Monday, May 31, 2010

Ridin' Easy Into the Sunset

Dennis Hopper has died. That fact shouldn't be a surprise to the many movie fans who have followed Hopper's career, especially recently, when he looked so sick in public. I was shocked at his appearance, and figured it was only a matter of time before he passed on. It seemed like a good time to reflect on the milestones of his career, for which there were many.

Hopper acted in a lot of TV through the '50s and early '60s. A quick scan through his IMDb listing showed credits for just about any program you could name back then, from The Twilight Zone to Bonanza to The Big Valley to Combat! I think that kept his face in front of a lot of producers and agents. I first noticed him as the son of Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor in GIANT. He showed a rebellious streak even then, playing a scion of a Texas millionaire who married a Mexican. I'll always remember the moment when his wife is denied service at a beauty salon; Hopper flips out and goes after James Dean for the slight.

Later on, he hitched a ride with John Wayne, playing the weak-willed son of bad guy James Gregory in Wayne's '60s classic, THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER. But it was four years later that he scored a double play to end them all: writing, directing, and starring in EASY RIDER, the ultimate counter-culture classic, while simultaneously nailing a small but memorable part in conservative Wayne's Oscar winner, TRUE GRIT. I watched that scene again the other night, and noticed how Hopper's long hair is tied back in a ponytail in the scene. I thought how funny it would be that the Duke might not have had a clue what Hopper was doing on his own in Hollywood at the time. It's possible that Wayne knew about Hopper's tastes and politics and overlooked them, but somehow I kinda doubt it.

Hopper's career went into a long, slow decline after that memorable year, but he enjoyed a career resurgence in the late '80s similar to John Travolta's in the '90s. I loved his supporting performance as the drunken father in HOOSIERS, as well as his villainous role in SPEED. He had a very small part in Tony Scott's Tarantino-penned TRUE ROMANCE as Christian Slater's father, going toe-to-toe with crime boss Christopher Walken in a scene that was an actor's clinic. And he had one more notable TV role, too, as the villainous Victor Drazen on the first season of 24.

Here are my top Hoppers, in order of preference.

1. HOOSIERS (1986)
2. EASY RIDER (1969)
3. SPEED (1994)
4. 24 - Season One (2001-2002)
5. TRUE ROMANCE (1993)
6. GIANT (1956)
7. TRUE GRIT (1969)
9. BLUE VELVET (1986)

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