The Short List: Charles Grodin

A couple of weeks ago I did a post on supporting performances that stand out, a topic that could easily encompass most of movie history as the character actors, as they're so often known, so regularly outshine the stars in so many movies. I think the reason for that may well be that they're not the star and so, perhaps, they feel freer and looser in their portrayals, knowing they don't have to carry the movie. Whatever the reason, I decided whenever I watched or rewatched a movie or a scene of a supporting player making the most of their allotted screen time, I'd write it up to keep a running tally of such performances. While I'm keeping the official banner headline, The Short List, obviously it won't be very short at all if I keep doing this for the next ten years. And, whenever possible, I'd like to keep my choices to performances not already showered in awards and kudos, but instead choose performances overlooked, usually due to the film in which they appear not having the proper pedigree for the awards show mindset.

All this is to say that the other night I was once again reminded how talented Charles Grodin is when watching the 1976 remake of King Kong. Most people would point to Heaven Can Wait or Midnight Run, and they wouldn't be wrong for doing so, but, for me, Grodin was never better at scene stealing than he was in Kong.

Grodin plays Fred Wilson, a Petrox Oil Company suit who thinks he's on to the biggest discovery in untapped petroleum in the modern age only to discover it's all just a bunch of worthless goop. But, there is this big gorilla on the island...

We all know the story, or at least the basics of which this version is a mild variation. What's brilliant about the creation of Fred Wilson is that, unlike the Carl Denham of the 1933 and 2005 versions, he has no artistic veneer to cover up his pure, unadulterated grab for the cash. But there's more to it than just that: Grodin infuses him with an overwhelming sense of insecurity hiding inside a smug blowhard. Watching Grodin's scenes from this movie are always a pleasure because he let's Fred Wilson look so vulnerable. Seriously, his Fred Wilson gets more pies in the face than a society matron at a Three Stooges dessert buffet.

Here's the thing: Fred Wilson is proven wrong, a lot, but every time he thinks he's right he's still, despite all past experience, as giddy as a tweener at a Justin Bieber concert. And then someone shoots him down and he doesn't even attempt to hide the look of utter confusion and defeat until it's already obvious to everyone.

He'd bet everything there's oil on the island! Jack tells him no. Huh? Whaa?

There is oil, and it's going to be great! Nope, it's worthless. Huh? Whaa?

Don't worry folks, his feet are still chained! Squish.

Really, this guy fails at everything which makes him probably the most sympathetic villain a movie has ever had. Not that Fred Wilson is the villain of the movie but he's as close as it gets and Grodin pulls off the feat of playing him smug, insecure, arrogant and needy all at once. For that, Grodin makes the short list.