View from the Cheap Seats

Movie Casting and More

September 26, 2013 - 1:09 pm   |   by
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I’ve never been one to go to a movie solely based on casting because, let’s face it, actors sometimes aren’t the best judge of script or director material.  The exceptions these days might be, for me, Leo DiCaprio, Nicholson or Redford or Clint or Woody Allen or, if he should ever work again, Warren Beatty.  People like that.  It’s sad, but so many great stars have lost goodwill with their audiences – remember when you looked forward to a Robert De Niro movie?  An Al Pacino move?  Those actors have to do what they have to do in order to pay their bills, but De Niro’s latest movie The Killing Season, also starring another dud as of late, John Travolta, went straight to DVD.  [Read on here…]

Remember, may classic films have been made with the likes of Lawrence Tierney or his brother Scott Brady or Sterling Hayden or John Payne or Dana Andrews – mostly forgotten names now, but when put into the right part, they lit up the screen.  You don’t have to be a superstar to make a film worth seeing.  I know personally the struggles Billy Bob Thornton had to go through to make Sling Blade, how Forest Whittaker had to fight to get his role in The Color of Money, before Eastwood cast him in Bird or how many actresses had turned down the lead role in Shakespeare in Love.

I certainly don’t ascribe to the famous Hitchcock after quote about his thespians: “I never said all actors are cattle – what I said was all actors should be treated like cattle.”  I think too much emphasis is placed on the star rather than the project, the writer and the director.  Believe me, stars rule Hollywood.

However, don’t forget this, Francis Coppola has said privately to many of his friends “Give me and good script and good actors and there doesn’t even need to be a director!”

To make my point somewhat, let me give you some famous performances that were to have been given to someone else.  Some of these you might know, some I know candidly from conversations I’ve had with producers.

Apocalypse Now, was originally, before it was taken over by Coppola, going to be a semi straight Vietnam action movie to be written and directed by John Milius, who eventually received credit for his script.  Originally offered the part of Captain Willard was an actor who had recently appeared in Milius’ script of Magnum Force – Clint Eastwood.  When Eastwood turned the producers down, they next went to Steve McQueen, who has actually anxious to do the part until he received the cancer diagnosis that eventually killed him.  Finally, with Coppola directing, a decision was decided to hire a “brainier” actor, Harvey Keitel, who, after six months of shooting was fired and replaced by Martin Sheen, just off of Badlands, who immediately had a heart attack that shut down the production for months.

Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force

Million Dollar Baby has one of the most interesting development stories in the history of Hollywood.  Anjelica Huston approached producer Al Ruddy with a short story from the book “Rope Burns” by ex boxing cut man F.X. Toole.  Huston was going to direct the girl’s story only for Showtime and asked Ruddy to produce.  After reading the book, Ruddy came up with the idea to combine stories from book that created the Morgan Freeman character mentoring an up and coming boxer.  Huston eventually moved on, so Ruddy doggedly pressed forward to get the film made – at one time he had Sandra Bullock and Paul Newman and director Robert Benton, before Benton’s film The Human Stain showed a decline in the director’s talents.

Finally Ruddy showed the script to Clint Eastwood, who took it on after his wife gave it her thumbs up.  However the film was not an immediately “go” with executives at Warner Brothers, Eastwood’s home studio.  It was only when Eastwood threatened to shop the script with his name attached around Hollywood that the film was green lit.  It, of course, won multiple Oscars and is now considered a classic, but it took ten years from inception to finish to make.

I think I mentioned before that Robert Duvall had actually filmed scenes as William Munny in Unforgiven with Francis Coppola directing before it was shut down as part of the United Artists’ Heaven’s Gate disaster.

Does everyone know that Michael Keaton was replaced midway through the shooting of Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo and replaced by Jeff Daniels?

Michael Keaton in Purple Rose of Cairo

Here’s a few more examples of fun recasting incidents – Burt Reynolds turned down two roles that gave Jack Nicholson two of his three Oscars – One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Terms of Endearment.  Nicole Kidman was to have played the lead in Panic Room before a knee injury forced her to give the role to Jodie Foster (I was actually in the car with one of the stars of that film when he was given the news) and that Gene Hackman was originally signed to star in and direct Silence of the Lambs.

For my weekly radio appearance on The Franchise radio this week, I was asked my three favorite performances in the history of movies.  One would certainly have to include John Wayne in The Searchers or Bogart in In a Lonely Place or De Niro in Raging Bull or Peter O’ Toole in Lawrence of Arabia these were my three – Paul Newman in The Verdict, Peter Sellers in Being There and George C. Scott in Patton.

What are yours?


New on Home Video

We who love classic films should bow to the feet of TCM.  Seriously, you never know what they are going to release next.  In this instance it’s the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV, which, with its diverse title component offers the rarest of the rare in classic noir.

Film Noir Classics Volume IVIncluded in this set are Joseph H. Lewis’ So Dark the Night, Robert Rossen’s Johnny O’ Clock with Dick Powell, Walk a Crooked Mile with big time actors Dennis O’Keefe and Louis Hayward, Between Midnight and Dawn with Edmond O’Brien and Walk East on Beacon.

With all due respect to previous releases from Columbia, they are films that we know, that are shown regularly on television.  This batch includes the rarest of the rare – I’ve seen Johnny O’ Clock and Between Midnight and Dawn, but a new (to me) Joseph H. Lewis movie is a must see.

Go to and order this set.

It seems hard to imagine a world for us classic film fans without Twilight Time Home Video.  Their last four releases have represented the highest level of film restoration – with titles such as the ultra rare The Disappearance along with perhaps the greatest British gangster picture of the modern era Sexy Beast to a wonderful 80s gem called Alamo Bay, with Ed Harris and Amy Madigan directed by Louis Malle and, perhaps Twilight Time’s greatest achievement yet – John Ford’s Drums Along the Mohawk
Drums Along the MohawkAll these, especially the Ford starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert are must owns.  Go to to order yours before the pressing of 3,000 are sold out.

Warner Archive also has some real gems this month.  Who remembers native Oklahoman James Garner’s mid 70s series Nichols that only lasted one season.  The series was a cross between the Garner of Support Your Local Sheriff and Rockford Files.  The series was also noted for a surprise mid way in the season.  Warner Archive offers the entire season of Nichols.

Also out from Warner Archive is an incredible box set called William Powell at Warner Brothers, which includes the films The Road to Singapore, Private Detective 62, The Key and High PressureHigh Pressure is a particular favorite of mine – a fast paced early Warners talkie that provides nothing but pleasure.

Who didn’t love the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts?  You would wait each week to see the likes of Bob Hope or Johnny Carson or Jack Benny or Jackie Gleason or, especially Don Rickles and Jonathan Winters.  Now StarVista entertainment is releasing, in a box set, a six disc package that includes 12 complete roasts.  Grab a drink and a cigarette and join in the fun.

- Bud Elder


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