© Warner Bros / The Ladd Company / Shaw Brothers
July 2019 has been a cursed month for my favourite actors. On this blog I occasionally post instalments in a series with the self-explanatory title Cinematic Heroes and in the past few weeks two people whom I’ve featured in the series have gone to meet their maker. On July 9th veteran English actor Freddie Jones (Cinematic Heroes 12) passed away. And it was recently announced that on July 19th the great Dutch actor Rutger Hauer (Cinematic Heroes 6) died after a short illness.
Shit. I’m almost afraid to write any more Cinematic Heroes posts about living actors, in case I jinx them and they die too. Maybe I should just stick to writing about actors who are already dead.
Freddie Jones was a marvellously eccentric and sonorous actor who seemed to exist on several different planes of cinematic reality at once. He was simultaneously a regular in David Lynch movies (1980’s The Elephant Man, 1984’s Dune, 1989’s Wild at Heart); a star of Hammer horror films (1969’s Frankenstein must be Destroyed, 1973’s The Satanic Rites of Dracula); a fixture of kids’ teatime TV programmes in the 1970s (1976-78’s The Ghosts of Motley Hall, 1976’s Children of the Stones); and a familiar face in dumb Hollywood blockbusters with one-word titles in the 1980s (1982’s Firefox, 1983’s Krull, 1984’s Firestarter).
He also showed up in a trio of great but overlooked British movies that are close to my heart: Basil Deardon’s The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), in which he’s a hoot as the wonky Scottish psychiatrist giving advice to a troubled Roger Moore; Douglas Hickox’s Sitting Target (1972), in which he, Oliver Reed and Ian McShane are three convicts staging a memorably nail-biting prison breakout; and Richard Lester’s Juggernaut (1974), in which he’s a retired bomb disposal expert suspected by Anthony Hopkins of planting six explosive devices on board a luxury liner. (Figuring out if the mad bomber really is Freddie Jones is not the most difficult conundrum in cinematic history.)
He was also, latterly, a soap opera star, which meant when news came of his passing, social media was gummed up with soap-opera fans lamenting that the lovely old guy who’d played Sandy Thomas in Emmerdale from 2005 to 2018 was no more – which did scant justice to Jones’s tremendous acting CV. Still, I like the fact that he was in Emmerdale because it kept him on our screens until last year, by which time he was in his nineties.
We can also draw comfort from the fact that Freddie Jones’s son Toby, who’s every bit as versatile and quirky as his old man, is nowadays ubiquitous in films and television. This means that the Jones character-acting DNA should continue to entertain us well into the 21st century. Indeed, my dream movie would be a remake of Juggernaut with Toby Jones in it, along with Jared Harris and Rory Kinnear, whose dads Richard and Roy starred alongside Freddie in the original.
© Brooksfilms / Paramount Pictures
Freddie Jones was 91 when he died, so his passing wasn’t a huge surprise. However, Rutger Hauer’s death definitely was a surprise. He was 75 and so had passed the allotted three-score-and-ten. But as he’d specialised in playing Nietzschean supermen, such as in Blade Runner (1982) and The Hitcher (1986), it was easy to assume he wouldn’t die.
Mind you, at 75, Hauer’s lifespan was almost 19 times longer than that of Roy Batty, the artificially-created humanoid ‘replicant’ he played in Blade Runner, who was programmed to expire after four years. And by a spooky coincidence, Hauer has died in 2019 – the year in which the events of Blade Runner, including Batty’s death, took place.
Conventional wisdom has it that Hauer reached iconic status in Hollywood in the early-to-mid-1980s with Blade Runner and The Hitcher but thereafter suffered a decline as he made increasing numbers of straight-to-video exploitation movies. But even if you buy into this theory, you can’t deny that Hauer appeared in a large number of truly enjoyable films. Although some of the later ones are in the so-bad-they’re-good category and / or are mainly enjoyable because he’s in them.
On one side of the quality divide, there’s Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka (1983), Richard Donner’s elegiac and criminally underrated Ladyhawke (1985) and Paul Verhoeven’s delicious medieval gore-and-tits epic Flesh + Blood (1985). He also turned up in Sam Peckinpah’s final movie The Osterman Weekend (1983) which, while a mishmash of themes and styles, is still a blast because it features Peckinpah’s much-loved scenes of slo-mo carnage, and Rutger Hauer, and John Hurt, and Dennis Hopper.
Among the later entries in Hauer’s filmography, I defy anyone to say a seriously bad word against Philip Noyce’s Blind Fury (1989), which has Hauer as a blind Vietnam veteran who’s still capable of slicing flying apples in half with his samurai sword. Or Lewis Teague’s Wedlock (1991), which has Hauer escaping from a futuristic prison with an explosive collar around his neck and grappling with the splendidly villainous Joan Chen and Stephen Tobolowsky (who as the prison governor gets to utter the movie’s best line: “You nonconformists are all alike!”).
Or Tony Maylam’s barking-mad Split Second (1992), which has Hauer investigating a serial-killing alien predator in a globally warmed London alongside Alun Armstrong, Pete Postlethwaite, Ian Dury, Michael J. Pollard and – ahem – Kim Cattrall. Or Ernest Dickerson’s Surviving the Game (1994), which has Hauer as a late-era capitalism scumbag who organises adventure holidays in the mountains for rich bastards who get to hunt homeless people, and which has another sublime cast including Ice-T, Charles Dutton, F. Murray Abraham and Gary Busey.
And let’s not forget Jason Eisner’s fascinatingly terrible / brilliant Hobo with a Shotgun (2011). Here, Hauer is a kindly but tough old vagrant who arrives in a city wanting to buy a second-hand lawnmower and start a grass-cutting business, but ends up, amid welters of extreme violence, taking on the family of murderous psychotic gangsters who run and terrorise the place. Well, if you get between Rutger Hauer and his dreams of a lawnmower, you deserve to die.
One other reason I have for loving Hauer is that in the early 1990s he was the face of the advertising campaign for my favourite alcoholic brew, Guinness. (Dressed in black, and sporting a shock of fair hair, Hauer did subliminally resemble a pint of Guinness.) Unfortunately, Guinness is well-nigh impossible to obtain in Sri Lanka, where I live now, so I can’t down a glass of the black stuff to the great man’s memory. But as soon as I arrive in a Guinness-friendly country, my first pint will have Rutger Hauer’s name on it.