Friday, November 13, 2009

Slime to the Tenth Power

When I was in my late teens, just after high school, I found myself living in the small town where I'd been born, but from which I'd not been (except for brief visits) since the age of seven. The place is Brunswick, Georgia and it's a pretty horrible spot. I suppose some people must like it there, for it has a permanent population of several thousand. And I reckon other folk just stay out of some kind of ignorant loyalty for a familiar place. At the age of seventeen I found myself there, and I loathed it. Of course I could have just walked away from it, but I didn't. I didn't have the necessary forethought to hit the road. Alas.

In those days of loneliness and pining for the mountains of southern Appalachia where I'd spent the previous four years, I discovered that I could drown my loneliness and misery in feature films. Keep in mind that this was in the days before affordable VCR machines, and the DVD format was decades away. So if you wanted to see a movie you had to keep an eye on the TV Guide and wait for something good to see and set your schedule, or else you went to the cinema.

Me, I went to the movies. A lot. In those days Brunswick had a grand total of five screens, as I recall. And that's counting the Sunset Drive-In, which was, the last time I checked, an overgrown lot of weeds and trees. But, with no friends and a lot of pure fucking depression to drown, I would hit the movies several times per week. I'd go to every theater in town until I'd seen everything. For me, misery was a popular film that would lock in a screen for weeks at a time, thus depriving me of seeing something new.

It was during this time that I found that I loved the small movies. I enjoyed films made on low budgets; or movies that the masses seemed to dislike. I found that I really liked to watch the kind of movie that most people avoided. During these days I developed an admiration for actors and directors and writers who were not as well known, or who were ignored or overlooked. I liked guys like Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton. I'd rather watch a film that never made a dime than a blockbuster that made jillions for its producers.

The underdogs were the ones for me.

One movie that made an absolutely huge impression on me was STRAIGHT TIME. It was a Dustin Hoffman movie, which should have meant that it would have made a lot of money. But it came and it went and no one seemed to even notice that it had ever existed. I noticed it. It was one of the four films I saw the week it appeared. The week after it hit Brunswick it was gone. They'd replaced it with something else--something I'm sure I saw, but I couldn't tell you what it was.

But STRAIGHT TIME I could tell you about. I liked everything about it. Even as I watched it I felt my mind tilting a bit. Dustin Hoffman as a career criminal. And not even a mobster. No, here was this great actor portraying a nothing hood who robbed at gunpoint, who broke and entered, who smashed and grabbed, who snatched purses. He was a loser with a capital L. It was amazing. I believed for two hours that Dustin Hoffman was a loser criminal searching for his big score.

And the cast who rode along during the movie: a cast made in 70s-movie Heaven. Harry Dean Stanton, yes. Gary Busey. Kathy Bates. And I'll never, ever forget Theresa Russell as she made her first appearance in the film. I'd never seen a more shapely ass, and I'll never forget that scene.

But the greatest performance in the film was by M. Emmett Walsh. For some reason, Emmett Walsh has a tremendous talent for portraying bastards. And I'm not talking about just minor-league assholes, but the full on twelve-gauge sort. And of all of the assholes he has ever played he portrayed the slimiest of all as Earl Frank, Max Dembo's (Hoffman's) parole officer. I'd never met a parole officer (still haven't), but after seeing Walsh's portrayal of Frank, I wanted to see them all burn in Hell. At the earliest opportunity.

So I dedicate this bit of my blog to M. Emmett Walsh, one of the most unforgettable actors of my youth in the single best role I've ever seen out of him.

This is from Blade Runner and not STRAIGHT TIME, but it's the only good photo of Walsh as a slimy bastard that I could locate.

M. Emmett Walsh as Earl Frank. Slime never looked so nasty.

An ass-kicking and humiliation has NEVER been more deserved.


dogboy443 said...

It's now in my rental queue

HemlockMan said...

It remains a great movie for me.

william said...

My interest in films also has to be tempered by my low frustration level. When I see people (actors :) ) acting like Walsh does, or John Cleese as Basil Fawlty, I start getting antsy and itchy because I HATE that kind of behavior. Can't watch an entire episode of Fawltey Towers without getting up, leaving the room, and pacing awhile. Then I can go back and start watching again :)

James Robert Smith said...

Yeah, Fawlty did that to me sometimes. The scenes could be so uncomfortable and embarrassing that you can barely stand to watch.