#351. The Joker

Perhaps the most recognizable villain in the realm of superheroes and comic books, The Joker stands as a stark antipode to the brooding darkness of Batman. The contrast of insane levity to serious vengeance has made The Joker the best example of an archenemy, a feat that has rarely (if ever) been topped. For decades, The Joker has gone through a number of iterations and style changes, some of which have been notorious for their extreme take on the character. Similarly, there have been many different actors who have portrayed The Joker over the years, with a few of them being somewhat questionable in their interpretation of the character as well. While most people associate the quintessence of The Joker via Mark Hamill’s voice acting for Batman: The Animated Series, this week’s two films will examine some different performances of the character in live action films.

The Dark KnightThe Dark Knight
Year: 2008
Rating: PG-13
Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours

Following the superhero movie format, after Christopher Nolan’s Batman origin story, Batman Begins (2005), Nolan proceeded to use the Batman franchise’s most recognizable villain for the sequel: The Dark Knight (2008). Many fans of the Batman franchise were upset with the casting choice of Heath Ledger, not only due to his somewhat recent role in Brokeback Mountain (2005) but because there were plenty of comedians who were considered for the role at one point or other. Considering he posthumously won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, these concerns were assuaged by the time the film was released. A similar controversy surrounded the casting of Jared Leto in the role for Suicide Squad (2016), but that controversy was linked more to how The Joker looked, rather than who was playing him.

During a bank robbery that seemed to go wrong, a gang of clown-themed thieves is whittled down until a lone clown remains: The Joker (Heath Ledger). The local mafias of Gotham find themselves in a bind with Batman (Christian Bale) constantly thwarting their criminal efforts. The Joker steps in and offers to get rid of Batman for the mobs in exchange for half of their finances. He doesn’t even want the money . . . he just wants to watch the world burn. To “level the playing field,” The Joker starts interfering with the trial of mob financier Lau (Chin Han), killing people until Batman reveals his identity. District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) says that he’s Batman, but The Joker sees through the ruse, thus providing the real Batman with a choice: save Dent or save his girlfriend, Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal). With The Joker in control of Gotham, only Batman can stop him.

Year: 1989
Rating: PG-13
Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours

Before 1989, the only version of The Joker to hit the big screen was Caesar Romero’s in Batman (1966). Using the same cast as the 1960’s television series, this Batman film was far campier than the dark and gritty versions we know today. While Tim Burton is known for his dark imagery, there was still a modicum of camp to his Batman (1989). Comparatively, though, the Tim Burton version did succeed in transforming the caped crusader into a much darker motif and helped evolve the franchise into what we know today. If anything, Tim Burton helped people to understand that comic books aren’t necessarily for children. At any rate, for many years, Jack Nicholson’s performance as The Joker was considered the definitive representation on the big screen, especially as it was faithful to The Joker’s origin story from the comics.

Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) is in the crosshairs of his mob boss, Carl Grissom (Jack Palance) for taking his mistress. Jack is saved by Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle), who wants him as a witness against Grissom. Unfortunately, in the ensuing chaos, Batman (Michael Keaton) arrives and knocks Jack into a vat of chemicals. While most assume Jack is dead, he finds that the chemicals have altered his appearance, giving him a clown-like face with a permanent smile. This disfigurement drives him mad, and he takes on the identity of “The Joker.” Through the chemical known as “Smilex,” The Joker terrorizes Gotham, leaving many people dead with a hideous grin on their faces. Realizing the truth about The Joker’s past and origins, Batman sets out to save Gotham and avenge his dead parents.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 takes on a classic villain


#350. Dead on Release

A variety of reasons can exist for an actor to not be alive by the time their movie is released. Some actors are old and die from more natural causes (like Spencer Tracy, who died 17 days after the end of filming Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967)). Others might be involved in accidents either on the set (like Brandon Lee in The Crow (1994)) or in the course of living their life (like Anton Yelchin from the Star Trek reboots). The entertainment community mourns the lives taken so early on in their careers, but many actors have died via suicide due to either their approach to acting or the pressure of acting influencing their decisions. Sometimes a mental illness that gives an actor their creativity can also drive them into a suicide as well. This week’s two films highlight some actors who died before their films were released.

