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Jennifer

Seeing Fred MacMurray in DI was the first time I recalled seeing him out of his Flubber/Steve Douglas persona. I was blown away. The movie was so excellent on its own, but add to it the *new to me* Fred... well, let's just say that is one movie I will never forget.

I know there were others... but my memory escapes me! Let me think.

Jennifer

Uh! One popped into my head... Julie Andrews in "The Americanization of Emily".

Linkmeister

Angela Lansbury. Watch the original "The Manchurian Candidate"; if you only know her from the Jessica Fletcher role in reruns of TV's "Murder She Wrote" you'll be astonished at her...well, what? Malignancy? Evil?

Ralph Hitchens

Steve Martin in "All of Me" delivered one of the most masterful performances in film history. A lot of it was physical, of course, but nonetheless impressive.

Cass

Humphrey Bogart, "In a Lonely Place". And yes, I loved Macmurray in "Double Indemnity" as well... desperation, lust, tenderness, hatred, venality, fear, and sadness, all from a basically average man who suddenly discovers he's in way over his head. I wish he would've treated us to more characters like this over his career.

J.

I don't know whenI first noticed and appreciated an actor's ability to be extraordinarly brilliant. All I do know is that whenever Gene Hackman or Dustin Hoffman plays on a screen with any other junior actor, it's like comparing the sun and a flashlight. Cate Blanchett in her many roles in The Aviator, Lord of the Rings, Life Acquatic, and the Givt. She's a chameleon, gifted beyond the ken of mortals. Aaron Eckhart - compare "in the company of men" to "nurse betty" and "thank you for smoking." Amazing. And - you're going to laugh - Sly Stallone, at least in Lords of Flatbush, Cop Land, Demolition Man, and Antz. Sly is a good actor when he gets good scripts.

Mike Schilling

Mary Tyler Moore in "Ordinary People". A selfish, controlling, cold-blooded bitch, and the very opposite of Laura Petrie.

Jennifer

Okay, not a first actor, but John Ritter in Slingblade gave me a better appreciation of him.

Lou

Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West. It may be Henry's only toe in villainous waters and what a villain he played. When his blue, blue eyes crinkle up in that signature Henry Fonda smile as he blows away a 10-year-old kid, the scene is so much more powerful than if your stereotypical villain had done the killing.

Exiled in New Jersey

Paul Newman's Hud. Compare the roles Newman has played, with those of the glamor boy who followed him, Redford. RR, like Gable before him, never took chances but at least Gable could say studios wouldn't let him.

To a teen who watched Ealing comedies with his brother and sister, seeing Alec Guiness as Colonel Nicholson was a shock. I also saw his Gully Jimson at 15 or 16 and did not get it. Today I think it is the best film ever made that deals with the artist's mind.

Andy Griffith in Face in the Crowd or Burt Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success, both films I saw after they came out. Finally for a slightly younger group, Gregory Peck Boys of Brazil.

Jim Tourtelott

Bette Davis In Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, which inexplicably I was allowed into a movie theater in Mesa, Arizona to see at the age of 12 in 1962. It was the most unsettling thing I had ever seen. It's still one of the most unsettling things I have ever seen. At the time, I paid it the compliment of running out of the theater in horror. (I seem to remember Davis presenting Crawford her pet parrot on a plate, and deciding I had to get away from that crazy woman as fast as I possibly could.)

Two other remarkable performances against type that I saw the same year were by Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea in Ride the High Country, a Western unlike any I had ever seen before and still among my favorite Peckinpah movies.

sfmike

I'm with Lou in voting for Henry Fonda in "Once Upon A Time in The West." I read somewhere that after reading the script, Fonda showed up in Spain with a stubble ready to play a villain, and Sergio Leone politely told him, "no, please shave, I want Henry Fonda to play the villain." It's similar to Van Dyke playing a villainous Rob Petrie without changing much at all, or Andy Griffith playing a villainous version of his subsequent persona in his early movie "A Face in The Crowd."

Ken Houghton

Lou hit the quintessence.

Russell Johnson, btw, played someone who travels back in time and witnesses the Lincoln Assassination on an original TZ episode. As with DeForest Kelley, you'll find him all over the place.

