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Tag Archives: Art Carney

Old Folks in Road Movies

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There’s a built-in poignancy about road movies involving codgers. Either they’re retracing footsteps of an embattled past, or they’re journeying into unknown territory in defiance of age and expectation. Either way, it can be engrossing to watch.

JACK NICHOLSON IN “ABOUT SCHMIDT”

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In “About Schmidt,” Jack Nicholson hits the road as a deeply ordinary man forced to question pretty much everything about how he’s lived his life. There are some very funny moments in RVs and a hot tub, but the overriding sense of sadness is strong. “About Schmidt” also boasts one of the most unusual choices for an ending that I’ve ever seen.

JANE DARWELL IN “THE GRAPES OF WRATH”

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It’s all there in her wonderful face: pain, fear, disappointment, resolve. Based on John Steinbeck’s great novel of Okies fleeing the dustbowl during the Depression, Darwell’s performance is rooted in a tragic, almost mystical view of travel as survival. She isn’t on the road seeking redemption or guidance. She wants to find a place for her family to live.

ALAN ARKIN IN “LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE”

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How great is this movie? Mr. Arkin’s work, in particular, is excellent. He takes a stock character, the cranky old guy, and knows exactly when to play him loud and when to play him soft. Road movies are always about the interior transformations and emotional movements, and “Little Miss Sunshine” wisely uses Arkin as a major catalyst.

ART CARNEY IN “HARRY AND TONTO”

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Art Carney won an Oscar as Harry, a philosophical widower tossed out of his New York City apartment. He roams the country with his cat, Tonto. Although this film has a few too many contrivances, it’s also undeniably moving. It makes a firm argument that loss and change can be accompanied by new experiences and new friendships.

JAMES EARL JONES IN “FIELD OF DREAMS”

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The great James Earl Jones isn’t the star of “Field of Dreams,” but his presence enlivens it immeasurably. His road from sarcastic skepticism to ardent belief in Kevin Costner’s quest is what gives the movie some zip at exactly the right moment.

GERALDINE PAGE IN “TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL”

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Page is heartbreaking in “Trip to Bountiful.” She plays an older woman, living with her shrill daughter-in-law and henpecked son, who wants to see her childhood home one last time. So she sneaks away and takes the bus. It’s such a quiet, winning performance; Page won a well-deserved Oscar for it.

RICHARD FARNSWORTH IN “THE STRAIGHT STORY”

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I’ll readily admit that I’d have been willing to plunk down full price to see and hear Richard Farnsworth recite the ingredients in soup. His manner had the simplicity and beauty of deep, still water. In “The Straight Story,” he plays a man who sets out on a riding lawnmower to visit his estranged brother, who lives in another state. It’s both boring and riveting, if that makes any sense.

And now, the Jimbo List is going to take a two-week break. Safe travels to one and all.

A Gallery of Cinematic Hats

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Much is made of computer animation and other technology in movies and TV, but I think one of the best special effects goes on top of an actor’s head. It shapes our whole attitude about a character, without so much as a transposed pixel. Here, without commentary, are some of my favorites.

HARRISON FORD AS INDIANA JONES

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CHARLIE CHAPLIN AS THE LITTLE TRAMP

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THE LADIES OF “DOWNTON ABBEY”

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CLINT EASTWOOD AS THE MAN WITH NO NAME

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SALLY FIELD AS “THE FLYING NUN”

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JON HAMM AS DON DRAPER

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THE CAT IN THE HAT

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CARMEN MIRANDA

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JIMMIE WALKER AS J.J. EVANS

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ALAN HALE JR. AS THE SKIPPER

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MAURICE CHEVALIER

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JOHN WAYNE

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MARY TYLER MOORE AS MARY RICHARDS

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BASIL RATHBONE AS SHERLOCK HOLMES

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MIKE NESMITH IN “THE MONKEES”

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FESS PARKER AS DANIEL BOONE

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DANIEL DAY-LEWIS AS ABRAHAM LINCOLN

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THE SORTING HAT FROM “HARRY POTTER”

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ART CARNEY AS ED NORTON

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B.D. IN “DOONESBURY”

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MINNIE PEARL

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LARRY HAGMAN AS J.R. EWING

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JOHNNY DEPP AS THE MAD HATTER

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BUDDY EBSEN AS JED CLAMPETT

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ARETHA FRANKLIN AT THE PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION

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LIDSVILLE TV SERIES

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GENE HACKMAN AS POPEYE DOYLE

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ERROL FLYNN AS ROBIN HOOD

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HUMPHREY BOGART AS SAM SPADE

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MARGARET HAMILTON AS THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST

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That’s a LOT of hats! But even so, feel free to suggest a few more!

