Thursday, December 14, 2006

Peter Boyle 1935 – 2006

Holy crap. Peter Boyle died.

To most people, Peter Boyle will be forever known as the perpetually grumpy Frank, the curmudgeon always prepared to fire off a withering putdown as the patriarch of the dysfunctional Barone clan in Everybody Loves Raymond.

But for me, Frank Barone was just another chapter in the long and wonderful screen career of a fine character actor whose performances have tweaked my pleasure centres for decades. Even his briefest appearances struck a chord and stayed with me. The role of Wizard, the philosophical hackie who passes on his street-corner wisdom to the simmering Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver is a relatively small one, but it remains an unforgettable scene in a movie crammed full of them.

“You get a job. You become the job.”
Peter Boyle as Wizard in Taxi Driver

His broad glistening bald pate with the wisps of hair framing it on the sides, his immense grin, the eyes that could twinkle with either mirth or malevolence (or both at the same time) – whenever Peter Boyle appeared on-screen, you knew that you would be in for something to savour. Personal favourites include the tremendous Seventies caper movie Slither, and his showing as the standard-issue shouty police commander in Walter Hill’s Red Heat. He steals every scene from Bill Murray in Where The Buffalo Roam, despite the fact that Murray is superb as the good Dr. Gonzo himself, Hunter S. Thompson, and Boyle still manages to eclipse his efforts with a manic, wild-eyed, utterly hilarious performance as Carl Lazlo, a thinly-disguised portrayal of Thompson’s friend Oscar Acosta. But there are two films in particular that I can watch again and again and just revel in Boyle’s mastery of comic timing.

“I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me. Out of my way, asshole.”
Peter Boyle as Jack McDermott in The Dream Team

The first is The Dream Team, where he plays Jack McDermott, a former advertising executive with a predilection for undressing at inopportune times and who now believes he is God, set loose on the streets of New York with fellow crazies Michael Keaton, Christopher Lloyd and Stephen Furst. (All four of them are just terrific in this movie). Truly wonderful stuff.

“This is the body and blood of our saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. And a damned fine Beaujolais!”
Peter Boyle as Jack McDermott in The Dream Team

The other movie is, of course, Young Frankenstein. What can I say about this film that hasn’t already been said? Nothing at all. So, in a break from the onslaught of funk music I’ve been hurling up here all month, I leave you with this moment of comedy gold. Peter Boyle. Gene Wilder. Putting On The Ritz.

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