Saturday, October 16, 2010

Top Gun Bit List

Top Gun was one of the top movies of 1986, with a young Tom Cruise (b. 1962) in his first really big role.  A look at the cast list reveals a wealth of Bit Players, many of whom became famous.

Meg Ryan (b. 1961) is a Bit Actor in this, her third movie.  Tim Robbins (b. 1958), today a big star, is a pilot named Merlin in his sixth movie.  No need to blog about Meg Ryan or Tim Robbins, but it is interesting to see them in smaller roles, and how well they bring their characters to life.

Did you ever hear of Whip Hubley (b. 1957)?  Whip has 52 titles on IMDb, and could almost be Mel Gibson's double.  He was another pilot (or maybe a RIO) named Hollywood.  Whip started out in St. Elmo's Fire in 1985, and you can find him starring in Russkies (1987) as the Russian.  He also appears in Coneheads (1993) and Species (1995), plus a bunch of TV work.

Frank Pesce is a bartender in this film.  He has 79 roles listed to his credit, but they must be mostly small parts.  As an example of a small part, Pesce is listed as a spectator in Rocky (1976).  Now that's a small part!  He was a regular at Mawby's Bar in Flashdance (1983), and he bought cigarettes in Beverly Hills Cop (1984).  He moves up the cast list a bit in the mid 1990s, but never really gets out of the "extra" category.

We also see some of the tech advisers getting small parts in Top Gun.  Peter Pettigrew is apparently a real life pilot with the call sign "Viper" and perhaps is the source of Tom Skerritt's (b. 1933) character's name.  T. J. Cassidy plays himself in Top Gun, a real life admiral and one of the military advisers.  This is the only film for both of them.

Top Gun is not a bad film and it is in my collection.  Watch it again!

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Lost Day!

A big apology for not being able to post about a Bit Actor or two today.  Computer problems cropped up and now I am out of time.

I'll leave you with this quote from one of the greatest actors of all time:

"A day without laughter is a day wasted."

Charles Spencer Chaplin (1889 - 1977)

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Little Newer, Younger Kind of Movie

I received a suggestion to look at some newer movies and chat about the bit parts.  A good suggestion!  The writer said that movies these days rely more on Bit Actors to carry them than they did back in the golden days, because newer movies use so many special effects and GCIs to dazzle the eye.  The stars can get lost in the dazzle.

True Lies (1994) was a big hit with a load of big stars.  It made over $140,000,000 in the USA alone.  It won a bunch of awards and was nominated for an Oscar, and I love it.  (The tango scenes are my favs.)  And now, the Amazon link to the left has it selling for 79 Cents!

Arnold Schwarzenegger (b. 1947), Jamie Lee Curtis (b. 1958) and Tom Arnold (b. 1959) could not have been better in their parts and need no blog posts.  Let's look at some others.

Art Malik (b. 1952) was the bad guy.  While he had a fairly large part in this movie, I think he could be categorized as a Bit Actor.  His name is not very well known, but some of his parts are substantial.  Look for him in The Living Daylights (1987) with Timothy Dalton (b. 1944) as James Bond, where he plays an Afghan resistance fighter.  He then works with Patrick Swayze (1952 - 2009) in City of Joy (1992) set in India. 

Here are a few bit parts for him...Booty Call (1997) with Jamie Foxx (b. 1967) and Vivica Fox (b. 1964), Tabloid (2001) with John Hurt (b. 1940), then he narrates a 2001 documentary "The Real Shirley Bassey," and he is in the 2010 remake of The Wolfman.

Grant Heslov (b. 1963) plays Arnold and Tom's junior partner in True Lies.  He started out playing small parts on TV, such as "Joanie Loves Chachi" in 1982, but soon he is a Bit Actor in movies like Catch Me if You Can (the one from 1989, not the Tom Hanks hit from 2002), and Vital Signs (1990). 

Better movies and bigger parts followed True Lies.  He was a photographer in The Birdcage (1996), a volcanologist in Dante's Peak in 1997, and is in The Scorpion King in 2002. 

Just think about the special effects used in True Lies, then think about the performances of Malik and Heslov, and all the great moments they contribute to it.  I think you'll agree that good Bit Actors really round out a great movie.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

1939 - The End of Torchy

In the year 1939 we find Torchy Blane in Chinatown, Torchy Runs for Mayor, and Torchy Blane, Playing with Dynamite.  The first two with Glenda Farrell, the last with Jane Wyman.

