Monday, December 3, 2012

Top 5: Legendary Actors with Bizarre Final Credits

Knowing when to quit is key.

History is full of examples of people who just didn't grasp this. Who kept pushing for one more turn, one more go round, one more day in the sun. Or, in the case of movies, one more part.

And it's easy to see why. Top actors have fame, money, respect, adulation, everything they could desire and plenty more besides. Tough then, to give it all up and retire to a secluded compound somewhere to work on the same set of memoirs that their peers have already written which will end up in a big stack in one of those 'Every Book $5!' warehouses.

Today's list gives us five of some of the biggest names ever to stand in front of a movie camera and say 'Yar,' and their tragic and bizarre final credits, when they hung on for one movie too many...

JIMMY STEWART - An American Tail: Fievel Goes West

Jimmy Stewart is one of my favourite actors. Scratch that, he is my favourite actor (top 5 movies starring Jimmy Stewart; Vertigo, Anatomy of a Murder, It's a Wonderful Life, Rear Window, The Philadelphia Story). I couldn't get enough of his films when I was younger, and I can't get enough of them now. So this is a question I often ask myself: How did an 83 year old Jimmy Stewart end up in this, an animated film about an Eastern European mouse that emigrates to the USA in the early twentieth century? A sequel, you understand, to an earlier mouse-comes-to-America film called An American Tail that, while pleasant enough, is not exactly a revered classic. What possible explanation could there be? Was he too nice to say no (likely, at least according to the idealised image I have of the man). Did he have an overwhelming desire to work with Dom DeLuise? Did Senor Spielbergo (this film's EP) have something on him?
Spielberg: I know where the bodies are buried Jim, now let's talk about this film I'm producing.

Undoubtedly, this is one of those enduring film mysteries that will never be solved. Although, it does need to be recorded that Stewart's crusty vocal stylings as Wylie Burp, an ornery small town dog/sheriff, still makes me grin like an idiot.


The tag line says it all: 

'FOUND: One missing link... and all the terror that goes with it!'

As if paleontology and horror were synonymous. Equally unlikely is that Joan Crawford - star of Mildred Pierce, Johnny Guitar and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane among many others - should end her movie career in this grade Z cult wannabe from 1970. Starring as Doctor Brockton, Crawford looks tired and puffy and is undoubtedly very, very drunk in many of the scenes, this last apparently a prerequisite for her to get up and act throughout the latter part of her career. But when she was being tormented by Bette Davis this was less noticeable then when she was starring alongside an ape man and mouthing lines like:

Malcom get my hypno gun... Quickly!

ERROL FLYNN - Cuban Rebel Girls

In the 1930's, Errol Flynn's star rose about as high as anyone's has ever gone; handsome, debonair, charismatic and the star of a succession of lookalike films where he waved a sword above his head in a stylishly masculine way, Flynn was one of Hollywood's brightest lights. A victim of poor choices and changing tastes, his career faded badly during the subsequent two decades, to the point where he was almost out of sight in 1959 when Cuban Rebel Girls marked his final onscreen credit. Drunk and unwell looking, Flynn's last film would be tragic were it not for the earnest seriousness of the treatment given to this silly story of young Cuban girls getting caught up in Fidel Catro's revolution. A supporter of Castro, Flynn had written the movie himself and agreed to star to try and generate support for the young revolutionary. The film was filmed on location in Cuba, with Fidel's benevolent approval:

Fidel and Flynn photographed together during filming.

While the film would remain largely unseen and so not help the revolution much, Flynn would at least return to the US with a tall tale of having been wounded during real fighting on a sugar plantation. 


If you look at Marlene Dietrich's filmography, her final brace of feature films are; Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Touch of Evil (1958), Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) and... Just a Gigolo (1978). So can you spot the odd one out? Burnt out and suffering ill health after a film career that stretched back to 1918 (!), the multi talented Dietrich effectively retired after Nuremberg and took to living the quiet life in an apartment in Paris. Reclusive and increasingly addicted to prescription painkillers, she rejected many film offers before finally being lured out for what was considered at the time a hefty payday: $250 000 for two days filming in this misfire of a David Bowie vehicle. Dietrich has a brief cameo and sings the song above, the veil that partly obscures her famous face indicative of her mindset. 


I'd heard of this film but not seen it. Until recently anyway, when it cropped up on late night cable. And the opening scenes seemed to confirm exactly what I would have thought about the movie if I'd given it any thought beforehand, which I hadn't. Roller skating, Olivia Newton John, bubble gum pop, big clothes and hair and neon colours; everything about the gaudy 80's that is terribly familiar and trashily fun. And then... Gene Kelly appears. Still looking good but looking exactly like he'd just wandered onto this set from a much classier shoot by mistake. He was looking for the lunchroom and Bang! There he was. He looks baffled to be surrounded by so many hopelessly untalented young people, but he smiles charmingly and does his best. He's a pro, you know. And then... they get him to dance with ONJ in a sequence that made my girlfriend, watching alongside me at the time, white hot with rage. Somehow, bizarrely, tragically, Singin' in the Rain will never be quite the same again..

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