Tuesday, July 09, 2019


Forget that Maidstone shit, hilarious as it may be. The now late Rip Torn was not only Artie, the cut-throat but sentimental producer on The Larry Sanders Show -- so, so many great things about that performance, but this short scene gives you a good idea of the old-school show-biz toughness Torn gave the character -- but he was also a great actor of decades' standing in New York and Hollywood. I remember with special fondness seeing him when I was a teenager doing a pair of comic Chekhov one-acts on PBS with his wife Geraldine Page (their mailbox in the city was labeled "Torn/Page"), "A Marriage Proposal" and "The Bear." In the former he was a wormy suitor, in the latter a rustic boor, and Torn not only put both characters over but made them sexy (having Page to play against helped there, though, and -- it would seem -- for him; it was the first time I'd seen Page act, and I didn't realize for years afterward that she was supposed to be spinsterish).

I am also super-fond of Torn's "Bob Diamond" celestial defense attorney in Albert Brooks' Defending Your Life -- not only for his blustery early scenes, in which he appears to be just handling the poor dumb earthling put in his care, but also and especially for his last scene with Brooks, in which he suddenly shows the empathy that probably saves him. Good acting is largely about winning the audience -- I think it was Edward Herrmann who said that the audience decides in the first 10 minutes whether an actor is worth watching -- but the great ones find a way to surprise you after they've won you, and Torn really accomplished that here; I recall him saying this with what seemed like genuine regret, after Brooks' character learns to his great sorrow that he's being sent back and can't be with the woman with whom he's fallen in love:
Can I say something? Because they're sending you back, doesn't mean they're right. They can make mistakes. Don't let others get to you. Just follow what's in here [taps chest]. Come on. I'll take you to the station.
I remember the scene, but not how few words (and flimsy!) Torn had. He made it feel like a filibuster -- and made me wonder whether or not this glib heavenly soul-shuffling bureaucrat was really so glib after all. When the scene paid off at the end, it was mostly Brooks' scripting, but Torn really lit it up from inside.

Oh, and shout out to Torn in Larry Cohen's The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, and Torn's description of his lifelong feeling for Hoover to his girlfriend in ripe Texas growl: "Like my old man -- you know, kinda stiff!" RIP to a real one.

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