Suffering Bruin

I love this topic.

Van Johnson in CM was damn good. Lance already said that, of course, but all the same, a terrific performance and for me, wholly unexpected. Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows were on "Homicide: Life on the Street" playing a nutty married couple that liked to play with guns. That was pretty wild.

First performance I ever saw that made me appreciate acting: Ellen Burstyn in "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore."

Vadranor

Another memorable performance by Fred MacMurray was as Jack Lemmon's boss in the Apartment.

Mike Schiling

And Hugh Laurie in House. I marvel that he's the same guy who played Bertie Wooster and Lieutenant George.

Victoria

I was fairly observant about actors from the get-go, I think - watched a lot of old movies on the TV , absolutely studied TV Guide each week, and always, always found a way to sneak out of bed to go downstairs and catch Johnny Carson or Dick Cavett when they had certain actors as guests - sound way down, me with my face right up to the screen in an otherwise dark living room.

But one particularly memorable breakthrough moment vis-a-vis acting came fairly late. I was a grad student (in drama, no less) in bed with a bad cold one Saturday afternoon when I caught a double feature of Pygmalion and Streetcar, both for the first time. First Leslie Howard and then Marlon Brando. Both were so incredibly brilliant that it made me laugh...and laugh...and laugh some more. I had never reacted like this before. And then it struck me: Waves Of Bliss! I was laughing from pure bliss. My cold was cured by the time Streetcar's credits rolled. No lie.

julia

Second MacMurray in The Apartment, Lansbury in Manchurian Candidate (although it wasn't any surprise if you'd seen her at 19 (!) in State of the Union or 18 in Gaslight) and Mary Tyler Moore as Barbara Bush in Ordinary People.

There's an almost-disappeared movie called The Shrike you may see sometime on TCM - then it-boy Jose Ferrer's attempt to excuse his appalling behavior towards his wife, Rosemary Clooney, by explaining why the crazy bitch had it coming to her.

June Allyson, of all people, is remarkable as the ambitious-but-untalented psychotic castrating bitch-queen from hell subtly plotting the destruction of her successful and talented and deeply decent husband the incredibly talented director because she couldn't stand to be a wife and mother like any decent woman (yes, it's that movie).

Ferrer, on whom the pompous, egomaniacal character of Jeffrey Cordoba in The Band Wagon was based (think Kenneth Branagh without the selflessness), played the husband, and she wiped him off the screen.

If ever a movie deserved to have a wtf? happy ending tacked on the end by the studio to make it completely incoherent, it was this one.

harry near indy

when walter brennan played against type, or at least the type i remembered him by, it flipped me out.

i first saw as the old benign codger grandpa mccoy on the tv show the real mccoys. that was during the early 1960s, when i was in grade school.

but when i was in college during the middle 1970s, i saw him play pop clanton in john ford's my darling clementine. when he took a horse whip and started beating one of his sons, i admit i was surprised. i knew it was acting, and i was more mature, but that -- i never expected brennan to do something like that.

my darling clementine is ford's movie about wyatt earp, doc holliday, and the gunfight at the o.k. corral. btw, henry fonda played wyatt earp and victor mature played doc holliday.

AZrider

Don't know that I've ever had that kind of film epiphany, but it was only recently that I really appreciated Marlon Brando's acting. We're all familiar with his roles in The Godfather, Apocolypse Now, Streetcar Named Desire. But after watching him play an effete Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty and then a Japanese fellow in Teahouse of the August Moon, I really got to appreciate how an actor can put himself so completely in the part. If you think that Brando might appear ridiculous as a Japanese character, you have to see Teahouse. He plays the part with charm, wile and a sense of humor that is so non-racial, non-condescending that it's brilliant. Watching that movie made me wonder if M*A*S*H (both movie and TV series) owes something to this particular movie.

