Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Favorite Living Actor: A Tribute to Robert Duvall

The Academy Awards are coming up this Sunday on ABC as Lisa so eloquently pointed out in the previous post. As usual, this time of year is chock full of impassioned web pundits, weighing in about their favorite movies and pick-the-winner lists. I'm going in a slightly different direction with a tribute to my favorite Academy Award winning actor, Robert Duvall. From the first time I saw him, cowering behind the door in To Kill a Mockingbird, I was hooked. Pale as milk, with blinking eyes that had seen more shadows than sunlight, he was the unforgettable and heroic neighbor, Boo Radley.

Born on January 5, 1931, Mr. Duvall has gone on to amaze in every performance. Not a flashy actor, he inhabits the skin of every character. He won the Best Actor Oscar as the down and out country singer in the 1983 picture Tender Mercies, long before Jeff Bridges won Best Actor (last year!) as a down and out country singer in Crazy Heart. His line in Tender Mercies, "I just don't trust happiness anymore" carries the weight of the world. He was in the original True Grit with John Wayne, long before Jeff Bridges (a perennial Flaming Nose Favorite) was nominated for best actor in this year's Best Picture contender Coen brother's remake of True Grit.

Robert Duvall has won two Emmy Awards, one as the ranger Gus McCrae in the outstanding miniseries Lonesome Dove. In 2010, he gave an incredibly moving performance (along with Bill Murray) as a hermit with a mysterious past in the indie movie Get Low. He should have received an Oscar nomination for that turn, but alas the field skews considerably younger this year.

Most know Duvall as the Corleone family lawyer Tom Hagen in The Godfather. But I find some of his smaller roles even more compelling. He was cold as a steel conference table as the aptly named TV executive and hatchet man (Frank Hackett) in the 1976 classic, Network. His 1979 performance in The Great Santini was both violent and tragic. As Bull Meechum, the swaggering fighter pilot, he brutalized his family while saving the world.

Did you know that Robert Duvall was the original Frank Burns in MASH, the movie? And how many times have we all quoted his iconic line from Apocalypse Now, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning!" There are not many actors in the world who have starred memorably and gloriously with Marlon Brando in not one...but two classic films. More recently (2003-Secondhand Lions), he was a delight as Hub, the fierce older gentleman with a dashing past and a great penchant for mentoring young boys (and broken down big cats). He even had a brief, haunting turn in the 2009 movie "The Road", as a blind wanderer...riveting as ever, even if only on screen for a few moments.

Born on January 5, 1931 in San Diego, Robert Duvall is a California boy who sounded like a New Yorker in The Godfather, a cowboy in Tender Mercies and a crazy military wild man in The Great Santini. He is whoever we want him to be. And whoever he is...we believe.

Hey Boo. Thank you for all the performances that have touched our hearts or left us terrified. You win the Oscar this year for me. And for all of your work in film and television -- I award you my first ever Flaming Nose Lifetime Achievement Award. Nobody does it better.


Lisa said...

You're right -- he is the best. We need to do an in-depth post on his marvelous body of episodic TV work -- it's voluminous. He started out in theater, then for the next decade or so did amazing work in dozens and dozens of TV shows. We'll do a post and link to the ones that are available to view online or rent -- all Duvall's work is superb!

Wonderful post!

Jane said...

Another Duvall trivia gem: he was Dustin Hoffman's room mate in NYC, when they were both getting their start in the theater scene. From what I've read, they have remained friends to this day. I can't imagine two actors who are more different in substance and style (although both are wonderful). I like to wonder what they would talk about at a BBQ!

Dean Treadway said...

When you think of the stuff he's done--all the touchstones you mentioned, plus movies like TOMORROW, THE OUTFIT, NETWORK, A CIVIL ACTION, THE RAIN PEOPLE, THX-1138, THE APOSTLE, SLING BLADE, LONESOME DOVE, RAMBLING ROSE, FALLING DOWN, THE NATURAL, TRUE CONFESSIONS, COLORS, GET LOW, TRUE GRIT, THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION (as Watson to Nicol Williamson's Sherlock Holmes), TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, M.A.S.H., and COUNTDOWN--well, the body of work is just breathtaking. Plus all the TV work on shows like ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, THE UNTOUCHABLES, PLAYHOUSE 90, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, ROUTE 66, THE OUTER LIMITS, THE FUGITIVE, THE DEFENDERS, COMBAT!, WILD WILD WEST, THE FBI, and THE MOD SQUAD. Wow, is all I have to say. Wow.

Jane said...

That blew me away too Dean. I've always loved him, but when I started sifting through his amazing body of work. He has literally never stopped working. AFI has to be giving him a Lifetime Achievement award soon. He so, so deserves it.

Now I have to start thinking about one for my favorite living actress (Vanessa Redgrave), who has spread her immense talent to both film and TV as well.

Jane said...

How on EARTH could I have forgotten to mention "Deep Impact". Robert Duvall saved the entire world!