Saturday, July 24, 2010


I was e-mailing with another film blogger, and she happened to mention her favorite Bit Actor, S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, so let's see what we can find.  And Thanks to Brandie at The ABCs of Classic Film blog for a great suggestion and a great blog site. 

I would venture to say that Cuddles Sakall is one of the better known bit actors, simply because of his role in one of the greatest films every made, Casablanca in 1942.  Carl the waiter at Rick's Cafe had an important role, not only setting the tone of the cafe, but also supporting Rick in everything he did. 

Sakall was born in 1884 in Budapest, Austria-Hungary.  He made about 60 films in Germany, Hungary and England from 1917 to 1937, then there is a noticeable 3 year gap in his work.  His next film was called It's a Date in 1940, starring Deanna Durbin.  Apparently Cuddles left Europe as Hitler rose to power.  It is mentioned in the IMDb trivia that his three sisters died in Nazi concentration camps.

My guess is that his long resume of films in Europe was helpful in getting roles in Hollywood.  Over the next few years he worked with Robert Young, Olivia De Havilland, Jean Arthur, Alice Faye, Don Ameche, and in a larger role, with James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy released in 1942 just before Casablanca

After Casablanca he worked again with Humphrey Bogart in a war musical called Thank Your Lucky Stars in 1943, and in 1946 a "B" movie called Two Guys from Milwaukee included Cuddles, plus a cameo with Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Another twenty films followed, including In the Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland in 1949 and Lullaby of Broadway with Doris Day in 1951.  His character was well defined over all those years and a total of over 100 films.  Can you imagine making a career out of one type of character?  Whether it was a waiter, a baker, a butler, or a grandpa, Cuddles Sakall always played the same character.

Cuddles left us in 1955 after having a heart attack.  Surely he was one of the best Bit Actors ever.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dr. Phibes (Abominable)

There was a rather strange movie made in 1971 with Vincent Price called The Abominable Dr. Phibes.  It was a murder mystery/horror film that can only be described as "campy" if you don't mind that word.  Many of the reviewers on IMDb used it.

Dr. Phibes' wife was in an auto accident and a team of doctors couldn't save her.  Dr. Phibes seeks revenge by inflicting the ten plagues of Egypt on them, one by one.  The film, from American International Pictures, was made in England so most of the smaller parts are played by Brits.  They also injected some British humour into the film, something that I always like.  It comes across as being similar to "The Avengers" on TV, and in fact, some of the cast appeared in that show. 

Phibes cannot speak, so when he needs to talk, he plugs a cord in his neck and the sound comes out an old acoustic phonograph horn.  He plays a pipe organ in his home and directs a mechanical orchestra for entertainment.  They are actually quite good, with the voice of Paul Frees as the singer.

Joseph Cotton co-stars, and one of the doctors is played by Terry Thomas.  The rest are mainly Brits who spent a lot of time on TV as well as movies.  I scanned quickly down the list and saw actors with between 65 and 160 roles to their credit.

John Laurie (1887 - 1980) worked with Alfred Hitchcock in The Shame of Mary Boyle in 1930 and in 1935's The 39 Steps among his 143 roles.  Peter Jeffrey (1929 - 1999) has 154 roles in his list, including multiple episodes of "The Avengers" and also "The New Avengers" which was a terrible attempt to recreate something that could not exist without Diana Rigg.

Others include Maurice Kaufmann (1927 - 1997) who had 104 roles.  Barbara Keogh (1929 - 2005) who had 115 roles.  Hugh Griffith (1912 - 1980) with 91 roles.  Again, many of the roles by all of these bit players were on British TV.  Several went on to make the sequel with Price, Dr. Phibes Rises Again in 1972.

Start your horror film list now.  Halloween is not far away.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

More Old Western Stars

I mentioned Andy Devine yesterday, and that got my train of thought chugging along to Roy Rogers and all the sidekicks he had in his 111 movie and TV roles.  That number isn't very accurate.  On IMDb, Roy is listed as a parade rider in the Tournament of Roses parade in 1954, and he also appeared in many Sons of the Pioneers appearances.  These should have been separated out into the "Self" category.

Andy Devine played Cookie Bullfincher in nine Roy Rogers films in 1947 and 1948.  Of course, the stories varied, so Cookie was a constable, a doctor, or a judge...or just a sidekick.    I think Andy is remembered better for his role as Deputy Marshall Jingles P. Jones in "The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok" in the 1950's starring Guy Madison.  He was sometimes referred to as Jingles Devine.

There was also George "Gabby" Hayes who made a total of 194 movies.  43 of them were with Roy, but not always as his sidekick.  Roy and Gabby appeared in Dark Command with John Wayne in 1940.  Gabby probably thought that Wayne was a young whipper snapper.  It is interesting to note that Gabby was one of the best dressed men in Hollywood, despite his rough appearance on screen.

