“A man’s GOT to know his limitations” [Clint Eastwood in “Magnum Force” (1973)]

Do you know what I think is the scariest thing for a movie?  No, it is not a scene of Janet Leigh in a shower with a non-motherly shadow appearing behind her.  Nor is it John Hurt as the dumbest Outer Space crewman in movie history sticking his head into a large opening egg top for a better look-see.  The absolutely scariest thing for a movie is some actor doing their so-called “DREAM” role or “PASSION” project.  When I hear some actor say or infer that, I want to immediately run screaming into the night yelling, “NO!  NO!  Anything but THAT!!!!”

It is absolutely amazing that actors constantly make some of the most laughable film/TV career choices that ultimately hinder or possibly ruin their career.  A lot of this involves the idea of actors wanting to stretch themselves by doing different roles.   Now, there is nothing wrong with an actor wanting to do that.  It is only logical because the more different roles one can perform, the more viable their job prospects can be.  Also, not too many actors have the choice of turning down roles if they want to continue making a living.

The great stage and film actor Paul Muni (or old rubber face as I used to call him) was a truly great actor who could disappear into roles so completely through makeup, accent, and body language that you almost didn’t recognize him in many of his performances.  He was playing 80-year-old men on stage when he was 12 years old.  He was so respected that he could basically pick his roles and not have to worry about ever finding acting work.  Ultimately, he walked away from doing movies and for the last 25 years of his life mostly concentrated on theater roles.  Other actors such as Spencer Tracy, Betty Davis, Meryl Streep, etc. also had this freedom of choice.

Unfortunately, other actors really had to fight to obtain better roles.  Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame had to fight off his past persona from playing the dad in “Malcolm in the Middle” to be regarded as more than just a secondary actor.  Actor Steve Buscemi also had to fight to be considered for more than being just a goofy-looking side kick or henchman in movies and on TV shows before getting better acting opportunities on “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire”.  Other wonderful actors like J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) and Margo Martindale (“Justified” and “The Americans”) went through similar trials.  These are really good examples of actors knowing that they had the talent, skill, and determination to tackle more challenging roles.  However, what about those actors who take on roles that make you just want to say, “What the F*&k!”

I’m not talking about non-Big Star actors either!  Anyone remember the 1937 gem, “Parnell”?  Clark Gable, against type, played Charles Stewart Parnell, a famous 1880s Irish politician as a soft-spoken, clean-shaven (actually Parnell had a big beard), intellectual.  Imagine Clark Gable acting like a Fop!  OK, imagine Clark Gable acting like a Fop after you’ve drunk a washtub full of gin!  Ahhh, how about including a kilo of cocaine up your nose along with that washtub full of gin?  Ahhh, never mind!

Or how about Bill Murray in “The Razor’s Edge”.  What, you may ask do I mean?  Didn’t I mention this movie in my prior post as a movie starring Tyrone Power?  Oh, that was the 1946 movie version.  I’m talking about the 1984 re-make!  Yep, they made a re-make.  Supposedly, director John Byrum wanted to make the movie and brought a copy of the novel to Bill Murray’s wife.  The next thing you know, Murray wanted to make this his first serious dramatic acting movie role.  Oh, and let’s also include Murray’s less talented brother Brian Doyle-Murray in one of the roles.  Oh, and let’s also not forget to shoot scenes in India too (Don’t get cheap street hash, go right to the source in India).  Oh, and John Goodman even tried to get into the film (probably wanted to be a stand-in for a Himalayan statue of Buddha but he was too fat to play the statue).

Supposedly, no studio wanted to finance this epic (with a small “e”) so Murray refused to do “Ghostbusters” for Columbia unless they also financed “The Razor’s Edge” too!  So the next thing you know you have a movie with our hero Larry Darrell coming over the Himalayan mountains seeking spiritual enlightenment.  However, instead of someone like Peter O”Toole cresting the mountain tops with a look of longing and wonder, you just get a mash potato faced Bill Murray with a look of how to get stoned.  What could ever go wrong with a film like that?

