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The Movies’ Best Right-Hand Men

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Here’s the thing about a great, cinematic right-hand man. He reassures the audience they’ve made a good choice the second he appears on the screen. It’s true even if he’s the bad guy’s right-hand man. Why?¬† Because he’s the physical embodiment of loyalty. See what you think of this group.


Truly, one of the great character actors of all time. My goodness, what a list of films: “The Searchers,” “Gone With the Wind,” “It’s A Wonderful Life,”¬† “Mister Roberts,” “The Quiet Man,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “My Darling Clementine,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Sergeant York.” Come on! This was a tough guy with a sparkle in his eye that could light up Monument Valley. Yet he was forever the guy one horse over from the star – usually John Wayne or Henry Fonda.


It’s all deadpan brilliance from Mr. Rhames. Thanks to his take-no-guff glare, he’s able to draw your attention without even raising his voice. And when he gives a character a quirky spin, it’s dynamite. He was very high-profile as the right-hand man in the first “Mission: Impossible” films, but I preferred his turn in “Out of Sight” with George Clooney.


A leading man in his own right, Elliott eventually took his majestic mustache and headed for right-hand man territory. His steely-eyed talents often were the best parts of movies such as “Road House” and “Ghost Rider,” or pure westerns such as “Tombstone.” Great voice and a unique sort of casual nobility.


He never, ever seemed like he was acting. He played a variety of right-hand men: co-counsel in “The Verdict,” an editor in “All the President’s Men,” a loyal quarterback coach in “Heaven Can Wait.” His characters always knew full well how flawed their friends were, but remained true blue anyway.


There is a weariness that pervades Ray Winstone’s performances, elevating and deepening them dramatically. He combines the look of an old-time character actor with the inner turmoil of a modern Method master. Check out his work with Jack Nicholson in “The Departed.”


Here’s a case of an actor being so perfect he eventually turned into a parody of himself. Kennedy was the dude in the “Airport” movies – Joe Patroni – who was either helping clear an icy runway or pilot a plane in jeopardy. He later operated as Leslie Nielsen’s partner in the “Naked Gun” movies. Yet I’ll always remember him from “Cool Hand Luke,” as the brutal convict who comes to admire and befriend Paul Newman.


What’s amazing about Woody Strode is how much impact he made in films where he often had little dialogue. He’d have been an action star in another era. Still, he was terrific in films such as “Spartacus,” “The Professionals” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”


Sizemore’s right-hand men operate within a moral universe all their own. That’s why his crook in “Heat” is just as convincing as his combat soldier in “Saving Private Ryan.” It’s not about right and wrong. It’s about following orders until your last breath.


Morse is a versatile actor who fits into any number of roles, but when he’s in his right-hand man mode, he’s awesome. He plays them all business on the outside, but with an undercurrent of intelligence, empathy and humor. In “The Green Mile” and “The Rock,” when his character questions an order, you can see how much it pains him.


Jaeckel was the epitome of the right-hand man, blending into the background at the same time he kept the hero honest. That was never more true than in “The Dirty Dozen,” where he was the duty-bound MP surrounded by psychos on a combat mission behind enemy lines.


Patton does sort of an Everyman version of the right-hand man, and it’s highly effective. It’s a Southern, voice-of-reason approach. It worked very well in the action flick “Armageddon,” for instance. And Patton was remarkable in “Remember the Titans,” where he played a head football coach who is forced to become the right-hand man for Denzel Washington.


Morgan Freeman is the best right-hand man in the history of film. In “Million Dollar Baby,” “Unforgiven,” “Glory,” and “The Shawshank Redemption,” he’s riveting. At times he takes over those films. And he’s almost always doing it while shouldering the weight of the film’s larger message. He’s brains, brawn and conscience.

Now that’s a dependable dozen. Add to The List!

Great TV Dads and Movie Dads You Might Have Overlooked

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Something great resonates when you encounter a compelling¬† father character on TV or in movies. It firms up one’s faith in humanity. But with so many movie and TV dads floating in and out of view, it’s easy to overlook some good ones. In honor of Father’s Day weekend, we look back at a few.



