ordinary performers like Sandra Bullock, Halle Berry and Hillary Swank these days and whilst competent I just don’t find them very exciting or interesting. A few films followed that didn't registered much at the box office and she drifted into TV. Her career reminds me a little of the conversation between Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty and his "creator", Joe Turkel's Dr Eldon Tyrell in Blade Runner (1982) she shone so very brightly for a very short time but I guess that's just the way it goes.
You know who I mean, George McFly in Back to the Future (1985). The one who eventually chozzed Biff Tannen, married the girl and allowed Marty lived happily ever after with a truck. If that is the only thing you have seen him in you are missing some really great moments on film. Michael J Fox might have been the lead but he stars were undoubtedly Glover, Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown and Thomas F Wilson as Tannen. He is the son of actor Bruce Glover who may be best known as the Wint element of baddie double act Mr Wint and Mr Kidd in Diamonds areForever (1971) and despite not being traditionally handsome he has a magnetic presence on screen.
He has been successful in both supporting and leading roles in all manner of genres and budgets since making his break in the likes of Hill Street Blues and Happy Days in the early 80’s. Hot on the heels of Back to the Future he appeared with a young Keanu Reeves and Ione Skye in River’s Edge a disturbing portrait of slackers in no-hope America. His performance was a highlight against the pretty and the pretty wooden and he has gone on to appear in such films as At Close Range (1986), Twister (1989), Wild at Heart (1990), What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), The People Vs Larry Flynt (1995) and as the remarkable Thin Man in Charlie’s Angels (2000). There are not many actors that could pull off a romantic interest part in a plain black suit and only screams as dialogue but pull it off he does.
He’s most recently been seen hamming it up as Phil the one armed bellhop in Hot Tub Time Machine (2010). It may be his reputation for being a tad odd that hasn’t got him bigger parts and he has been restricted to showing off his talent for carrying a film in less well known efforts such as Bartleby (2001), Willard (2003), and Simon Says (2006). I recall an appearance on Jonathan Ross’s “The Last Resort” in 1987 that was odd to say the least, he was promoting a new book he’d written called Rat Catching (available on Amazon for only £185.95) and whilst one suspects he was in sales mode he was trying very hard to be odder than Odbod McOdd from Loch Odd in Oddshire. It clearly had an effect on Joaquin Phoenix who has done something similar of late. Taking Rat Catching a step further Willard (2003) is the tale of a clerk in his late father’s factory that exacts revenge against his enemies via an army of rats he controls. Strange stuff I think you’ll agree but Glover’s unique style makes for a decent film.
This master of the quietly disgruntled everyman and student of the Lee Strasberg school of acting Grodin is a joy to watch when he’s on form although not so much of a joy to work with it has been reported. Unfortunately for us he has other interests than just acting such as writing, theatre directing and political commentary and we haven’t seen nearly enough of him. He reminds me of Albert Brooks who occasionally makes a great film then pulls back from the limelight. At his best in Midnight Run (1988) with DeNiro or Filofax (1990) with Jim Belushi and probably at his most “I need the money” in Beethoven’s first and second.
To say his acting career has faltered would be an understatement; I mean he’s appeared in films that should never have left the writer’s “ideas pad”. How do producers raise money for a film where a 44 year old Martin Short plays a troublesome 10 year old boy? That would be Clifford (1994) so you can avoid it if you haven’t already seen it. Grodin watchers should check out The Heartbreak Kid (1972) as a very young and thin Grodin does Ben Stiller far better than Ben Stiller ever could. It’s the tale of a rather impulsive guy who get’s married to a girl he hardly knows and falls in love with another woman on their honeymoon as his new wife is laid up in their room with severe sunburn. Stiller remade the film in 2007 and whilst it’s a faithful update it, like many remakes it adds nothing and takes away too much. I’d rather have seen it remade with Grodin in a 3rd time around marriage.
There are not many actors that could pull off a romantic interest part in a plain black suit and only screams as dialogue but pull it off he does.
There’s something about Treat Williams, he’s like a slightly unhinged version of Tommy Lee Jones. From smelly hippy George in Hair (1979) to smelly criminal Critical Bill in Things to do in Denver when you’re Dead (1995) I think he always hit the mark. I think particularly though as Jimmy Conway O’Donnell in Once Upon a Time in America, Sergio Leone’s mob epic. He’s also made a lot of biggish budget made for TV stuff which is largely well received such as Everwood, Dempsey and A Streetcar Named Desire.
In the latter he bravely takes on the role of Stanley Kowalski when most people would shy away lest they be compared to Brando. The two sequels to Tom Berenger’s The Substitute (1996) should be terrible but are actually quite watchable if formulaic. Anyhow, who are we to judge? He lives quietly in Utah and has been married to the same woman for 23 years so something is suiting him quite well. Those 89 episodes of Everwood I suspect were mainly agreed to because he got paid and it was filmed in down the road from his house. T’internet tells me he had a brief affair with Dana Delaney, the spawney bastard.
