RSS Feed

Tag Archives: David Janssen

My Favorite Private Eyes

Posted on

jamesgarnerrockfordad

The private eye is an evergreen character for a very good reason. No matter what era or locale you choose for your story, there’s going to be greed and there’s going to be the occasional crime of passion. And the only way to sort it all out is to find an intrepid sleuth-for-hire. Here are the ones I prefer.

HUMPHREY BOGART IN “THE MALTESE FALCON”

humphreybogartmaltesefalcon

For a good many people, Bogey is the gumshoe gold standard. His whole vibe told you that he expected the worst from people, but hoped for the best. In “The Maltese Falcon,” a true classic, he gets to rub elbows with such stellar character actors as Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.

JACK NICHOLSON IN “CHINATOWN”

jacknicholsonchinatown

Nicholson channeled more than a little bit of Bogart in “Chinatown,” one of the best movies of the 1970s. He was feisty and dogged in his search for answers in a case that reached operatic heights (and depths) of corruption and depravity. Yet Jack also managed to be a real smartass. That’s saying something, considering what happens to his nose.

RICHARD ROUNDTREE IN “SHAFT”

richardroundtreeshaft

The most excellent “Shaft” song gets so much attention, you tend to forget how cool Richard Roundtree was in the title role. Unlike a lot of private eyes, he looked damn good while was chasing down leads and busting heads.

DAVID JANSSEN IN “HARRY O”

davidjanssenharryo

“Harry O” wasn’t on TV for all that long, and it wasn’t a hit, but it featured a rich, nuanced role for David Janssen. His Harry Orwell was complicated, compassionate and filled with deep reservoirs of unspoken feeling. And get this – he didn’t have his own car! He would actually ride the bus around San Diego to work on his cases.

WILLIAM POWELL AND MYRNA LOY IN “THE THIN MAN”

thinman

Powell and Loy were terrific as a team of married sleuths in “The Thin Man” and its sequels. More often than not, Powell’s Nick Charles was nursing a bad hangover, which wife Nora loved to point out. Loy and Powell’s dialogue just sparkled, no matter what sort of situation presented itself. Few movie duos since have matched their obvious chemistry.

HARRISON FORD IN “BLADE RUNNER”

harrisonfordbladerunner

The juxtaposition of old-time, private eye tropes and futuristic gizmos served “Blade Runner” very well. Ford was a grim investigator trying to track down a bunch of violent, artificial life forms trying to blend in with the general populace. He discovered it wasn’t quite that simple. That’s how it is with private eyes. They always see the shades of gray.

ROBERT MITCHUM IN “OUT OF THE PAST”

robertmitchumoutofthepast

Quite simply, it’s one of the best film noir performances ever put on film. Mitchum personifies fatalistic stoicism as a smitten gumshoe who falls under the spell of a dangerous, mysterious dame. When the bad guy shows up, it’s – holy crap – Kirk Douglas!

JAMES GARNER IN “THE ROCKFORD FILES”

jamesgarnerrockford

Garner was smooth as silk as Jim Rockford, an LA private eye who lived in a trailer on the beach. Like most of the folks on this List, he was a jaded guy who still managed to be a soft touch when someone was in trouble. Garner gave the character easy humor, natural charm and a hard-earned intelligence.

JASON SCHWARTZMAN IN “BORED TO DEATH”

jasonschwartzmanboredtodeath

The private eye as a Brooklyn hipster/struggling writer. It’s a brilliant twist on the genre, with Schwartzman perfectly cast as the self-involved, yet surprisingly effective, investigator. The supporting cast is great, too, headed up by Ted Danson.

ROBERT URICH IN “SPENSER: FOR HIRE”

roberturichspenserforhire

Urich’s likability, combined with the literary pedigree of Robert B. Parker’s source material, made “Spenser: For Hire” a pleasing way to spend an hour. I also liked that the show was set in Boston, that Spenser drove a Mustang and that he had the best side character on TV. That would be Avery Brooks as Hawk.

MIKE CONNORS IN “MANNIX”

mikeconnorsmannix

Okay, I’ll admit it. My favorite part of “Mannix” was the theme song. Connors did a fine job – but that theme song was dynamite.

JIMMY STEWART IN “VERTIGO”

jimmystewartvertigo

In “Vertigo,” Jimmy Stewart’s character isn’t so much trying to solve a case as he is surrendering to a personal obsession. He becomes unhinged by Kim Novak’s death and goes completely off the deep end when he encounters a woman who looks exactly like her. As always director Alfred Hitchcock pounces on the dark side of human personality.

DONALD SUTHERLAND IN “KLUTE”

donaldsutherlandklute

This is such an underrated performance, mainly because it’s Jane Fonda’s character who dominates the film. But Sutherland is masterful as the quiet, conservative investigator who watches everything with a piercing gaze. As the plot plays out, his strength and resolve radiate wonderfully.

KRISTEN BELL IN “VERONICA MARS”

kristenbellveronicamars

“Veronica Mars” took the private eye story to a scary place: high school. These weren’t soft mysteries. Young Veronica, played with plucky toughness by Kristen Bell, had to deal with murders, sexual assaults and spurned lovers, as well as a gaggle of mean girls who hated her.

