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A Reel Life film section
January - February, 2001
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They're all but gone. And I miss them. For far too long we took them for granted and now we're paying the price. I'm talking about actors.

I'm talking about real actors. Men and women who bring a role to life, who give a character depth and meaning, who can evoke an emotional response by looking at us from the screen in just the right way. People like Margaret Sheridan, a beautiful and very talented actress from the fifties who only made a couple of films. Because they (the ogres and trolls of the studios) saw a woman with talent and beauty and wanted to cast her as the second bimbo from the left, she quit the industry figuring that she was better than that. She was right.

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It's rare indeed that we get actors in films these days. No, now we get celebrities. People like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, I'm a red-blooded male, which means I'm fascinated by two things. Bodily functions and Arnie. I just love his movies to bits, usually small, bloody and accompanied by a clever quip. But I don't think of him as an actor. But by the same token, I don't really think of Harrison Ford as an actor. Oh, the man shines on screen, but he's not an actor.

For me, an actor is a person who takes roles that stretch their limits. Harrison Ford, like Arnie, will not play a bad guy in a film. This is because as a celebrity, their fame is based on popular opinion. Play an unsympathetic character and you may adversely affect that opinion. Ford would be a cool bad guy, if he had the guts to take the role.

Mind you, I thought that Sean Connery would be absolutely brilliant as the baddie in The Avengers, even if the movie was crap. But it was almost as if Connery had forgotten how to act. I'm still reeling from that one. Maybe it was the stress of playing a Scottish character for once in his career? Or maybe it was too hard for him to try and play a bad guy and remain charming. But I digress.

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Humphrey Bogart, now HE was an actor. Not because he was from the forties, not because he was great at playing hard-bitten characters, but because he was not only good, he was prepared to play unpopular characters. Treasure of The Sierra Madre is full of good character parts and Bogie plays Fred C. Dobbs, the lynchpin of the film. By the end of the movie you simultaneously hate and pity this character. In fact, I often ask myself, if they were making this film today, who would be willing to take the starring role?

C'mon, step forward. Who here is man enough to play Fred C. Dobbs?

Michael Douglas immediately springs to mind. He's made a career playing unsympathetic characters, but he can just as easily play the hero. He chooses to play these unpleasant people. George Clooney, no problem he'd be there and itching to play the part. Bruce Willis, no explanation needed. Jonathan Frakes (now there's a surprise for you) would punch on with the other three if he thought that it'd win him the role. Having read a number of interviews where he's openly critical of the Star Trek (TM) Franchise for wussing out on scripts that had gay or less than noble stories centring around his character, I can tell you this man is an actor. He may not be one of the world's best but he's prepared to take the risks. Are you listening, Mr. Ford?

Now it may seem that I'm just singling out Harrison Ford here when, as I've already pointed out, Arnie won't play the bad guy either. But Ford has a hundred times the acting talent of Schwarzenegger. Arnie is a so-so actor who, if he didn't have muscles and attitude, would be bottom of the rung. I can understand why he's afraid of playing a part that may hurt his popularity. Ford could just make sure that he's already contracted for a suitably squeaky-clean role following his foray into badguyness, so no excuse.

Do yourself a favour and hire out Treasure of the Sierra Madre. You get to see a very cool film and find out where "Badges? Badges? We don't need no steenking badges!" comes from. Plus, as a bonus, you too can play the fun game for all the family, "Who Will Play Fred C. Dobbs?(TM)". All you need is a list of today's celebrities and the ability to distinguish between someone who's good on screen but won't take a gamble, and an actor.

Danny Heap

(Danny wishes it known that he's an actor at heart, and that while there may be thousands of people better qualified than him, he will take any major bad guy role in any Hollywood blockbuster film for a fraction of the cost of Harrison Ford OR Arnold Schwarzenegger, just to prove a point.)

Editor: You can look up films by any of these actors using the yellow search box.

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