Category: Uncategorized

Well That Was Unexpected

I didn’t plan to stop posting for a month+, it just sort of happened. It turns out regular blogging is not 100% compatible with being a husband, homeowner, full-time employee, and father of three (two under a year old). At least not a good one. Who knew?

Let’s try this again and see how it goes. All things in moderation. Over the weekend I’ll see if I can’t get a head of steam up and fire up some posts, as there’s plenty to talk about/gawp at.

Ivan The Terrible: Two Parts Stoli, One Part Kabuki, Stir And Pour


I finally got around to watching Ivan The Terrible (both parts, natch) recently. I’m not sure why I put it off so long. I suppose I’d been just a bit disappointed with my previous Eisenstein experiences. Battleship Potemkin, despite all it’s qualities, never really reached me. Alexander Nevsky I liked – it has wonderful images, wonderful passages, but it seems a little too simple and the famous battle on ice was a damp squib. And neither of them take up three hours of your time, which is what you face with Ivan.

Ivan though – now this is the business! I invite you to check out the great writeup of it Matthew Dessem did at The Criterion Contraption. There’s no way I’ll match his insight and eloquence, and I think the film and Eisenstein in general strike us very much the same way. Naturally, this makes him a very smart man.

I’ll add only two observations – for someone who is famous first and foremost for his advances in film editing, I find by far the most stunning, special achievements are Eisenstein’s static images. Some of the greatest compositions ever.

Also, there’s this:











The Diabolical Dr. Z

The Diabolical Dr. Z, aka Miss Muerte (Jess Franco, 1966)


Diabolical Dr. Z begins with a cat having something stuck/injected in the back of its neck, on a tabletop decorated with human skulls.

So there you go.

I’m going to confess I haven’t seen much of the Jess Franco oeuvre. Mind you, seeing “much” of it might be a practical difficulty, inasmuch as he has closer to 200 than 100 titles to his credit (Jess has been nothing if not industrious). What little I’ve seen has come just a bit later, late 60s, to early 70s stuff, which I think contains the characteristics he’s more stylistically associated with – dreamy imagery, zoom lens abuse, “stories” with plots that either meander or disappear altogether, and as much nudity as he can get on film. As the decades rolled on, he circled the exploitation drain ever-closer to flat out porn. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen nothing of his past maybe ’73. He seems to have any number of casual detractors (dismissers might be more accurate) and a handful of contrarian champions. It is often casually dropped that he worked with Welles, as if that provides some cover. Frequent collaborator Christopher Lee gives Jess benefit of the doubt, indicating that if he ever had the time or budget he’d do just fine.

Having seen their Fu Manchu collaboration (rightfully MST3K’d) I would be suspicious of Lee, but Diabolical Dr. Z makes me wonder if he’s right. It is a hugely enjoyable genre piece, and has virtually none of the characteristics I associate with Franco – plot matters (it’s not a brilliant plot, but it moves, it more or less coheres, it drives action. It’s conventional and I say that with relief), it doesn’t look dirt cheap or rushed, nobody gets naked, and if there was a camera zoom I missed it. On the other hand it does have some traditional Jess virtues – imaginative visuals, and the habit for making stage performance part of his stories is indulged. So I’m thinking Christopher Lee was at least sort of right – he can make good movies, or at least could in his earlier days.

Anyway, back to the cat. It is being experimented on by Dr. Zimmer, an old fella with some gogglish glasses and hair that looks like his finger found an electrical socket. He is wheelchair-bound, which means we prejudicially classify him as a “mad” scientist. He reads in the paper of a murderous convict who has escaped the local prison and is roaming the countryside:

Naturally, this means the guy is going to end up half-conscious and hurt at Dr. Z’s front door. His female lab assistant and his daughter Irma drag the convict into the house. He’s hustled into the lab, and Dr. Z’s daughter convinces him that now is the time to move from cats to people – no one will miss this guy, experiment away!

It’s a biggish, well-propped lab set. Already I’m wondering who had money to give Jess.

The convict is grabbed and hoisted by Zimmer’s Dr. Octopus-like contraption.
“Now you might feel a slight prick…”

The convict has been turned into a compliant, commandable assistant.