Of course watching all those old westerns with the recycled character actors hit me as a kid growing up with TV in the 50s. We watched The Man who Shot Liberty Valence yesterday, and I love watching Andy Devine play the same character as he did in the TV show Wild Bill Hickok (can't ever remember who played WB). Then there was Strother Martin, and no one who's seen Cool Hand Luke can forget that character. And Lee Marvin who played Liberty as pure cowboy menace. Just the tip of the iceberg in mentioning these few actors. Walter Brennan, Chuck Conners, Clint Eastwood and many many more of these guys recycled across our B&W TV and in and out of movies for a couple of decades --their characters were more real than the actors.

Exiled in New Jersey

AZrider: try Guy Madison as Wild Bill. And you bring up Lee Marvin; imagine his portfolio without Cat Ballou!

No one has mentioned the revelation gotten from watching John Wayne play Tom Dunson in Red River. Or in another film made at that same time, his comedic ability in Three Godfathers. Without these two films it's hard to imagine Ford casting him in Quiet Man or The Searchers.

Raenelle

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck-I think I'm constitutionally incapable, when pairing those names, of thinking of any movie other than Double Indemnity.

Come to think of it, was the Mutiny character played by MacMurray that far away from the DI insurance investigator?

mndean

As much as I admire Dick Van Dyke's turn as Billy Bright, I wasn't as surprised by it, I guess because I was in my twenties when I saw the movie, and I remembered him doing some decent acting when I was younger (but where exactly I don't remember right now). Another think is it was really hard for me to see much of Keaton in his character, because Keaton wasn't really a bastard to anyone but his first wife, who gave as good as she got (and she got everything in the end!). I guess my knowing about Buster's past made me immune to the idea Bright was (even loosely) based on him in The Comic. I guess I took Billy to be either a pastiche or a generalized character, not terribly specific to anyone.

The Heretik

That guy who played Clint Eastwood until he played somebody else.

Campaspe

Exiled, supposedly when John Ford saw Red River he muttered, "I didn't know the sonofabitch could act," and afterward put him in much more complex roles. That may be apocryphal, but Wayne was a revelation to a lot of people, including costar Montgomery Clift.

Watching Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight was a revelation for me. Comic timing that good is no accident, and it made me wonder why the two screen bios of her both portrayed her as all sex appeal and little to no talent. Betty Grable is the funniest thing in How to Marry a Millionaire, and it shows you it is a pity she didn't get better scripts. Ditto Dietrich and Tyrone Power showing dramatic range in Witness for the Prosecution, and James Stewart being deeply unlikeable in Vertigo.

Arthur

Excellent post on Dick van Dyke. In that movie, I don't think there is a palpable rapport between director and actor, which kept the film from soaring as it could have.

The website for the Archives of American Television has a streaming vid of his interview which includes discussion on that role. A kind of post-Rob Petrie decision that along the way also purged his obvious fondness for the days of Stan Laurel / silent film comedians.

As for actors - if you ask for revelation, it's difficult, but being subjective now, where I really FELT something happening - I would chose from recent memory an example: Lon Chaney in "The Unknown", and "He who gets Slapped"

We know the cliches, the whole "man of 1000 faces" / James Cagney bio, etc... or the Phantom / Hunchback material, but then I came across these films on tv by chance, and was just wowed by his acting. "The Unknown" is a silent film by director Tod Browning of later "Freaks" fame. The plots of both films are psychologial noir territory, the sets and circumstances amazing, but his portrayals brings the situations into a kind of identifiable reality, of doomed, unrequited love.

I think it is this moment as well, when the so-called "character actor" moves far, far over into other territories often hardly travelled by the "stars", which in turn, brings us viewers to sense something going on in the performance.

flem snopes

The first time I left a theater feeling "blown away" by an actor's performance was after seeing Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker.

I couldn't stop thinking about that movie or his character for weeks.

flem snopes

Oh, Yeah... Mike Schiling.

"And Hugh Laurie in House. I marvel that he's the same guy who played Bertie Wooster and Lieutenant George."

And the father in Stuart Little.

cgeye

Andy fraking Griffith.

Once I saw him in A FACE IN THE CROWD, I can't watch any of his series, because it's like staring at the bloody stumps of his talent.

It's like he had to neutralize the wild talent within himself (and within his avatar, Elvis), to make the virile, southern man acceptable to mainstream America -- the side conversation to why Sidney Poitier was so necessary for American film.

