Monday, August 09, 2010


Without question, the death of actress Patricia Neal is occasion for sadness, due in no small part to the impression that she was never fully allowed to give us as much as she might have.  True, she was cut down by a stroke in the prime of her life, which robbed her of some productive time, but let's face it: How many great roles did she really get on screen?  HudThe Subject Was Roses.  You could throw in The Day The Earth Stood Still, probably her most famous film, but it doesn't require her to do much heavy lifting in the performance department.  Then again, maybe it didn't need to: She managed to convey great intelligence even when just standing there, and that, combined with a certain remote quality she projected, made her endlessly fascinating to watch.  Even when the movies weren't worthy of her, she was still there, and that was enough.

Neal's death is the latest in a terrible run of recent deaths of people who had a lot to do with some of the best or most influential movies ever made.  They weren't actors, they weren't famous to the general public, but their work mattered.

Take Robert Boyle, for instance.  The term "production designer" sounds more industrial than creative, but Boyle's magnificent collaborations on some of Alfred Hitchcock's most iconic films marked him as a true artist.  Consider James Mason's weird house situated somewhere atop Mt. Rushmore in North By Northwest, or the ironic facade of a welcoming small town in Shadow Of A Doubt.  Consider, too, his work with other great directors: For Joe Dante's Explorers, Boyle had to design an alien spacecraft that would be convincingly otherworldly and effectively ominous, all while still seeming reminiscent of something from a fifties sci-fi cheapie.  Lord knows how he pulled it off, but he certainly did.

Suso Checchi D'Amico worked as a screenwriter with many of the best Italian filmmakers--Francesco Rosi, Michelangelo Antonioni, Vittorio DeSica.  Her most frequent collaborator was Luchino Visconti, with whom she wrote several films, including The Leopard.  She wrote a lot of lesser films, too, of course, as a working writer must, but even if her voice is not the dominant one in the great films she worked on, it is still in the mix.

Nobody would ever confuse the films Tom Mankiewicz wrote with The Leopard, but the fact remains that one of those movies--Superman or Superman II, or one of the lesser Bonds like Diamonds Are Forever or Live And Let Die--are always being watched somewhere.  They're the work of a competent journeyman, and nothing to be sneezed at.  The fact that they are so popular means they have meaning to people on some level.

That's what unites all the people on this list.  The size and quality of their contributions may vary, but they've all been part of our dreamworlds as lived on screen, and for that, they can't be thanked enough.