A Remake Chronicles Extra by Adam-Troy Castro
As we gear up for the next Remake Chronicles essay, we provide this, dedicated to those moments when an actor is all wrong for the part in precisely the right way.
1) James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Yes, one of the great performances in one of the great westerns is actually woeful miscasting. If you actually pay attention to the screenplay, Stewart’s character is a young, idealistic young lawyer who has just recently passed the bar and who comes west an unformed naif with little experience in the brutal ways of the real world. John Wayne’s character regards him with the amusement an older and experienced man would feel for a young whippersnapper who reminds him of his own youth. Stewart was way too old for the part. It didn’t, and doesn’t matter. Stewart still managed to project the youth and naivete the part demanded.
2) James Stewart, again, in The Spirit Of Saint Louis
Again, it’s a matter of age. Charles Lindbergh was in his twenties when he made that fateful flight. Stewart was visibly in his forties when he made the movie. He acknowledged at the time that he was way too old to play the young man of the film. And again, it didn’t matter. At this point in his career, Stewart was any age he wanted to be.
3) Gary Cooper in They Came to Cordura
This insanely brilliant but today little-seen film is about a cavalry officer reviled as a coward who must drag a bunch of angry, unwilling soldiers through harsh territory in order for them all to receive their respective Medals of Honor. It seems they all have pressing reasons for not wanting to go, reasons that make killing him a far more attractive alternative…and he shows far more courage dragging them to the unwanted celebration of their heroism, than they did in earning it. The movie is a hidden classic. But Cooper is far too old for the part. The character he plays is making the discoveries about himself that are more appropriate for young man…and Cooper, near the end of his life, looks not only old, but downright tired. Once again, it doesn’t matter. He gives one of his best and most uncelebrated performances.
4) Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Among the few people disgusted by the casting of Jack Nicholson in Cuckoo’s Nest was Ken Kesey, author of the novel, whose Randall Patrick McMurphy was a towering redhead, a giant in stature as well as personality. Kesey derided Nicholson as a shrimp. And he has a point…but he failed to reckon that, on-screen at least, anybody is as big as his close-up wants him to be, and personality counts for one hell of a lot.
5) Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List
Oskar Schindler was a charming pudgy man with an amiable way about him. Liam Neeson is a stern tall man with a physique that makes him an apt choice for action heroes. Gert Frobe, who played Goldfinger in the James Bond movies, would have been a perfect physical choice to play Oskar Schindler. Again, it didn’t matter.