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The Good, The Bad & The Badass: John Lithgow

11.28.2016
Last week, we took a look at the career of director Robert Zemeckis. This week highlights a beloved character actor, with a massively successful career on the big screen, small screen and on the stage...
John Lithgow

John Lithgow is someone who often doesn’t get his due. More versatile than people think, Lithgow can currently be seen on Netflix’s “The Crown”, where he utterly vanishes into the role of Winston Churchill, something of a stretch for the American-born actor. For many of you, he’s probably best known for his TV roles, first as the wacky alien, Dick Solomon on NBC’s “3rd Rock From The Sun” (which co-starred a young Joseph Gordon Levitt), then as the Trinity Killer on “Dexter”. Both parts won him Emmys. At the time, jumping back and forth from the small screen to the big screen was relatively rare, but his tv stardom didn’t seem to effect his film career too badly, with him able to do character parts in prestige pics like KINSEY, and well-received commercial fare like ORANGE COUNTY.

As a child of the eighties, I think of Lithgow mostly for his eighties movies, with him getting back-to-back Oscar nominations for his parts as a transsexual in THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP and then as a nice-guy romantic interest for Debra Winger in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT. Arguably, his most famous role came next with his part as the town preacher in FOOTLOOSE standing as one of the great antagonists in eighties films, although if you re-watch it now he’s sympathetic and even gets a happy ending. And, of course, who could forget the madness of THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE THIRD DIMENSION (what's with the watermelon?).

From then on, Lithgow’s always been in demand. Often typecast as villains in the eighties/nineties with CLIFFHANGER and the under-seen RICOCHET (HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS being a rare exception), it took 3rd Rock to change people’s perception of him. At seventy, his career is as hot as ever, with his supporting role in MISS SLOANE (opposite Jessica Chastain) getting major buzz.

His Best Work

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE isn’t the best movie John Lithgow’s been in, but it gave him one of his best roles. Sadly too-well known as the movie Vic Morrow died making, of the four mini-stories, only one is a full-on masterpiece, being George MIller’s virtuoso remake of the episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Lithgow plays a terrified passenger who sees a gremlin on the wing. He chews the scenery with aplomb, and it’s nice seeing him as a lead.

His Most Overrated Work

As much as “3rd Rock From The Sun” deserves credit for putting Lithgow back into the limelight, after the first, funny, season, the show’s premise started to wear thin. It lasted six years, but by the end the show had more than run its course, and watched fifteen years later, it’s not a show that holds-up, at all.

His Most Underrated Film

Brian De Palma’s RAISING CAIN often gets lumped-in as one of the maestro’s weaker efforts. While it is, like many of his films, all style over substance, Lithgow’ has a whale of a part as Carter Nix, his father and alternate personalities, and while the acting is far from subtle, Lithgow camps it up with the best of them. A new, alternate cut is making the rounds and apparently makes the film work a lot better than it did theatrically.

His Best Scene

Another underrated movie is Russell Mulcahy’s RICOCHET, which was one of Denzel Washington’s first action roles. A fun, fast-paced Joel Silver early nineties actioner, Mulcahy’s stylish direction, Alan Silvestri’s great score, and especially Lithgow’s wild performance as a major screen psycho make this an undiscovered gem. His violent parole hearing bit (check out the guy killed with the table saw!) is delicious excess, and well-matched by the insanity of his performance.

His Five Best Films (as a lead)

5. FOOTLOOSE
4. 2010
3. TERMS OF ENDEARMENT
2. THE WORLD ACCORDIN TO GARP
1. BLOW OUT

Up Next

In addition to MISS SLOANE and “The Crown”, Lithgow’s got a new comedy series (“Trial & Error”) in the making, as well as the Miguel Arteta/Mike White indie comedy BEATRIZ AT DINNER, due for release soon.

Source: JoBlo.com

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10:44AM on 11/29/2016
"Now the only weapon i've got is useless unless if you're a pretty young girl" - Denzel

Oh yeah, I remember Ricochet and John Lithgow was basically playing the same character in Blow Out but without the smarts/intellect and in Cliffhanger, the same but without the savagery (c'mon did you really think he could take on John Rambo?) but otherwise he was good.

Personally I think his underrated gem is Resting Place where he really flexes his dramatic range as he embarks on a quest to have a
"Now the only weapon i've got is useless unless if you're a pretty young girl" - Denzel

Oh yeah, I remember Ricochet and John Lithgow was basically playing the same character in Blow Out but without the smarts/intellect and in Cliffhanger, the same but without the savagery (c'mon did you really think he could take on John Rambo?) but otherwise he was good.

Personally I think his underrated gem is Resting Place where he really flexes his dramatic range as he embarks on a quest to have a deceased black soldier whose body he's accompying buried in same cemetery as that town's white people. One thing I liked about that movie were the vivid descriptions of events instead of using flashbacks kinda like TDK when The Joker narrates about his scars. Truly poetic stuff that keeps you attentive, a definite must watch.
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9:14AM on 11/29/2016

You forgot his greatest role ever...

