I’ll admit it, especially seeing that I was about 8 years old at the time – I once mistook Lee Van Cleef for Harry Dean Stanton. It was during ‘Escape From New York’ and I was bamboozled by the cinematic barrage of triple-word names. Since then, I’ve kept an eye out for him, and we Stanton fans have been spoilt by the frequency and eccentricity of his appearances. I’ve paid homage to Warren Oates round these parts, and seeing as Harry played beside him in three favourites -‘ 92 In The Shade’, ‘Cockfighter’ and ‘Dillinger’, and as the definitive ambassador for crumpled oddball roles, he warrants his own spotlight here.
The latter of the three flicks is most relevant around the release of Michael Mann’s ‘Public Enemies’, and while I respect both actors, it’s a testament to the importance studios place on looks, that Warren and Harry’s (Homer Van Meter) roles are played by Johnny Depp and Steven Dorff respectively. While his roles in more commercial ’80s fodder are well-documented, demanding vengeance from his sons in ‘Red Dawn’ and doing the working class kindly dad schtick in ‘Pretty In Pink’ unexpectedly well (though not quite as unexpected as JK Simmons’s turn in ‘Juno’).
From relatively youthful, albeit a wiry and squinty one supporting cast in Monte Hellman cowboy flicks, to an oddball in ‘Wise Blood’ and amnesiac wanderer in ‘Paris Texas’, with plenty of criminal gang memberships in classics like ‘Straight Time’ crony positions, varmints and untrustworthy weirdo moments along the way, he’s one of those chaps that seemed to exit the womb faintly gnarled. As a result, he still gets gigs, still looks faintly hazardous and still maintains the power to make an atrocious film near-watchable by aura alone. A solid role as polygamist head of the Juniper Creek Compound, Roman Grant in the show ‘Big Love’ proved his presence grows by the decade.
Arthur Penn’s ’76 ‘The Missouri Breaks’ and ”72’s ‘Cisco Pike’ deserve their own spotlights though for all out strangeness. ‘Cisco Pike’ is post-hippy lunacy with Kris Kristofferson being forced by Hackman to do a dope deal, punctuated with Kris’s music, and ‘The Missouri Breaks’ is notable in that Marlon Brando’s renegade bounty hunter Robert E. Lee Clayton wields a weapon Marlon designed himself, surprised it hadn’t already been made and chowed down on a live frog during filming, thus making Harry look very, very sensible by comparison. At nearly 81, Harry Dean Stanton is still puffing away, and looks none the worse for it.
Below there’s a collection of images that capture the man at his best. There’s no way anyone could provide a sufficient potted history of the man’s work without omitting vast swathes of off-the-wall brilliance (‘Repo Man’, frequent Lynch roles, most notably in ‘Wild At Heart’). For a second it felt like his appearance alongside Keith Gordon in Carpenter’s ‘Christine’ was some filmic passing of the weirdo torch to the young Gordon – sadly Keith Gordon isn’t nearly as prolific, despite an ace turn in Mark Romanek’s superb 1986 debut ‘Static’ – why on earth Romanek’s ‘One Hour Photo’ is regarded as his first is a mystery. Hunt down the film and you might be pleasantly surprised.
While some Dean Stanton films remain guilty pleasures, the ‘Dillinger’ shot here is lifted from an even guiltier one…http://www.imfdb.org aka. the Internet Movie Firearms Database. Deeply comprehensive and fairly worrying, if you’ve been wondering what gun Ice in ‘Stone Cold’ misuses, you’ll find out it’s a Calico M950 there, along with quality vidcaps. So that’s what the internet was designed for…
Here’s Harry Dean Stanton and Bob Dylan playing at an ’89 telethon…