Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Moving Actor: "Whoa, Look At You Go!"

Actors fight, dance, leap from great heights and even walk better than you or I do. They may be privately shining with sweat from the effort of making these moves, but up on the screen they're dusted with stars. We've spent many a happy hour admiring them in the dark. Here I'm going to concentrate on several of my favorite actor-walks (although, just to break it up, I'll include one demented little jig.)

l. John Travolta owns the best walk in the business, and he shows it all in his street-strut through the credits in SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. He steps out strong in his pointy-toed red shoes which match his flare-collared red silk shirt. The infatuated camera admires him from the ground up, lingering on the billowing cuffs of his black polyester slacks. He's also carrying a paint can, but is way too cool to care. That whole white-suit/dancy-dance nonsense he gets up to later is pallid by comparison.

Travolta also delivers a hugely satisfying moment when he climbs stairs in a busy restaurant to vent justice. In GET SHORTY he's been insulted by a wannabe-tough henchman standing on a landing. Wrong move, goon! Travolta heads up the stairs with that brisk can-do set of his shoulders. He's unhurried, with a confidence so staggeringly complete he doesn't even look cross. He collects the nasty guy like a bad debt and heaves him down the stair rungs like manure off a pitchfork, all without missing stride. Travolta is the Walk King of his generation.

2. In my opinion, Richard Gere is never convincing in good-guy roles. Maybe it's too much of a stretch, who knows? But he did surprisingly well in INTERNAL AFFAIRS as a cheating, lying, betraying, fornicating, murdering bad guy. He was also very effective as a shameless sleazebag of a celebrity lawyer in PRIMAL FEAR (although outgunned, I'd say, by Ed Norton's jaw-dropping debut performance). And years ago he was also good in AMERICAN GIGOLO--avaricious, social-climbing, amoral and sexy. All of which brings us to his walk.

Maybe it's not his fault. After all, human babies learn to walk around a year of age. But Richard Gere walks like a tart. He walks as if he's thinking about his hips more than men usually do. There's a crisp little hitch in his get-along, to put it mildly. This fits in with his dark and ambiguous roles, but is one of the reasons we can't believe him in the saintly ones.

3. John Wayne walks with his whole bulky body, something like a sasquatch would, as if he were holding the sky up on his big shoulders and the earth down with his feet, and plowing ahead no matter what the plague or disaster. In THE SEARCHERS, for five long years he never ceases to search for his kidnapped niece, by sunlight, moonlight, firelight, through storms and floods, under attack and threat of death. He searches mostly by horseback, but also in large part by the almost demented concentration and unstoppable forward impetus of that walk. We never doubt he'll find her, and he does.

4. Now for a dance: Donald Pleasence is an English actor known for his extreme style, which reached its height when he played Mike Myers' unfortunate doctor in the HALLOWEEN series. In the Western WILL PENNY he's a wicked psycho/preacher who's trying to force a virtuous widow (Joan Hackett) to marry one of his heart-stoppingly hideous, homicidal sons. There's a moment when he seems to have won, and in sudden celebration he does an evil little jig with such vile delight that he almost puts his foot through a chair. We hate him, but the moment still has a satanic glow.

5. For me, the most endearing walk is that provided by Roberto Benigni in IL MOSTRE (THE MONSTER). Through his usual series of disastrous misunderstandings, Roberto's character Loris is under suspicion of being a mass murderer. Nicoletta Braschi is the tough-minded undercover detective assigned to his case. She shadows Loris constantly, and gradually becomes fascinated by the wildly eccentric little man.

Now, the walk: in an early scene, with typical Benigni reasoning, Loris has decided he'll avoid the notice of his landlord, to whom he owes money, if he crouches down and walks like a duck below the man's line of vision. He does this more or less successfully, but rather sadly. There is something very lonely about a man who is walking like a duck all by himself. But Nicoletta sees this ruse of his. By this time she's realized that, evidence to the contrary, he's an innocent at heart. She gently crouches down beside him, and as they duck-walk away together, his face lights up with a shy man's happiness. It's a fine moment.


  1. Great stuff. I must look more closely at Richard Gere's walk! I'm so glad that you mentioned THE SEARCHERS and WILL PENNY -two of my favorites. Another favorite -in GANGS OF NEW YORK, Liam Neeson leads the Irish out to face Daniel Day Lewis's gang of Patriots. I am always stirred by their determined march to battle.

  2. Great to hear from you, Jane! I totally agree with you about the thrilling preparations and march in GANGS OF NEW YORK. Another one I should have mentioned was Maximus's (Russell Crowe's) reviewing of his troups at the beginning of GLADIATOR.

  3. "Richard Gere is never convincing in good-guy roles."

    HAHA, i love that. And yes, his walk is definitely... not normal.

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  4. leanne, yes, I think Gere's walk tells a big part of the story! :^)

  5. I'm not a fan of Richard Gere, didnt even know he had a walk ;-)

    But when you see John Wayne's 6'+ frame angling down the dusty street, cowboy hit slightly tilted, holster and gun slung low and sexy....the epitome of a sexy American cowboy. Yummy!

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  6. Sandy--Yes, exactly. I too love to watch John walk! :^)