Fully 8 minutes in, the credits finally show up. I was surprised – by then I had forgotten there hadn’t been any. This is like 10% into the movie. So what do you think of that “J. Franco” credit? I’m trying to decide if it’s ostentatious auteur posing or absolutely egoless, industrial film style professionalism.

The Doctors Zimmer, father and daughter (that’s not them above, don’t get confused), go to a professional conference where he can brief his peers on his breakthrough. This sort of thing never goes well. The guy on the right is probably supposed to be the Austrian, but I’d like to think it’s the American – I like the idea that we’d send some badass eyepatch dude to the big neurological conference.

Zimmer is sneered, jeered, and generally laughed at by the room.

You can mock people while walking around with those teeth?
Big room, big gang of extras. Again, this is a Jess Franco movie?
Dr. Zimmer collapses and dies on the conference floor under the weight of professional insults. His daughter inherits his cause – it is Irma who is the Diabolical Dr. Z, not her father.
Drinking to dull the pain. A colleague, Phillippe, begins putting the moves on Irma.

He takes her out to a nice, normal club with a simple floor show. What, don’t most clubs feature interpretive dances by someone calling themselves Miss Death? Why it’s as humdrum and everyday as meat helmets or luge lessons.
So this her act: Writhe around on a floor painted to look like a spider web, across from a dummy in a chair. Wriggle over to him, crawl up his legs, straddle him…

…Then rake her hyper-long razorlike nails across his dummy neck, as if slicing his jugular. Set the dummy on the ground, loom over it…

…And hold a skull mask over her face.

That’s it. Applause, everyone!

Phillippe takes Irma back to her hotel and goes in for the clinch. What he hasn’t quite noticed is – she’s bonkers.
On the way home from the conference, Irma picks up a hitchhiker. Noticing a superficial resemblance, she decides to put her bonkers to work – by getting her out to the middle of nowhere, getting the girl out of the car and running her over!

(If either of the Maciste Brothers read this – yes, there’s a dummy used in the crash, but it’s distant and momentary)

Irma is going to fake her own death so she can secretly carry on for her father, first by exacting revenge on the leading scientists who shamed him to death! Why, that plan is fiendish – one might almost say…diabolical?
Unfortunately, while lighting the car on fire, she gets herself a faceful.

A mercedes, on fire, tossed in the water. Who is giving you the money for this Jess, and why did they stop?

Bad burns. Or messy peanut butter eating.
Upon her return home, she finds her father’s assistant rather recalcitrant. She gets the needle treatment to get her back in line.
Just to prove she belongs in the Mad Scientist big leagues, Irma goes where few have gone, performing plastic surgery…on herself!

Meanwhile, Phillippe mourns Irma’s “death” by making a play for Miss Death. Dig those nails!
Irma has better uses for Miss Death. Posing as a Hollywood agent, she tells Miss Death that her brilliant, brilliant act is just what Hollywood has been looking for. Miss Death, if you couldn’t already tell, is a dope. Believing Irma, she is easily trapped. Irma’s surgery mostly came out okay, but she has a shiny/sparkly residue on her muzzle that won’t go away.

Needle time!

Miss Death comes out of the treatment not quite as naturally compliant – rather more feral. Irma can handle that.
Tamed, Miss Death is treated like an animal – chained up, whipped, dungeoned when not needed.

The revenge list.
Inspector Jess Franco is personally on Irma’s trail.
Miss Death placidly goes about her assignments, luring the men one by one and attacking with her jugular-ripping claws. Truthfully this sizable revenge chunk of the film is a bit more predictable and less compelling. One of the victims is Howard Vernon however, and that’s always nice.

Phillippe, living out a kind of everyman nightmare – what if your two girlfriends met and just happened to possess torture equipment? That would probably suck.

I’m going to be on the lookout for Jess Franco’s earlier efforts in the future, because The Diabolical Dr. Z is good clean Mad Scientist fun.