Year: 1956
Rating: Approved
Length: 201 minutes / 3.35 hours

At the age of 24, James Dean was a star to be reckoned with. In four short years, he appeared in a handful of uncredited roles, but he also earned two back-to-back nominations for Best Actor in 1955 for East of Eden and in 1956 for Giant. The trick with his nomination for Giant was that he had been killed in a car accident late in 1955, thus making this nomination the first of its kind to be given posthumously. Not only did Dean die before the release of Giant, but he also died before the release of his most iconic role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). One can only speculate the amount of prestige such an actor would have accrued over a lifetime of acting. Even with only three credited movies to his name, the American Film Institute still placed him as #18 on their list of 50 top actors of the last century.

Jett Rink (James Dean) is a farmhand who works for Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) on his Texas ranch. When Bick brings home a lovely wife in Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), Jett is immediately stricken with her. He helps show her the ropes of the property, thus inspiring her to change some of the living conditions for the migrant workers. After the accidental death of Bick’s sister, who also ran the household and had a spat with Leslie, Jett is bequeathed a small portion of the property. After Jett finds oil on his land, he manages to become wealthier than the Benedicts. Jett, still enamored with Leslie, eventually starts dating her daughter, which further sours the relationship between him and Bick. After realizing his children will not follow in his footsteps, Bick finally allows Jett to drill for oil on the remainder of the Benedict property.

The Dark KnightThe Dark Knight
Year: 2008
Rating: PG-13
Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours

Some actors die before their movies finish filming, leaving a noticeable gap in their performance. Actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman are noticeably absent from certain scenes in movies like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015). Some actors have their performances digitally completed and adjusted using CGI, or even sometimes completely created decades after their death (as was the case with Peter Cushing in Rogue One (2016)). While Heath Ledger had completed filming on The Dark Knight (2008), none of his scenes were altered after the fact by director Christopher Nolan. Ledger died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, but some feel his “method acting” approach helped push him over the edge via his role as The Joker. He is only one of two people who have posthumously won a Best Actor Oscar, the other being Peter Finch of Network (1976) fame.

After Batman (Christian Bale) has raised the stakes for Gotham’s crime-fighting, a new force has appeared to oppose him with a gospel of violence and chaos: the Joker (Heath Ledger). As Batman tries to rid the city of crime via his vigilante actions, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) tries to do so within the confines of the law. The Joker, having taken control of the majority of Gotham’s gangs, continues to escalate the situation to get Batman to reveal his true identity. Eventually, Batman finds himself in a corner as the Joker makes him decide between the lawful justice of District Attorney Harvey Dent, or Batman’s girlfriend, Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal). On top of this life-or-death decision, the Joker pits a ferry full of tourists against a ferry full of terrorists in a game of “Who will die first?” Batman, finally able to catch the Joker via an ingenious use of technology, must now retreat to the shadows.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 young actors gone too soon

#348. Elizabeth Taylor

The rise and fall of an actor can almost be as entertaining as watching them in a movie. Somehow we’re drawn to the drama that unfolds in real life even more than the drama captured on celluloid. While we might often forget their successes, we can almost remember where we were during their failures. If there was one actress who practically started the tabloid newspaper business, it was Elizabeth Taylor. With her multiple husbands and a large box office failure with the expensive Cleopatra (1963) to her name, we often forget that, amongst a handful of nominations, she won two Oscars for her acting. After she left the film industry, she did go on to be known for such notable interests as jewelry and perfume, but many still remember her contributions to cinema. This week’s two films highlight the change from Elizabeth Taylor, the young actress to Elizabeth Taylor, the serious starlet.

Father of the BrideFather of the Bride
Year: 1950
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours

Elizabeth Taylor first appeared on the silver screen at the age of 10 in the film There’s One Born Every Minute (1942). The next year, she would appear in Lassie Come Home (1943) in another bit part, eventually rising up to a starring role by 1944’s National Velvet. In the films leading up to her 18th birthday, Taylor seemed to be relegated to movies meant for families, including A Date with Judy (1948), Julia Misbehaves (1948), and a remake of Little Women (1949). Having already portrayed a bride in the aforementioned Julia Misbehaves, Elizabeth Taylor certainly understood the role by the time she was cast in Father of the Bride (1950) and its sequel, Father’s Little Dividend (1951). Ironically enough, Taylor herself was married for the first time in 1950 and divorced by 1951; the first of many.