Torchy Blane in Chinatown has another cast of wonderful Bit Actors.  Henry O'Neill (1891 - 1961) has 177 roles listed on IMDB.  He was in two with Laurel and Hardy in their later years, Air Raid Wardens (1943) and Nothing But Trouble (1944).  He also made nine films with Bette Davis

Patric Knowles (1911 - 1995) has 124 roles including The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) with Errol Flynn where he played Will Scarlett.  He is in Another Thin Man (1939) and A Bill of Divorcement (1940), and also shows up in 1941 with Lon Chaney, Jr. (1906 - 1973) in The Wolf Man

Torchy Runs for Mayor is the last time we see Glenda Farrell and Barton MacLane in the Torchy series.  I haven't seen the film, so I don't know if she won the election.  In this one we see John Miljan (1892 - 1960) who has a first class filmography of 206 roles, including quite a few silent films.  He is in everything from Hell Divers (1931) with Wallace Beery and Clark Gable to the C. B. DeMille classic The Ten Commandments in 1956.

Frank Shannon (1874 - 1959) and Joe Cunningham (1890 - 1943) are both in this one and have been in other Torchy films.  Cunningham was in seven of them. 

Torchy Blane, Playing with Dynamite is the final Torchy movie.  This one stars Jane Wyman (1917 - 1907) as Torchy.  She was also in the very first Torchy film, Smart Blonde, as a hat check girl.  That's quite a promotion!

We also see a different Steve McBride, now played by Allen Jenkins (1900 - 1974).  Once again, no one seems to know why the two leads were changed.  In reading the reader reviews on IMDb, it appears that Tom Kennedy stole the show this time. 

The supporting cast is again made up of very experienced actors and actresses, but not many well known names.  My favorite here is Madame Sul-Te-Wan (1873 - 1959) who has 49 titles on IMDb, starting in 1915.  Her second release was Birth of a Nation (1915) and she is also seen in Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1927.  She was a native in King Kong (1933) and was also in Mighty Joe Young (1949), made a few Zombie movies in the 1940s, and her final film was The Buccaneer (1958) with Yul Brynner (1920 - 1985). 

So there you have my take on the entire Torchy Blane series, and a quick look at some important Bit Actors and Actresses who made motion pictures interesting.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Torchy in 1938

The next year we see Torchy Blane in three more movies.  The 1938 offerings were Blondes at Work, Torchy Blane in Panama, and Torchy Gets Her Man.

Blondes at Work again starred Glenda Farrell and Barton MacLane.  In the advertisements it carried this wonderful tagline:  BEWARE! SNAPPY SNOOPY BLONDE AT WORK!

Once again the film is filled with a great cast of people who's names are relatively forgotten these days.  Tom Kennedy is here again.  Donald Briggs (1911 - 1986) has 72 roles on film and TV.  John Ridgley (1909 - 1968) appears in the rest of the Torchy series, but unlike Kennedy, he plays different parts instead of always being the same character.  He also has 176 roles to his credit, starting in 1935 up to 1954.

Betty Compson (1897 - 1974) was in this film and also in the next.  She played in 208 movies going back to 1917.  Thomas E. Jackson (1886 - 1967) has 177 titles from 1929 to 1966.  Jackson played alongside many great stars such as Humphrey Bogart, E. G. Robinson, William Powell and Clark Gable.  It must have been great to work in the movies in the 1930s.

Torchy Blane in Panama stars Lola Lane (1906 - 1981) as Torchy and Paul Kelly (1899 - 1956) as Det. McBride.  My research has failed to find any theories as to why they switched to different leads, but don't worry, Glenda and Barton will be back.

Kelly has 168 titles in his list and Lane has 45.  Lola Lane was one of the Lane Sisters, and it is said that in her one Torchy Blane film, she was the inspiration for Lois Lane in the Superman series.

Also in Panama we see a small role with Leo White (1873 - 1948) who has only 432 films listed in IMDb, but some suspect he made over 2,000 films without any credit or notice.  That's what happened to many actors and actresses in the silent era.

Torchy Gets Her Man sees the return of Glenda and Barton.  I think by now the Torchy series is beginning to show its age and the stories start to get less exciting.  Thank goodness the bit parts don't.

Willard Robertson (1886 - 1948) has 145 roles in his list.  George Guhl (1875 - 1943) has 143 roles.  Frank Reicher (1875 - 1965) with 230 roles was also the ship's captain who went to Skull Island in King Kong (1933).

Three movies to go!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Who Was Torchy Blane?

I had to do some research, because I am not that well read on literature of the 1930s.  Torchy Blane (1937 - 1939) had a short movie life, just nine films in three years.  She should be remembered.  All actors and actresses in B-Movies should.

