Actors in Character

/ Movies /

Everybody loves movies, they mean something to us even if we’re not aware of how much we love them, or misconstrue how we love them, misunderstand what they are.
If you don’t love Bogey, you love Bette, if you don’t love Bette, you love Lauren, or at least Jane Fonda …

I like to watch DVDs where I devour every detail of some classic I haven’t seen in ages: or, I’ll throw a DVD into the slot and expect to 90% ignore whatever crap came into my hand in the library public shuffle. That’s all last night was supposed to be: I slid Nevada Smith into the Mini: and expected to use the bulk of my attention elsewhere, elsewise. I could have done without Steve McQueen in the 1960s, I can certainly do without him now. I could have done without James Dean in the 1950s: Brando’s act was impossible to follow, blasphemous to even attempt to follow. Blah, blah. (And I have reason to pay at least some attention to McQueen: I was compared to him! “Paul Knatz, Colby’s own Steve McQueen,” the student paper wrote (as I lay my Yamaha into the curve with my ear almost scraping the pavement, so hard-heeled I was, sparks from my teeth-clenched pipe trying to ignite my eye lashes).

The film comes on, instantly McQueen is pissing me off, then the bad guys show up … and I spend the rest of the evening riveted: Oh, of course, Karl Malden … But I can’t keep up with the flood of character actors I can’t quite place: Arthur Kennedy … I bounce from the DVD to IMDb to Wikipedia … The alpha bad guy is driving me crazy, then I hear that name, “Jesse,” now I’ve got the clue I need … Martin Landau?

Martin Landau?

Martin Landau

No particular movie, no particular role comes to me, but I picture this old guy with the big face and the big mouth. He makes Louis Armstrong look like they called the wrong guy Satchelmouth.
I just don’t get it: this guy Jesse, looks like, looks like …

Martin Landau

Now I can’t watch the stupid movie, I’m too busy skipping around among Landau bios, Googling Landau pix … starting to realize that I’d seen him dozens of times without condensing him into one list: I was registering ten different actors: all played by Martin Landau!
And I hadn’t come to attach a name to him till he was middle aged, playing licensed-to-authorize-state-terrorism-JamesBond bureaucrats on TV, I’d seen no resemblance to Jesse. (I should have! How are the Mission-Impossible-007-Nazis any different from the gun slinging torturers who try to steal Nevada Smith’s parents’ gold mine? (Don’t think you know anything about the West until you’re familiar with genital scalping.)
(I only just finished Nevada Smith a minute ago: and the film did tease the audience with Karl Malden’s tobacco pouch: McQueen’s Smith has it hinted to him that it has something to do with his mother. He fights to feign indifference. But we never get a good look at the pouch: is it a dessicated pudendum? (a shrunken head but from the other end?) boob skin? a buttock? or part of her deerskin skirt?) (The movie never does tell us.)

I also began dreaming, again, of how great the world’s repertoire of character actors in general can be. I’ll rewatch RepoMan: and just fix on Tracey Walter! And Tracey Walter will make me think of Willian Sanderson! or of Philip Baker Hall, or Philip Seymour Hoffman … But not just Hollywood: I love to recognize the funny little actors off in the corners of Japanese movies, Italian comedies, Yiddish skits …
To impact against an actress like Ida Kaminska!

The other evening I was indulging myself, saturating my eye with Julia Roberts in Pelican Brief. But there’s not just one perfect woman in the world: there’s dozens, and hundreds, and we can’t know how many!
Jan and I watched the whole of it last evening. And of course it too was replete with terrific character actors, filling every corner of the screen. It was also neat to recognize “real” people: Edwin Newman dong a newscast. There: ! That’s part of what it is! Like music. We know when the chord is implied, when it’s played, when it migrates to a related (or unrelated) chord, when it resolves: society, looking at itself in the mirror, loving what it sees, none too honestly, none too unflatteringly.
PS And of course it was a pleasure to compare notes, this male, PaulMale, and my beloved, show all other women what an 80 year old should look like. JanFemale, as to what were some of the components of Julia Roberts’ embodiment of the human female. And then it was neat to analyze how the pairing, Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, worked so well. How long would it have taken audiences to burn the theater down if that had been shown if Pelican Brief could have been shown in 1915, say as a double bill with Birth of a Nation: or in 1848, paired with a blackface minstrel show
I love Washington in this movie; but not as much as I love Julia!

PS One detail I enjoyed noticing out loud with Jan: Denzel Washington, gorgeous, brilliant, plays a reporter. Some Deep Throat contacts him with information about treason, murder, fraud. The reporter, black guy, dig, puts on a jacket with a hood, a disguise, dig, to chase the guy. Guy gets into a taxi. Reporter flags a cab right behind him, turns, showing (we presume) some “black” skin beneath the hood! Taxi speeds away. Denzel kicks his foot in frustration and disgust. Like Jesus trying to deliver a divine message to the rabbis, like pk trying to explain literature to the professors. No chance.

One of the character actor assassins in Pelican suddenly riveted me: Oh, I know that guy! ready to jump up and down, when I realized: No! It’s Teller! the mute magician that he’s reminding me of! (It wasn’t Teller, but see the movie again and see what I mean.) And that suddenly stripped away sixty years: and I had a vivid image before me of a vaudeville-type on TV in the early 1950s: Two guys are doing something, fooling with an extension ladder. And a third guy, a real goof, perfect costume, appearance shows up, touches them, touches the ladder. What ever he touches, he sticks to. All dead pan from the dork in the funny hat, his big hands just hanging at first, his sleeves absurdly too long … The other two make a pretzel trying to untangle themselves. Masterful timing.