Let's mention Pat Brady.  On the "Roy Rogers Show" he didn't have a horse.  He drove a Jeep named Nellybell.  Brady played in 71 roles, from 1937 to 1963.  He was also a member of the Sons of the Pioneers, so his actual acting roles may be somewhat less.

Smiley Burnette was in nine Rogers films including one of the best, King of the Cowboys from 1943.  In Burnette's 56 years, he appeared in 153 roles, ending up on "Petticoat Junction."

Those four were Roy's most popular sidekicks, but he had many more.  I think Gabby was my favorite.  He also appeared as a projectionist in Pick a Star from 1937 with Laurel and Hardy and a host of other stars, although he in unlisted for that film in IMDb.

I suggest that you  take a trip to your local Walmart.  Near the checkout lines you will find boxes of DVDs for $1 each.  Many of these old "B" westerns are in those bargain bins.  I found King of the Cowboys and My Pal Trigger for a buck each, and they are now in my collection.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Canyon Passage - 1946

Last night on Turner Classic Movies, they showed the 1946 western, Canyon Passage.  This was the film's TCM premier.  I wasn't around in 1946 and this movie was apparently among that group of films that wasn't considered important enough to be kept in front of the public, so I had never seen it.  Who is it that gets to decide what movies are important?

I enjoyed the film.  The cast of stars was impressive, with Dana Andrews, Brian Donlevy and Susan Hayward leading.  It is a story of love and adventure in the far Oregon frontier, with Andrews running a hauling business with ambitions to start the first stagecoach line, after some roads are built.  It was a major production in color, with music, a huge cast, and sprawling scenery.

Now, to the good stuff!  The minor roles were also filled with talent.  Andy Devine (1905 - 1977) in his prime, but not only Andy, we also see his two children, Tad and Denny.  This is Tad's only film, and Denny only made two.  Andy had 185 roles through the years, with a lot of TV included.

Hoagy Carmichael (1899 - 1981) appears as (you guessed it) a musician...riding a donkey while playing a mandolin in his first scene in this film.  If you listen closely, he calls his mandolin Mandy.  Hoagy is most famous for his wonderful music, and it is heard on the soundtrack of 178 productions so far.  He also acted in a dozen movies including To Have and Have Not (1944) which was Lauren Bacall's first film, and Hoagy's second.  He also appeared on TV and he was a regular on "Laramie" in the early 1960's, plus many other roles.

Lloyd Bridges is here in his 64th role.  He worked hard in his early years.  Canyon Passage was made only ten years after Bridges started acting in film.

Last, let me mention a name I just happened to click on, and found a treasure.  Jack Clifford (1880 - 1956) had an uncredited part as a miner.  He began his career as a dancer and actor, and started making films in 1906.  He made close to 120 movies, and worked with Cecil B. DeMille, W. C. Fields, Gary Cooper, Shirley Temple, John Wayne and most of the great cowboy stars of the 30's and 40's.  The only decent picture of him I could easily find was from the very early 20th Century.  I am sure he looked different in 1946.

I caught Canyon Passage on my DVR, so now I get to watch it again.  You always see better the second time!  Maybe this time I will see Jack Clifford.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lou Jacobi

I think as far as Bit Actors go, Lou Jacobi (1913 - 2009) set a standard.  He was consistently good in just about everything he did, or at least in everything I saw him in.  IMDb lists 68 acting roles from 1953 until his last film, I.Q. in 1994, a rom-com with Walter Matthau, Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins.

He started out on the stage and continued to work in plays through the years.  I saw him once in the 1970's at the old Valley Forge Music Fair.  He was also in some big hit movies, The Diary of Anne Frank in 1959 and Irma la Douce in 1963, plus working with Woody Allen, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk, Bette Davis, Peter O'Toole, Dudley Moore and many others.

He later became a hit as a guest star on TV, and he had a recurring role in "Love, American Style."  He was seen on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour," "The Texan," and "The Defenders" back in the day.  Later he played in "That Girl" and "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." 

Still newer TV saw him in "Barney Miller," "Tales from the Darkside," "Cagney and Lacey," "St. Elsewhere," and "L.A. Law."  No wonder his face is recognizable.  He could easily put on a Jewish or NY accent, and his little hunch made him perfect to play the part of an old man.

His last role, as an aging physicist in I.Q. was small, but it added so much to the feel of the movie.  It is not a bad film, if you like romantic comedies, and I do.  It is worth seeing just because Walter Matthau plays Albert Einstein (after he moved to Princeton, NJ).  The story is a bit far fetched, but that's what rom-coms are all about.  I love Meg Ryan in everything she does, but seeing Matthau, Jacobi and the third aging physicist played by Gene Saks, wandering about the streets of Princeton, talking about ice cream and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle makes for a light, fun film.