Six Wacky Santas

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Santa Claus is a much more complicated guy than most people realize. It stands to reason, too. He defies most of the accepted standards of time, space and physics in his annual journey. Here are a few instances when he wasn’t quite on his game.

NIGHT OF THE MEEK (THE TWILIGHT ZONE)


The great Art Carney is a boozy, department store Santa who takes a wrong turn into … “The Twilight Zone.” If you haven’t seen this classic on one of the TZ marathons, it’s worth a look. Also, if this doesn’t have the usual look of a TZ episode, it’s because it was recorded on videotape, rather than film.

FRED CLAUS


Bet you didn’t know Santa had sibling issues. Well, he does. Turns out his brother Fred (played by Vince Vaughn) isn’t his biggest fan. The cool thing about this movie is that because Santa is played by Paul Giamatti, he can have all of Santa’s lovable qualities, yet still have an edge.

A CHRISTMAS STORY

Classic scene in what has become a classic holiday movie. Little Ralphie goes to sit on Santa’s lap but freezes up when it’s time to ask Santa for an air rifle for Christmas. Santa’s response is hilarious. Santa here is played by Jeff Gillen.

SANTA’S SLAY

Yikes. Apparently I missed the news that Santa is actually THE SON OF SATAN! Yeah, I was shocked, too. He’s been handing out all those toys as some kind of cosmic work release program – until now, when he’s free to do some rather harsh stuff. You may notice that Santa bears a striking resemblance to the professional wrestler, Goldberg.

SANTA SELLS CHEVYS

I love this series of commercials, featuring a jolly, white-bearded car salesman named Nick.

SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS

Dig this one, kids: A bunch of space aliens dressed like martini olives decide to kidnap Santa. Will this be the end of Christmas? Will it be the end of quality cinema as we know it? Big shout-out here to John Call in his signature role as Santa.

So, which nutty St. Nicks did I leave out?

TV’s Delightful Dolts

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One of the smartest things the TV sitcom ever did was introduce us to a few idiots. They say and do all the dumb stuff we do, yet we get to laugh at them. Here are some of TV’s more glorious dimwits.

 

GILLIGAN

Long before “Lost,” there was this crazy TV island where a group of castaways contended with all manner of strange twists and turns. “Gilligan’s Island” was strictly played for laughs, though. At the heart of it was Gilligan, a naive numbskull played by Bob Denver.

Professor: Listen, Gilligan, how far down was she? How many feet?

Gilligan: Professor, in navy circles, we don’t say feet. We say fathoms.

Professor: All right. How many fathoms?

Gilligan: Oh, I don’t know, about 15 feet.

 

JOEY TRIBBIANI

Matt Leblanc rode the stupid train all the way to the bank with his portrayal of Joe Tribbiani on “Friends.”

Joey: If he doesn’t like you, then this is all just a moo point.

Rachel: Huh. A moo point?

Joey: Yeah, it’s like a cow’s opinion, you know, it just doesn’t matter. It’s moo.

 

JETHRO BODINE

America LOVED Max Baer Jr. as Jethro on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” So much so that he had a tough time finding non-Jethro roles later in his career.

Cousin Pearl: Jethro, tell your Uncle Jed why there ain’t no snow in California.

Jethro: Don’t look at me, I didn’t take it!

 

EDITH BUNKER

Even with the screechy accent and all the jokes playing off her lack of intelligence, Edith came off as a real person with a heart and soul, thanks to Jean Stapleton. “All in the Family” wouldn’t have been nearly as good without her.

 

HERMAN MUNSTER

How’s this for high-concept TV? Take the Frankenstein monster and turn him into a henpecked husband with Dracula for a father-in-law! “The Munsters” did just that, with a miraculous physical performance by Fred Gwynne.

Grandpa: Hmm, what smells so good?

Herman: I cut myself shaving.

 

KEVIN MALONE

Part of the strength of “The Office” is its strong group of secondary players. One of them, Brian Baumgartner’s Kevin Malone, is a complete boob. Kevin would get a huge laugh out of that description.

