Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Fourth, and George Washington

Independence Day Weekend is upon us.  I just rebuilt the gas barbecue, so I am ready.  A three day weekend and a pool party is all you need...well, almost all you need, to have a great time.  For people reading this blog, you also need some great, patriotic movies!

I thought it would be fun to look at the range of actors who have portrayed George Washington (1732 - 1799) in film and on TV.  I was right, it was fun and the variety is staggering.

About 110 years after George passed away, he shows up for the first time in the 1909 Vitagraph silent film, Washington Under the British Flag with Joseph Kilgour (1863 - 1933) in the title role.  Kilgour played Washington about five times in silent films. 

In 1917 we see William Beery (1879 - 1949) playing Washington in The Spirit of '76.  William was Wallace Beery's brother.  The final silent film that included the Father of our County was The Flag: A Story Inspired by the Tradition of Betsy Ross (1927).  Here we find the biggest star of the silent era, Francis X. Bushman (1883 - 1966) as George.  I believe the title was probably longer than the film.

A dozen films later and we are in 1940 and the release of Holiday Highlights.  This was a comedy compilation of short vignettes of history.  Mel Blanc (1908 - 1989) plays George chopping down a cherry tree.  Of course, Blanc is most famous as his vocal counterparts, Bugs Bunny and many other Warner Brothers cartoon voices.  I am not sure he could be elected president, though.

"You Are There" was a popular historical television series in the 1950s.  In the 1955 episode, "Washington's Farewell to his Officers," E. G. Marshall (1914 - 1998) takes the president's role. 

In 1970 Lorne Greene (1915 - 1987) is Washington in "Swing Out, Sweet Land" an all star TV show starring John Wayne.  That cast is interesting, with Lucille Ball as the Voice of The Statue of Liberty, Jack Benny as the man who finds the silver dollar, and Dan Blocker as the indian who sold Manhattan.  Look for "John Wayne's Trubute to America" as the DVD release title.

Here are a few more TV Washingtons:
Will Geer on "Bewitched"
Pat Hingle on "NET Playhouse" episode "Trail of Tears"
Rene Aberjonois also on "NET Playhouse" in "Portrait of the Hero as a Young Man"
Jim Henson on "The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence"  (Huh?)
Richard Basehart on "Hallmark Hall of Fame" episode "Valley Forge"
Peter Graves in "The Rebels"
Kelsey Grammer on "Biography" in the Benedict Arnold episode

The list keeps going, with Walter Cronkite, Brian Dennehy, Anthony Hopkins and Jack Black, all playing GW at some time.  That's quite a mix!

David Morse plays a credible Washington in the HBO bio-series, "John Adams" starring Paul Giamatti.  Well worth seeing if you are the least bit interested in American history.

It's up to you to decide who is the best Washington on screen.  Which is the best performance, or the most historically accurate?  Hard to say.  My guess is that the newer productions, like "John Adams" may be fairly accurate, given the current trend to do research rather than just make entertainment.  I happen to agree with that philosophy.

There are 132 titles on IMDb with a George Washington character, from 1909 to 2009.  I am sure more are to come.  And they will just keep getting better. 

OK...Let The Holiday Weekend Commence!  Enjoy yourself and be careful with those fireworks.  I may take a short drive over to Valley Forge National Historical Park.  It's right near my home, and the dog loves it!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Peter Vaughan and The Remains of the Day

I was watching The Remains of the Day (1993) last night and was drawn in by the performance of Peter Vaughan (b. 1923) who plays Anthony Hopkins' elderly father.  I love British actors, and Vaughan is no exception.  There is something about their demeanor that allows them to be completely believable, especially in period roles.

Vaughan now has over 200 titles on IMDb.  Much of his work is in British television, so you may have to look hard for it in the USA.  You can easily find him in many diversified movie roles.  His appearance can change from kindly to menacing in an instant, depending on the requirements.

His early roles were mostly uncredited and he played policemen or porters, just as an extra.  His first movie was The 39 Steps, but it was the 1959 remake.  He was in Village of the Damned (1960) which was a hit horror film starring George Sanders and a bunch of kids with glowing eyes. 

He had to suffer through the 1960s with stars like Vince Edwards (The Victors 1963), but he did press on.  In 1965 he had a bigger part in Die! Die! My Darling! starring Tallulah Bankhead (1902 - 1968).  Vaughan stars in Smokescreen (1966) which sounds like a pretty good, low budget mystery.  He plays an insurance investigator who solves an insurance fraud scheme.  I'll have to look for that one.

In 1967 he co-starred with Frank Sinatra in The Naked Runner.  I don't believe either one of them was naked in it, but it certainly helped his career.  Then, he worked with Vince Edwards again in Hammerhead (1968).  I may have to write about Edwards soon, as it looks like he did something other than "Ben Casey!"

I have to mention that Vaughan was in an episode of "The Avengers" in 1968.  It was one of my favorites.  Let's move on...
Straw Dogs (1971) starring Dustin Hoffman
The Blockhouse (1973) starring Peter Sellers
The MacKintosh Man (1973) starring Paul Newman
Massacre in Rome (1973) starring Richard Burton
Valentino (1977) starring Rudolph Nureyev and Leslie Caron
Time Bandits (1981) a Terry Gilliam film, where he played Winston the Ogre
The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981) starring Meryl Streep
The Razor's Edge (1984) starring Bill Murray

I think you can see that he was very capable.  He worked with everyone from Richard Burton to Bill Murray.  Now that takes flexibility.

Vaughan worked again with Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame, in Brazil (1985).  In 1988 he was in the television movie, "The Bourne Identity" which I would also like to see.  It starred Richard Chamberlain (b. 1934, and another TV doctor), who probably brought in a good performance, considering the limited budget of a TV movie.  I would expect the story to be the star in that one, rather than the action scenes and explosions.

Vaughan's part in The Remains of the Day was spot on.  He played it in a touching way that brought some understanding to his son's role as the butler.  That is the job of a Bit Actor.

In 1996 you can find him in The Crucible starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Rider.  1998 in Les Miserables with Liam Neeson and Uma Thurman.  In 2007 he is in Death at a Funeral, which is on demand in FiOS right now, so I may have to watch it.

Peter Vaughan keeps on working, even well into his 80s.  It is time to take real notice of his contribution to the movies we enjoy so much.  I know that Remains received a nomination for an Oscar for Best Picture (plus seven others), but I wonder how many awards ALL of his works have gathered in total.  It would be a real tribute to compile a full list.