Monday, April 23, 2012

RIP: Bill Finley & Jonathan Frid

While most people last week were mourning the loss of Dick Clark and wondering if the Mayans were right after-all, or dealing with The Weight of losing Levon Helm from The Band... Two other deaths may have gone unnoticed.

Back in 1962 a couple of college kids made a short film - one as director and the other as actor: WOTON'S WAKE was directed by Brian DePalma and starred Bill Finley. This was the beginning of a film partnership that lasted until 2006's BLACK DAHLIA. DePalma had an eye for talent, Robert DeNiro and Charles Durning and Daryl Hannah and many others got their big breaks from DePalma. And he continued working with many of them - who played Al Capone in DePalma's UNTOUCHABLES? Finley was in 9 of DePalma's films - and was the actual star of a couple. He was a weird looking guy, tall and gangly and with a face that seemed like it had been stamped in a record press long before that would happen on film in PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. Here are some clips of Finley and DePalma's work together...

In SISTERS Finley plays a riff on the mad scientist - a crazy doctor who has separated a pair of conjoined twins and married one of them. You can see him in this trailer with a cleaver performing an operation - wearing his trademark ultra-thick glasses:

SISTERS is a great drive in flick - shocking and creepy and manages to rip off a half dozen Hitchcock movies but still tell its own story. You know the trunk with the dead body from ROPE? Here it's a sofa-bed. Finley as the crazy doctor ends up kind of the ultimate antagonist. So in his next film for DePalma he was the protagonist - the lead!

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is one of my favorite films, and though it's about a guy who sold his soul for rock and roll, the story can easily apply to screenwriting or any other creative gig. As a crazy musical satire of rock musicals it manages to hit a bunch of serious points in my life (and maybe yours, too). Here's the trailer with Finley as the Phantom:

Between these two films, Finley became a kind of cult actor and ended up working with John Huston and Chuck Norris. He came back to work for DePalma in THE FURY - a movie that kind of doesn't work and seems like Act 1 of a story without the rest. I read the novel before seeing the film, and the Finley was cast as the most interesting minor character - Raymond Dunwooody (I hope I got that right, because I did not look it up). Dunwoody is a man with amazing psychic powers who can't deal with them and becomes a drunk... but is recruited by the government to find other people with psychic powers who can be kidnapped, er, I mean - recruited.

This is a film student's look at the locations of THE FURY - and in the opening scene you can seen Finley as the creepy guy following the two girls. After that, you don't need to watch any more...

William Finley will be missed. He was kind of a cult actor who pops up in films made by fans on PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (or maybe SISTERS) and I remember how happy I was when I saw him in BLACK DAHLIA. He was never going to be a star - too weird looking - but that's what made him a great lead in PHANTOM. He was the not-handsome-guy in all of us. The one who was never going to get the girl. One of the things that you may have noticed from the clips is how versatile he was - he could play every type of odd. The crazy doctor in SISTERS is *nothing* like the shy musician in PHANTOM. Toys From Sing Sing.


The other star who passed was Jonathan Frid, who got a lot more press than Finley because he played the lead in the DARK SHADOWS TV series, and there's a big movie about to come out.

Much as PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE spoke to me as a young man trying to break into the film business, DARK SHADOWS was a pivotal show when I was a kid. It had monsters in it. For those of you who may have never heard of DARK SHADOWS before the Depp version - it began as a traditional soap opera that was failing in the ratings and about to be cancelled, so the producer (Dan Curtis - KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER) just started doing crazy stuff on the show, because no one was watching, right? So instead of the typical soap opera unwed mother scandal, he threw in a vampire... and a witch... and a werewolf (which is where Quentin Tarantino got his first name)... and some ghosts... and anything else weird. All of that happened before I began watching it as a kid - When I started watching it was already weird... and had a new audience. The housewives who normally watch soaps were not the audience for the weird show, but kids my age who liked monsters... and kids a little older who probably watched the show while using a controlled substance or two... became addicted to this crazy family with actual skeletons in the closet. The show was played straight - not a comedy at all - but it was just loopy! I ran home from school every day to watch it.

And the show opened the doors for other weird shows like TWIN PEAKS, and KOLCHAK and X-FILES.

Jonathan Frid played vampire Barnabass Collins, with his weird walking stick and hang up on his dead love Angelique (I named a character after her in NIGHT HUNTER), as if it were Shakespeare. This ended up being his defining role - he starred in Oliver Stone's first feature SEIZURE in 1974, and a TV movie... but mostly he was Barnabass Collins. He pops up in the new film in a cameo - his last role. Here is his introduction to the show - in the B&W days before I was watching...

Both of these guys will be missed. They were cult actors who gave great performances and live on in the memories of fans.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: BLAND HEROES - making sure the supporting characters don't take over!
Dinner: Subway - Teriyaki Chicken.
Movies: Sunday Night Noir: 3 Woolrich flicks at the Egyptian - PHANTOM LADY, BLACK ANGEL, and THE WINDOW. Have also seen AMERICAN REUNION (blah), CABIN IN THE WOODS (fun for horror fans), and another film I will talk about later.




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