One evening at an ordinary dinner at home, Kay Banks (Elizabeth Taylor) lets slip that she’s not only in love with Bucky Dunstan (Don Taylor), but has accepted his marriage proposal as well. While this announcement throws her mother Ellie (Joan Bennett) into a wedding planning frenzy, her father Stanley (Spencer Tracy) is more than just a bit uneasy about the whole thing. Kay finds herself having to conform to age-old traditions to help calm her parents’ nerves. After taking her parents to meet the new in-laws, she is soon approached by her father after the engagement party and asked if she couldn’t consider eloping. While this tactic was meant as a cost-saving measure by Stanley, Kay starts to consider it. When Kay’s fiancé lets her know the honeymoon will be a fishing trip, she calls off the wedding, only to be reconciled with her beloved before the big day finally arrives.

A Place in the SunA Place in the Sun
Year: 1951
Rating: Passed
Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours

By 1951, Elizabeth Taylor was able to shed her child-like roles and leave them well behind her as she began to develop in her career. One of the first films to start her on this path to stardom was none other than A Place in the Sun (1951). She would go on to team up with director George Stevens five years later for Giant (1956), earning her the first of many awards. While Taylor was married to six different men during her life, she was nominated for an Oscar only five times. Her first three nominations for Raintree County (1957), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) were followed by two wins for BUtterfield 8 (1960) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). While A Place in the Sun and Giant were included in the American Film Institute’s initial Top 100 list, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? managed to fill their spots in the 10-year anniversary of the list.

Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor) is a socialite who meets George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) at a social event hosted by George’s uncle, Charles Eastman (Herbert Heyes). While George does not have the immense wealth of his uncle, he is enamored by the high life, mostly because of his opportunity to be around Angela. Unfortunately, George is already tied down to a factory girl, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), who is pregnant with his child. Spending as much time as he can with Angela, George is purposely ignoring Alice in the hopes that she’d go away. When Alice learns that George has been with Angela, she decides to blackmail him into marrying her. When they arrive at the courthouse, they find it to be closed due to the Labor Day holiday, thus inspiring George to suggest they go for a boat ride at a nearby lake. Since Alice cannot swim, George has a dastardly plan to get rid of her. Will he go through with it?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 terrific Elizabeth Taylor performances

Bacon #: 2 (Winter Kills / Jeff Bridges -> R.I.P.D. / Kevin Bacon)

#347. Spencer Tracy

It is a rare talent to not only be a prolific actor but one who has appeared in numerous classics. Add to this, a number of Oscar nominations for acting and you’re left with an incredible legacy. Spencer Tracy was just such an actor. He excelled in comedy as well as drama, a challenging feat for any actor. Of course, one does wonder if collaborations with other actors and directors helped Tracy to truly shine. After all, it’s easier to act when you’re comfortable with the other people on stage, let alone the people behind the camera. Spencer Tracy worked with plenty of famous actors and directors over the years, but two individuals stand out as frequent collaborators: Katharine Hepburn and Stanley Kramer. This week’s two films examine the lengthy, varied, and oft-recognized career of Spencer Tracy.

                                                      Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
Year: 1967
Rating: Unrated
Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours

Over almost four decades, Spencer Tracy managed to rack up an astounding 75 films to his name, often performing in two or more films every year. With this statistic in mind, it then becomes evident that Tracy enjoyed collaborating with Katharine Hepburn. The two of them starred in nine films together: Woman of the Year (1942), Keeper of the Flame (1942), Without Love (1945), Sea of Grass (1947), State of the Union (1948), Adam’s Rib (1949), Pat and Mike (1952), Desk Set (1957), and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967). These nine films comprised 12% of Tracy’s career. While rarely acknowledged officially, Tracy and Hepburn were significant to each other, both on and off camera. Sadly, mere weeks after the conclusion of filming Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Spencer Tracy died of a heart attack at the age of 67.

Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy) is surprised when his daughter, Joanna (Katharine Houghton) comes home early from her vacation. Not only is her arrival a surprise, but the fiancé she has brought with her is unexpected as well. John Prentice (Sidney Poitier) is a black man, which gives both Matt and his wife, Christina (Katharine Hepburn) an uneasy feeling, even though they taught their daughter racial equality. Matt struggles with giving his blessing for the upcoming nuptials as he recognizes the interracial couple will have many challenges ahead of them. Through the convincing of his friend, Monsignor Mike Ryan (Cecil Kellaway) and his wife, Matt eventually relents as he realizes the truth of the matter: all marriages will have hardships, but what matters most is that the two individuals getting married love each other.

