Sunday, July 20, 2014

RIP James Garner

James Garner
James Garner.

Many people remember James Garner from "The Rockford Files," which was a classic '70s offbeat "private investigator" show (half the shows on tv in the '70s featured "private investigators," you'd think that everybody was calling for private investigators to solve their problems every other day). Or, perhaps you remember him from his other classic tv role in "Maverick" (which also featured Roger Moore). Both shows were about the best that tv has to offer.

My own best memory of a James Garner performance (and there are many) was in an off-beat film that most folks probably have never heard of. It was an odd little mid-'60s film that had some absolutely dazzling performances and an intricate screenplay. It was called "Mister Buddwing" (1966), directed by Delbert Mann.

James Garner Mister Buddwing
James Garner in "Mister Buddwing"

If you are a fan of good films - not the hyped films at your local multiplex this weekend, but good films that are completely forgotten - then you should consider hunting down "Mr. Buddwing." If you look it up, you will see lots of mediocre ratings and reviews, which often is the hallmark of quirky films that weren't intended to amuse the mass audience. You have to be willing to get past that if you want to uncover true hidden gems that really strike an individual chord within you.

I won't give away the plot, but it is somewhat along the lines of "The Twilight Zone" until the very end. You have no idea what the heck is happening until the final scene, and then it all makes chilling sense. And no, it's not science fiction or even fantasy. It's the story of a man. You have to see it to appreciate the context of what I just wrote.

Garner had to take that role because it was quality. There's no other possible reason for a rising star like him to play the character that he did, who is impossible to pin down and in a film that was as far from being commercial as possible. He'd probably appreciate your remembering him and the film by watching it.

You don't have to be a film snob to seek out films like that, and we're not touting it for that reason. Instead, it is just a great film that is forgotten. Sometimes, underrated films like that are the greatest treasures of all. If you need a little convincing as to why to see it, just look at the cast: Garner, Jean Simmons, Suzanne Pleshette, Katharine Ross, Angela Lansbury - these folks weren't begging for work at that time. The number of awards they won is impressive. If you come to a specialty film site like this, you're probably open to off-beat ideas about what to see, so here's your idea of the day.

James Garner is one of those actors who lived a full life and thus out-lived the peak of their fame. If he had died thirty years ago, it would have been treated as a national event. Since he did live a full life, and his fame receded, few will note his passing, and that's ok. It is how the world works. But he was a great actor and personality who brought real life to his roles.

So, if you're hunting down something a little weird and a little crazy, but ultimately satisfying and even epic, look for a copy of "Mister Buddwing."

James Garner Mister Buddwing
"Mr. Buddwing."


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