2014 03 31 Last week Jan and I streamed the great Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Howard Hawks whammo, His Girl Friday, and I went to pieces as we re-witnessed one of the great character inserts of all time: Billy Gilbert as Joe Pettibone !

2014 04 20 Happy Easter. Jan and I were watching some British TV dreck, Monarch of the Glenn, and the actor’s manifestation of the incompetent lazy stupid laird made me itch, trying to ID which character actor(s) he was reminding me of. Last night I stumbled on one of them: C. Emmett Walsh: and this AM, catching an extra Z, the name of my other main man for bumbling nitwit authority slid into my head: like BB King’s angel, “spreading her wings”: Paul Ford!

Paul Ford
thanx wikimedia

M Emmett Walsh
thanx flix66

2014 07 09 Ah, last night I relived the work of a master: Edward Everett Horton: in Astaire & Rogers’ Top Hat, 1935: at the top of his game, befuddlement personified.

Note: for 75 years I haven’t been able to take my eyes off Astaire: Rogers was there, I knew that, she was pretty, could dance, danced well with him … occupied almost “half” the frame … Still, all I focused on was Astaire. Well, last night I focused on her! Very nice: though she reminded me a bit of Mae West, a bit longshoreman in the shoulders, a little tough.

I tell you what else I appreciated: after a lifetime of taking him for granted: Irving Berlin! The bridge in Top Hat is rhymically great.

Love Alice
2016 08 07 My life now is devoted to catching up on the great deal that I missed in my ever-deeper in poverty career as a deschooler. My life had been devoted to discovering and worshipping the best jazz, the best movie classics, the greatest poetry that people never did know how to read properly, and still don’t, and won’t learn: jailing the teacher. I was aware of my contemporary culture way off in left field. Sure I was aware that everyone else was watching Jackie Gleeson and his Honeymooners; not me: I saw not none but little of it. I was aware that Art Carney was much celebrated; but I never say one minute of Harry and Tonto until last night.
Quickly I paused, jumped to wikipedia, had to look up Carney: what was his background? to be such a quintessential New Yorker? any Jewishness?
Well, I’m going to get back to it, but first I gotta confess: what stopped me dead in my tracks wasn’t Carney, wasn’t fatso; it was deadpan Alice: Audrey Meadows. Jeezus! !!!

Gyno-Violence
Could anyone watch the Honeymooners today without calling 911? Wasn’t threats of physical violence to the housewife a staple of the show? Could anyone stand that today?

New York Carney\
2016 08 07 A few minutes later: What a great movie. Great lines, great comedy. Now I have to see everything by Paul Mazursky.
Carney says of his cat, Tonto, “I think he’s picking up a bit of Spanish.” Priceless.
a couple a hours later:
Thanks to streaming I pause a film at the drop of a hat, check bios, filographies … and I keep finding that the people I look up, when I check their birth years, again and again they prove to be my father’s age, or my mothers: or my girlfriend’s … Or is it nothing of the kind: if you know one hundred people and you check a century worth of birth years, sure you’ll find some that are 1904, 1914, 1924 …
next day If I like a movie at the outset there’s a good chance I’ll like it overall. The greatest movies are great from the first frame through all frames to the end. Harry & Tonto was radiant for me from the outset, but seemed less radiant as it progressed: and I think I know why: why actually and why I thought so. It starts in NY. It’s very NY. But then it goes west: Chicago, Boulder, Las Vegas, Los Angeles. Toward the end he’s propositioned by a New Yorker with a big bust who wonders if he’s Jewish. Now we’re getting somewhere again. But that scene came and went. I don’t know about Carney’s Harry; I’ll move in with her.

Ubiquitous Brits
2016 08 13 Watch a movie, any movie, any British movie, and chances are Tom Wilkinson is in it, of central importance. Reminds me of a joke from decades ago, late night standup routine, So&So says he was watching one of his family’s home movies, and “Michael Caine was in it”!
Yes, once upon a time, that time not completely up, Michael Caine seemed to be in everything.

It embarrasses me to think of Michael Caine: I can’t help remembering a bluff I pulled, impossible to know how far I got away with it in the mid-1960s: my wife and I were going to a movie, our selection was inquired about my my in-laws, I mentioned one with Michael Caine, could have been The Ipcress File, my mother-in-law’s second husband scoffed: so I came to Michael Caine’s aid. I judged, I am sure correctly, that Emile was disaproving of the actor, just beginging to be in “everything”, because he was popular, because he was in everything. I said he’s successful, deservedly so, and — profiling Emile’s prejudices — and he has a classical dimension to his success: he’s been in Shakespeare, etc. Had he been? I was making it up, just to pull Emile’s tail. That moron had two PhDs from Harvard: poor schmuck bastard gets his first, thinks Uh oh, now I have to go out into the cole cruel world, get a job … Well, Emile just scoffed some more: which entrenched me in my bullshit position. Had Caine done Shakespeare? anything of the kind? Hell, half century later, I’ll look it up, now. Nope: not a hair, not a trace: pop stuff all the way: an absolutely amazing career.

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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