This is not strictly a Deceased Artiste blog, but since I coined that phrase in the mid-90s on the Funhouse TV show I’ve felt a sort of obligation to pay tribute to those who’ve kicked off whose work I’ve loved.
This week has been insanely busy in terms of dead film-folk, so I thought I’d just move through three of the recent departed quickly. Gloria Stuart means nothing to me in terms of Titanic (I got no feelin’ for that kinda stuff, though I have indeed sat through it), but she is important as a starlet in the 1930s, and also as the wife of Arthur Sheekman, a Marx Brothers writer in good standing and the only person who actually did ghost-write some of the magazine pieces credited to Groucho. Ms. Stuart can be seen to lovely advantage (read: pre-Code “scanties”) in this scene from the James Whale 1932 classic The Old Dark House, which can be found in its entirety here:
Next, I salute Arthur Penn, who was a director whom I appreciate most for his participation in the absolutely miraculous “maverick” period in American film that lasted from the late Sixties through the mid-Seventies. He made one historically important pic that I like but don’t utterly love (Bonnie and Clyde), one great hippie pic (Alice’s Restaurant), a fairly good insane Western (The Missouri Breaks), and two great “revisionist” Seventies films (Little Big Man and the terrific, low-key Night Moves).
I feel, though, that his true masterpiece is not Bonnie and Clyde, but Mickey One, his almost indescribable 1965 modernist drama featuring Warren Beatty as a standup comic on the run from crooks. It’s a film that was obviously influenced by what was going on in European cinema at the time (it resembles nothing less than Alphaville, which came out the same year). Here’s the dynamic trailer for the film, but actually the film’s opening is an even clearer look at how radically weird it was for its time (unless, of course, you’d been watching European films….).
As ridiculous as it is to consider Beatty as a stand-up comic (his finest performance will always be McCabe and Mrs. Miller), Mickey One makes everything it presents believable — or is that entirely incredible? (It also seems to heavily prefigure the astoundingly perfect TV series The Prisoner.) Penn had one really good movie after his “maverick” period, the thriller Dead of Winter. I’m not gonna talk about Penn and Teller Get Killed.
And, to finish off this little grouping, and move onward to the Fifties gents with great hair, I offer a tip of the fedora to Joe Mantell, a character actor who died at 94 and is best known for playing Ernest Borgnine’s friend in Marty, and also for playing Jake Gittes’ sidekick and uttering one of the greatest closing lines in movie history: