John Carradine was probably not well-known to the average movie-watcher, but it's likely even those who see films infrequently caught him at one time or another - and they would doubtless say, "Oh, yeah," if shown his picture.
In Carradine's 58-year film career he appeared in literally hundreds of motion pictures, from early classics to later grade-Z bombs.He could be hammy and ridiculously flamboyant - check out "Americathon" or or "Billy the Kid vs. Dracula" (in one of four screen portrayals as Dracula) or "The House of Long Shadows" or "Sex Kittens Go to College."
But he could also underplay quite effectively, as in "The Grapes of Wrath," "Stagecoach," "The Ten Commandments" (as Aaron) and "Brigham Young - Frontiersman" (as Porter Rockwell).
Carradine never achieved star status, though he sometimes had star billing in low-budget schlock, but he was a working actor whose gaunt, haunting looks and deep, throaty voice gave him a commanding presence.
In the '30s and '40s he played quite a vast number of interesting character roles and established himself as both a sinister and authoritative figure onscreen. But in the '50s, '60s and beyond he seemed to become typecast as a mad doctor or haunted house proprietor or monster of some sort in movies that were often made for practically nothing on other continents. He probably felt no one would ever see them, and that might have been true had it not been for the advent of video, which has an insatiable appetite for new material.
Interestingly, Carradine continued to work right up to his death last week at age 82, even though he was plagued with severe arthritis, causing his hands to become rather knotted, a malady visible in his most recent films.
Carradine often would say it was the work that was most important, and it's a legacy he handed down to those of his sons who followed in his footsteps - David, Keith and Robert Carradine. All three have become well-known movie actors, often getting top billing in their films. But they aren't stars. They are working actors, the '80s equivalent of what their father did in the '30s.
For example, David Carradine is best known for the TV series "Kung Fu" and his memorable film role as Woody Guthrie in "Bound for Glory."
Keith Carradine most often appears in quirky Alan Rudolph films such as "Choose Me" and "The Moderns," though he won an Oscar more than a decade ago for writing a song, "I'm Easy," for "Nashville," in which he appeared.
Robert struck gold with "Revenge of the Nerds" and its sequel, but easily carries both comedic and dramatic material.
And, of course, all three appeared together in Walter Hill's fine western "The Long Riders."
While it's true that, also like their father, they appear in their fair share of turkeys, the Carradine brothers carry on a worthy tradition, one taught them by John Carradine - to act, to give the finest performance possible, whatever the material.
And for an actor like John Carradine, that may be the finest tribute of all.
- QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Shirley MacLaine, interviewed about "Madame Sousatzka" by Ryan P. Murphy, Knight-Ridder Newspapers, on her image:
"My life is scandal free. Except that I am a scandal."
- QUOTE OF THE WEEK II: Tippi Hedren, star of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" and "Marnie," telling Vickie Croke of the Boston Globe how Hitchcock ruined her career when she rebuffed his advances:
"He said he would see to it that my career was ended, and he really did. Over a period of years it would get back to me. Directors and producers would say, `Oh, we were so sorry when you couldn't do our film,' and I'd say, `What film?' Francois Truffaut wanted me for a film and was told I wasn't available. It's very easily done. Without anything nasty."
- QUOTE OF THE WEEK III: Mel Gibson, currently starring in "Tequila Sunrise," in an interview in the Dec. 12 Us Magazine:
"People say women are equal to men. I don't buy that, because most women wouldn't want to stoop that low."
- AS PREDICTED, "Scrooged" was last week's No. 1 movie, despite the scathing reviews of many critics nationally.
Bill Murray solidified himself as a top box office draw with this modern-day comic update of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," which took in a phenomenal $181/2 million in its first week, some $10,323 per screen in 1,262 theaters across the country. (That's a record for a Thanksgiving non-sequel opening.)
Second was "The Land Before Time," Don Bluth's animated tale of baby dinosaurs, which took in $5,755 per screen in 1,410 theaters. (Last week's take established Bluth's film as the record-holder for money earned on the opening day for an animated film.)
A newcomer, "Cocoon: The Return," followed closely with $5,647 per screen in 986 theaters, and then came "Oliver & Company," with $6,658 per screen in 952 theaters.
Here's the latest national "top 10" countdown, according to the show business trade papers:
1. SCROOGED, $181/2 million (first week).
2. The Land Before Time, $8 million ($181/2 million, two weeks).
3. Cocoon: The Return, $71/2 million (first week).
4. Oliver & Company, $71/2 million ($12 million, two weeks).
5. Child's Play, $61/2 million ($22 million, three weeks).
6. Ernest Saves Christmas, $61/2 million ($181/2 million, three weeks).
7. The Accused, $21/2 million ($261/2 million, seven weeks).
8. Fresh Horses, $2 million ($51/2 million, two weeks).
9. High Spirits, $2 million ($61/2 million, two weeks).
10. 1969, $2 million ($4 million, two weeks).