Monday, July 19, 2010

When is a Bit Player Not a Bit Player?

When he or she is a child star, of course.  I finally got through Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince last night on-demand.  From 2009, it is the sixth entry in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rawling, with two more movies coming this year and next.  I think I'll wait and buy the box set of all eight movies in HD.

The title character and several other children have been thrust into stardom because of the popularity of this series.  I am not denying them their fame, and I know that I am not expressing concerns about them that have not surfaced before.  The fact is, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, plus a group of supporting players including Bonnie Wright and Tom Felton, can't go out anywhere without being swamped by fans.

Radcliffe was paid 250,000 British pounds for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 2001, when he was 12 years old.  Just six years later he received $14,000,000 for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and that year he was voted sixth on the Forbes 20 Top-Earning Young Superstars.  I didn't want to look at his salary for the last two movies, yet to come.  (I did.  He and the two other main characters, all under 22 years old, received $50,000,000 EACH for the last two movies.)

Other than just a few small roles in theater, TV and minor movies, none of these young ladies and gentlemen were ever really bit players.  The started acting, enough to know when to audition for a movie, and then...POOF...a title role, or at least, a role that would cause them to become famous. 

I believe this will present problems for them in the future.  They do not possess the depth of experience that comes from playing a variety of parts.  Of all the Our Gang kids, approximately 44, only Jackie Cooper made the grade.  Child actor Jackie Coogan was a star, but his later roles went downhill. 

So, what can they do with their lives now?  My suggestion, since they are all roughly 20 years old, is to get as complete an education as they can, majoring in acting and literature, of course.  Then start taking parts based on what they think will add to their experience, not their bank account.  If they prove their worth, they may make it.

They should also read the biographies of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Brad Renfro, Dana Plato, and others.  Work is what is needed for a satisfying life, not living to excess.  If Radcliffe has been smart with his money, he really does not need to work again...ever!

Even though the stars of Harry Potter are rich and famous, they really should be Bit Players.  (IMHO)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Twilight of my Writing Style

I found an interesting web site, I Write Like, that claims to analyze a writers style and compare it to famous writers.  I copied a few paragraphs from one of my very first posts and sent them into the ether.  My early writing is similar in style to David Foster Wallace.  I put in a sample of my latest post and it came back the same.

Of course consistency is the hobgoblin of foolish minds, so just to be sure, I picked a post in the middle.  Off it went and I was thrilled to know, for that time at least, I wrote like Stephanie Meyer.  Have your style analyzed at

The sad thing is that David Foster Wallace suffered from depression and, in 2008 at age 46, took his own life.  Stephanie Meyer is only 37 years old and wrote the "Twilight Saga" which is currently popular in the movies, but it is about vampires or something.  I haven't seen any of the movies made from her novels.

I suppose if you check your writing style at that web site, you may be pleased with the results...or not.  In fact, I am pleased because both of these writers are (or were) successful and famous.  I did not start out writing this blog with any writing style in mind, I am just writing in my own style.  I could have done worse!

The first movie from a Stephanie Meyer novel was Twilight in 2008.  Let's take a look at the cast list.  There are some very famous names!  Rathbone, Welch, B. Burke, Bellamy!  Well, it's Jackson Rathbone (no relation to Basil), Michael Welch (no relation to Raquel), Billy Burke (a man and no relation to Billie), and Ned Bellamy (no relation to Ralph).

Bit players usually appear toward the bottom of the cast list on IMDb, so let's look there.

Brianna Womick is a pretty girl with 14 movie credits.  All appear to be bit parts, but she is lucky to be included as a crew member of the Enterprise in Star Trek from 2009, and was a dancer in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a year earlier.

Rana Morrison has no pictures on IMDb, but it lists her as appearing in 42 roles.  She started out as a surfer chick in Point Break in 1991 and has credit in quite a few great (or at least, good) movies.  She was in Speed (1994), Braveheart (1995), The Matrix (1999), Coyote Ugly and Miss Congeniality (both in 2000).  After that she appears to get some bigger parts, but none with top billing.

Players in this class are starting their careers.  There are others in the cast as well, who have small parts and only a few credits so far.  I think they will be worth watching to see how far they can take it.  They were a part of Twilight, that won 23 awards, including five from the MTV Movie Awards, reflecting the opinion of their generation.  They added their spark, their own coloring to it.

By the way, the previous four paragraphs of this blog emulate the style of Margaret Atwood.  She is an award winning poet and SciFi writer.  I think that web site is trying to make me feel good.