Published at: Aug. 10, 2010, 4:15 a.m. CST by headgeek
Hey folks, Harry here with the miserable task of letting everyone know that one of the First Ladies of Science Fiction and Oscar Winning Actress Patricia Neal has passed away.
One of the great things about Robert Wise's DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL is that he didn't cast some second rate actress as his lead. He didn't go for figure over soul, he cast Patricia Neal. For many a science fiction geek, Patricia Neal represented the perfect Mom. A mom that lets you go out for a day with the Spaceman. A mom that later gives what you tell her further thought. A mom that saved the Spaceman, Mr Carpenter's life. A Mom, that got to go in the spaceship and helped save the Earth on which we all live. Yeah, Patricia Neal was one helluva Mom. I keep thinking about that Elevator scene with Michael Rennie as she grasps the gravity, the reality and the utter holy fuck of the situation. You see it. There on her face. These are not lines, this is the end of the world. An erasure of civilization and is all there in Patricia Neal's eyes.
But film geeks know more about Patricia than just that science fiction flick. Patricia Neal was one of the true brilliant actresses of stage and screen. Winning both a Tony and an Oscar.
I loved her in THE FOUNTAINHEAD alongside Gary Cooper. Loved the chemistry with John Wayne in OPERATION PACIFIC. However, this side of GORT - my favorite Patricia Neal flick is the astonishingly brilliant A FACE IN THE CROWD. I campaigned in my DVD COLUMN when that was released to have everyone of you check out FACE IN THE CROWD - it is easily my favorite non-Brando Elia Kazan film. Watching the way her perception of Andy Griffith's epic character changes is... Text Book Brilliant work. Just amazing. But then... there she was... being that brilliant older well-ta-do woman in 2-E in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S - you know, the keeper of A-TEAM's Hannibal? Yeah - she's something extraordinary in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. Then we got to see her opposite Paul Newman in HUD... and again, she destroys me and wins an Oscar for Best Actress of 1963. In general, I find that very very very few people I know have seen HUD and FACE IN THE CROWD, see FACE first - but by all means watch HUD soon!
Speaking of criminally underseen films... Patricia Neal's Lt. Maggie Haynes - opposite not just John Wayne and Kirk Douglas in Otto Preminger's IN HARM'S WAY... well she won Best Foreign Actress at the BAFTAS that year. Again - another great role! Three years later, her very next film - she was nominated for Best Actress in THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES in 1968. That year she lost in one of the odder moments in Hollywood history when Babs & Katherine Hepburn tied for the win. This is one of those emotionally brutal films that challenges you to not shed a tear. The guy playing her son in the film won Best Supporting for the film. Now this next film, which came out the year I was born, 1971 was one of those films that searched around for, for years. THE NIGHT DIGGER. I had the one-sheet, which is fantastically lurid, but this was written by her hubby at the time, Roald Dahl - and is a down right disturbing thriller.
Now, this isn't one of her finer moments, but I loved the TV Show KUNG FU as a kid. I was a KUNG FU addict - I was already collecting Shaw Brothers posters and martial arts trailers at conventions in the 70s - and when I could sit down with my parents at the age of 3 and watch KUNG FU... we did. I'm not gonna lie and claim I have 3 year old memories of this specific Two-Parter from David Carradine's epic KUNG FU - but later as I revisited these on DVD - spurred on by Tarantino's epic night at the Drafthouse when he brought David Carradine, showed classic Kung Fu movies with KUNG FU episodes in-between each movie in that all-nighter - I was taken by BLOOD OF THE DRAGON two-parter which kicked off the 3rd season in a fairly goddamn epic episode. Where Caine searches for what happened to his Grandpappy. And Patricia is great in it. And I'm betting this is the only obit that will mention the KUNG FU episode work she did, but goddamn it - when I write about the passing of one of fave actresses - I'm getting into it.
The last thing she did that I really did appreciate the hell out of her in was that creaky GHOST STORY from 1981. It had a great cast with Fred Astaire, BODY DOUBLE's Craig Wasson, Borg Queen Alice Krige, THE FOG's firelight spookster John Houseman, GUNGA DIN's Douglas Fairbanks Jr, the always awesome Melvyn Douglas and lastly the great Patricia Neal. I did like seeing her in Robert Altman's film COOKIE'S FORTUNE, as she did play the titular character, but her part is quite small, but very important.
Her last film work was last year in something called FLYING BY... and I've never heard of it... but I have to admit a degree of sadness in thinking that her last filmwork was alongside Billy Ray Cyrus. Ouch. So let's just think of her last film as being COOKIE'S FORTUNE - which was a high note to leave on, and will pretend the Billy Ray Cyrus movie never existed... ok?
Patricia Neal never played a bad role that I ever saw. She chose not to work, rather than take lessor work. A practice that is nearly forgotten these days where one has to constantly put ones' self out in front of the ADD audience in order to gain BRAND status. Patricia Neal wasn't a Brand, she was a great actress... something every actress should strive for.
Sadly, we see very few in her mold - and now - what will happen to us all, the next time the stupid military shoots Klaatu? We're doomed without Patricia Neal. But we'll never forget her most famous line... even if that goofball ASH can't remember it. Sheesh.