So Long At The Fair

So Long At The Fair (Co-Directed by Terence Fisher and Antony Darnborough, 1950)

I see this is airing on TCM April 17th at 10:00 EST. Consider this post a TIVO warning. This is worth seeing, and I don’t think it gets aired much of anywhere and the only DVD I’ve found is an R2 Spanish one:

Contrary to my usual methods, I’m not going to overspoil this one too much with screencaps.

The story is a missing person search. A British brother and sister (David Tomlinson, some years away from stuffy dad-dome in Mary Poppins, and Jean Simmons) have been making the grand processional around Europe. They’re more or less heading home, but are going to put in along with a few hundred thousand close friends at Paris for the 1889 Paris Exhibition. They arrive, check in to their hotel and adjourn for the night to their separate rooms, ready to go a-fairing the next day. However, when Jean comes to collect her brother, not only can’t she find him, she can’t even find his room – in fact the spot where it was is now a blank wall!

So I expect you can at least partly see where this is headed – struggles to find anyone who can even confirm she had a brother to lose (the hotel staff all deny seeing such a person), visits to the police, the British consulate, etc… Some perhaps inadvertent social commentary as well, as being the girl means she doesn’t have access to money and suffers a more condescending version of assistance than her brother would likely get if the situation would be reversed.

Dirk Bogarde is the handsome young Brit artist who believes her and embarks on helping her out. If you’re catching a whiff of The Lady Vanishes in this, well sure. While that one was as much comedy as thriller, this one plays it quite straight.

This sort of story seems like a double-edged sword. It’s the kind of mystery that makes audience engagement rather easy, but payoff is risky – you risk offering up something that makes the whole thing seem like a shaggy dog story. In this film, we see enough of Tomlinson up front, interacting with enough people that the possibility that Simmons’ character is a nutter chasing a ghost is not too feasible. This pleases me, because the “ah it was all in her head the whole time” sort of resolution gets my blood up. Tangible resolution is indeed offered, but whether it’s worth all the fuss is entirely up to you. I thought it passed, but only just. The journey is more the pleasure with So Long at the Fair, and its an interesting collection of people to journey with – Jean Simmons, closing in on Hollywood, Dirk Bogarde just beginning to break out into stardom, between this and The Blue Lamp. Terence Fisher getting his directing wings, some years from chaining himself to the Hammer Horror desk. Honor Blackman has a featured role as well, an awfully long ways away from The Avengers or Pussy Galore.

Bogarde is probably the most startling, as appealing as I’ve ever seen him. Usually he strikes me as a bit constipated, a bit too laconic. Here he’s not just the charmer as required but engaged and energetic as well. For you Brits/geeks out there, he reminds me of David Tennant, which is meant as a compliment.


Rage Against The Machine

An Inspector Calls (Guy Hamilton, 1954)

To read or watch the news these days, you would conclude that there is a lot of populist rage out there. Rage at the greed and larceny of the wealthy, resentment of the abuse of position and the network of secret handshakes that let the rich get richer. Anger at the casual absence of ethics, and the slowly dawning suspicion that recent “boom” times were primarily booming for one class at the expense of a few others.

If this describes you, you may well be looking for ways to feed that anger, to splash around in it for awhile, to play an angry game of Marco Polo with like-minded folk in a bright red Anger Pool at the Raging Rapids Mad Water Park. Might I suggest a viewing of An Inspector Calls to help you get your Kill The Rich freak on?

Priestley’s play, which this film is an adaptation of, is a fairly famous and frequently performed one. Alec Guinness was in its first London cast. Despite this, I was lucky enough to come to it pretty cold, and I think that helped my appreciation. With that in mind I’m not going to be too spoilerrific with this one – maybe some other time.

The story is of a wealthy family, the Birlings. Big house, servants, and we dress for dinner. Joined by Gerald Croft, a fellow who if anything is a little richer still, and who is engaged to their daughter Sheila. The year is 1912. Mother, father, sister, brother, future husband. These five are interrupted, caught in the act of being stinking rich and privileged, by Alastair Sim.

He is Inspector Poole, and he announces that a girl has died under mysterious circumstances, and he has some questions he must ask.