DENZEL WASHINGTON IN “DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS”

denzelwashingtondevilinabluedress

Here we have a wonderful blend of politics, a search for a missing woman, hidden motives and a dash of racism in 1940s Los Angeles. Denzel Washington plays Easy Rawlins, a guy who loses his job and tries to pay his mortgage as a private investigator. Luckily for him, he’s got crazy Don Cheadle helping him out of a few jams.

ELLIOT GOULD IN “THE LONG GOODBYE”

elliotgouldthelonggoodbye

For the life of me, I don’t know why this version of Philip Marlowe works so well. It’s set in ’70s California, with lots of drugs, free love and groovy people – not exactly the usual surroundings. Gould is the key. He’s still a dour, relentless seeker of truth, like this brethren of other eras.

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH IN “SHERLOCK”

benedictcumberbatchsherlock

I thought long and hard about whether Sherlock Holmes belonged anywhere on this List. Ultimately, I decided he did, and for me the very best Sherlock is the one on British TV, played by Cumberbatch. He’s set in the current day, but he retains the razor-sharp mind and massive quirks that make the character iconic.

PAUL NEWMAN IN “HARPER”

paulnewmanharper

Here’s the one I put at the head of the table: Paul Newman as Lew Harper, based on novelist Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer series of books. Everything about this performance is excellent. He’s able to seem smart and dumb, honorable and sleezy, energetic and exhausted – all without breaking character. Newman would return as Harper years later in 1975’s “The Drowning Pool.”

Feel free to add your own favorites. And may all your herrings be red ones. Also, here’s a little treat for you:

Great Odes to the Open Road

Posted on

Oh, but the tug of the open road is contagious. We’re draw to the uncertainty, the adventure and the promise of new experiences. Any number of artists and ordinary souls have been inspired to share this excitement. These are some of my favorite examples.

ON THE ROAD

For many, Jack Kerouac’s classic story of wondering and wandering is the last word on road trips. It’s a marvel of stream-of-consciousness writing. “On the Road” perfectly conveys the intoxicating, surreal, gritty, dangerous sexiness of hitting the open road.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a road trip and found myself warbling Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.” It has such a pleasing lilt and sense of movement. Road trips may be grueling sometimes, but they usually start off happy.

MIDNIGHT RUN

Here’s an action movie comedy, featuring odd couple Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin. DeNiro is a bounty hunter bringing in a mob accountant, played by Grodin, who has skipped bail. Like many great tales of the road, it’s a journey of transformation – in this case, with guns, punches and comedic slow burns.

TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY

Toward the end of his life, the great John Steinbeck directed his magnificent reporting skills and humanity to a cross-country road trip. He and his dog, Charley, traveled the highways and byways in an RV. Through brief interactions and keen observations, he painted an insightful picture of postwar America. Some critics have questioned his journalistic accuracy, but the power of his writing is unassailable.

ROADFOOD

In a way, road trips are just an excuse to search for the best slice of banana cream pie or the best plate of cheese fries. Jane and Michael Stern dug deep into the heart and soul of America’s glorious greasy spoons and dreamy diners for this gem. On a personal note, I found the best banana cream pie, ever, while traveling a mountain road in Montana.

TRAIL JOURNALS

For more than a decade, Trail Journals (www.trailjournals.com) has provided a digital home for hundreds of thousands of photographs and pieces of writing by long distance hikers around the country. The Appalachian Trail is prominent here, but there are many other trails represented, as well. The best trail journals are utterly engrossing. They tell stories of beautiful vistas, animal encounters, physical hardship, budding friendships and deep, solitary thought – all unfolding day by day.

THE FUGITIVE

I loved everything about this old TV show from the 1960s. The variety of locales, the gritty narration by William Conrad, the central storyline of a guy on the lam from the law for a murder he didn’t commit. Mostly, I loved David Janssen’s low-key, understated hero. After four seasons, “The Fugitive” ended with one of the most satisfying finales in TV history.

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT

Hundreds of films since 1934 have attempted to recapture the chemistry and romance of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in “It Happened One Night.” It’s a silly story about an heiress and a newshound making their way across the country during the Great Depression, but it’s sheer bliss. Witty banter, funny supporting characters and a classic hitchhiking scene. For a different sort of road story from the Depression, there’s …

THE GRAPES OF WRATH

We return to Steinbeck for one of the great American novels. “The Grapes of Wrath” follows a family searching for work and dignity as they flee from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. Instead, they encounter greed, poverty and indignity. It’s a harrowing journey, one that strips individuals down to their core beliefs and little else. I’ll never forget reading this book for the first time and thinking about the pure poetry of a human being deciding who and what he is.

Now let’s go a bit beyond the reach of the American road.

THE AMAZING RACE

This show actually IS amazing. You want to test a marriage/friendship/relationship? Send people halfway around the world in the middle of the night and ask them to go from the airport to some out-of-the-way local landmark as fast as they can without killing each other. It exposes every hidden grudge and emotional sore spot before the first commercial break. Want to have your mind blown? Imagine your parents as contestants.

THE WIZARD OF OZ

Best. Road. Ever.

DANCING MATT

Matt Harding, also known as “Dancing Matt,” has recorded a series of videos of himself doing a crazy, happy dance in dozens of countries around the world. Millions of people have watched these videos and been charmed by the simple joy of a goofy, global dance. That’s what I call a great road trip.

So tell me, what are your favorite road trips from pop culture?