The Good, The Bad and The Badass: Steve Martin

Last week, we took a look at the career of the luminous Naomi Watts, one of the best actresses of her generation. This week's subject is an all-out legend, often typecast in vanilla comedy parts, but capable of so much more...
Steve Martin
steve martin

Steve Martin's big-screen career has been going strong for thirty-six years now, and ironically – he only made his film debut after spending several years as one of America's hottest comic talents, with his stand-up inspiring generations. Never blue, Martin appealed to sophisticated tastes, even when doing his patented “wild and crazy guy” shtick – with it being a kind of folksy humor that very few comedians have been able to emulate since. However, modern audiences may not even realize what an effect he had on the stage, with his film career far eclipsing it over-the-years, making him arguably the most successful stand-up to movie star of all time.

steve martin three amigos

Certainly, his success is due in no small part to his numerous gigs as host on Saturday Night Live during the show's golden age. There he was able to breathe life into the kinds of larger-than-life characters that defined his early career through films like THE JERK, THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS, ALL OF ME and more. As he got older, Martin transitioned into somewhat more of a conventional leading man, with PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES casting him for the first time as a family man, which became a role he was cast in frequently thanks to films like PARENTHOOD, FATHER OF THE BRIDE and more. Every so often, Martin would get the opportunity to do something a little more personal, like the romantic ROXANNE or the sophisticated L.A STORY. In the mid-nineties, Martin returned to his “wild and crazy guy” shtick, to varying degrees of success. He saw a major commercial comeback in the early 2000's, although vehicles like CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN and the atrocious PINK PANTHER reboot felt like a major waste of his talent. However, Martin himself seems keen to stretch once more, and movies like IT'S COMPLICATED and SHOPGIRL (based on his own novel) demonstrate that Martin's age (he's turning seventy in August) may be giving him a chance to demonstrate a versatility he often couldn't experiment with during his younger days as a comic all-star.

His Best Film
steve martin john candy planes trains and automobiles

Martin's arguably never been better than in PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES. Written and directed by John Hughes – in a rare foray outside of the teen genre – this was a change-of-pace for Martin in that he pretty much plays the straight-man to co-star John Candy. While he has the film's best scene (see below) the heart of the film comes from the late Candy, and the fact that Martin really was fond of his co-star helped matter immensely, making his transition from tight-ass exec to a more empathetic figure convincing. Only a moderate success in 1987, PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES has gone on to become a classic, and likely the film Martin will always be remembered for.

steve martin the jerk

Yet, as far as Martin as a comedian goes, nothing quite beats THE JERK. As Navin Johnson (“I was born a poor black child”) Martin is just out-of-control funny. This is one of the rare movies that actually gets funnier the more you watch it, as the jokes come at such a furious pitch that you'll likely miss dozens while doubled over with laughter. The scenes depicting Navin as a nouveau-riche idiot (“enough of this old wine, let's splurge! Bring us some FRESH wine, this year's!”) are especially good.

His Most Underrated Film
steve martin dead men don't wear plaid

There are several. I was initially going to list L.A STORY, but after throwing it to Twitter, it seems it's not quite as obscure as I thought. No matter, it remains an incredibly funny, life-affirming tale. However, one that's truly obscure is his follow-up to THE JERK with Carl ReinerDEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID. The reason for its obscurity is that it was highly experimental. It's a tribute to film noir casting Martin as a Sam Spade-style sleuth. Not only was it shot in black and white, but through some really sharp editing Reiner was]s able to use stock footage from classic noirs to make it seem like Martin was co-starring with the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Alan Ladd and more. It's a terrific little movie, and a good film noir primer as Reiner lists all the films he excerpts at the end. Make a list of those titles and track down as many as you can.

His Most Overrated Film
steve martin bringing down the house

As a die-hard Martin fan, I was mortified for him when BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE and the ill-conceived PINK PANTHER reboot became hits. While PINK PANTHER was just unnecessary (Martin should have known better) BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE is absolutely cringe-worthy, with Martin – when he's posing as a “gangsta” doing something that comes uncomfortably close to black-face. Incredibly, it make over $100 million at the box and at the time it got decent reviews. I bet it's one Martin would love to forget.

His Most Memorable Scene

This one is a no-brainer. While I mentioned that in PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES, Martin was more-or-less the straight-man to Candy, he had some great bits, and none are better than this infamous rental-car tirade. This is one the censors have a tough time with whenever it plays on TV (which is quite often around Thanksgiving).

His Five Best Films



Up Next

Steve Martin next lends his voice to the animated HOME – due out this Friday. He also has a part in Ang Lee's upcoming BILLY'S LONG HALFTIME WALK, which sounds like it could be a nice change-of-pace.

Source: JoBlo.com



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