You can never, never go wrong having Alastair Sim in your movie. Here he is quiet, slow, as he methodically moves from person to person, slipping past their harrumphings, their general umbrage that someone would dare to question them, and occaisional declarations of “Impertinence!” on the part of Poole. His arrival casts pall enough, with his ghostly, sunken eyes; it reminds me of Death when he arrives at the dinner party in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, as he informs the dinner party that they are all dead.

The actor on the right is Brian Worth, who looks and rather acts like the poor man’s George Sanders. That’s all right by me – even diluted Sanders goes down well. He acted with Sim just a couple years earlier, playing nephew Fred in A Christmas Carol:
Calm and quiet Inspector Poole may be, but it is a full-throated excoriation of this wealthy family, stand-ins for the upper classes everywhere. They are depicted as selfish and careless, using and tossing aside working class folk without a second thought, regardless of the persons talents or virtue. If they can make a useful differentiation between a poorish person and a roast beef sandwich, there’s no sign of it. When confronted with their moral bankruptcy it begins to sink in what their privelege has done to them, but as soon as the threat of consequence dissipates, so do their crocodile tears. Some of them instantly, gleefully revert to form, others seem like they will try to learn. Even the best intentioned of them cannot help but do harm – it is the condition of being rich that is taken to task at least as much as the individuals.

In short, I came out of this wanting to punch the first millionaire I saw.

I have a tendency, wherever possible, to see films as monster movies. It is a side effect of my fondness for classic horror. There’s no way for me not see this as yet another vampire film. Here the vampires live in that Mansion On The Hill, a Dracula’s Castle of virtual moats and ramparts where the poor are not welcome but to serve, and the townsfolk wait in the slums below, sometimes decades, to be systematically and anonymously sucked dry.

In this story, Van Helsing doesn’t come to drive stakes and chop off heads – no, instead he peacefully shows the vampires pictures of their victims and makes them understand who they are, for they don’t seem to have noticed their own fangs.

So, if you…

1)Need to get a few machetes sharpened before going out to hunt down millionaires…

2)Are holding a pizza feed/torch preparation party with a few dozen friends before taking to the streets in search of investment bankers and mortgage brokers…

3)Have a Wall Street executive or Congressmen tied up in your basement and are hanging around waiting for their ether gag to wear off…

…you could do a good deal worse than pass the time taking in An Inspector Calls to get your moral outrage frothed up.




Frank Miller’s Charlie Brown


This isn’t all that film-related, except through a Sin City prism, but it’s too good to let go by. There’s another page of it as well, at Cinematical

Hat tip: Sullivan

Programming Note

Posts will be few for the next two weeks, due to work issues. No, I’m not quitting already.

20 Favorite Actress Performances

I was having a hard time settling on 20 favorite actresses, a good deal moreso than with the men. Hard to say why, but I think it might have something to do with longevity – leading men in Hollywood have a better shot at multi-decade careers in the spotlight, in “A” productions; that is and was the sexist truth of it. The John Waynes and Sean Connerys and Harrison Fords of the world are more common than the Katherine Hepburns.

I realized that many of the actresses I was throwing around as possible favorites didn’t neccessarily have such deep resumes. I decided to try another tack, and instead list 20 favorite female performances. This was much more fun. Perhaps not easier, but more fun. So here are 20 favorite performances. The only real rule was no repeats, only one slot per actress. I notice there’s more than a few one-hit wonders that made it. As with the men, presented in no particular order:

Helen Mirren, The Queen
In purely Oscar terms (eeeugh), she’d been building to this sort of “we’re not worthy” industry genuflection for some time. That’s meant to be figurative of course, but Daniel Day-Lewis thought it was literal – he actually went down on his knees to receive his Academy Award from her. It’s quite a career trajectory for Helen. Her early c.v. is littered with wantons and fallen women (she was in Caligula, for criminy sakes). At some point, the floodgates of classy and powerful parts started bursting open for her. For no good reason at all, I trace that to the mid-80s, playing Russians in the reasonably high-profile 2010 and White Nights.

Now she is the officially trademarked Queen of England. If you need a Q of E portrayed, from any period in the history of Old Blighty, you are required by custom and good manners to call Helen Mirren first. Luckily, and I imagine it hardly needs to be said, the performance here is great. I accept her fully as the old snoot.

