Sunday, July 19, 2009

John Glover

In the late 1970s, in a string of films of wildly varying quality and interest (including Annie Hall, Julia, the Farrah Fawcett vehicle Somebody Killed Her Husband, and Jonathan Demme's Last Embrace and Melvin and Howard), John Glover established himself as a real one-scene wonder, an eccentric, highly skilled actor who was able to take a very brief amount of screen time and use it to make as strong an impression as anyone else in the movie. He was much in demand in the 1980s and into the '90s, doing a lot of work in a lot of different shades and flavors, ranging from a man trying to show the sick hero (Aidan Quinn) of the 1985 TV movie An Early Frost who to die, of AIDS, with dignity, to a doctor who sues his hospital to firing him for having a disfiguring disease on an episode of L.A. Law to the pitchman for a lethal car-protection device in a parody commercial that opened Robocop 2. Yet his combination of brazen smarts and the energy level of an electrified fence seemed to make him especially prone to being cast in villain roles, culminating in his playing the devil himself in the short-lived cult TV series Brimstone. By then, he had also given ample evidence of having the most versatile hair in the history of acting.

In recent years, Glover has been of a presence in TV and on stage than in movies; he may actually be best known to young'uns as Lex Luthor's father on Smallville, a role he played for seven seasons before the character kicked off. Since then, he's been seen as Ron Rifkin's boyfriend on Brothers and Sisters and as Zachary Qunito's father on Heroes. He's currently on Broadway, playing Lucky in a highly praised production of Waiting for Godot alongside Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin, and, as Pozzo, John Goodman--Those Guys! of much repute, all.

Where to see John Glover at his best:

52 PICK-UP (1986): This Elmore Leonard adaptation, directed by John Frankenheimer, suffers from an equilibrium problem: the villains are so much more entertaining than the people they're tormenting that it keeps throwing the picture off balance. But of all the performances that inspired one critic to proclaim Glover "the prime rotter of the '80s"--including his scheming stepdaddy in Masquerade (1988) and a smiling hatchet man out for Bill Murray's job in Scrooged (1988)--this is the most flamboyantly show-stopping. His slimy mastermind and amateur filmmaker Alan Raimy is a trained bookkeeper who "found better ways of making money; these include blackmailing Roy Scheider for having slept with a lissome young thing, and then, when that doesn't pan out, blackmailing him after framing him for the lissome young thing's murder. (It goes without saying that he had filmed both the sex and violence, for maximum persuasiveness.) One reason this performance stands out in the Glover rogue's gallery is that he has a first-rate partner in another That Guy!, Clarence Williams III. While Glover, lean and gaunt, dances in place while working his motor mouth, Williams, huge and near-mute, looms menacingly over those he's trying to impress while they wonder if the color of his eyes exists in nature. In his own prize scene, Williams tortures his girlfriend (Vanity) to find out if she's sold them out to Schedier, and, after she squeals that she would never dream of doing such a thing, sits up, murmurs, "I believe you," and then, after pausing and gazing into the nether distance, laments his great character failing: "But I believe everybody!"

GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (1990): Joe Dante's sequel to the 1984 "E.T. Goes Nutzoid"-genetic freak of a summer movie came out right about the time that Glover started confessing to interviewers that he'd like a crack at parts that were less villainous and funnier. He plays Daniel Clamp, a cartoon of Donald Trump, back in the days when Trump was a high-end cheeseball celebrity (Page Six, Spy magazine, Doonesbury) and not just a low-end cheeseball who plays a tycoon on reality TV. The role is still kind of villainous, but it's mostly a comic opportunity, and Glover delivers a sophisticated-sophomoric performance that meshes will with the general outlines of a film that's conceived as a feature-length, (mostly) live-action salute to master Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones. This was especially impressive at the time, when Glover could also be seen starring in a production of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People that Jack O'Brien directed for public television, which really ought to be available on DVD.

LOVE! VALOR! COMPASSION! (1997): Terrence McNally's highly acclaimed 1994 play, which follows the lives of a group of gay male friends over the course of three holiday-weekend getaways, lost something in the transition to this stiff movie version, but at least it gave Glover, a member of the original Broadway cast, a chance to preserve his dual performance. He plays a pair of English twin brothers: John Jeckyll, a sour, dyspeptic put-down artist, and James, who is beloved by all for his sweet disposition and generous nature. (Dr. Jeckyll and ... get it?) Glover shows his stature here partly by the traps he evades: he plays both brothers (the nicer of whom is dying of AIDS) as individuals and not as conceits made flesh, and does it so well that, by the end, it may be John, the acidic brother who knows that no one will ever love him as easily as everyone loves his twin, to whom your heart goes out.

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