Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

Custom Search

© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Plutarch Heavensbee (1967-2014)

Okay, Plutarch is probably not the role that Philip Seymour Hoffman will be best remembered for. But like all characters in The Hunger Games, he is exquisitely named, and he could possibly be the great actor’s swan song. Catching Fire was certainly the last Hoffman film to be released in his lifetime. And depending on how the powers that be handle the two upcoming Mockingjay movies, one of them could end up being his final movie to be released.

Just last month the always busy actor was in no fewer than two films at Sundance, John Slattery’s God’s Pocket and Anton Corbijn’s John le Carré adapation, A Most Wanted Man. And his Showtime series Happyish is in post-production. Hoffman leaves a huge hole in the world of arts and entertainment, not only because of his large talent but also because of his busy schedule.

Although he died too young at 46 (on Sunday), he was around a long time in movie years. He was in a lot of movies that I didn’t even remember he was in: the Steve Martin dramedy Leap of Faith, Martin Brest’s Scent of a Woman, the Alec Baldwin/Kim Basinger flick The Getaway, the Andy Garcia/Meg Ryan romdram When a Man Loves a Woman, the Paul Newman flick Nobody’s Fool, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight.

He didn’t even definitively register for me as a member of Bill Paxton’s team of eccentric storm chasers in Twister or as boom operator Scotty J. who falls in love with Mark Wahlberg’s porn star in Boogie Nights.

Where he first really stuck in my mind as an actor was in Todd Solondz’s perverse Happiness, in which his character gratifies himself while making obscene telephone calls. After that he seemed to be everywhere, showing up in The Big Lebowski, Patch Adams, Magnolia, The Talented Mr. Ripley, State and Main, Almost Famous, Punch-Drunk Love, Cold Mountain and Along Came Polly, and he even got to play a villain in a Mission: Impossible movie.

His most remembered movie will probably be Capote, not only because it earned him an Oscar but because it showed off his talent so conspicuously. Common sense would have suggested that, physically, he was entirely wrong for the part, and yet he inhabited Truman Capote flawlessly. Other people will cite movies like Synecdoche, New York and Moneyball and The Master.

Here are some of my favorites. He and Laura Linney caught adult brother/sister dynamics wonderfully in Tamara Jenkins’s The Savages. In a small role as a CIA agent, he totally stole Mike Nichols’s Charlie Wilson’s War. As an accused priest in Doubt, he was completely convincing of his innocence while still leaving that bare shadow of doubt. And, as the sole American among a British cast, he was the star DJ in Richard Curtis’s very funny and under-appreciated The Boat That Rocked (aka Pirate Radio).

Sadly, Hoffman’s phenomenally busy career nearly suggests that he somehow knew his time was limited. His loss is tragic, but at least he left us plenty to remember him by.

Paxton Quigley (1941-2014)

Christopher Jones’s film career was so celebrated and yet so fleeting and so far in the past that it’s nearly a surprise to realize that he hadn’t already died years ago.

A strikingly good-looking young man from Tennessee, he was proclaimed in the mid-1960s to be a natural replacement for the late James Dean, whom he was thought to resemble. Winning a role in the Broadway production of The Night of the Iguana, he wound up marrying Susan Strasberg, daughter of acting coach Lee. From then on he was destined to play rebels, beginning with the ABC TV series The Legend of Jesse James. The charismatic star would probably have made it a hit if it hadn’t had the bad luck to be on opposite The Lucy Show and Dr. Kildaire. Guest spots on Judd for the Defense and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. would follow.

In his first movie, Chubasco, he played a troubled teen opposite his wife. Then, in 1968, he appeared in two movies that sealed his counterculture credentials. One was Wild in the Streets, in which he played the rock star Max Frost, who manages to get the voting age lowered to 14, resulting in him being elected president. Anyone over 30 is then summarily dispatched to LSD camps. The cast included Shelley Winters, Hal Holbrook and a very young Richard Pryor. The other was Three in the Attic, in which he played three-timing womanizer Paxton Quigley, who gets his come-uppance when his three women lock him in an attic and try to kill him with constant sex. More than any other two movies, Jones’s may prove once and for all that, even if you lived through the 1960s, they still don’t make sense.

In his next film he played a British spy in the John le Carré adaptation The Looking Glass War. During the filming Jones, who had since left Strasberg for Jim Morrison’s girlfriend Pamela Courson, fell in love with his costar Pia Degermark. The two subsequently made a film in Italy (A Brief Season), where he met and became close to Sharon Tate, who was also filming there.

On the strength of Jones’s performance in The Looking Glass War, David Lean cast him sight unseen for Ryan’s Daughter—not realizing that Jones’s voice had been dubbed in the British film. By all accounts, the production on Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula was a disaster. The experience was traumatic enough—in addition to his devastation at Sharon Tate’s murder in California—to make Jones give up acting. Still, his love scenes with Sarah Miles in Ryan’s Daughter display a true movie star quality that suggest that Jones’s brief success was not undeserved.

In the succeeding decades, the former actor became somewhat reclusive, focusing on art and sculpting. Quentin Tarantino offered him a small role in Pulp Fiction, but he turned it down. He did come back for one last movie, though, in 1996. Called Mad Dog Time, it had a stellar cast, which included Ellen Barkin, Gabriel Byrne, Richard Dreyfuss, Jeff Goldblum, Diane Lane, Burt Reynolds and Joey Bishop, whose son Larry wrote and directed.

-S.L., 4 February 2014

If you would like to respond to this commentary or to anything else on this web site, please send a message to Messages sent to this address will be considered for publishing on the Feedback Page without attribution. (That means your name, email address or anything else that might identify you won’t be included.) Messages published will be at my discretion and subject to editing. But I promise not to leave something out just because it’s unflattering.

If you would like to send me a message but not have it considered for publishing, you can send it to

Commentaries Archive