Seems like it wasn’t too long ago that this blog was waxing rhapsodic over the performance of the newly late Yaphet Kotto in the classic film Midnight Run. Now another of that movie’s stars, the cunningly pesky Charles Grodin, has also passed. Either there’s a Midnight Run curse, or the movie just came out a long time ago.
(Spoiler: it just came out a long time ago.)
Like Kotto, Grodin was easy to underappreciate. His film career was pocked with some films that were underwhelming placeholders: studio projects where he was slotted into the role of nebbishy loser or nebbishy villain, or both – the 1976 King Kong; The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Even recent newspaper obituaries spend too much time dwelling on his paycheck-cashing work as the beleaguered suburban patriarch in the big-sloppy-dog Beethoven comedies.
But consider the sublimely underplayed comedy of Grodin’s fugitive accountant in Midnight Run, deftly irritating Robert DeNiro with questions about his diet and his career and his experiences with farm animals, quietly hilarious until he shades imperceptibly into quietly heartbreaking. Or his sublimely overplayed performance as Miss Piggy’s would-be suitor in The Great Muppet Caper, where he becomes one of the only human actors ever to steal a scene from his felt-and-foam-rubber costars. Watch him in that movie and you really believe a man can fall in love with a pig while spilling ketchup all over his cummerbund.
If you watch some of Grodin’s talk show appearances online, you realize that his everyman looks cloaked a truly spiky and weird artistic sensibility. Which lends credence to my theory that his performance in Beethoven as Man Annoyed by Pet was so over-the-top hair-trigger apoplectic because it was a deliberately self-aware avant-garde experiment in performance art. But any Grodin performance is worth watching; pick any of these movies at random and treat yourself.
In addition, Grodin was one of the rare comic actors whose humor also translated to the page – his books are diverting distillations of his absurdist vision and unfettered sense of candor.