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LawrenceA

A Man Called Richard Harris

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Richard Harris (1930-2002) was born in Limerick, Ireland. He was on the fast track to being a professional rugby player, excelling at the sport in his teens, when he contracted tuberculosis. It left him unable to continue his sports pursuits, and after graduating he drifted into acting via the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. There began a long decade of struggle and failure, with appearances in many plays and musicals, none of which brought him much recognition. It wasn't until 1958, when he made his film debut in Alive and Kicking, followed by the next year's stage triumph The Ginger Man, that Harris finally began receiving substantial notice. 

 

He had the typical love/hate relationship with films that was common among serious theater folk. He loved the money, but hated what he felt were the constant artistic compromises made during production. Despite appearing in small roles beside such major film stars as Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck and James Cagney, Harris did not enjoy the process, and held no desire to continue his film career. He was enticed, however, to co-star in Marlon Brando's lavish remake of Mutiny On the Bounty. Despite the film's mixed reception, Harris garnered wide recognition, and this was followed by what was perhaps his best early film role. The kitchen-sink, "Angry Young Man" school of cinematic realism had become the rage in Britain, and 1963's This Sporting Life was one of the finest examples of the movement. Harris is terrific as the self-destructive rugby player and coal miner Frank Machin, and Harris received a Best Actor Oscar nomination. This success propelled him into movie stardom for the next two decades, with roles in such films as Major Dundee, The Heroes of Telemark, Red Desert, The Bible, Hawaii, Caprice, and most profoundly for Harris, 1967's Camelot. This film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical would become one of Harris' favorites, and he would return to it on stage throughout his life when times were tough. It was during the summer of 1968 that Harris' career would take an unexpected turn when he had a surprise worldwide hit single with the song "MacArthur Park".

 

By this time Harris had cultivated a rather dubious reputation for being difficult, argumentative and combative with directors, producers and co-stars, and for an ever-increasing love of the bottle. Much like contemporaries Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole and Oliver Reed, Harris' drunken escapades began to overshadow his dramatic accomplishments. This didn't stop his career, though, as the decade turned with Harris starring in one of his most successful films, 1970's A Man Called Horse, one of a number of revisionist westerns that were altering the way people looked at that oldest of genres. Harris would appear in two sequels over the next decade. Harris' other cinematic output in the '70's included The Molly Maguires, Cromwell, Man in the Wilderness, Juggernaut, Robin and Marian, The Cassandra Crossing, Orca, and The Wild Geese. As you may have noticed, the quality of the films began to diminish as Harris' off-screen proclivities began to outweigh his dwindling box-office performance.

 

The next decade would be a time of recovery, as Harris battled his alcoholism and drug addictions. His film output was minor and unmemorable, and he fell off of most film-watchers' radars. It wasn't until the small 1990 Irish film The Field, directed by Jim Sheridan, that Harris returned to the limelight. Looking much older, with stark white beard and hair and a weather-beaten countenance that showed a lifetime's worth of hard living, Harris displayed his acting power in a tremendous performance that garnered him another Best Actor Oscar nomination. This led to supporting roles in a number of Hollywood films, including Patriot Games, Wrestling Ernest Hemingway and most notably in the Best Picture Oscar winner Unforgiven. More supporting roles followed for the rest of the decade leading up to a couple of final memorable turns.

 

Harris appeared in the small but important role of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 2000's Best Picture Oscar winner Gladiator. 35 years earlier he had been offered the role of Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius, in 1965's The Fall of the Roman Empire, a part he turned down. The following year Harris appeared as Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the worldwide smash Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. This role endeared him to yet another generation of film fans, and would most likely have become his "Obi-Wan Kenobi", a lucrative role late in life that would overshadow his previous movie roles. Alas, Harris only appeared as Dumbledore one more time, in 2002's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Harris had been battling various health problems for some time, and after a severe bout of pneumonia, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. He died two months later.

