Tuesday, December 25, 2012

RIP Charles Durning

During his long career, Charles Durning acted in films by John Cassavetes, Robert Aldrich, Brian De Palma, Joel and Ethan Coen, Billy Wilder, Sidney Lumet, Sydney Pollack, David Mamet, Abel Ferrara, and many others. He was always distinctive and watchable - a character actor who brought style and substance to the roles he played; yet somehow my favourite of his performances remains a very early one, in De Palma's caustic and rather brilliant 1970 race-relations/ sex comedy Hi, Mom - written about at some length here, and starring Robert De Niro and Allen Garfield (Paul Bartel supposedly pops up, too, but I don't recall the moment). Durning wasn't even Durning then, but Charles Durnham, and his role is a brief one, but he plays it to the hilt - a rather sleazy superintendent of a rundown apartment building, as I recall it, all sweat and bluster and innocent-faced corruption as he tries to impress a prospective renter. Roger Ebert has his Stanton/ Walsh rule - that no movie with M. Emmett Walsh or Harry Dean Stanton can be all bad; while I wouldn't begin to disagree, Durning is on a shortlist of other character actors I feel that way about. He'll be missed.

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