Maybe my personal worst casting choice of all time, and also my personal winner as one of the top ten worst movies of all time is the 1973 movie version of Raymond Chandler’s novel, “The Long Goodbye” starring Elliott Gould as Phillip Marlowe!!!!  Now I have a personal bone to pick with on this movie.  One, Raymond Chandler is my favorite writer.  Two, “The Long Goodbye” which was the 2nd ever Edgar Award winner as best mystery novel is my favorite novel.  Three, director Robert Altman is an awful director and maybe the worst choice to ever direct this movie (OK, maybe Ed Wood would have been worse, but Altman would have been racing close behind).

Anyway, it is hard to dish out who is to completely blame for this ungodly mess.  Director Peter Bogdanavich recommended Altman after he originally turned it down (Gee! Thanks a lot Petey).  Next Altman was only willing to do this movie once his pal Elliott Gould could come on board (probably Altman wanted someone to keep him company while he either got drunk or stoned all the time).  Lastly, Gould, who hadn’t worked in two years due to his being blackballed in the industry because of his drug and alcohol usage and his disruptive behavior, needed the work and actually thought he could play the part (Yeah, and Woody Allen could play Hamlet too).  It’s really a hard choice but if I have to choose…

“I’ll take door Number Three, Monty:  Elliott Gould!”

Gould stumbles around looking like a disheveled bum which was probably how he showed up on set everyday.  Altman wanted the character to be a loser (which was not what the Marlowe character ever was) although Gould didn’t have to pretend, it was what he really was.  His character comes across as having no depth and so stupid that he couldn’t find a fencepost if he was sitting on one stuck up his ass.  Other than smoking during all of his scenes (maybe because he might have been smoking something other than tobacco) he comes across about as tough as a roll of toilet paper.  The very thought that Gould believed that he could actually play this part is truly mind-boggling!

Now sometimes studios or wiser production heads prevail and certain actors’ desire to realize their “DREAM” role is, fortunately, thwarted.  I can think of two hysterical instances where this occurred. The first, a true success story, occurred back in 1997 when it was announced that a name actor was going to make a movie version of the TV show, “Have Gun – Will Travel”.  Now who would be a good choice to play the lead role of Palladin, the tough, rugged, smart, yet sophisticated and cultured gunfighter made famous by Richard Boone in the late fifties to early sixties on TV?  Back then you could definitely see this actor as being someone like a Billy Bob Thornton or maybe even someone like Tommy Lee Jones.  But the actor that wanted to actualize their DREAM role was…

John Travolta!!!!!

Yep, Johnny Boy, with black Magic Marker enhanced upper moustached lip no doubt wanted to be Palladin.  I could see it now, skinny Johnny dressed in black then, plump Johnny dressed in black now.  And instead of him “striding” into a tough Western saloon, he is now “gliding” into a tough Western saloon singing, “Staying Alive!  Staying Alive!”  Strangely enough, the movie was never made.  Someone higher up didn’t just pull that plug, they ripped it out and drop-kicked it out over the North Pole.

Now the second instance, was a success too but, like some vampire movie, there is still a chance that it could possibly return to terrorize us by its sheer awfulness if it’s ever made.  Back around 1976 the movie, “Rocky” won the Oscar for Best Picture, beating “Network” and “All the President’s Men” (only two movies that were about a 1000 times better).  Sylvester Stallone became a big movie star and around that time he had aspirations to write, direct, and star in his own DREAM role.  And what was that role (be sure to have your barf bag handy…)

“The Life of Edgar Allan Poe”

When word came out about this, numerous Hollywood reporters said that he should title the movie, “Yo! Poe!”  Stallone even had a photo of himself costumed as he thought he would look as Poe with top hat and cane which was maybe, perfect for trick or treating on Halloween but not as anything other than a laughably amateur looking Poe.  Needless to say, Stallone was just not able to find any financial backing for his DREAM to come true.