Madeline Kahn, Blazing Saddles

I went back and forth between Lili Von Shtupp and Eunice Burns in What’s Up Doc? – if it wasn’t for my one per actress rule, both performances would be listed here. “Willkommen. Bienvenue. Welcome. C’mon in.”

Barbara Steele, Black Sunday

There’s something of the Grand Gesture to Barbara Steele in her Italian horror movies, especially in this iconic part. There’s barely contained histrionics that put me in mind of silent cinema. Maybe because she reminds me of Louise Brooks, an emigrant to the continent making her name in a strange land. And the wild, huge eyes, nothing subtle about those.

Joan Fontaine, Rebecca

We have a dog in our family. A little bichon. Now we love our dog, really we do, but he often strikes me as looking needy, neurotic, pathetic. I have not-so-secret daydreams of giving him a swift kick for no reason, just because of those neurotic looks. I’d never do it, mind you, but it’s one of my two little nods to fantasy sadism. The other is watching Joan Fontaine getting belittled over and over by everyone in Rebecca, especially of course by Mrs. Danvers. Joan Fontaine, as er…whatever her name is: the cinema’s great Neurotic Bichon.

Holly Hunter, Broadcast News

Big Boss Man: “It must be nice to believe you always know better – to always think you’re the smartest person in the room.”
Jane Craig: “No. It’s awful.”

Ann Savage, Detour

The character of Vera is just a big old bowlful of mean, and Ann Savage wallows in it.

Faye Dunaway, Mommie Dearest


Moira Shearer, The Red Shoes

The fact that she can actually dance helps a lot. Being a novice actor herself somehow squares nicely with portraying a ballet newcomer moving among a group of old pros who are constantly sizing her up and trying to manage her. Moira was living out Victoria Page’s ups and downs just by agreeing to play her in the first place. One also wonders if she wasn’t partially cast for her hair – this is one of the ultimate Technicolor productions, and that is some technicolor-friendly hair on her.

Kathleen Byron, Black Narcissus

This is really it for her, isn’t it? Yes, she also was the leading lady of The Small Back Room and was quite good/different in it, but Sister Ruth is her calling card. Ms Byron should have been a bigger star, I think – even within Michael Powell’s universe, whom she did three films for (that I can think of – the two mentioned above plus a memorable cameo as an adminstrative angel in A Matter of Live and Death). I think she would’ve done a better job than Jennifer Jones in Gone to Earth, and would have given Wendy Hiller a run for her money in I Know Where I’m Going.

But that’s all make-believe. What we’ve got is Sister Ruth, and she is unforgettably unstable, murderous, repressed, depressed. There’s a bit where she zips up a staircase in shadows like a scuttling bug – plain crazy, that Sister Ruth.

Katherine Hepburn, The Lion In Winter

I’ve watched this a lot and hope to do so many more times.

Vera Clouzot, Diabolique

The director’s wife – if it’s nepotism, it certainly worked this time. She only did two other films, both supporting parts also for Henri-Georges. Clearly it wasn’t for lack of talent.

Marilyn Monroe, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

It’s a great comic character, that particular strain of dumb/not so dumb blonde Monroe invented, and this is the purest distillation.

Gloria Holden, Dracula’s Daughter

Holden was active throughout the 30s and 40s, but I don’t think I’m too far out on a limb to suggest that this is what she’s remembered for. This is to me the most watchable of the Universal Dracula films, moreso than the Lugosi original, and it’s down to this performance. While Dad Dracula evoked the foreigner to be suspicious of, Daughter seems like she’s come from an entirely different planet. She suggests otherness and a lack of belonging; the film ends up being readable as about alienation as much as anything else. Not very horrific, but haunting.

Tatyana Samojlova, The Cranes Are Flying

This is all the evidence I have to go on, but she seems immensely talented. Her character is set up to be mostly a victim, but she’s too hard and willing to be mean right back for that to stick. A full-blooded performance.

Marlene Dietrich, Morocco

Entertainer, fashion-forward challenger of morals, fearless quester for true love, French Foreign Legion groupie – all in one movie. I just wonder if there’s anyone else who could have pulled this off.