M. Emmet Walsh
Dickie Dunn from Slap Shot (1977) what more do I have to say. “I try to capture the spirit of things Reg”. I love this film and I love the character he plays, he was the picture of calm amongst the mayhem that was the Charlestown Cheifs. He could play some nasty bastards too, in Straight Time (1978), a film remarkable in that Dustin Hoffman is actually excellent in it, he plays a Probation Officer called Earl Frank so full of malevolence you start to feel sorry for Hoffman’s Max Dembo and he is an even bigger bastard. Check it out, it’s 1970’s cinema at its best complete with moustaches, shades and flares. He’s also pretty nasty as the top Bladerunner boss in, erm….I forget the name of the film….something to do with electric sheep. D’oh!
I genuinely thought he was a scientist when I first saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) he looked like a moonlighting scientist to my 8 year old eyes and in my defence I was quite young and I think l thought it was a documentary. However these things stick in your mind and when I then saw 2010 (1984) and I thought “hold on I’ve sent his fella before, he’s that scientist from that documentary about……..oh”. Since hitting the silver screen for the first time in Midnight Cowboy (1969) as the young man whose carnal desires led him to a movie theatre with Joe Buck he’s barely drawn breath in a career that continues apace. Excellent at Phoebe’s father in Friends and a great addition to the cast in Christopher Guest classics Best in Show (2000) and A Mighty Wind (2003).When casting directors are looking for a small geeky well spoken man, they should never look past Bob.
Check it out, it’s 1970’s cinema at its best complete with moustaches, shades and flares. He’s also pretty nasty as the top Bladerunner boss in, erm….I forget the name of the film….something to do with electric sheep
Can Oscar nominees be deemed unsung? Probably not but to me Giamatti kind of works on the edges of Hollywood so will always be an outsider and one who chooses his work carefully. He demands your attention whenever he’s on the screen. I could talk all day bout Sideways and the quality of the performance he puts in, you almost despair at the depths he sinks to and then there is a light moment that has you laughing your tits off. I’ve yet to see him in anything shit which is pretty rare these days. Fred Clause (2007) you might say, well it’s not that bad really. If you simply must sit down and watch a Christmas movie that doesn’t make you feel physically ill then this is fine and Vince Vaughan is pretty funny in it too.
His performance in American Splendor (2003) is quite something when you consider that it’s about Harvey Pekar and we are shown what he looks like and what he sounds like over the opening credits and Giamatti neither looks like him nor does he sound like him and it matters not one bit. I can’t talk about Giamatti without mentioning Man on the Moon (1999) a film for which I genuinely think Jim Carrey should have won an Oscar and it’s the first time I saw Giamatti in anything. He plays semi-comedian Andy Kaufman’s best friend and co-writer Bob Zmuda and whilst it’s a great film I suspect the sum of Kaufman’s career provided less thrills than the movie, God rest his soul.
This could be more to do with the fact that he wrote a very successful book about his career as a B movie actor called If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor which I have read and enjoyed but I think he holds a dear place in movie history. He grew up in Michigan with Sam & Ted Raimi and on the back of a short film called Within the Woods (1978) they enjoyed huge success with The Evil Dead series of films. Bruce had also had numerous other film roles and TV series’ but he comes across as a man with a genuine love of the craft of film making and he has written, starred and directed all manner of low budget offerings. His distinctive voice alone has won him acclaim, most recently as The Mayor in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and Cars 2 (2011). I haven’t read his new book “Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way” but I’m keen to get hold of a copy and bust some of his moves.
What I hear you all cry. “All that confessions shit?” Yes that Robin Askwith. We forget that this kind of film was actually massively popular at the time hence the number they made. The bawdy sex romp was like the RomCom today, it was a date movie. It’s a bit before my time but it was like the Carry On for adults only and Askwith was a real 70’s movie icon. He has done a lot of stage work and not just pantomimes either, proper stuff like Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. I jest but I really think he captured a time in British cinema and is a well loved face. I would really like to see him back on the screen and in something fitting his stature not a bit part in chuffing Coronation Street. If like me you have always thought he had a look of the late Rolling Stone Brian Jones then get this, he has apparently been working on a one man show called “Paint it Black” based on the rock star’s life. It’s yet to make it to a theatre near you but, hell, can it be as bad as Spongebob on Ice?
I’m wrestling with this one as I’m not sure I just didn’t fancy her. I think I fell in love with her in Grease (1978) as Rizzo and never really shook it off. I could never quite work out why everyone thought Olivia Newton John was the ultimate aspirational arm candy when Rizzo was far sexier with her dark dropped hair and red lipstick. Maybe it’s because she was 34 years old and playing a high school senior and looked like she knew a thing or two. She was also pretty tidy in Airplane (1980) pre-imagining The Big Bus (1976) which was an everyday tale of an out of control nuclear powered super-charabanc driven by a narcoleptic John Beck. Think Runaway Train (1985) and Speed (1994) written and directed by the good people who brought you US sitcom Soap and starring Soap legend Richard Mulligan. Yes that’s right, it’s absolutely fantastic. I bet most people thought that Airplane kicked off the joke every two seconds style disaster spoof but nope, this was a full 4 years before it. The bus itself is like a cruise ship on wheels complete with bowling alley and, get this, a one lane swimming pool.