Why Peter Cushing Could Make Any Film Better
By Gabriel Richard
It's not especially hard for a really good actor to shine in a really good film. Or even a really bad actor to shine in a really good film. But look for a good actor to come through in a terrible movie, and you tend to have a hard time coming up with as much material. At least, as far as the current crop of actors go. Christopher Walken's a good example of someone who can provide a moment of fun in an otherwise wretched waste of time. Bruce Campbell is another. Hell, even Eric Roberts can kick some ass in your run-of-the-mill craptacular epic.
Those aren't the only three, but it's still not an easy thing to find.
Though as recently as thirty years ago, that was not the case. Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasence, Oliver Reed, Cameron Mitchell, Vincent Price were all alive and were all making movies. Each of these guys could be counted on to bring a touch of class to some of the worst movies ever made. Go back even further than that, and you had guys like Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine making the world of bad cinema a slightly less hazardous place than it was before. But of all these names and for everything they brought to the table, my personal favorite would have to go to the great Peter Cushing.
It wasn't that Sir Peter was in a lot of bad movies, because he wasn't. Actually, compared to his colleagues of the time, he made out all right. Only a small handful of his films are considered today to be truly awful, grim, Mystery Science Theater 3000-esque. It's also important to keep in mind that even in the worst movies, Cushing's performance was almost always on level to anything the so called "important films" were bringing us. I keep this in mind a lot, because I often find myself watching bad movies (it's like any drug), while wondering how much better they would be with his presence on board.
I've even come to do this with good movies. Because, as we all know, very, very few deserve a good movie as much as Peter Cushing.
In recent years, several dozen movies would spring to mind, but I've managed to whittle them down to a select, honorable few.
Or dishonorable, depending on what we're dealing with.
One more thing: It's important to keep in mind that this is not a complete list. As these are some of the worst years Hollywood has ever given us (and remembering that those bastards now have a pretty good lock on the indie film industry), and as there are still good movies out there that make me think of good actors long gone, this list could go on for a long time.
And maybe, if you dig the material here, we'll be able to go further along the list.
Which is in no particular order.
One of the good movies, if you ask the right person. And with all respect to the late, great Richard Harris, Peter Cushing, placed at his early to mid sixties, really would've taken that English Bob role and made it his own. Cushing has played these sort of characters before, though not within the western genre, and the dignity he would bring to the role would hold up even at the end, when Gene Hackman's character has thoroughly done his best to demoralize him. Because with Richard Harris, as well as he does in the role, at that point, knowing what we know about English Bob, it's almost hard to feel bad for him. Peter Cushing would change that. Easily. So much that by the end of the movie, we'd probably be hoping he'd show up again for revenge. He would certainly hold his own against Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman, and he would finally have that western role he had desired his whole career. Maybe even an Oscar nomination, too.
The Girl in The Cafe:
This is a tough one for me to include, because Bill Nighy is one of my favorite actors, and this is his absolute best performance ever. But all the same, I can't help but wonder how Peter Cushing, put at around age forty, would have handled the part. Probably, with the same humor and class that Nighy brought to the part. Actually, I only mention this movie because of all it would've meant to Cushing's career. It would've made him a romantic lead, a spot he never got enough of in his career, and it would've put him into a semi-political film as well.
It just wouldn't be right if we made a list of possible films and didn't think to include at least one (or two) good villain roles. Again, what we were given in this film, with Jason Lee, was wonderful. But in this case, I don't think someone with Lee's comedic talents could measure up to what Cushing could bring to a computer-animated villain. Of course, the structure of the character would have to change from the Lee version, but it'd be worth it anyway.
Not quite the worst movie of all time, as some have purported, but still pretty damn wretched, I'll grant you. I haven't the slightest clue as to what Peter Cushing could do in this movie, who he could play, but I still include this for it's noterity as a good example of Hollywood at it's worst, and because I think it'd be interesting to see Cushing in a really awful comedy. Give him some bad comedic dialogue, and he'd probably still do something worth watching.
This isn't a movie. I know. I know, and I don't care, because as a Simpsons fan, and as a Peter Cushing fan, very little would bring out the geek in me more than seeing these two come together. The thought of Sir Peter and Homer trading conversation still makes me giggle like a deranged Japanese schoolgirl.
The most recent and by far, the worst of the series, I watch it today and remember that he had once been offered the role of Dr. Loomis. Now, pretending that Cushing would be alive at the time of this movie (for the sake of discussion, we'll place him as a healthy eighty-year-old man), I know that if he had been able to do it, he would've brought at least a watchable element to the movie (though Jamie Leigh Curtis' opening death scene was pretty decent). Plus, we would've had a good actor on board to offset the presence of the absolutely terrible Busta Rhymes. To be fair to Donald Pleasence, who was legendary in the Loomis role, I've often found myself wishing he had be alive for the movie, too.
