Ian Holm, R.I.P.


The British actor Ian Holm passed away yesterday.

When the news was announced, almost every story mentioned that he played Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and it is true that he was a great Bilbo.  Even though he didn’t go on the quest, he brought a lot of heart to the film and the character.  Though his screen time may have been brief, he made you understand why Frodo and all the other Hobbits would feel such loyalty to him.  He was the ideal Hobbit.  He final scene in Return of the King brought tears to my eyes.  How could you not love him?

Holm, however, was in a lot of other films.  He was one of those extremely memorable character actors who, sadly, I think was sometimes taken for granted.  He was also one of those actors who seemed so distinguished (at least to American audiences, who tend to have a rather stereotypical view of anyone who first found fame as a Shakespearean actor) that it’s easy to overlook that he could also very funny.  Watch him in The Fifth Element.  Watch him in Brazil and Time Bandits.  It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Ian Holm in those roles.

The other Holm role that many people mentioned when they heard of his passing was his role as the evil android Ash in Alien.  Indeed, he was perfectly menacing in Alien.  If you believe Ridley Scott, Alien and Blade Runner take place in the same universe, which means that Ian Holm was the first actor to play a Replicant.  He did a great job of it.

I want to end this tribute with a picture of Ian Holm and Sigourney Weaver on the set of Alien.  I like this picture because they both look like they’re having a lot of fun.  Even in his humorous roles, Holm tended to play characters who were, if not outright neurotic, definitely very serious-minded.  And Alien is a remarkably grim movie.  So, it’s kind of nice to see both Ripley and Ash smiling between takes.

Rest in Peace, Ian Holm.

RIP Pumpsie Green


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Most people these days think of Boston (and the Northeast as a whole) as a modern Athens, the standard bearer for progressive, liberal thinking. But it wasn’t always so. The City of Boston in the 1950’s and 60’s was a hotbed of racial tensions, with frequent rioting over such issues as forced busing and integration. While Jackie Robinson was the first black player to break the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947, the Boston Red Sox (owned by avowed racist Tom Yawkey) didn’t add a player of color until 1959. That player’s name was Elijah “Pumpsie” Green.

Green was born October 27, 1933 in the small town of Boley, Oklahoma. As a youth, he excelled at sports, as did his brother Cornell, who wound up playing 13 seasons as a Defensive Back for the Dallas Cowboys. After playing college ball at Contra Costa, Pumpsie turned pro in 1954, and…

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Make ‘Em Laugh: RIP Tim Conway


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If comedy is a gift, then Tim Conway was America’s Santa Claus, delivering bags full of laughter directly into our homes for over fifty years. The cherubic Conway, who died May 14 at age 85, was mainly known for his television work, but also starred in films, on stage, and in the home video field, making him a true Renaissance Man of Comedy.

Tim and Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson

Young Tim got his start in his hometown of Cleveland, not exactly a hotbed of humor (with apologies to Jim Backus, Kaye Ballard, and British transplant Bob Hope ), writing and appearing in skits with local TV personality Ernie Anderson during breaks in a morning movie show. Anderson himself would later gain fame as a horror host (Cleveland’s Ghoulardi) and  a network announcer, ‘The Voice of ABC’ (“Tonight on The Loooo-ve Boat….”).

Comic actress Rose Marie, on a cross-country tour promoting THE…

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Once I Had A Secret Love: RIP Doris Day


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You wouldn’t think from reading most of the content I publish – Western actioners, horror flicks, film noir, exploitation trash – that I’d be a big Doris Day fan. But the first film I can remember seeing on the Big Screen is THAT TOUCH OF MINK, with Doris and Cary Grant, and I’ve been in love ever since. Talent is talent, and the iconic singer/actress, who died earlier today at age 97, had it in bucketloads. Doris’s career spanned nearly 50 years, from the Big Band Era to Cable TV, and was “America’s Sweetheart” for most of her adult life (not to mention “The World’s Oldest Living Virgin” due to her squeaky-clean screen image!).

Cincinnati-born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff, born in 1922, wanted to be a professional dancer, but a severe car accident in 1937 curtailed that dream. Instead she turned to singing, and became a local sensation, eventually landing…

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Pulp Fiction #3: Batman At 80


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Whether you call him the Caped Crusader or the Dark Knight, it’s hard to believe Batman has been in the public eye for eighty years! Making his debut in Detective Comics #27 (cover dated May 1939) in a story titled “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” by co-creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Batman has gone from mere comic book crimefighter to king of all media! Not bad for a poor little rich kid from Gotham City!

BATMAN BEGINS 

Artist Bob Kane (1915-1998) had been toiling in the nascent comic book field for three years when DC’s superhero character Superman took off like a rocket. Comic houses were scrambling to compete in this new genre of costumed cavorters, and Kane came up with some sketches of a masked vigilante, basing his design on Lee Falk’s Phantom, Douglas Fairbanks’ ZORRO, and the 1930 horror/mystery THE BAT WHISPERS. Kane asked writer Bill Finger…

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RIP Larry Cohen: Maniacal Movie Maverick


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While everyone on TV and social media are babbling about The Mueller Report, I came across some bigger news: Larry Cohen has passed away at age 77. You can debate politics all you want, but you can’t debate the fact that Cohen was a true artist, despite working within Exploitation genres and dealing with budgetary limitations throughout most of his career. Cohen’s unique vision was his own, and he made some truly great films – some turkeys too, granted, but his overall batting average was high indeed.

