There’s a clip from the upcoming “Back to the Future” trilogy anniversary Blu-Ray that’s been circulating that I think is revealing. It deals with the semi-legendary firing of Eric Stoltz after a shocking five weeks of principal photography (some films are finished in three or four weeks) and his replacement by Michael J. Fox back in 1985. It’s fairly self-explanatory.
I personally don’t think “Back to the Future” is remotely a “classic,” but it is 2/3 of a great screwball comedy. (I didn’t care for the science fiction portions of the film.) However, it really looks here like it wouldn’t have worked at all with Eric Stoltz. Obviously, we’re not seeing nearly enough, but these very brief clips were obviously selected because something is just clearly off and perhaps not only Stoltz’s unfortunate hairstyle — which might not have been his selection.
The irony is here that, as much as I like and admire Michael J. Fox as an accomplished comic actor and a public figure, in terms of sheer thespian ability, I’d say Stoltz is very likely the better actor — though being an actor and being a star are not the same gig. He’s certainly shown plenty in the way of versatility over the years and you can’t say he can’t be funny, especially given his brilliant turn as the world’s most relatable heroin pusher in “Pulp Fiction.” On the other hand, Fox clearly has something that Stoltz lacks in terms of being Marty McFly. It’s not just maybe knowing his way around a straight-up gag a bit better than Stoltz might have at the time, it’s an “everyman” quality, I guess. As the deformed Rocky in Peter Bogdanovich’s “Mask,” that very same year, Stoltz had that everyman quality, but I guess with his own face, it just evaporates and that slightly sarcastic demeanor of his can’t be entirely hidden without facial prosthetics.
Anyhow, just another reminder that “best actor” and the “right actor” are not the same thing.
I’m not quite sure I did the great Boris Karloff justice with the clip I selected earlier this evening. Below, therefore, I’m putting some later career highlights of the great character actor who managed to play some of the nastiest monsters and villains of his era in innumerable films while also being considered one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. (Apparently that little girl he threw in the lake in “Bride of Frankenstein” couldn’t get enough of him, even in full monster make-up.)
First, some of Karloff’s very cool introductory remarks from Mario Bava’s multistory horror flick, “Black Sabbath” — which not only gave Ozzy Osbourne’s seminal heavy metal its name but also was reportedly part of the inspiration, structurally at least, for “Pulp Fiction.”
This two-disc set is basically the agony and the ecstasy from the collected works of film critic/scholar turned boy wonder writer-director-actor Peter Bogdanovich. Placed in reverse chronological and quality order, Disc One is 1975’s agonizing “Nickelodeon,” one of a series of box office and/or critical failures that ended the young director’s early career hot streak. A forced slapstick comedy drawn very loosely from the silent era reminiscences of Hollywood greats Leo McCarey, Raoul Walsh and Allan Dwan, it’s a good-natured but entirely unfocused bore despite the strong efforts of an all-star cast led by Burt Reynolds and Ryan O’Neal, and featuring Tatum O’Neal (“Paper Moon”) and John Ritter (“Three’s Company”), among many others. The disc includes both a brand new black and white director’s cut alongside the original color theatrical version, but it will take more than the majesty of monochrome to save this one. Bogdanovich’s DVD commentary provides better movie history and better entertainment.
“The Last Picture Show” is, of course, something completely different. On his second feature, Bogdanovich blew the 1971’s cinema world’s collective mind and drew comparisons to his friend and mentor, Orson Welles, with this crisply wrought black and white adaptation of an early Larry McMurtry novel. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, it details the late teen years of two high school football players (Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges) and a manipulative beauty (Cybill Shepherd) following in the footsteps of her unfaithful mother (Ellen Burstyn) in a rapidly dying Texas town. A minor cause celebre at the time because of its nudity and blunt sexuality, its glory is its acute visual storytelling and Robert Surtees’ masterful photography, a biting and heartbreaking script, and a large number of genuinely tremendous supporting performances. In particular, Cloris Leachman as a deeply lonely housewife who falls for a high school boy and Western mainstay Ben Johnson (“The Wild Bunch,” “Wagon Master”) as the charismatic walking embodiment of the town, Sam the Lion, won entirely deserved supporting acting awards. A sardonic yet humanistic exploration of fractured relationships and poor choices, it remains a riveting and moving work of cutting edge movie-making from a true cinematic reactionary.