January is coming to an end and 2017 has swung its scythe and claimed the life of another great artist, English actor Sir John Hurt. His death, at the age of 77, brings an end to a brilliant career that has spanned six decades and many legendary performances. Most of his fans of course will remember him for his role as the ill-fated Kane, in the sci-fi horror classic Alien (1979). Others will remember him for his Oscar nominated performances in the films Midnight Express (1978) and The Elephant Man (1980). As well as his brilliant dark turn as the emperor Caligula in the classic BBC television serial I’ Claudius (1976). And his famous portrayal of gay icon writer Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant (1975). The Field (1990), Rob Roy (1995), Contact (1997), Hellboy (2004), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). As far as I consider myself foremost a lover of film…the list for me just goes on and on and on.
The one John Hurt performance that I consider a personal favorite for me is his role as murder suspect Douglas Benoit in the film From the Hip (1987). The comedy ( directed by Bob Clark of Porky’s fame ) was a star vehicle to capitalize on actor Judd Nelson’s success in The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire.
I’m not a fan of the movie and I didn’t find it funny at all. The film, however, did provide me an unintentional uncontrollable laugh out loud seizure. The moment is a scene that comes halfway into the movie. Nelson plays defense attorney Robin “Stormy” Weathers who is defending Hurt’s Benoit,a university professor, in a murder case involving a prostitute. In the scene, Benoit ( by way of a attorney-client confession ) describes how it feels to take a life. And, then, nothing short of a minor miracle happens.
Solely by the power of his voice, Hurt places us as viewers in that moment with Benoit and his unfortunate victim. And the look on Judd Nelson’s face makes me laugh all the time. Because, in that scene, John Hurt showed Nelson what the difference is between a star and an actor.
When people think of modern acting Marlon Brando usually comes to mind. He’s the popular choice because he’s seen by most as its “Father”. For me it will always be John Hurt. He’s the standard by which I judge as a fan, critic, and writer. An actor who had the power to play anybody.
Rest In Peace, Sir