Kevin: I don’t like getting advice from more than one person at a time. I’m a textbook overthinker.

 

GRACIE ALLEN

Gracie Allen’s genius as a writer and performer was masked by her stage and screen persona as the loony half of “Burns and Allen.” Yet a close examination of the jokes often showed a real edge to spacey Gracie.

George: Gracie, would you like a doctor?

Gracie: One at a time, kiddo, I’m not through with YOU yet.

 

VINNIE BARBARINO

John Travolta’s breakout role on “Welcome Back, Kotter” was hugely popular and absolutely moronic. It was the walk, the talk and the swagger that made it work, not the dialogue.

Vinnie: Up your nose with a rubber hose!

 

HOMER SIMPSON

Not only is Homer one of the best idiots in TV history; he’s one of the best characters in TV history. Voiced by Dan Castellaneta, Homer of “The Simpsons” is a juggernaut of laughs.

Homer: Maybe, just once, someone will call me “sir” without adding, “You’re making a scene!”

Homer: Son, if you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet! They’re about to announce the lottery numbers.

 

MALLORY KEATON

Overshadowed by Michael J. Fox as her older brother on “Family Ties,” Justine Bateman still got plenty of good lines as Mallory.

Mallory: The light bulb is out in my bedroom! What are we going to do?

 

ERNIE PANTUSSO, WOODY BOYD, SAM MALONE

“Cheers,” one of the best sitcoms to come down the pike, gave us a trio of intellect-challenged characters to love. Ted Danson’s Sam Malone was the star of the show, of course. Woody Harrelson’s Woody Boyd also was a classic character. But I think I’ll focus here on Ernie “Coach” Pantusso, played by the late Nicholas Colasanto. Here’s to you, Coach.

Bar crowd: Let’s hang him in effigy.

Coach: The hell with that; let’s hang him right here in Boston!

 

GOMER PYLE

Not everyone’s cup of tea, Gomer had a crazy voice and enough catchphrases for a squadron of Steve Urkels. But he scored Jim Nabors two sitcoms: “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Gomer Pyle – USMC. Sur-prise, sur-prise!

 

JOE GARELLI

Before he was encouraging people to eat worms on “Fear Factor,” actor Joe Rogan was a very cool dolt on “NewsRadio.”

Joe: Look, I don’t care what you say about me, but making fun of alien technology is just stupid.

 

HOWARD BORDEN

Like everything else about “The Bob Newhart Show,” Bill Daily’s Howard Borden was all about the soft sell. Daily played Bob and Emily’s idiot neighbor, an airline pilot.

Howard: I was, uh, just decorating my Christmas tree and I was wondering, is there a trick to stringing cranberry sauce?

 

LARRY, DARRYL & DARRYL

Speaking of the great Bob Newhart, his “Newhart” sitcom in the 1980s hit a stupidity trifecta with Larry, Darryl and Darryl. The brothers were led by a terrific actor, William Sanderson.

Larry: Hi, I’m Larry, this is my brother Darryl and my other brother Darryl.

 

GEORGETTE BAXTER

Sweet and stupid, that was Georgette, who married pompous and stupid anchorman Ted Baxter on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Actress Georgia Engel always left the viewers with just a hint that Georgette might have more marbles than they realized.

Georgette: I really miss Phyllis. I never knew her very well. Maybe that helps.

 

REESE

On “Malcolm in the Middle,” brother Reese (Justin Berfield) provided brainy Malcolm with a fierce, thick-headed adversary.

Reese: A shortcut doesn’t mean it’s a shorter way. It means it’s a different way.

 

TONY BANTA

I maintain that Tony Danza has always been underrated as an actor. In “Taxi,” he was supremely consistent as Tony Banta, a cabbie who dreamed of a successful boxing career.

Doctor: Tony, has any doctor ever advised you to quit boxing?

Tony: Yeah, I suppose.

Doctor: You suppose?

Tony: I mean a lot of guys have yelled at me to get out of the ring. Some of them might have been doctors.

 

ED NORTON

Merely the best. Art Carney captured a bit of magic with sewer worker Ed Norton, Ralph’s neighbor on “The Honeymooners.” Norton was poetry in motion, all flailing arms and shifting slouch hat. And that voice!

Norton: First, you address the ball. Hello, ball.

Okay folks, who else should be on the list?