Lee Remick, Anatomy Of A Murder

There’s an awful lot of trollops and ne’er-do-wells on this list aren’t there? I hope that says more about the movie business than me, but possibly not.

Miss Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce

Changing light bulbs, baking pies…for most actresses, this is not the raw material Oscars are made from. Of course, most actresses are not Shining Stars In The Cinema Firmament!

Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra

I’m not going to suggest that Cleopata isn’t boring. A lot of it is. But Liz does spend a lot of time offscreen, you know. Things perk up when she comes back around. I like a lot of Liz performances – her good ones, her bad ones, her laughably risible ones. Most of all I like it when she’s playing some version of herself, and there’s no way to get around the history of the film and the Taylor/Burton drama. The fact that it’s easy to imagine the similarities in the everyday life of Cleo and a Hollywood megastar helps as well.

Bette Davis, The Little Foxes

Betty looks like a French aristocrat in drag who better hope the Scarlet Pimpernel hops along any minute. It’s a tart, bitchy story with a tart, bitchy character played by the actress who sold tart and bitchy in lovely little scented pink pouches, crushing all competition in the tart and bitchy business. Bette Davis + Regina Giddens = match made in heaven!

Peggy Cummins, Gun Crazy

Trick shot artist Annie Laurie Starr is about as Fatale as the Femmes ever got. Cummins makes palpable the sense that this is as much a romance about loving danger and fatalism as much as a romance between two people. Although crime films were and are popular, I suspect some audience members in 1950 might have sensed they weren’t escaping into entertainment – there’s anarchy and desperation in the world.

The near-misses are a long, long list, including performances from Agnes Moorehead, Talia Shire, Setsuko Hara, Scarlett Johansson, Anna Karina, Ida Lupino, Barbara Stanwyck, Ann Miller, Maria Casares, Audrey Tautou, Kate Winslet and on and on blah blah blah.









The Futility Of Lists

Regarding yesterdays Favorite Actors list – I just thought of Elliot Gould, and my wife pointed out I forgot Chris Walken. So, like I said, it’ll never be right.

The 20 Favorite Film Actors Meme

I see a meme for twenty favorite actresses went around the film blogs pretty extensively over the holidays, and has since been casually followed up by many with a corresponding one for actors. Being new/not seen/unknown, naturally I wasn’t tagged for it, but that’s no reason not to take a swing. I don’t think I’d want to do most memes, but this one, actors/actresses, appeals.

Such a list can only be wrong. Being totally subjective doesn’t protect it from that. It’s wrong because I will forget a person or twelve, wrong because I’ll convince myself I value this one more than that one when really I don’t, wrong because I’ll change my mind next week, next month, lunchtime. Leaving out the last factor, time, it’s still wrong because through forgetfulness or self-deception, what follows can’t really be my 20 favorites.

I’m trying to ignore TV work, although in at least one case found that functionally impossible. Otherwise the guiding principal is people who make things worth watching, even stuff that seems like it would be dreck otherwise.

Qualification enough? Fine. Let’s start with the boys, in no particular order. Pretend they had a huge lag-for-break tournament.

Peter O’Toole

The best voice, I think, in the business. Uncountable stick-in-the-brain performances. Saw Venus recently, he’s still got it.

Cary Grant

To paraphrase someone talking about the Beatles, not liking Cary Grant is as perverse as not liking the sun.

Anton Walbrook

That dignified Viennese gentleman, he presents the fantasy ideal of the cultured European, wise to the ways of the world. He is unforgettable as Lermontov, Michael Powell’s doppleganger in The Red Shoes. There’s also the honorable, kind German officer in Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, the harrowing husband of Gaslight, the top-hatted ringmaster for the carnival of love in La Ronde. He seems too old to be the Russian soldier in Queen of Spades, but he still brings gravity and nuance to it.

Gene Wilder

“Put…the candle…back.” The Brooks stuff is what I can’t stop thinking about, but he’s a good deal more than that. He handily defeated Johnny Depp in the battle of the Willy Wonkas, made a surprisingly appealing Cary Grant substitute in Silver Streak, and made his part in Bonnie and Clyde rather bigger than I suspect it seemed on paper.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

As Ric Flair might say, whether you like it or you don’t like it, learn to love it, ’cause it’s the best thing going today.