Father of the BrideFather of the Bride
Year: 1950
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours

Considering the prestige that comes with being nominated for an Oscar, Spencer Tracy has racked up the most prestige over the years. Tied with Laurence Olivier for most nominations, Tracy received nine nods for Best Actor. After his first nomination for his role in San Francisco (1936), he would then go on to win the next two years via the films Captains Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938). It then took almost a decade before he was nominated again. This nomination was for Father of the Bride (1950), at which point the nominations started to flow again for films like Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), The Old Man and the Sea (1958), and Inherit the Wind (1960). With Inherit the Wind, Tracy teamed up with director Stanley Kramer, earning himself two more nominations for the three additional films they did together, Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) being slightly more auspicious than It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

Marriage seems to be a favorite theme with Spencer Tracy films, as evidenced by Father of the Bride. No matter how much Stanley T. Banks (Spencer Tracy) could prepare for it, eventually his daughter, Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) would grow up and marry someone she loves. While he’s fine with it now, his anxiety affected the whole engagement process as he drank too much and passed out in the home of his future son-in-law’s parent’s house. Not wanting to spend too much money on this wedding, Stanley soon realizes that the whole thing is ballooning out of his control. Murphy’s Law is in full force as the clock ticks down to the big day, with last-minute reconciliations between the bride and groom merely mirroring the number of conflicts and problems revolving around the wedding reception at the Banks’ house. With the wedding now over, Stanley watches as his little girl drives off for her honeymoon.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stupendous Spencer Tracy roles

Bacon #: 2 (The Mountain / Robert Wagner -> Wild Things / Kevin Bacon)

#346. Sidney Poitier

While the Civil Rights movements of the 1960’s led to legal equality of minorities, there was still resistance to their inclusion. Hollywood also had to undergo a transition in the light of these changes. Before the 1960’s, most people of color represented on the silver screen were mere stereotypes of the obsequious station many of these individuals could manage. Fortunately, right around the time these changes were happening in the real world, the film world had opportunities to shine a light on these changes via the talented work of Sidney Poitier. With a black man cast in such roles as detectives and physicians, no longer were these people of color relegated to portray “the help” in the movies. Poitier’s groundbreaking acting helped pave the way for many others, even if the film industry hasn’t changed as much as people had hoped it would. This week’s two films highlight some game-changing performances by Sidney Poitier.

In the Heat of the NightIn the Heat of the Night
Year: 1967
Rating: Approved
Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours

Sidney Poitier earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in The Defiant Ones (1958). This nomination was the first hint of equality in Hollywood, as his co-star, Tony Curtis, was also nominated for the award. Fortunately, neither of them won, since that could have indicated who was better: black or white. Five years later, Poitier would win his one and only Oscar for his leading role in Lilies of the Field (1963). This achievement broke the barrier for the award, which had been held by white men for over 30 years. Unfortunately, the streak of white men winning the Oscar for Best Actor would continue for another three decades, when Denzel Washington would win for Training Day (2001). Clearly, the struggle for these actors of color to find significant roles to showcase their talent has been an ongoing challenge and one that Hollywood seems unlikely and unwilling to change.

The murder of a Chicago businessman in Sparta, Mississippi leads the police chief, Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) to suspect anyone in the town who seems out of place. With no suspicious characters sighted near the scene of the crime, the local police eventually find Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) loitering at the train station. As the only suspect, Gillespie tries to get Tibbs to confess, only to learn that Tibbs is a homicide detective from Philadelphia. While Tibbs just wants to leave, obviously not being welcomed by the white population of the town, his boss tells him to assist with the investigation. This request is then emphasized by the widow of the deceased, who recognizes Tibbs’ competence when compared to the biased local police force. Despite the hurdles Tibbs has to endure, he eventually solves the crime and earns Gillespie’s respect in the process.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
Year: 1967
Rating: Unrated
Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours

Integration was one of the problems addressed by the Civil Rights movement. Equality was a good place to start, but without these individuals being treated as equals in an integrated society, the whole point of the movement was lost. In one of his breakout roles, Sidney Poitier portrayed a student in a mixed race school in The Blackboard Jungle (1955), highlighting the negative (and erroneous) accusations that often befell black people based on racial bias. Unfortunately, the racial bias isn’t limited to the academic arena. One of the most polarizing topics for many decades has been that of interracial marriage. If anything, the acceptance of interracial marriages should be the epitome of equality and integration. Regarding Hollywood’s portrayal of this potentially hot-button topic, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) is the epitome of interracial marriage films.

