Totally OT Observation (Though we were discussing one of these films a few weeks ago)

In the early 60s, the star-filled Judgment at Nuremberg was to highbrow drama what the star-filled It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was to lowbrow comedy… and Spencer Tracy got to play a leading role in both.

That, I think, is seriously impressive.

5 Comments

  1. Michael Palin, fresh-faced boylike loon of Monty Python and other stuff, has also played dark and serious though admittedly at rather different times in his life. As well as sinister government torturer in Brazil (a black comedy from 1985) in drama Remember Me he played an “elderly central character” who falls downstairs. “He is then moved to an assisted-living facility, where a social worker falls out of his bedroom window to her death, leaving him the only apparent suspect.”

    Norman Wisdom might be another candidate. Probably not that well known to Americans, though popular with Albanian dictator Hoxha, he was a physical-comedy gurning British film clown (Chaplin’s favourite, it says in Wikipedia) who in later life played a well-received dramatic role of a dying cancer patient.

    There must be some other people whose serious and madcap roles came much closer together. I guess Jim Carrey is one.

  2. For comedy and Drama both from the same actor, my go to is Tom Hanks. Appearing on the scene in a short-lived and deliberately stupid TV sitcom about two lifelong buddies fresh out of college whose only affordable housing option was a hotel for women where they had to leave for work in the morning and come home in the evening in drag as their own fictitious sisters. Going on to other comedy roles such as the lover of a magic mannequin that came to life only for him and the lover of a mermaid. On to drama in roles ranging from non-fictional Apollo astronaut to a castaway stranded on a desert island coping with involuntary solitude.

    Another candidate might be Will Smith in roles ranging from an urban street kid suddenly put into the life of a rich kid to sci-fi action heroes fighting aliens and robots in “Independence Day” and “I Robot” respectively to alcoholic superhero Hancock to boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

  3. Well, if you’re talking about an actor who would do comedy and drama with real gravitas, Charlie Chaplin comes to mind, with the Great Dictator. The story of how it was made (funded out of Chaplin’s own pocket) and how much effort he put into it and how strongly he felt about it, is quite interesting. It was actually saying something of real import.

    For most comedians who go to drama, I find a lot of them are just too mannered in their performances. No matter what they’re doing, the performance seems to scream “Look at me! I’m ACT-ING!” as a subtext. I felt that about Robin Williams in most all non-comedy roles, for example. Will Smith just never seems to have the dramatic jobs for a derious role, though he’s fine in action movies.

    Tom Hanks certainly crew from doing lightweight roles into being a capable leading man.

    Jim Carrey delivered a surprisingly sophisticated performance in The Truman Show without chewing the scenery, so thumbs up to him.

    Going the other way, with actors known for dramatics who went the other way with some aplomb, I’d say Leslie Neilsen, who was a legit actor who went to comedy when he did Airplane!, then the Police Squad TV series and movies. I think he didn’t quite know when to quit, though, and did a bunch of not-so-good comedies as well.

    I’d say Robert Deniro did a good job when he did Analyze This and Meet The Parents, where he was wonderfully loopy but fit right into the rest of the film. The sequels of both franchises are best ignored.

    George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb delivers a terrific performance.

    Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in Tough Guys.

    I’d even go so far as to say many of the people cast by the Coen Brothers are delivering something comedic, given the nature of the films they usually make.

  4. Singapore Bill – Have you seen the early Deniro movies with Harvey Keitel such as “Mean Streets”and “Hi Mom”.

    Gene Wilder did a movie called “Quakser Fortune has a Cousin in the Bronx”. While technically a comedy it is a story of a Irishman who is on the “slow” side and makes his living selling dung. Problem is that horses are about to outlawed in his town and he will be out of work so it leans toward the dramatic also and is a very good performance by him which is not well known.

    Comedy and drama being opposite sides – often a good actor/actress can do well in both with very different performances – look at Katherine Hepburn – she did major dramas and funny comedies – with Spencer Tracy in some of them of course. She was in a movie called “Stage Door” where her character undergoes a major change as she appears in her first play and the part is so different from many she has played (and the calla lilies line in that people say when imitating her is in this movie). And Eleanor of Aquitaine in “Lion in Winter” is different than many of her movies also in terms of the major strength of Eleanor against all the men around her. (Okay she is my favorite actress and that is my favorite movie, especially for Christmas.)

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