Alastair Sim

For his untoppable parade of eccentric creeps and occasional cross-dressers. Eyes like no one else. I suspect Alec Guinness is doing some sort of homage to him in The Ladykillers. Or is that common knowledge?

George Clooney

Very likeable, makes it look easy, but more importantly offers hope to every awkward adolescent in America.

John Turturro

aka “The Jesus”.

Burt Lancaster

This is how I imagine him walking around his house, doing errands, walking the dog – barechested with a shit-eatin’ grin. Going from that to “You’re dead son. Get yourself buried.” in Sweet Smell of Success gets my applause. My wife’s grandma dug him.

George Sanders

King of the Cads.

Orson Welles

The reverence for him as a director seems to have obscured his accomplishments as an actor. Yes Kane, and a lot of other showy parts like The Third Man, but consider Hank Quinlan in Touch of Evil. Consider that he pulls off the Irish knockabout in Lady From Shanghai.

Bill Murray

Saddled with being considered “one of those SNL comedians”, the truth has emerged: he’s an outstanding actor. Sure the comedy persona that moved fairly intact from Meatballs to Stripes to Ghostbusters was a huge success, but where people like Steve Martin and Robin Williams, with whom Bill is often lumped, have tried to break their image by playing villains, Bill has learned to play humans. The stillness, confusion, and loneliness that mark Lost in Translation, Rushmore, and Broken Flowers are pretty impressive for an “SNL comedian”.

Alec Guinness

Man of a thousand faces, before Peter Sellers started doing it. And he’s Obi-Wan.

Boris Karloff

Look at that. The makeup was a trap for Boris. It brought him fame (Karloff the Uncanny!), but was all anyone really wanted from him after awhile. But look – the picture shows why. As vast and indelible as that makeup is, he owns it. That’s a performance coming out of those eyes, even in a still. One of his great tools was his voice, and he didn’t even get to use it in this great great performance. Nice guy, good actor, and I thank him for the dignity he brought to the horror genre.

Will Ferrell

In thinking about this list, I also thought of several career supporting-character types. They were mostly comic actors. And yet virtually none of the leading men I considered was primarily comic. It’s not just me, there’s the long-standing Oscar bias against comedy, and for all the worship people like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton get, hardly anyone would think to list them as their favorite actor. Screw it. Will makes me laugh consistently, from the gut, and he can act more than a little too.

Humphrey Bogart

I need him on this just for the last ten minutes of Maltese Falcon if nothing else.

Jeff Goldblum

“Uh uh uh…hem haw…point lazily at nothing…” Do it again Jeff, again! King of the unnatural line readings, I expect he originally cultivated that to squeeze out more screen time. Now it’s schtick.

William Shatner

This would be the case where I could not avoid television. He’s Captain Kirk, dammit. Even restricting to just the cinema, Kirk is an iconic characterization at least once, Wrath of Khan, and maybe a couple of the other sequels as well. He’s also startlingly good for Roger Corman in The Intruder, something else I’d like to post on one day. But it is TV – Kirk, Denny Crane, the Priceline ads, endless self-mocking like Free Enterprise. It’s singing Mr. Tambourine Man…this is Bill Shatner we’re talking about. Of course he’s one of my favorite film actors, we half-seriously tossed around naming our son Shatner. Next!

Michael Caine

Again, makes everything better. He’s enjoying being the father figure and eminence-grise to any number of productions these days – the Batman flicks, The Prestige, Austin Powers – but he was once not just a highly reliable and personable actor, but a seriously cool dude. Alfie is cool. Harry Palmer is cool. Carter is cool. Michael Caine is cool. Madness did a song about him, that’s good enough for me.

Johnny Depp

Always watchable, deserves the uber-stardom he’s stumbled upon, takes any number of risks. Thanks for Ed Wood.

Runners-up included Toshiro Mifune, Jack Nicholson, Peter Lorre, Fred Astaire, James Spader, Robert Downey Jr, Harvey Korman, Jimmy Stewart, and Brando.

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