Now I thought that this story was long dead and gone.  Hell, even Stallone realized that he was too Damned old now to play the lead so he must have just filed the entire idea under “F for Forget”.  However, like Dracula or The Terminator, it just keeps coming back.  This past January (Yes, as in 2019)  he announced that, even though he was too old now (no kidding!), he is still trying to get the movie made but with him just doing the writing and directing.  He even mentioned some possibilities for actors to play Poe:  either Robert Downey, Jr. or Johnny Depp.

Now I do not think that either of these actors would or should have been interested.  After Downey finally kicked his drug and alcohol issues, which I honestly thought would kill him, he has been clean and sober for quite a long time and has more than enough success, money, and acclaim along with a stable home life.  Besides, he’s a little too old for the part.  He also wouldn’t want to take on such a role unless he was interested in the challenge of the part and whether the people involved knew what they were doing.  Sylvester Stallone knowing what he’s doing?  Please!

As for Johnny Depp, he has been a bad substance abuser for quite some time and financially, his recent personal problems have put a dent in his bank account.  He also loves taking on unusual roles and is one of the most gutsy risk takers in all of Hollywood. He’s older than Downey but his pretty boy face (although it’s now starting to show real wear and tear) might still make him look young enough to pull off such a role.  However, I don’t think he’d do it because he is still getting a lot of roles despite his current issues so he probably isn’t causing enough problems to be blackballed by the industry.  Plus, once again, there is the Sylvester Stallone factor.

Hence, with both of them probably out, there’s a good chance that stake is probably through Dracula’s heart for good.  Stallone would have to find someone who is desperate, hasn’t had a real hit in a long time, not caring whether he fit the role or not, maybe financially strapped, and probably willing to work cheap.  Now who would ever fit that requirement….

“OH!  NO!!  ELLIOTT GOULD!!!”

NLP

 

 

2 thoughts on “Well, It Sure Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time…

  1. You neglected to mention Steve McQueen’s disastrous turn in AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (1978). Love McQueen, hate the film. Just bad.

    Poor John Travolta. He will never shake Vinnie Barbarino and Tony Manero, no matter how hard he tries. But there must be an audience out there that adores him and would go to see him playing Norman Desmond. (say, that’s not a bad … yes, it is) because he keeps getting into some big-budget films. (A Scientologist conspiracy, no doubt.) I was especially incensed when the shithead producers of PRIMARY COLORS cast him as the Bill Clinton character instead of some good ol’ boy like Dennis Quaid or Tommy Lee Jones.

    And … I haven’t seen it in a while .. but I recall being quite entertained by Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE and Elliot Gould’s performance. Altman may not have cared much for the project, but it’s an effective presentation of the novel, and Gould’s take on Philip Marlowe is plausible, if hardly conventional. (Marlowe WAS a bit of a loser, though noble in his loserliness.) Not the best Marlowe of all time (Dick Powell in FAREWELL, MY LOVELY, 1944), but I bought it. Great Jerry Goldsmith score, too!

    And just mentioning: If you want to see a truly awful take on Marlowe, check out Warren Oates (!) as the neo-Marlowe in a film called CHANDLER (1971), which sort of turns the whole Chandler vibe on its head. Ugh.

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    1. I think you meant John Williams, not Jerry Goldsmith for The Long Goodbye. We agree to disagree on that film’s merits. However, I do agree that Dick Powell just might have been the best Marlowe for the still underrated Farewell My Lovely. I honestly wish that he got the role of Walter Neff in Double Indemnity rather than Fred McMurray. Never saw Warren Oates or James Garner doing Marlowe (couldn’t tolerate another miscasting of the character after Gould’s joke of a performance). Seems like Hollywood thought that the public wouldn’t be interested in movies about a 40’s detective so they had to update it to the present (the Dummies). One year after Long Goodbye they discovered they were wrong once Chinatown was made (and with a great Jerry Goldsmith score too).

      As for Travolta, all he has ever been able to play well are dumb, stupid punks (Saturday Night, Pulp Fiction, etc.) Anything else, and he looks like someone acting in a Saturday Night Live skit!

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