A tale was told a distant time ago here (on 8/9/10, to be precise) of funny people who showed they could take a dramatic turn, and do it quite well, thank you. Now, he decreed with an imperious wiggle of his toes, it is time to examine the shiny-hubcap image of the phenomenon: typically dramatic actors who have given us excellent comedic performances.
As I did in the earlier article, I will list my favorite half-dozen in what I consider to be reverse order of their quality, with the last one being the best. Again, keep in mind that even the first-introduced performance represented top quality work on the part of the actor.
Eddie Albert, Oklahoma!
Admittedly, Eddie Albert had been doing a mix of drama and comedy throughout his career, but, I was a little late seeing this movie. Prior to finally getting around to it, I had only known this actor for his serious roles in The Young Doctors and The Longest Day.
Those of you who are familiar with the musical comedy, Oklahoma!, know that the most ridiculous figure in the cast is the Persian peddler, Ali Hakkim. That’s the role Eddie Albert played in the movie version of the show. What, Eddie Albert a Persian? He would have been about the last guy I would have cast in that role, based on looks alone, but, by George, he carried it off brilliantly. Another way in which Albert had to play against type was that, while the peddler was called upon to cower and cringe at the slightest threat from any cowboy (or cowgirl), the real Eddie Albert was a decorated war hero who rescued 77 men under intense fire, in the Pacific, during World War II.
Robert Preston, The Music Man
I have had occasion to mention this before, but here it is again: before he became the unforgettable Professor Harold Hill, Preston played in a number of westerns, never as the good guy (Although there is some question as to how good a guy his character was in The Music Man). What possessed Meredith Willson and the people who put the Broadway musical together to select Preston as the leading man in a musical (He certainly was never one of those “singing cowboys.”), I will never know, but they could not have made a more inspired pick.
Actually, Preston was not supposed to be in the movie version. The producers wanted either Frank Sinatra or Cary Grant (WHAT?) to star in the film, but Willson, the writer and holder of the all-important copyright explained to them that, if they did non cast Robert Preston as Professor Hill, they could not buy the rights at any price. Good thing he stuck to his guns, I’d say.
Bob Hoskins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
I have already covered this movie and this performance extensively in my earlier essay, Ten Movies to Watch on a Rainy Day. I suggest you take the short trip to that link to get the skinny on the not-entirely-skinny Mr. Hoskins. Don’t worry, the reference is on the second page, so you won’t have to slog through the whole lengthy novel to see it.
Although he is still, primarily, a dramatic actor, I had thought I was going to see Hoskins in another comedic turn as the gruff, skeptical impresario whom Mrs. Henderson (Judi Dench) has to cajole into producing her show in Mrs. Henderson Presents. Then, the film dealt with the character’s back-story in the World War II setting. It seems the producer was a transplanted Dutch Jew whose family had been caught up in the Holocaust. Suddenly, Hoskins’ character was a lot less funny.
Cloris Leachman, Young Frankenstein
Yes, I will admit it-I did not follow The Mary Tyler Moore Show, on which Ms. Leachman had a recurring role, so I was not familiar with her work in the area of comedy. I first became aware of her as a actor in the excellent drama, The Last Picture Show, for which she deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. A few years later, I saw her in a very moving TV drama, The Migrants, where she again excelled.
After that exposure, seeing her performance in the role of Frau Blücher (Pause for sound of panicked horses.), in Young Frankenstein was nothing short of a pleasure. And, for all the excellent work turned in my so many talented actors performing at the top of their games, Cloris Leachman was the standout among standouts, no doubt about it. If you are one of the two or three people around who have not seen this movie, get your “donkey” in gear and check it out.
Don Ameche, Trading Places
Trading Places is a notable film in many respects. It represents probably the best work Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy have each done on the big screen. It may be the best movie shot in Philadelphia (even ahead of the original Rocky), and it provided a splendid comedic turnabout for Don Ameche (as well as his partner-in-crime, Ralph Bellamy).
I suppose I had seen Ameche here and there, prior to this movie, but I only remembered him from his starring role in the 1939 film, The Story of Alexander Graham Bell-a good enough film in its own right, which was hardly going to win much in the way of hardware named Oscar, having to go up against Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.
I do not want to give away the plot of Trading Places, because it really is an excellent movie, which you need to see for yourself. Let me just say that Ameche is superb as the main villain of the piece, and he succeeds mightily in that he leaves the audience rooting as hard as it can for his comeuppance.
Lee Marvin, The Ballad of Cat Ballou
Like Robert Preston, Marvin was chiefly a bad guy in westerns, except more prominent. In the John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Lee Marvin was the archvillain, Valance, and, take it from me, he was one mean motor scooter.
In this western, The Ballad of Cat Ballou, he plays the dime-novel gunslinging hero, Kid Shelleen, as well as the Kid’s evil twin brother. He appears in his principal role after Cat has written to him, through the magazine, to come to her rescue. You have only to look at the Kid’s arrival into town to know that this film is not a serious western.
Lee Marvin won an Oscar for his performance(s) in this movie. The contest for the award that year was not even close.
As with my earlier article about comedians in dramatic roles, I singled out these movies because the actors I mentioned in them fit the profile of my subject in this article. Also, like the movies from the previous article, all of these films are well-worth seeing, if you have not done so already. So, hop to it-chop, chop!
The films themselves