Brief Candle

Is it possible for an actor’s dignity to be all but destroyed in one fell swoop? If you ask me John Phillip Law (who died in 2008 at age 70) managed this when he strapped on huge white swan wings in Roger Vadim‘s Barbarella (1968) as the blind angel Pygar. There’s a shot of him flying into the heavens with his flamingo legs dangling — he looks like a peroxide dodo bird. When I first saw this I muttered, “You poor man…your agent really screwed you.”

Law was quite the hot guy in Hollywood for about five years. A breakout performance as a Russian submarine sailor in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming! got him started. But what man or woman, for that matter, would have been willing to take him half-seriously after Barbarella? The knockout punch was Jack Haley, Jr.‘s excruciatingly bad The Love Machine (1971), in which Law played randy news guy Robin Stone.

Law made 14 more films over the next 30-plus years (including 1995’s Free Willy 2) but once you’ve surrendered your on-screen dignity, there’s no getting it back.

What other actors have committed a similar kind of career hari kari, i.e., one or two bad choices that took them out of the game in record time?

The Barbarella Bluray (out 7.3) brought all this back.

  • JLC

    Yeah, but that same year he was also the lead in Bava’s Danger: Diabolik. So all is forgiven.

  • moviemaniac2002

    And let’s never forget “Golden Voyage Of Sinbad”…Law mixing it up with Harryhausen’s eight-armed Goddess….

  • Eloi Wrath

    Sean Connery somehow got away with this: http://klausming.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/zardoz.jpg

  • joe banks

    Klinton Spillsbury is . . . The Lone Ranger

    (but nothing else thereafter)

  • lazarus

    It amazes me that one can write about Law and not mention Danger: Diabolik.

    COME ON.

  • Robert Cashill

    Not to knock Law, but he wasn’t exactly Daniel Day-Lewis; no one pines for the performances we may have lost when his career went toes up (after SINBAD, really). He had a decent run based on looks and a modicum of talent, and seems to have lived contentedly after that brush with stardom. (He amusing in CQ’s movie within the movie.)

  • Eloi Wrath

    You could argue that Catwoman completely knocked the stuffing out of Halle Berry’s career. She’s still a name, but never returned to leading roles in major blockbusters.

  • Robert Cashill

    (Actually, it was Jane Fonda’s fault; she recommended him for the role after they’d worked together on the Preminger flop HURRY SUNDOWN. And that got him DIABOLIK, when production on the more elaborate BARBARELLA got bogged down. He dined out on both forever after.)

  • lazarus

    Eloi: Let’s not write Berry’s career obituary just yet; I imagine all the actors from the upcoming Cloud Atlas are going to be praised for their multiple roles.

  • joe banks

    the dude who played the lead in “Krull” kinda killed that career dead

  • Edward

    Did Vadim ever make a good film? Barbarella for all it’s kitch-factor is pretty bad, the same with And God Created Woman. I haven’t been interested in forcing myself to watch anything else.

  • Krillian

    Lori Petty, Ice-T and Jeff Kober in Tank Girl.

    By the way, the first two movies where I noticed John Philip Law were both on Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes. Never been able to watch more than 20 minutes of Barberella.

  • pmn

    Elizabeth Berkley and Showgirls. Left her without a shred of dignity.

  • Gaydos

    Two words punch a big hole in your theory, Jeff: SILVER CHALICE.

  • hiviper

    if you ignore the TV comeback, JADE pretty much killed Caruso’s fledgling film career and any future opportunities down that path

  • Gaydos

    Right. MARCH OR DIE completely destroyed Gene Hackman’s career. NOT.

    The point here is that really terrific actors who aren’t drug addicts seem to survive fiasco films quite nicely.

  • Bob Hightower

    John Wayne as Genghis Khan in THE CONQUEROR is an ultimate example of embarrassing miscasting, but he somehow survived it careerwise. There was that nuclear
    incident nearby, though . . .