Although the traditionally liberal parents of Joanna Drayton (Katharine Houghton) should have no ideological qualms with their daughter marrying John Prentice (Sidney Poitier), something about an upper-class white woman marrying a black man doesn’t sit well with them. While Matt (Spencer Tracy) and Christina (Katharine Hepburn) would want more time to talk to their daughter about this upcoming marriage, they are surprised with not only the fiancé but his parents as well. All three of them are coming over to the Draytons’ house for dinner as a chance for the two families to get to know each other. The time to question the engaged couple as to their thought process is short, as John is traveling from San Francisco to Europe via New York immediately after dinner, and Joanna has decided to go with him for their wedding ceremony in Geneva. Will everyone be accepting of this unusual arrangement?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 perfect Sidney Poitier performances

Bacon #: 2 (Sneakers / David Strathairn -> The River Wild / Kevin Bacon)

#341. Harrison Ford

If you don’t know who Harrison Ford is, then you’ve likely never seen any number of successful and timeless classics. While Ford has been in many thrillers and dramas, including Best Picture nominees American Graffiti (1973), The Conversation (1974), Apocalypse Now! (1979), Witness (1985) (wherein he obtained his one and only Best Actor Oscar nomination), and The Fugitive (1993), he is perhaps best known for his leading roles in such franchises as Star Wars and Indiana Jones (both of which also obtained Best Picture nominations over the years). He’s so recognizable that it’s sometimes shocking to find his appearance altered in movies like 42 (2013), only to eventually recognize that trademark smirk and gravelly voice and know that it’s really Harrison Ford. This week’s two films highlight some of the best roles of Harrison Ford.

Blade RunnerBlade Runner
Year: 1982
Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

The sci-fi genre has been kind to Harrison Ford, offering him many memorable roles throughout the years. Not only has Han Solo from Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) been placed as #14 on the American Film Institute’s list of Top 50 heroes, but the role has been repeated by Ford in the sequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), and The Force Awakens (2015). While Han Solo is certainly iconic, Ford doesn’t bring him into his other roles, like Colonel Hyrum Graff in Ender’s Game (2013), thus showing he has a certain amount of range when it comes to his sci-fi characters. Of course, some of this is dictated by the movie itself. The cyberpunk-inspired Blade Runner (1982), and its sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (2017), have a darker tone than his other sci-fi roles, and he adapts the character of Rick Deckard to fit the theme.

Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is put on task as a Blade Runner to track down four androids who have recently arrived on Earth. Androids aren’t allowed on Earth, having been relegated to the outer worlds of the human empire, so their presence in Los Angeles is illegal. While most androids can be identified via an “emotion test” known as the “Voight-Kampff,” some of these newer models have figured out how to outsmart it. With this added challenge, Rick manages to find these androids as they search for their “maker,” Tyrell Corporation founder Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel). Along the way, Rick learns from the androids’ leader, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), that they want to live longer than the four-year lifespan the androids have been given. As sentience and humanity become increasingly ambiguous, Rick continues to fulfill his duties as a Blade Runner and eliminate the android threats.

Raiders of the Lost ArkRaiders of the Lost Ark
Year: 1981
Rating: PG
Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours

George Lucas really liked working with Harrison Ford. Not only was he cast in Star Wars, but he was also included in Lucas’ breakout film, American Graffiti (1973). Obviously, Ford made an impression, because he was eventually given the titular role of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). A role he went on to repeat in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). It’s no wonder that Indiana Jones was placed at #2 on the American Film Institute’s list of Top 50 heroes, only bested by Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Time will tell if the fifth installment in the Indiana Jones franchise will recreate the magic of the original Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it hopefully isn’t as bad as Crystal Skull, which almost feels serious next to the camp of Cowboys & Aliens (2011).

