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(April 2002)

Big Bad Men
Here are a couple of The Toast’s favorite Big Bad Guys. “Big” because they are both physically large, over 6 feet tall. And “Bad” because they have played such memorably nasty villains that when they first appear on any screen, in any movie, we know they’re gonna’ be evil, even if their character is not the villain in a particular film.

Brion JamesBrion James (born 1945) - a big, bony, hook-nosed actor, is probably best known for his portrayal of one of the rebellious replicants in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), his replicant is named Leon. After the opening credits with the 2019 Los Angeles cityscape in the background; the first scene - that in reality sets the tone for the whole film - is the interview in the smoke filled room between Leon and the soon to be deceased blade runner Holden (Morgan Paull). The infamous void kempf test with it’s bellows and need for a steady eye. After questions and answers about deserts and tortoises:

“What’s a tortoise?”
“You know what a turtle is?”
“Same thing…”

Leon ends the interview with “Let me tell you about my mother” and shoots Holden. On occasion James did play good guys. In Robert Altman’s brilliant 1992 deconstruction of sleazy Hollywood, The Player, James was a studio head. Of course, it can be endlessly debated if a studio boss is a villain or not. In 1997 he played the more or less good guy General Munro in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. Brion James died in the summer of 1999 of a heart attack.

Timothy CareyTimothy Carey (born 1924) – best known to Baby Boomers for the pair of Annette Funicello / Frankie Avalon beach movies he was in in the 1960s. Calling everyone “booby” as South Dakota Slim in Bikini Beach (1964) and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), Carey was both menacing and funny. “Leave it to ol’ Slim” he would say, “I got ideas…and they’re all vile, booby”.

Of more meaningful work, Cary was in a pair of early Stanley Kubrick films. In The Killing (1956) he was memorable as the sharp shooting horse killer Nikki Arcane. One of the movie's most shocking scenes is when his character hurls a racial epitaph at a parking lot attendant with whom he had earlier bonded because they were both combat vets. In Kubrick’s classic anti-war film Paths of Glory (1957) Carey plays the hapless Private Ferol, a simple soul on trial for his life as a coward in the face of the enemy, but not for his actions but for the actions of those officers over him. He’s heartbreaking in his bewilderment of what’s going on around him. He realizes that he’s to be executed but he doesn’t really know why. It’s a small but terrific performance.

Carey was also a writer/director as well as the star of The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962). The story of an insurance salesman who becomes a rock star, changes his name to God and runs for President of the United States. Timothy Carey died in 1994 of a stroke.

Billy WilderBilly Wilder recently passed away. We at The Toast feel inadequate to fully comment on this giant of American cinema. Let us merely say that which is being said in many places and in many venues. As a writer/director he made the most harrowing movie about alcoholism, The Lost Weekend (1945) - the darkest exposŤ of Hollywood, Sunset Blvd. (1950) – the bitterest prisoner-of-war drama, Stalag 17 (1953) – the sweetest of romances, Sabrina (1954) - the most supreme of farces, Some Like It Hot (1959) and two of the favorites of those of us at The Toast, The Apartment (1960) and The Fortune Cookie (1966). We will never see the likes of Billy Wilder again.

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