EJ

A more recent example: Michael Palin in "Brazil."

On the surface he's the same friendly, charming, likable, slightly nerdy character that he normally plays, which makes it all the more horrifying that his character is actually a soulless, vicious police state functionary who tortures people for a living.

Also, I always thought it was a loss to movie villainy when Tommy Lee Jones became a leading man. There's a semi-obscurity from 15 or so years ago called "The Package," where he plays a mysterious assassin opposite Gene Hackman's good-guy army sergeant. In particular there's one scene where Hackman, tied up and left to die, angrily screams at him, "Who's paying you??" Jones pauses, and then quietly sneers in that classic drawl of his, "EVERYbody pays ME." It's just a terrific line readin.

cebm

For me, it was Leslie Howard. I'd seen him in Gone With the Wind, no biggie. Then I saw The Scarlet Pimpernel. I was totally blown away. Leslie Howard was wonderful. Merle Oberon was beautiful,and good,and a very skinny Raymond Massey was phenomenal. It is still one of my all time favorites.

cgeye

... which is why BATMAN FOREVER was such a grave insult.

Tommy Lee could do Two Face in his sleep, but they didn't trust him to do it. They trusted that migraine sower Barbara Ling's designs, the garish makeup (was Dini *ever* wrong, in his conceptions of the Rogue's Gallery, during the animated series?), the overblown score, the excresence that is an Akiva Goldsman script, but trust the man who made Steven Seagal credible as an action hero? Nah....

It's a sad day when Jones has to stand around, just to give enough space for Jim Carrey to blow yet another performance out his ass.

I'm sorry. I'm just longing for those two hours back, in the midnight heat of a NYC evening, staying up way late to be the first in the city TO PAY MONEY, to see that movie.

Tom

Speaking of Batman, was Michael Keaton a surprise in that role, or what? Not that he's the best Batman (Christian Bale has that claim, I think), but that he came across as someone who was thoughtful and intelligent, but also unhinged enough to insist on fighting crime dressed as a bat.

John Goodman at the end of Barton Fink.

Leo DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape. The only, and I mean the only, portrayal of a developmentally disabled child that I've ever seen on screen that really resembled the way that such children act, rather than some modestly-talented actor's gambit for serious dramacred. If you didn't catch the credits, you wouldn't even recognize him.

cgeye

Just to not lose this down the memory hole, but the best Batman evah was and always will be the team of Paul Dini and Kevin Conroy, who ruled over the animated series for close to ten years of quality entertainment....

I never discount how hard it is to create both a credible Bruce Wayne and Batman. Granted, Bale had a head start with playing Bateman in AMERICAN PSYCHO, in creating the loathesome public Wayne, but still, Conroy made Wayne as compelling and non-mock heroic as Batman, for the first time on film.

As for Keaton, he stopped Batman from staying a joke, which was yeoman's work, on its own. His Wayne wasn't tough, or a warrior in a business suit ("you wanna go NUTS"?, indeed....), but he was clever, unassuming, acting how inherited rich kids act, like it's no big thing to use the tools he has, but still grieving and unstable enough to spend years developing the armor he needed to become the military industrial complex known as the Bat.

Cris

Robert DeNiro in Awakenings. By 1990, nobody was surprised that DeNiro could turn in a moving dramatic performance, but he had such complete mastery of his entire body, convulsing and twitching, looking frail and frightened, this role especially flies in the face of the tough-guy caricature that has become his dominant film legacy.

Matt

I am amazed no one has mentioned Jimmy Stewart. He was a nice guy before (and right after) WWII, but then he starts playing roles in Hitchcock movie and you can see how the nice guy can become unhinged (Rear Window and Vertigo), but you can also see the same thing in It's a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart had range baby.

cgeye

In the dim time of the miniseries, no one did the switcheroo better than Jane Seymour.

Before Dr. Quinn, kiddies, she went all out in EAST OF EDEN and FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY, playing to the extremes of beauty and evil. We tend to forget what risks actors can take, while making their bones, or regaining status, as Stewart had to, post-war. Frankly, that's why I find John Wayne uninteresting, because he was coddled intellectually, if not physically, in most of his parts.

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