How Married to the Crowd Changed His Career
With the recent passing of Dean StockwellIt is evident that the actor had a lot of recognizable roles that people loved him for as his career remains one of the most distinctive in Hollywood history. In fact, his career managed to encompass most of the existence of the film industry, as he began working as a child actor in the 1940s and continued to work intermittently in television and film until upon retirement in 2015. What is more miraculous is how Stockwell has managed to have such a long and rich career in show business while remaining somewhat on the sidelines. For much of his career, he could be seen as an accomplished ‘that guy’ – the type of character actor who pops up in a scene or two and takes him out of the park, most memorable being the way he hijacks. briefly Blue velvet with his strangely haunting rendition of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams”. Luckily in 1988 he got the chance to stretch a bit with a bigger role as Tony “The Tiger” Russo, the evil Mafia boss in Married to the crowd, a role that earned Stockwell the only Oscar nomination and helped cement a career that has seen as many ups and downs as the film industry itself.
To understand Dean Stockwell’s career, a good place to start is the idea of acting in movies as a mere profession. Both of his parents were actors, so it was only natural for Stockwell to catch the virus when he was a child. He first appeared on Broadway at the age of seven, then played a small role in the 1945s. The Valley of Decision, which has given way to more prominent roles in films like the musical Gene Kelly Anchors weigh and the Oscar winner Gentleman’s Agreement. Reflecting on this period, Stockwell said, “A lot of demands were placed on me that should never be put on a child… I was angry with all of this.” Although he took more pleasure in some of the dumbest movies he has had to make, such as The boy with green hair, of which Stockwell said: “During production I felt like I was part of something that meant something to me.” This complicated attitude towards acting led Stockwell to take a break from the movies to focus on school full time as a teenager. However, he eventually dropped out of UC Berkley and returned to theaters in the late 1950s, appearing in scorching dramas like Orson Welles‘ Compulsion and Sidney lumet‘s The long journey of a day into the night.
After this re-emergence, Stockwell gave up acting again and immersed himself in the Topanga Canyon hippie scene while chatting with people like Jack nicholson, Neil young, and Dennis hopper. Although he made an occasional appearance on television and in somewhat fringe films throughout the ’70s, by the early’ 80s he was often seen doing community theater while dabbling in real estate. as a parallel concert. However, after landing roles in both David lynch‘s Dune and Wim wenders‘ Paris, Texas, he sparked a series of memorable supporting roles during the ’80s that turned Stockwell into a reliable character actor in quirky films that existed somewhere between mainstream and the independent circuit like Live and die in Los Angeles Where Blue velvet. This made him a perfect fit to work with Jonathan demme, another figure who often followed the line between more traditional dishes (leading Oscar winners like Thesilenceofthelambs and Philadelphia cream) while leaving time for more offbeat personal projects (such as musical documentaries like Talking heads‘ Stop making sense or the many videos he made with Stockwell’s boyfriend, Neil Young).
Released in 1988, Married to the crowd is a wonderful example of what made Jonathan Demme such a directorial quirk in the ’80s, which fits perfectly with what Stockwell was doing around the same time. Movie stars Michelle pfeiffer as Angela de Marco, the wife of a mid-level mafia member (Alec baldwin) who was killed by his boss, Tony “The Tiger” Russo, after finding out he was sleeping with his mistress. Wanting to break free from the Mafia lifestyle, Angela moves from Long Island to New York, taking a job at a barber shop while FBI agent Mike Downey (Matthew Modine) tries to get closer to her in the hopes of arresting Russo for murder. The film then becomes a bit of a romantic comedy as Angela and Mike fall in love with each other, while Angela can’t seem to shake off bossy Russo.
While Pfeiffer gives a remarkable performance that anchors the film, it’s also hard to imagine Married to the crowd would work half as well without Stockwell’s turn as the film’s villain. The film is a crazy mishmash of comedy and darker crowd elements that has an infectious air of playfulness with something ominous underneath. This threat undoubtedly comes from Tony Russo, who lurks beneath the film’s romance as that impending force that threatens to tear Angela and Mike apart, though the character is also often a lot of fun. There’s a scene halfway through the movie where Tony casually sings the jingle to the fictional Burger World channel before being ambushed by several other gangsters and eventually shooting them all with laser precision. It sums up what’s great about the performance – Stockwell’s ability to go penny from irreverence to violence with the kind of unflappable professionalism that could only come from such a seasoned actor like him.
Another thing about the performance that could only have come from a veteran actor like Stockwell is how little vanity or mannerism he shows here. Although Russo has a weakness for flashy costumes (the movie’s general fashion sense is deliciously garish), he’s a cold-blooded psychopath at the end of the day. There’s a scene right after Angela’s husband’s funeral, where Tony kisses Angela against her will, which the FBI agents see and set much of the plot in motion. This establishes Russo as a truly loathsome guy (even by Mafia standards), while Stockwell’s immaculate stone face communicates how little remorse he has for all of his various murders and flirtations. Even later in the movie, when Russo gets a gun pointed at him by his jealous wife (Mercedes ruehl), Stockwell is sweating profusely, but his expression changes only slightly from his typical dazzling gaze. It’s a masterful example of how great a villain is when employing an actor whose character relies more on subtlety than over-the-top antics.
That said, the stoicism of Dean Stockwell’s performance belies the fact that he spent the time of his life doing Married to the crowd. He often cited it as his favorite performance, saying, “I just felt this part was perfect for me and I had a way of approaching it that I thought was right.” In an appearance on David Letterman’s Late at night Around the time of the movie’s release, he admits that the movie was the only time he tried the methodical approach of staying in character even when he wasn’t filming, although it seems he did it more because he just enjoyed playing the character than for technical reasons. This is the kind of thing you like to see for a guy who has clearly struggled throughout his career with the joy he was able to get from acting, because it was something he was supposed to do professionally. during his whole life.
Despite Married to the crowd being a little too eccentric to be a big Oscar player that year, Dean Stockwell earned the film its only Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. This not only elevated Stockwell’s status as more than just a character actor, but also led to him playing his perhaps most famous role of Al Calavicci on the television series. Quantum leap. It’s the kind of story you can always root for, when an actor long relegated to small roles gets an Oscar name that cements his career, whether it’s JK Simmons in Whiplash or the stranglehold that Octavia spencer has in the Best Supporting Actress category these days. Still, it must have been even sweeter for Stockwell, who managed to create a performance that is sort of funny, scary, and completely his own.
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