Torchy was a strong woman who worked as a reporter.  She was close friends (as close as you could get in the Hays Code days) with police detective Steve McBride (also 1937 - 1939).  The pair would get involved with one crime or another, and Torchy always seemed to solve it before her beau.  Talk about a role model for young women.

The movies were made by Warner Brothers and First National Films, and they were all about an hour long, making them true B-Movies.  They would be shown along with a feature and a cartoon or newsreel, back in the day.  Quite a value for your admission fee, but we were still in the depression and this type of entertainment helped everyone feel better.  (You may also get a piece of "depression glass" at the theater as a thank you gift.  I have a nice set of depression glass ice cream cups!)

Back to Torchy.  The first three films were all in 1937 and starred Glenda Farrell (1904 - 1971) and Barton MacLane (1902 - 1969) as Torchy and Steve.  They were, Smart Blonde, Fly Away Baby, and Adventurous Blonde.  I guess Torchy was a blonde.

In Smart Blonde we see Jane Wyman (1917 - 2007) in a bit part.  Wyman played Torchy in the very last film in the series.  We also find the ever popular Tom Kennedy (1885 - 1965) as another cop, and he is the only actor to appear in all nine Torchy films.

Most of the cast are people you find in other B-Movies, and are not household names today.  I suspect that is the case for the entire series.  But if you can find these films, watch the small parts.  You will find gems like Fred "Snowflake" Toones (1906 - 1962) who has 213 titles listed on IMDb, including The Gold Diggers of 1937 (released in 1936) starring Dick Powell (1904 - 1963) and Joan Blondell (1906 - 1979), and Way Out West (1937) starring Laurel and Hardy.  I would like to see his film, Yodelin' Kid from Pine Ridge (1937) with Gene Autry (1907 - 1998) and Smiley Burnette (1911 - 1967).

In Fly Away Baby, Torchy goes around the world to get her story.  Along the way she meets some great Bit Actors including Gordon Oliver (1910 - 1995).  Oliver appeared in Jezebel and Blondie (both in 1938), and has 45 titles on his list.  She also meets Lane Chandler (1899 - 1972) who has 376 roles in his career.

Adventurous Blonde was next with rival newspapers staging a fake murder that turns out to be real.  Guess who solves the crime?  Look for Anne Nagel (1915 - 1966) who was in a total of 86 roles in her career.  She was in My Little Chickadee (1940), Blondie's Holiday (1947), and Mighty Joe Young (1949), among her other work.

More Torchy tomorrow.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Barton MacLane

As I write my blog, trying to stick to the Bit Part subject matter, I find myself looking at some great movies and choosing some of the smaller part actors to research.  Last night was no different.  TCM showed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre from 1948 starring Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and Walter Huston.

I felt angered and sorry that Mr. McCormick tried to cheat Dobbs and Curtin out of their hard earned wages after they worked for him.  (I guess that was what they wanted when they wrote the script.)  I think McCormick should have been more careful out in the open after he cheats people, but the lead characters had to get their money from someone.

Anyway, the part of McCormick was played by Barton MacLane (1902 - 1969) who has a long and varied career in the theater, as a writer, and he has 178 titles in film and on TV.  But, is he a Bit Actor?

His first movie was a silent in 1926 called The Quarterback.  He then had a part, probably just as an extra, in the Marx Brothers' classic, The Cocoanuts in 1929.  He worked in six films with Randolph Scott (1898 - 1987) starting in 1933, and five with James Cagney including one that Cagney only narrated in 1968 called Arizona Bushwackers.

He was in seven Torchy Blane films with Glenda Farrell (1904 - 1971).  I have to look those up!  I've never seen one, but I keep bumping into them in my research.  There were nine Torchy films in three years with three different actresses.  I wonder of TCM has them.

MacLane made six great films with Humphrey Bogart.  I am still trying to get out of the 1930s in his list on IMDb!  In the 1940s he had quite a few starring roles as well as being a popular supporting actor.  Can he be considered a Bit Part Actor for my purposes?  Not in those years.

In the 1950s we see him with Jimmy Stewart in The Glenn Miller Story (1954) as General Arnold.  In the early 1950s he also gets started in TV, which gave him a new career.  He wasn't a villain as much on TV, but started to play more comic roles.

He did have a regular role in "Outlaws" starring Don Collier (b. 1928).  It is ironic that the TV generation will remember him best for his final recurring role on "I Dream of Jeannie" as General Peterson, which ended with his death in 1969.  I wonder how many Jeannie fans know of MacLane's other work and how good it was.

Looking through the career of Barton MacLane just shows how many other great movies and Bit Parts still need to be explored.