Thursday, May 21, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks: Great Final Film Performances

In the 21st week of 2020 for Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the subject of great final films of actors and actresses which was suggested by me as some retire with a whimper while others choose to go out with a bang. Here are my three picks:

1. Bruce Lee-Enter the Dragon

The genre-defining starring and co-directed by Bruce Lee was the film that proved how immense the kung-fu/martial arts genre would be to capture the minds of western audiences. The film is about a spy who enters a secret invitational tournament to find out who killed his sister and the secrets behind the tournament. The film was released nearly a month after his death where he was trying to work on another film in Game of Death which he never finished though a 38-minute unfinished version of the film is available and is set to be available in a remastered form in an upcoming Blu-Ray box set devoted to Bruce Lee’s work from the Criterion Collection.

2. John Cazale-The Deer Hunter

Though he only appeared in five films during his life time from 1972 to 1978, John Cazale at least created an impressive amount of performances in those films as all five films that he appeared in remain revered and have either won or have been nominated for Best Picture. In his role as a steelworker who doesn’t join three of his friends to go to Vietnam to fight in the war, Cazale’s character is someone that talks a lot of shit but never does anything though he is a man that means well. Cazale’s performance is overlooked in comparison to his co-stars yet he does have moments where he stands out as it is a great farewell to one of cinema’s great actors.

3. Richard Burton-Nineteen Eighty-Four

Michael Radford’s adaptation of the George Orwell novel that stars the late John Hurt as Winston Smith is a film that explores a totalitarian world as Smith is someone who wants to be an individual in a world where individualism is taboo. It is a film that bears more relevance given the times we’re in this pandemic world. Especially in America as there’s a dictator that is creating lies and having followers who will spout his idiotic rhetoric. In his final performance as O’Brien, Richard Burton brings a lot of gravitas to his role as the antagonist who studies Smith’s activities and tortures him in the worst ways. It is a towering performance and a real way to go out.

© thevoid99 2020


joel65913 said...

I don't know if I'd say they choose to go out with a bang since in most cases the stars that have terrible last films are past their peak and taking what comes along. A few like John Wayne in The Shootist are able to control that narrative but he an exception not the rule.

Enter the Dragon isn't the type of film I'm drawn to but it has been very influential and Lee was definitely a strong screen presence.

1984-I didn't love this version of the book, but then I didn't love the book either but it certainly afford Burton to go out on a positive note especially considering some of the films he did leading up to it!

The Deer Hunter is a film I know is well-made and has powerful moments but I didn't enjoy watching it. All the performers were strong, Cazale among them and he did have quite an impressive resume for such a short career. There is an interesting documentary on him called "I Knew It Was You" that I think you'd find valuable if you haven't seen it.

As you said the vast majority of swan songs are on the downside of quality but I did manage to find four that are excellent and also have a connecting thread.

joel65913 said...

To Be or Not To Be (1942)-In German occupied Warsaw during World War II a Polish theatrical troupe headed by husband and wife stars Joseph & Maria Tura (Jack Benny & Carole Lombard) set out to prevent a German spy from revealing key members of the Polish underground to the Nazis by means both desperate and humorous.

Ernst Lubitsch directed masterpiece was Lombard’s final film. America entered the war just before the film’s premiere and Carole was the first star to go on a bond tour (to her native Indiana) and perished in a plane crash, along with her mother, on the return journey. A line her character spoke “What can happen in a plane?” was excised before the film debuted.

The Misfits (1961)-In Reno for a divorce Roslyn Taber (Marilyn Monroe) meets aging cowboy Gay Langland (Clark Gable), WWII aviator Guido Racanelli (Eli Wallach) and broken down rodeo rider Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift). Lonely and feeling lost Roslyn accepts Guido's invitation to stay at his desert home with the trio and the four wrestle with life’s questions.

Directed by John Huston and written for Marilyn by her then husband Arthur Miller this somber film was the final one for both Gable and Monroe. Gable, who performed some of his own stunt work died 12 days after the film wrapped. Marilyn started the trouble plagued “Something’s Gotta Give” but died before its completion and the picture scrapped.

The Iceman Cometh (1973)-In 1912 New York’s Last Chance Saloon a group of chronic alcoholics are momentarily shaken from their hopeless ennui by the arrival of Hickey (Lee Marvin) one of their number now sober urging them to abandon their pipe dreams and face reality. It does not go well. Powerful with a powerhouse cast (beside Marvin-Jeff Bridges, Robert Ryan, Fredric March, Moses Gunn, Bradford Dillman among others) full book adaptation of the Eugene O'Neill play couldn't be better presented (it’s directed by John Frankenheimer) but it's so long (four hours!) and full of doom and gloom it’s a hard one to embrace.

This was the last film for both Robert Ryan (who died before the film’s premiere) and Fredric March who retired on the film’s completion and passed away shortly afterwards.

Advise & Consent (1962)-Secretary of State nominee Robert Leffingwell (Henry Fonda) is being investigated by a Senate committee headed by Senator Brig Anderson (Don Murray) before his appointment. When serious allegations are leveled against Leffingwell engineered by Senior Senator Seab Cooley (Charles Laughton) pressure is applied to Anderson in the form of exposure of a long hidden secret to influence the outcome. Otto Preminger directed, star-studded (Gene Tierney, Walter Pidgeon, Lew Ayres, Franchot Tone, Burgess Meredith, Betty White etc.) political drama is still timely.

This was Charles Laughton final feature (passing away within six months of completion), by happenstance he co-starred with each of the other stars excepting Ryan in one of their films (Lombard-They Knew What They Wanted, Gable-Mutiny on the Bounty, Fredric March-Les Miserables and Monroe-O Henry’s Full House).

ThePunkTheory said...

Great Picks!!!

Brittani Burnham said...

Cazale in The Deer Hunter is a good choice! I wish I would've thought of that. Of these, I've only seen that one and Enter the Dragon. I still need to read 1984.

SJHoneywell said...

Here's a few to consider (at least in terms of theatrical films):

Edward G. Robinson: Soylent Green
Peter Finch: Network
Massimo Troisi: Il Postino
John wayne: The Shootist
Steve McQueen: The Hunter
Paul Newman: Road to Perdition (unless you count Cars)

VinnieH said...

Cazale might have only been in a few movies but man where those movies impressive. Such a loss to the industry and he was clearly mightily talented.

Sonia Cerca said...

We almost share an actor as I picked Brandon Lee. Anyway, The Deer Hunter is the only I've seen and I didn't love it. Cazale was so good in it though.

Birgit said...

I haven’t seen any of these films and don’t care about the Bruce Lee films but I would like to see The Deer Hunter but not sure about 1984 because it is so bleak

thevoid99 said...

@joel65913-I have seen I Knew It Was You as it's an essential doc that every actor has to see.


@Brittani-1984 is a film that I haven't seen in a long time as I do hope to re-watch it soon.

@SJHoneywell-It was tough trying to find good choices though my theme was meant for filmmakers with final great films but this was still a nice challenge.

@vinnieh-Yet, he is in a rare list of actors who hasn't made a bad film and... can't suck.

@Sonia-I'd suggest watching the first 2 Godfather films and The Conversation as Cazale is great in those films.

@Birgit-How can you not love Bruce Lee? I'm guessing you're more into Jackie Chan which is still cool.