#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.

GiantGiant
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

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#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)