After a failed expedition in Peru, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) returns to his academic job at Marshall College where he teaches archaeology. Following one of his lectures, two men from Army Intelligence approach Dr. Jones and inform him of a plot by the Nazis to obtain the fabled Ark of the Covenant. They want him to go to Egypt to try and find this artifact before the enemy does. After a short stop in Nepal to recover a piece of the Staff of Ra, Jones makes his way to Egypt and uses his archeological knowledge to find the Ark amongst a Nazi excavation site. Unfortunately, the Nazis intercept Jones and take the Ark away, leaving him in a pit of snakes. Using some ingenuity, Jones escapes and intercepts the Nazis again, but fails to stop them from testing the artifact. Fortunately, the power of the Ark is too much for the Nazis to handle and Jones manages to safely return it to the United States.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fantastic Harrison Ford roles

Bacon #: 2 (Apocalypse Now! / Robert Duvall -> Jayne Mansfield’s Car / Kevin Bacon)

#338. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Perhaps one of the most recognizable action heroes of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a man of many talents. Of course, these skills usually evolve over time. From his days as an award-winning bodybuilder, he used this physique to enter the realm of Hollywood and portray other, similarly built characters. From his first role in 1969 as Hercules in Hercules in New York, his muscles and accented speech patterns have defined his acting career. Once he became older, and his muscle-bound machismo didn’t fit in the action movies anymore, he turned to politics, becoming the governor of California and holding that position for almost a decade. Despite somewhat moving on from acting in films, he still occasionally appears in them, albeit as a bit of a parody of his previous performances. This week’s two films highlight some of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best roles.

True LiesTrue Lies
Year: 1994
Rating: R
Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours

While most of Schwarzenegger’s roles have been in action films, he has actually done quite a few comedies as well. Often, these comedies are combined with some action so the audience can see Schwarzenegger in his element. For the better part of the 1980’s, Arnold’s roles were strictly in the “tough guy” category; but by 1988, his on-screen persona was lightened a bit with the release of Twins. At this point in his career, about half of his films were also comedies, including Kindergarten Cop (1990), Junior (1994), and Jingle All the Way (1996). Even the action/comedies of Last Action Hero (1993) and True Lies (1994) fully exploit his ability to poke fun at the action genre. Heck, we could even consider Batman & Robin (1997) comedy, for how laughably bad it was. At any rate, the fusion of comedy and action certainly worked for Arnold, and True Lies is perhaps the epitome of this.

Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a loving husband and father, but what his family doesn’t know is that he is not a computer salesman. Harry Tasker is a secret agent. Therefore, when he misses a birthday party that his wife and daughter planned for him, he loses their respect. He can’t tell them that he was chasing Palestinian terrorists through Washington D.C., so he decides to make it up to his wife by surprising her for lunch the next day. It’s at this point Harry learns that Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) is being seduced by a used car salesman pretending to be a secret agent. Using his connections, he scares the con artist out of the picture but also learns that Helen is desperate for excitement in her life. They soon both find themselves entangled in the Palestinians’ plot to terrorize Miami. As Helen learns of Harry’s true identity, they must work together to save the day and save their daughter.

Year: 1987
Rating: R
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

What’s encouraging about Schwarzenegger’s action movies, is that they often aren’t purely “action.” From his role in fantasy films such as Conan in Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984) to his roles in science fiction films like The Terminator (1984), Total Recall (1990), and The 6th Day (2000), Arnold has shown that action has no genre limits. What helps make these action films memorable are the one-liners spoken in his Austrian-accented English. Most of these memorable quotes have come from his roles in the Terminator franchise, but there have been many great lines from other films as well. Sometimes I’ll even get into a Schwarzenegger quote-off with my friends, he’s that quotable. With his muscular physique, he showed how to play a soldier in films like Commando (1985), but he really hit his quotable stride two years later in the sci-fi/action film, Predator (1987).

A military team tasked by the CIA to rescue a hostage in the Val Verde jungle is joined by one of their agents, former Army Colonel George Dillon (Arnold Schwarzenegger). When the team arrives in the jungle, they find their mission is not one of personnel recovery, but information retrieval. Dillon recognizes a team of Special Forces who were brutally killed in a previous attempt to recover the classified information. Arriving at the insurgent camp, the team retrieves the documents but also captures a rebel named Anna (Elpidia Carrillo). As members of the team are killed off by a mysterious creature, Dillon learns that it is hunting them for sport. Eventually confronting the alien creature, Dillion manages to incapacitate it but must escape quickly when it activates a thermonuclear device. Yelling for Anna to “Get to the choppa!” they both narrowly escape the blast via the extraction helicopter.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 awesome Arnold Schwarzenegger roles

Bacon #: 2 (Commando / Bill Paxton -> Apollo 13 / Kevin Bacon)