 

Richard Harris, for me, is an actor that can be broodingly brilliant, or sloppy, hammy and lazy. His greatest film roles, like This Sporting Life and The Field, rank among the best of his generation of actors. However, he seemed to be an actor that could not often be bothered with the effort required to put in a truly memorable performance. When times in his life were tough, he would bring forth the talent he had cultivated in his years of stage work to offer a characterization that would ensure his continued work. Soon enough, though, he would fall back into bad films and bad acting. In the end, he managed to turn out enough interesting work to make looking at his filmography worthwhile. 

 

richard-harris-2.jpg

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I have one to recommend if you can find it and that is To Walk With Lions (1999).  Richard plays George Adamson of 'Born Free' fame in his latter days as he struggles to keep his lion sanctuary open.  Honor Blackman appears as his divorced wife, Joy.   Harris does really well and seems completely natural in what easily could have been a ham bone role.

I didn't know Harris did J.P. Donleavy's The Ginger Man.

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I've seen 35 of the 72 movies Richard Harris appeared in. Here are some favorites:

 

The Field

This Sporting Life

Hawaii

Unforgiven

A Man Called Horse

Mutiny on the Bounty

Wrestling Ernest Hemingway

Cry, the Beloved Country

Major Dundee

The Molly Maguires

Man in the Wilderness

 

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I've seen 35 of the 72 movies Richard Harris appeared in. Here are some favorites:

 

The Field

This Sporting Life

Hawaii

Unforgiven

A Man Called Horse

Mutiny on the Bounty

Wrestling Ernest Hemingway

Cry, the Beloved Country

Major Dundee

The Molly Maguires

Man in the Wilderness

I still haven't seen THIS SPORTING LIFE. He's wonderful in UNFORGIVEN.

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Richard Harris has something of the relationship to Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole that Anthony Franciosa did to Marlon Brando and Paul Newman: he seems to have gotten some of the parts they had turned down. He's an actor I often don't like, for two reasons: I've seen a few of the hammy and lazy performances Lawrence mentions, and he can seem like the kind of drunken boor I'd like to get far away from in real life.

 

And yet that's not the whole story. In his early career he can be very effective cast as a hothead, as in that fine film The Night Fighters. He has a career-making role in This Sporting Life, for which he deservedly received an Oscar nomination for best actor. He's made up and coiffed to look like the young Marlon Brando, and the comparison isn't far-fetched. He has the power to explode on screen without seeming hammy. He seems ready to have a great career, but for all the reasons Lawrence mentions, he worked steadily without usually achieving the heights of his gifted contemporaries.

 

One of my favorite Harris roles is in The Molly Maguires, which Lawrence put among his ten favorites. Not a lot of people then or now were interested in a movie about labor problems in the coal mines, which is unfortunate. It's a good film.

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Speaking of Harris, O'Toole and Burton I hope that it is not too early in this thread to show The Man Who Would Be King of the Popes.

 

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Speaking of Harris, O'Toole and Burton I hope that it is not too early in this thread to show The Man Who Would Be King of the Popes.

 

When I was typing up my initial post, I kept recalling this bit from SCTV that I saw recently when I was watching the DVD sets. Forgive the poor YT quality.

 

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Not a lot of people then or now were interested in a movie about labor problems in the coal mines, which is unfortunate. It's a good film

I must disagree with part of this statement. The growth of Unionism was a massive movement of interest to millions of people in its heyday. The fact that only a handful of movies about worker's unions have ever been made in this country exposes all too clearly, the determined efforts of conservative, corporate America to keep it obscure and un-talked about; to deny the memory of its heroes and efface any gratitude for their accomplishments. Its yet another tell-tale historical clue that gives thorough lie to the preposterous myth of 'liberal media'. If we truly did have a liberal-controlled media, the Union movement would not be represented in our culture by films depicting only Union graft and mafia ties; and a paltry few that show how grand a struggle it actually was.

I promise you!

Sgt_Markoff

p.s. love that flick 'King Rat'...

 

 

 

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a few Richard Harris flicks which number among my faves

  • 'The Last Word'
  • 'The Wreck of the Mary Dear' (villain)
  • 'The Guns of Navarone' (cameo)
  • The Deadly Trackers

 

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