The Way of the Word

4. July 2010


Filed under: Commentary,general,movies,Uncategorized — jensaltmann @ 15:06
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Yesterday, I found an old paperback. I decided to keep it, as it was a novel I hadn’t read yet. It was a novel by Agatha Christie, starring Miss Marple.

Miss Marple is my favorite of Agatha Christie’s creations. I have never held much love for Hercule Poirot, but I always liked Miss Marple.

That’s probably because it was those fantastic Miss Marple movies with Margaret Rutherford that introduced me to Agatha Christie’s work back when I was a kid. 4:50 From Paddington, to be precise. Now, whenever I read a Miss Marple novel, the character’s voice in the story is provided by Margaret Rutherford.

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Margaret Rutherford’s portrayal of Miss Marple is iconic. I can hear you ask, how do I define an iconic portrayal? It’s simple, really. If you hear a character who has been put on the screen many times, which actor do you associate with the character? Automatically, without thinking.

Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple is a terrific example. Can you think of any other actress who played the role? Actually, yes, I can, but it’s Margaret Rutherford who defines the character for me. Nobody else who played her ever even came close.

Unlike Hercule Poirot. I don’t think anyone has ever made the definitive, iconic portrayal of the Belgian detective. Most people praise Albert Finney. I’m more fond of Peter Ustinov’s portrayal. But none of the 14 actors who played the part really defined the character.

It’s similar with James Bond. While Sean Connery is the yardstick to which they all get measured, most of the actors who played the role were able to make it their own. Also Dracula: quick, who do you think of: Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee? At least there is no question regarding the Frankenstein Monster: everyone knows there can be only one — Boris Karloff.

Clint Eastwood is the Man Without Name. Even if Hollywood were stupid enough to remake the Dollar trilogy (as it’s been called), nobody would come close. I wonder if Dirty Harry is equally iconic? Not for me, because I can actually imagine other actors in the same role. If Hollywood were ever to continue making Dirty Harry movies, I wouldn’t complain if they cast Hugh Jackman as Harry.

However, if you hear “Superman” and you don’t think of Christopher Reeve, then I suppose there’s something wrong with you. Superman has been played by several actors – Kirk Alyn, George Reeves, Dean Cain, Brandon Routh and arguably Tom Welling. But the yardstick they all need to live up to, and fall short of, is Christopher Reeve. That’s a part of what makes an interpretation iconic: it’s not just that all others are measured against it, nobody else can match it.

When I thought of Batman, on the other hand, I couldn’t think of any actor whose work on this character is iconic. Then I realized I wasn’t thinking far enough. There is one: Kevin Conroy. He voiced the animated Batman, and people have complained more than once if someone other than Conroy voiced an animated Batman.

There are so many others. Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood comes to mind. Bruce Willis as John McClane.  Johnny Weismuller’s Tarzan. Heath Ledger’s Joker. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator was so iconic that they had to CG him into the fourth movie!

Let’s not forget one who stands out. The iconic player from the Star Trek movies. The Enterprise. Think about it.


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