I’ve written extensively on this blog about Cohen’s film and television work because I love his style. Like a cinematic Rumpelstiltskin, he frequently turned straw into gold. Born in Manhattan in 1941, Larry Cohen was obsessed with B-movies and hard-boiled fiction, and after graduating from CCNY with a degree in film studies, he got a job as a page at NBC. Cohen worked…

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RIP 20th Century-Fox (1935-2019)


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The failing Fox Film Corporation merged with Darryl F. Zanuck’s independent 20th Century Pictures in 1935, and quickly joined the ranks of the major studios of the day (MGM, Paramount, Warners, Universal, Columbia). Over the decades, the trumpet blows sounding the logo for 20th Century-Fox  became familiar to film fans around the world. Now, the studio has been purchased outright by The Walt Disney Company, and will be just another subsidiary to the House The Mouse Built. In tribute to 20th Century-Fox, Cracked Rear Viewer presents a small but glittering gallery of stars and films from the vault of that magnificent movie making machine, 20th Century-Fox:

20th Century-Fox’s first release was the bizarre drama “Dante’s Inferno” starring Spencer Tracy

Sweet little Shirley Temple was Fox’s biggest star of the 1930’s

Warner Oland as sleuth Charlie Chan was popular with audiences and critics alike (here with Boris Karloff in “Charlie Chan…

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What A Glorious Feeling: On Stanely Donen and SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (MGM 1952)


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I constantly tout CASABLANCA as my all-time favorite movie here on this blog, but I’ve never had the opportunity to talk about my second favorite, 1952’s SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. Sadly, that opportunity has finally arisen with the death today of Stanley Donen at age 94, the producer/director/choreographer of some of Hollywood’s greatest musicals. Donen, along with his longtime  friend Gene Kelly, helped bring the musical genre to dazzling new heights with their innovative style, and nowhere is that more evident than in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.

The plot of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is fairly simple: Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are a pair of silent screen stars for Monumental Pictures. Lina believes the studio publicity hype about them being romantically linked, though Don can barely tolerate her. At the premiere of their latest film, Don is mobbed by rabid fans, and jumps into a car…

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Confession of a TV Addict #13: Remembering Peter Tork and The Monkees


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Before the advent of cable and MTV and music videos, there was The Monkees. Now I know some of you are going give me flak about “The Pre-Fab Four”, how they weren’t a real band, just a commercialized, bubblegum TV concept, so let me put this in perspective… if you were an eight-year-old kid  like me back in The Monkees’ heyday, you watched the show every week, bought the records, and actually enjoyed them! That’s where I’m coming from, and that’s why I’m writing this tribute to the late Peter Tork, who passed away today of cancer at age 77.

Peter Thorkleson was born in Washington, D.C. on February 13, 1942, and as a child loved music, learning to play piano, guitar, bass, and banjo early on. After college, he shortened his name to Tork and hit New York City, becoming part of the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk scene. He…

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In Memory of Dick Miller


Dick Miller in Rock All Night

Dick Miller, the legendary character actor who appeared in everything from Apache Woman to Gremlins to The Terminator, has died.  He was 90 years old.

Dick Miller started his career in the 1950s and he was still working in 2018.  If you’ve watched more than a dozen of movies over the course of your life, chances are that you’ve seen Dick Miller.  Maybe you saw him as the friendly flower eater in the original Little Shop of Horrors or perhaps you’ve come across Bucket of Blood, in which he played the homicidal artist, Walter Paisley.  If you’re a fan of Martin Scorsese’s, you may have seen Miller in either After Hours or New York, New York.  Director Joe Dante loved Dick Miller and found a role for him in almost all of his films.  In The Howling, he explained how to kill werewolves.  In Gremlins, he provided comic relief.  In Piranha, he refused to surrender to a bunch of carnivorous fish.

Dick Miller in The Terminator

But that’s not all.  According to the imdb, Dick Miller had 182 acting credits.  He played mobsters and he played cops.  He played gamblers.  He played bartenders and prohibitionists.  In his debut film, Apache Woman, he played both an Indian and a cowboy.  In Executive Action, he shot JFK.  In honor of his first starring role, he played a lot of different characters named Walter Paisley.  In Chopping Mall, he was killed by security robots.  In The Terminator, he was shot by Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Quentin Tarantino claimed that his performances in Grindhouse were meant to be a tribute to Dick Miller.  One wonders how Miller would have reacted to that as he wasn’t reportedly wasn’t particularly happy when Tarantino left performance in Pulp Fiction on the cutting room floor.

(Miller discussed his feeling about Pulp Fiction and Tarantino in an interview he did with the AV Club.)

Gremlins

Dick Miller had one of those faces that you couldn’t forget.  It was a face that worked just as well for comedy as it did for drama.  Miller was originally from the Bronx and some of his best performances epitomized the type of tough, no bullshit, blue-collar worldview that we tend to associate with New York City.  One look at Miller and it was easy to imagine him driving a cab and complaining about the Yankees.  At the same time, Miller was just as believable when cast as a Nevada sheriff in Far From Home or as a Pennsylvania high school teacher in All The Right Moves.  Dick Miller just had it, whatever it may be.  When he appeared onscreen, you believed in him.  No matter who he was playing, he was real.  He was just one of those actors.

After Hours

There was always something comforting about seeing Dick Miller in a movie.  Miller appeared in his share of bad movies but he was always good.  More importantly, you always knew he was going to be good.  As soon as he appeared onscreen, you know that he was either going to elevate a bad film or make a good one even better.

From what I’ve read and heard, Dick Miller was a genuinely humble man who appreciated his fans and whose talent went hand-in-hand with his generosity of spirit.  The world of film is going to be a little bit sadder without his presence.  The Academy damn well better remember him at this year’s Oscars.  Dick Miller’s long career represented everything that there is to love about the movies.

Dick Miller, RIP

The Howling