  • Bob Hightower

    Putting aside the unfortunate Mr. Law, I hafta say that seeing Jane Fonda play a sexbomb from outer space or whatever she is in BARBARELLA (the only film for which I ever filled out preview cards) did it for me with her for a while. At the time I thought forever, but she of course redeemed herself with some great roles, as if the hideous one hadn’t happened.

  • Tristan Eldritch2

    I love sci-fi, camp shit, and I adore a scantily clad young Jame Fonda, but I’ve NEVER been able to sit through BARBARELLA. It’s just an awful film.

    DANGER: DIABOLIK, on the other hand, is really great kitsch cinema. Bava rules.

  • Floyd Thursby

    Hurry Sundown is a much bigger embarrassment than Barbarella, but it didn’t hurt the careers of anyone involved.

  • Gaydos

    Floyd Thursby: What, in your opinion, is the last great (or very very good) Preminger film?

  • Travis Actiontree

    After he died, I got some great stuff from his estate sale. Thanks, John.

  • lazarus

    Gaydos: Preminger’s last film, The Human Factor (an adaptation of a Graham Greene novel) is pretty damned great. Sadly it’s not on DVD, but I scored a letterboxed VHS tape some years back. Great cast incl. Nicol Williamson, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, and Richard Attenborough. Tom Stoppard wrote the script, too.

    I’ve heard many negative things about Hurry Sundown but I’m still dying to see it based on all that talent involved.

  • Floyd Thursby

    Floyd Thursby: What, in your opinion, is the last great (or very very good) Preminger film?

    Human Factor has its moments. Rosebud is bad but has enough going for it to be a guilty pleasure. Such Good Friends has a few good bits. Bunny Lake is good. In Harm’s Way has some moments. Advise & Consent is good. Anatomy of a Murder is great. River of No Return was one of my favorite movies as a kid. Love Angel Face, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Whirlpool, and Fallen Angel. Laura is one of my ten favorite films.

  • KitLatura1

    “Sadly it’s not on DVD, but I scored a letterboxed VHS tape some years back. Great cast incl. Nicol Williamson, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, and Richard Attenborough. Tom Stoppard wrote the script, too.”

    Wow, sounds thrill-a-minute. Don’t you guys ever just watch football or go to strip clubs, or are you no-humor dorks 24/7?

  • Floyd Thursby

    Can’t answer for the others, but I’m a no-humor dork 24/7.

  • raygo

    Two of my guilty pleasures happen to feature Jane Fonda. Hurry Sundown (early Faye Dunaway too) and The Chase (not the Charlie Sheen film) with Brando, Redford, Paul Williams, Angie Dickinson. They used to be on TV all the time when I was a kid.

  • MickTravisMcGee

    Roger Vadim’s chapter in the anthology “Spirits of the Dead” is worth seeing if only to see Peter and Jane Fonda playing cousins with bizarre-o sexual tension. And of course there’s also “Toby Dammit.”

  • lazarus

    The Chase should have been a lot better considering all those names, but not a bad film by any stretch. Brando is never boring, and the film’s engrossing enough. Need to check it out again, haven’t seen it in ages.

  • berg

    the charlie sheen THE CHASE is actually quite good, road movie hostage drama …. they shot that in houston in the middle of the summer on a highway that had just been constructed but not yet opened to the public

  • KitLatura1

    Life is too short to watch any movies made before 1968, unless they feature Clint, McQueen, the Duke, Bronson or James Bond.

    Like you guys are 35 and you’re watching some old dogshit from before you were born? Shit that’s about as current and relatable as vaudeville?

    Put on a ballgame and be a man.

  • Gaydos

    thanks lazarus, floyd. as for lexg or whoever kitlatura1 is, yep 24/7 dorkdom here too, which isn’t good but not as bad as witless tasteless snarky asshole 24/7 (i take sundays off on that one).