It's that I can think of a specific part he could play, a teacher at the school, perhaps, it's just Cry_Wolf is one of the worst movies I've ever seen, and something, anything has to make me feel better about spending eight dollars on a movie full of inept, ugly characters, and a story that reminds me of an acid flashback without the element of danger or fun.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:
Now, I know what you're thinking, and I want to assure any fears right now. I did not pick this movie with the idea that Peter Cushing could play Hunter S. Thompson or, for that matter, Dr. Gonzo. As great an actor as he is, I don't think he could handle brutal, violent, undisputedly American characters like Thompson and Gonzo. But I do believe sincerely that he could to Hunter's longtime friend and collaborator, Ralph Steadman. For those not familiar with Hunter's work, Steadman is a British artist responsible for the art work that accompanied some of Hunter's more famous books, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on The Campaign Trail. He also appeared alongside Thompson in a BBC documentary in the late 70's. In the two films based on Hunter, neither featured the artist. Peter Cushing could change that, as he would capture Steadman at his calmest perfectly, while at the same time, being able to turn manic and slightly deranged (a state Steadman would enter after some heavy drinking) when the situation would require it. The role would be fairly challenging, but I doubt anyone's going to say, in any serious tone, that Cushing wouldn't be up for it.
Supergeniuses: Baby Geniuses 2:
Why not? An awful, awful, awful mess of a movie (managing to succeed the terrible shape of the first one) that could possibly, and I stress that, possibly be salvaged in a small way with the assistance of Sir Peter. I have to admit again that I can't nail down a specific part for him. For entertainment's sake, he'd probably have to stick to a heavy, an insane scientist or some kind. But would it matter? If he had ever somehow wound up in this garbage heap, people would say "That movie really, really, really sucks, but Peter Cushing was good," instead of "That movie really, really, really sucks." As the movie currently stands, it's still a good kid's movie, if you want your kids to murder you in your sleep.
If memory serves, he's tackled this story before. It's hard to say what went wrong with this specific version, because, well, let's be honest here, there's too much to chose from. Succeeding under the direction of Oliver Stone has become a rather difficult thing to do, over the last few years, but Peter Cushing could do it. For simplicity's sake, we'll just say that he could repeat his role from the production he was actually involved in.
Any Quentin Tarantino Movie:
A little generalized, true, but when it comes down to it, I couldn't think of one movie over the other. Because really, there's a bit of injustice here, because an actor like Peter Cushing deserves a film like the ones Tarantino has made (even the ones that rip off obscure Hong Kong flicks). And I don't think he'd necessarily have to be a bad guy either. Or rather, one of the bad guys we're not supposed to like. I honesty believe that he could fit any of the Tarantino arch-types and excel. And it'd be a hell of a lot of a fun to watch him, too.
Most likely, he would have to stick to a bad guy again in this one. Now, to be fair, I thought this was a lot better than Daredevil (which isn't that hard to do, since my best friend's blurry sex tape is better than Daredevil), but it's still a pretty bad movie, and Cushing could probably bring some real fun to the scene. I also don't believe he ever did a comic book fantasty type thing, so it'd be interesting to see him in such a world.
Come on, be honest now. It would just be really, really, really cool to see Sir Peter in this particular film. Personally, and I stress that, the character he would play would almost be secondary to the sheer giddy joy (see my Simpsons comment) of seeing him in a movie like this. Though I am aware that he would work well under the combination of style and substance.
The Remains of The Day:
I often see similarities between Peter Cushing and Anthony Hopkins, and not just because they're both British. Each tends to bring the already-mentioned cool, calm, collected demeanor to their characters. They're people you'd want on your side when things went to hell. And though Hopkins gives a remarkable, wonderful, Oscar-worthy (though I don't believe he got a nomination) performance, this is the the kind of role that Cushing should've gotten in his later years, rather than retreads of his famous horror films. And for anyone who doesn't want to see Hopkins out of the role, don't worry, because I've thought of you, too, and feel that Cushing would've done just as good a job in the role of Lord Darlington. Either way, I have to throw down the firm belief that this would've been another Oscar-esque role for him.
The Brown Bunny:
I'm kidding, of course, because no one could ever make The Brown Bunny a watchable movie. Maybe, if we could get a scene where Sir Peter straps Vincent Gallo to the hood of a car and runs him into a brick wall, we could get something out of it. But since I'd demand absolute reality in such a scene, and since I'm pretty sure Peter Cushing wouldn't murder anyone, I'm just going to leave it at the original sentence.
And believe me, I thought Buffalo '66 was a pretty good indie movie.
COPYRIGHT 2005 GABRIEL RICHARD