... The villainous uncle in The Santa Claus Movie.
... The villainous uncle in The Santa Claus Movie.
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2:03AM on 11/29/2016
DIck Solomon overrated...bah. Lithgow was BRILLIANT in 3rd Rock; the show going downhill had no effect on his performance
DIck Solomon overrated...bah. Lithgow was BRILLIANT in 3rd Rock; the show going downhill had no effect on his performance
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1:22AM on 11/29/2016
Very badass indeed! To me, his best work is his zany mad scientist role in The Adventure of Buckaroo Banzai. But yeah, his most underrated work is Raising Cain for me as well. Such an underrated thriller.
Very badass indeed! To me, his best work is his zany mad scientist role in The Adventure of Buckaroo Banzai. But yeah, his most underrated work is Raising Cain for me as well. Such an underrated thriller.
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9:38PM on 11/28/2016

The Crown

Absolutely deserves praise and awards for his Churchill role in The Crown. I never thought of him much for his acting chops, but he did an incredible job.
Absolutely deserves praise and awards for his Churchill role in The Crown. I never thought of him much for his acting chops, but he did an incredible job.
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4:23PM on 11/28/2016

FINALLY

I had suggested him like a year ago for this column because of his range of movies. Thank you.
I had suggested him like a year ago for this column because of his range of movies. Thank you.
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3:16PM on 11/28/2016

What an odd coincidence.

I'm watching Harry And The Hendersons on Starz streaming right now.
I'm watching Harry And The Hendersons on Starz streaming right now.
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2:43PM on 11/28/2016

This is his all time best scene...

[link]

Not to sell him short on his dramatic chops, but that 16 second scene cracks me up every time I see it.
[link]

Not to sell him short on his dramatic chops, but that 16 second scene cracks me up every time I see it.
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2:13PM on 11/28/2016
His work in Dexter as the Trinity Killer is still the best I've ever seen him in anything.
His work in Dexter as the Trinity Killer is still the best I've ever seen him in anything.
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1:32PM on 11/28/2016

You talking ''the'' John Lithgow?

Dude is awesome. Loved him in Cliffhanger, Third Rock from the Sun, Dexter, etc. He can be as good as anyone in a funny role or serious.
Dude is awesome. Loved him in Cliffhanger, Third Rock from the Sun, Dexter, etc. He can be as good as anyone in a funny role or serious.
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12:40PM on 11/28/2016
John Lithgow really is one of the great underrated actors. Like Christopher Lloyd, his Buckaroo Banzai costar, he can be totally menacing, but is probably better known for his goofy comedy roles. Few actors can lend such gravitas to one or two scenes as Lithgow often does. From All That Jazz to Kinsey, he's one of those actors who can do so much with just a little. And even Blow Out, he's not given a whole lot of backstory or screentime, but when he's onscreen you pay attention.
John Lithgow really is one of the great underrated actors. Like Christopher Lloyd, his Buckaroo Banzai costar, he can be totally menacing, but is probably better known for his goofy comedy roles. Few actors can lend such gravitas to one or two scenes as Lithgow often does. From All That Jazz to Kinsey, he's one of those actors who can do so much with just a little. And even Blow Out, he's not given a whole lot of backstory or screentime, but when he's onscreen you pay attention.
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-2
12:17PM on 11/28/2016
-0/10: 2010; LEAP YEAR.
-4/10: THE CAMPAIGN; RUGRATS IN PARIS; TWILIGHT ZONE THE MOVIE.
-5/10: FOOTLOOSE.
-6/10: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES; TERMS OF ENDEARMENT; THIS IS 40.
-9/10: INTERSTELLAR; SHREK.

Best scenes:
-DICK SOLOMON gets anxious when TOMMY SOLOMON purposely gives the wrong answers in a Q&A at a school for the gifted.
-DICK SOLOMON goes to NINA CAMPBELL's apartment to apologize. He's dirty and doesn't realize that he's leaving stains.
-LORD FARQUAAD threatens GINGY.
-0/10: 2010; LEAP YEAR.
-4/10: THE CAMPAIGN; RUGRATS IN PARIS; TWILIGHT ZONE THE MOVIE.
-5/10: FOOTLOOSE.
-6/10: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES; TERMS OF ENDEARMENT; THIS IS 40.
-9/10: INTERSTELLAR; SHREK.

Best scenes:
-DICK SOLOMON gets anxious when TOMMY SOLOMON purposely gives the wrong answers in a Q&A at a school for the gifted.
-DICK SOLOMON goes to NINA CAMPBELL's apartment to apologize. He's dirty and doesn't realize that he's leaving stains.
-LORD FARQUAAD threatens GINGY.
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