  • bluefugue

    >Like you guys are 35 and you’re watching some old dogshit from before you were born?

    It’s even worse; I listen to music from 1750.

  • berg

    i watch movies made by the knights templar in 1474

  • lazarus

    Hey Wells, are you going to stick to your guns and drop the hammer on this KitLatura bullshit or what? Lex’s “old movies suck” routine is just as tired and unfunny as his long, dark night of the troll spankfests/pseudo cries for help. Please tell me you’re not simply waiting for one of the latter to occur again, because if you’re referring to him as Lex yourself then you’re essentially admitting to all of your readers that you let the carpet-shitting party guest back again after explicitly telling us NO MORE.

  • Cadavra

    You’d think that Lex’s condemnation of most movies made before1968 would be interpreted by normal people as a ringing endorsement.

  • Stewart Klein

    Barbarella is what it is.1960.s nonsense for people who were listening to the Turtles and the Buckinghams. like the Casino Royale with Peter Sellers and Woody. The real Roger Vadim campfest is Pretty Maids in a Row. With Rock Hudson as a randy high School teacher. By the way for all the trekkies out there the screenplay was co written by Gene Rodenberry.

    Ps. Tyler Perry IS Alex Cross.

  • Ira Parks

    LAZARUS SAYS…

    (Occasionally itches his neck, adjusts his suit jacket.)

    I think it’s high time someone stopped putting ideas I don’t agree with into my head. We all agreed to ban a certain someone. I signed a petition, as have many of you. It simply isn’t right. Now, I’ve talked to my congressman, who said while I can’t take legal action, I do have a right to protest. And protest I will.

    HE needs a good scrubbing. Period.

    “Onward Christian soldiers……”

  • Ira Parks

    LEXG SAYS…

    I’m ROLLING at the thought of LAZ stepping into a CONGRESSMAN’S office to whine about A COMMENTER ON A MOVIE BLOG.

    My only question for Laz: When you fu[Wells to Kit: Tomato juice, 25 pushups, a cold-ish four minute shower. Stat.]

  • lazarus

    LOL @ the implication that Lex’s broken record posts about subjects that bore him contain “ideas”.

  • Krillian

    There’s Ira! All is right with the world.

  • Glenn Kenny

    To get back to Edward’s question in comment #11, “Blood and Roses” is at the very least pretty visually intriguing, and “Dangerous Liasons ’60” is all right and features some very awesome footage of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, if you’re a humorless non-strip-club-attending dork who’s into that sort of thing.

    I like your taste in Preminger, Floyd Thursby.

  • berg

    just got back from To Rome With Love and here is my take …. Penelope Cruz and Alec Baldwin are imaginary characters (invented by the Italian husband and – jointly – by J Eisenberg and E Page, while the Robert Benigni character’s alter ego is the imaginary character of that segment; with the whole thing mish-mahsed and bookended by the Italian traffic officer

  • berg

    just got back from To Rome With Love and here is my take …. Penelope Cruz and Alec Baldwin are imaginary characters (invented by the Italian husband and – jointly – by J Eisenberg and E Page, while the Robert Benigni character’s alter ego is the imaginary character of that segment; with the whole thing mish-mahsed and bookended by the Italian traffic officer

  • berg

    let me qualify that by adding that the scene in Ted where Ted and Wahlberg get into fisticuffs and Ted rips off a metal radio antenna and manages to get Wahlberg’s pants down and starts whipping his ass …. is one of the greatest scenes in film ever

  • Floyd Thursby
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    let me qualify that by adding that the scene in Ted where Ted and Wahlberg get into fisticuffs and Ted rips off a metal radio antenna and manages to get Wahlberg’s pants down and starts whipping his ass …. is one of the greatest scenes in film ever

  • Jack Razor

    He should have been Bond following Danger: Diabolik. Big mistake was not only hiring Lazenby but bringing Connery back for Diamonds are Forever.