Wednesday, May 18, 2005

RIP Frank Gorshin

In the final tally, I'm sure Frank Gorshin is going to be remembered for two things: Batman and impressions... but mostly Batman. This is a shame because Frank Gorshin really was one of the best impressionists of all time. Gorshin's impressions were superior to those of, say, Rich Little, because he would give his characters a purpose and a soul. Gorshin could give life to his impressions because he was also a skilled comic actor. Who is Rich Little without impressions, anyway?

As far as Batman is concerned, Gorshin's uncanny ability to shift gears between manic glee and brooding rage at the drop of a hat made him the villain to watch. Unlike Cesar Romero (who wouldn't even shave his mustache!) as the Joker, or Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, Frank Gorshin made the Riddler an honest-to-god menace. He always seemed as if he were one step away from dropping the silly riddles and jamming a switchblade into the Caped Crusader's head. And while John Astin is another extremely underrated comic actor, his two appearances as the Riddler only served to throw Gorshin's total mastery of the role into sharp relief (even Jim Carrey had to defer to Gorshin's superior characterization). Bluntly, while Batman gave Frank Gorshin his lasting fame (and the typecasting he could never shake off), he was better than the show deserved. Amidst all the high-profile performers who used the show as something of a paid vacation, Gorshin actually acted.

Frank Gorshin always seemed on the verge of stardom. He certainly had the talent to back it up, but the fame he deserved never quite happened. He had several extremely showy roles at the start of his career in movies such as the excellent Hot Rod Girl (1956), Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), and Studs Lonigan (1960), but the mid-60s saw him become everyone's favorite TV guest star and his film career was unfortunately allowed to dry up. Towards the end of his life, while he still appeared in the occasional high-profile feature (such as Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys in 1995), Gorshin's talent was wasted in things like Beethoven's 3rd and Mail Order Bride. Ironically, just months before he died, he had finished shooting Angels With Angels, an extremely rare starring vehicle. Angels With Angels, a fantasy about George Burns and Gracie Allen attempting to get back together in the highly bureaucratic afterlife, also happens to be Rodney Dangerfield's last film. Gorshin's performance as George Burns had apparently been honed to perfection in the Vegas one-man show he had been appearing in for the last couple of years, Say Goodnight, Gracie. I doubt Angels With Angels was/is a classic in the making, though, especially if the shockingly sloppy poster mock-up on its IMDB entry is any indication... but, hey.. any film that co-stars Adam West and Soupy Sales can't be all bad.


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