George Kennedy Gone at 91: They Don’t Make em Like That Anymore

George Kennedy’s death at 91 means that another one of those iconic legends that I and millions of others grew up watching on television (Saturday Night at the Movies) and later on the big screen is gone.

Still from the film The Dirty Dozen

George Kennedy’s death at 91 means that another one of those iconic legends that I and millions of others grew up watching on television (Saturday Night at the Movies) and later on the big screen is gone.  While it is a trite phrase, often overused, suffice to say that in Kennedy’s case, they really do not make em like that anymore.

The last film George Harris Kennedy worked on was the abysmal Mark Wahlberg remake of The Gambler. Watching the film’s screener for review I was shocked to see how old the Cool Hand Luke actor appeared. In my mind he was ageless.

The first time I ever saw Kennedy on screen was in the film The Sons of Katie Elder. He played the surly gunsel hired to “take care” of John Elder (Duke Wayne) and the huge man first meets Duke’s character as he plunges the town’s undertaker’s head repeatedly into a barrel of water. Curly’s high-pitched “piggy” giggle as he almost drowns the man is interrupted with John Elder’s shouted, “Hey” and an pickaxe handle in the face.

This scene was iconic enough that is has been repeated in other films, even Gremlins has  Zach Galligan’s character re-enact the scene but with a  sword.

The Sons of Katie Elder moment was not an isolated incident. Kennedy played characters whose actions stood out in films, whether they were award winning movies like Cool Hand Luke, or more pedestrian fare like Clint Eastwood’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (where Kennedy’s character rather nastily beats a young Lightfoot (Lloyd Bridges) so badly that the boy dies a lingering death), Kennedy was one of those actors who stood out.

George Kennedy could play comedy, as proven in his turns in the Naked Gun franchise as well as menacing bad men. He was equally at home as bluff good guys, snotty bad guys or  the “last” slave to shout “I am Spartacus,” in the 1960 film, Kennedy brought a truth and believability to all his roles.

The New York born son of a ballet dancer and musician/orchestra leader was equally home in any genre playing any role.  Regardless of the budget or the part, the Oscar winning actor made you believe him.

The cigar chomping airport savior, Patroni,  who clears off the snow in the 1970 film Airport where he shared screen credits with Dean Martin but not screen time.  He worked with Dino before  in Bandolero! as the lovesick sheriff July Johnson who chases Martin through Mexico.

Throughout a career that began in 1956 (The Phil Silvers Show) and ended with the 2014 film The Gambler the actor played cops, soldiers, murderers, heroes, convicts, and all manner of roles across the board.  Watching Kennedy accept his Oscar for Cool Hand Luke, one can see the innate gentleness on his face and in his voice, a trait that caused people to all him the nicest man in Hollywood.

Watching any of Kennedy’s performances is a lesson is acting and reacting. The actor could  convey a myriad of emotions with his eyes and face alone, dialogue was not required for this character actor to convince the viewer of his character’s veracity.

I was actually surprised into tears at the news of Kennedy’s passing. He was a firm favorite, and not just from the many westerns watched all those years ago on Saturday night television,  one who could always be counted upon to stand out and make his performance memorable, regardless of the film’s budget.

George Kennedy (1925 – 2016) a huge man whose six-foot four-inch frame was dwarfed by his ability to make us believe completely in his characters actions on screen big and small. They really do not “make em like that” anymore.

Holes (2003): What We Have Here…

I was originally going to title this piece ‘Shawshank Redemption for Kids’ But it’s not really Shawshank Redemption for kids, even though it’s damn close. The theme of the two films are very similar and you get the same sense of satisfaction when you have finished watching the film.

But if I were to be really honest, the film is closer to a juvenile version of Cool Hand Luke without Strother Martin’s character drawling, ” What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Instead we have Sigourney Weaver‘s, “Excuse me??” Shia LaBeoff is of course the Paul Newman of this story and that is where any similarity to ‘Luke’ ends. Where Newman’s Luke was a good ole’ boy who didn’t mind breaking the law in order to have a good time, LaBeoff’s Stanley aka Caveman, is a true innocent.

Holes is great little entertainment piece that doesn’t stretch too far into character development territory, although it does try to give us a ‘back story’ and plot intertwining that only just about works.

It has a good pedigree as far as cast lists go. Henry Winkler, Jon Voight, Patricia Arquette are all part of the capable actors who populate this film. Eartha Kitt has a splendid cameo as Madame Zeroni the fortune teller who curses the Yelnats when an ancestor breaks a promise that he made to her.

The film starts with Stanley (LaBeoff) walking home and getting hit in the head with a pair of stolen baseball shoes. This occurance knocks Stanley out cold, the shoes were thrown off of an overpass. He is arrested for stealing the shoes and after being found guilty, is offered the choice of jail or Camp Green Lake (a juvenile chain gang operation run by Warden Walker).

Stanley and his whole family blame this recent turn of events on the Yelnats family curse.

Stanley goes through the usual drill when he arrives at Camp Green Lake, he manages to piss off everyone he meets and is, of course, bullied because he is the new boy. The only lad who doesn’t bully or ostracise Stanley is Zero (Khleo Thomas) who, we find out later in the film, was the person who stole the shoes that Stanley was arrested for stealing.

All the inmates at Camp Green Lake are made to dig holes in the dry lake bed that the camp has been named after. We learn of the story behind the lake drying up. We also learn more about the ‘kissing bandit’ (Arquette).

The back story helps to tie up the connection between the Yelnets family curse and the dry lake bed. Mister Sir (Jon Voight), Warden Walker’s (Weaver) ‘foreman’ is a bully of the finest order. His second in command is Dr Pedanski (Tim Blake Nelson) a ‘make-believe’ doctor who also likes bullying the boys.

After Pedanski insults Zero, Zero hits him in the face with a shovel and escapes. He heads across the barren lake bed out into an area that has no water or shade. Stanley takes out after him.

This film is notable because it is Labeoff’s first film (the opening credits say, ‘Introducing’ in front of his name) and it gives us a chance to see Shia in his pre-Transformers days.

Considering that this is a film that has been exclusively targeted for children, it is still entertaining. Yes the villains are all ‘cartoon’ type villains (you know, so stupid that it beggars belief that they are not all in prison) all that is missing is the twirling of the pencil thin moustache.

But the film works in spite of the two dimensional characterisation of all the characters and it’s paper thin plot as well as it’s comparison (or some would say homage?) to other films.

At the end of the film, you feel that justice has been served. You also feel a sense of relief that those ‘poisonous’ lizards don’t really exist in real life. You might also feel like checking out the book by Louis Sachar that the film is adapted from.

A final verdict of a one bagger film. One bag of popcorn should see you through this ‘feel good film.’

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