Here’s a fine, fine actor playing a small role with tenderness and care. As the henpecked, mellow patriarch of the Bennet family in Jane Austen’s classic story, Sutherland lets his misty eyes, his sly smile and his lanky limbs work to their full advantage onscreen. Then, at the end of the film, he reveals his complete and utter love for his daughter through a quiet intensity that lingers nicely.



There was nothing quiet about the late, great Bernie Mac. Like few other actors, he projected a powerful, coiled up aggressiveness while also allowing his compassion to poke through. On his show, he played a man who takes in his sister’s children, raising them as his own. He often talked directly to “America,” looking straight at the camera, and it worked. You trusted him. You liked him.



Times and gender roles have changed so much that people forget what an eye-opener “Kramer vs. Kramer” was, with its depiction of a divorce and subsequent child custody fight. Hoffman is his usual, superb self as the father who learns how to be a parent.


“THE RIFLEMAN” (1958-63)

Although the show was far from realistic, the father-son relationship at the heart of “The Rifleman” seemed authentically affectionate. Connors played Lucas McCain as a figure of towering strength and real kindness. Plus, he had the coolest rifle ever.


“JUNO” (2007)

Simmons is a true craftsman. In “Juno,” he’s a father who helps his teen daughter through an unplanned pregnancy, and he does it with keen humor and gentle exasperation. Good in any type of role, here Simmons offers a physical weariness as counterpoint to the movie’s spry, stylized dialogue.


“APPLE’S WAY” (1974-75)

This is a prime example of the father as idealist, from a TV show that never quite caught on with viewers. Cox was George Apple, a lawyer who moved his clan from California back to his hometown of Appleton, Iowa. Once there, he inserted himself into just about every free speech and human rights issue his little town encountered. His kids loved this, as you can imagine.


“CROOKLYN” (1994)

Set in Brooklyn in the 1970s, “Crooklyn” featured Lindo as a musician who didn’t quite earn enough money to support his family, but whose sweet nature helped buoy the family during hard times. Lindo expertly shows us the full range of his guy’s flaws and qualities.


“A BRONX TALE” (1993)

DeNiro directed himself as a straight-arrow bus driver in the 1960s, trying mightily to keep his son from falling under the spell of a charismatic gangster. Playing against type, DeNiro gives a tightly controlled performance: tough, but not too tough; good, but not too good. It’s a gem.


“EDtv” (1999)

To be sure, Landau’s loopy stepfather is the comic relief in this film. His character is in poor health and often clueless about what’s happening around him. But he gets a dynamite scene near the end of the movie that is gratifying as a nod to the true meaning of fatherhood.



Any “Rockford Files” fan will have a soft spot for Rocky. Beery played him perfectly – no affectation, no ego. His scenes with James Garner had an easy charm and warmth.


“RADIO DAYS” (1987)

There’s a wonderful joke about dads in Woody Allen’s “Radio Days.” Seth Green, who plays Allen as a kid, has no idea what his father, Michael Tucker, actually does for a living. No matter how hard the kid tries to ferret out the information, dad finds a way to change the subject. It’s hilarious, partly because it plays on the mysterious, unknowable quality many fathers have.


“SPANGLISH” (2004)

I may not be the biggest Adam Sandler fan in the world, but I have to give him his due here. He’s excellent as a doting father in an unhappy marriage. His scenes with Sarah Steele as his teen daughter are beautiful and at times heartbreaking.



Elizondo is the emotional core of this Matt Dillon comedy about a young man faced with a choice between corrupt wealth and the middle class work ethic, as represented by his family. I love how Elizondo communicates his frustration and hurt feelings without upsetting the comedic balance.


“NUMB3RS” (2005-10)

No one matches Hirsch when it comes to the older, intellectually nurturing father character. Here, he invests Alan Eppes with a genuine pride and respect for his adult sons, along with his love and concern.


“CONTACT” (1997)

In the sci-fi adventure “Contact,” Morse gets to play two versions of a father. One is the wise, gentle teacher. The other is the loving, lasting image a father leaves behind.



I think this is one of Hackman’s best roles. His character, Royal Tenenbaum, is sneaky, self-absorbed and unhelpful. Yet he’s also an undeniably cool old rascal. The question this film poses for him is whether it’s ever too late to stop being a jerk and start acting like a father.

Now let’s hear your suggestions. Add to The List!