Wednesday, March 04, 2009

façade: Alec Baldwin

Has anyone morphed as dramatically as Alec Baldwin has?

Twenty years ago, I would have bet the rent money that he would be the next big thing in movies. Bigger than, say, Tom Cruise.

Which isn't saying much, I know, given Cruise's modest skills as an actor, his ordinary looks and dull personality.

Baldwin, on the other hand, seemed to have it all, not the least of which was an intimidating acting talent. He soared in supporting roles in high-profile movies for major filmmakers in the late 1980s - John Hughes' "She's Having a Baby," Oliver Stone's "Talk Radio," Tim Burton's "Beetlejuice," Mike Nichols' "Working Girl," Jim McBride's "Great Balls of Fire," Jonathan Demme's "Married to the Mob," Woody Allen's "Alice" and Amos Kollek's "Forever Lulu."

He was working his way to becoming the new - the next - William Holden.

Baldwin had his defining role in George Armitage's neglected "Miami Blue," met Kim Basinger on Jerry Rees' "The Marrying Man," recreated his stage role in Norman René's "Prelude to a Kiss" and had a couple meaty roles in Brian Gibson's "The Juror" and Harold Becker's "Malice." But there apparently were anger issues and when he lost the franchise that started with John McTiernan's "The Hunt for Red October," the bottom fell out.

Baldwin's last truly great film role/performance was in James Foley's "Glengary Glen Ross" in 1992 - 17 years ago. Most of his film work since then has been in supporting roles. His William Holden days are long gone. (Now, couldn't you just see Baldwin in remakes of those two Wilders, "Stalag 17" or "Sunset Boulevard"?) He's put on weight and has evolved instead into the new ... Lawrence Tierney. Not such a bad thing. Tierney was great. But Baldwin is no longer leading man material.

It all ended too soon.

Alec Baldwin is still a pleasure to watch, although I'm not really that enamored of the roles that have won him Oscar nominations and Emmy awards in recent years. Jack Donaghy, the cloying "30 Rock" character that has brought him his biggest success to date, is a highly resistible performance for me. For an actor this talented, it's slumming.

No, I still harbor dreams of Alec Baldwin getting his one, big, juicy, starring role in a film. My fantasy comeback for Baldwin - and Debra Winger, for that matter - would be a remake of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Yes, Baldwin and Winger as George and Martha. And how about Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon as Nick and Honey?

Maybe Mike Nichols, who helmed Baldwin in "Working Girl," would want to direct again. Hey, a person can dream, can't he?

In the meantime, the ubiquitous Alec has joined forces with Robert Osborne as the new co-host of Turner Classic Movies' "The Essentials," starting 7 March with the Marx Bros.' "A Night at the Opera" (1935). Not to be a contrarian, but I'd love to debate Alec on the so-called merits of two of his picks - William Wyler's "Funny Girl" and John G. Avildsen's "Rocky."

Also, another Baldwin pick, "The Devil and Daniel Webster," was remade by Baldwin (his directorial debut) in 2001, with Anthony Hopkins in the lead role, but it wasn't released until 2004 - under the new title, "Shortcut to Happiness" and with a fake director's credit, "Harry Kirkpatrick."

It should be interesting to see if Baldwin discusses this with Osborne on "The Essentials." Anyway, here's the rest of his "Essentials" schedule:

March 14 – Rocky (1976)

March 21 – Cat Ballou (1965)

March 28 – Ben-Hur (1959)

April 4 – Take the Money and Run (1969)

April 11 – Saboteur (1942)

April 18 – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

April 25 – Funny Girl (1968)

May 2 – I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

May 9 – Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

May 16 – The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)

May 23 – Battleground (1949)

May 30 – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

June 6 – The Letter (1940)

June 13 – The Fortune Cookie (1966)

June 20 – Random Harvest (1942)

June 27 – Notorious (1946)

July 4 – The Mouse that Roared (1959)

July 11 – Tom Jones (1963)

July 18 – A Night at the Opera (1935)

July 25 – Rocky (1976)

Aug. 1 – The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

Aug. 8 – An Affair to Remember (1957)

Aug. 15 – The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Aug. 22 – Lolita (1962)

Aug. 29 – The Guns of Navarone (1961)

Sept. 5 – The Long Hot Summer (1958)

Sept. 12 – Wuthering Heights (1939)

Sept. 19 – Ben-Hur (1959)

Sept. 26 – Saboteur (1942)

Oct. 3 – Funny Girl (1968)

Oct. 10 – I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

Oct. 17 – Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Oct. 24 – The Letter (1940)

Oct. 31 – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Nov. 7 – Take the Money and Run (1969)

Nov. 14 – The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Nov. 21 – Tom Jones (1963)

Nov. 28 – The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)

Dec. 5 – Random Harvest (1942)

Dec. 12 – The Mouse that Roared (1959)

Dec. 19 – The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

Dec. 26 – The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Jan. 2 – Lolita (1962)

Jan. 9 – Notorious (1946)

Jan. 16 – Battleground (1949)

Jan. 23 – The Guns of Navarone (1961)

Jan. 30 – Wuthering Heights (1939)


Anonymous said...

Back in 1988, I had read that Tim Burton had cast one of his "Beetlejuice" stars as Batman, I thought surely it must be Alec Baldwin. Boy was I wrong.

joe baltake said...

I had the same exact impression at the time.

Anonymous said...

Baldwin had to settle for being The Shadow.

I first saw Baldwin in a 1985 TV movie with Stephanie Zimbalist called "Love on the Run," then the following year in the mini-series "Dress Grey." I remember thinking "This guy is a movie star waiting to happen. Why is he doing Knot's Landing?" When he finally made the transition, it was a few years before he got a really good role (Miami Blues, as joe mentioned).

You mentioned William Holden, joe -- Baldwin could've definitely followed in those footsteps, but he had no Wilder.

I disagree about his 30 Rock work. I don't see the show often, but Baldwin has a real knack for comedy (his SNL hosting stints are among the show's best). Underrated/overlooked Baldwin perf: the dad in Outside Providence.

joe baltake said...


I love Baldwin in just about everything he does and I'm afraid my opinion of his work on "30 Rock" has been somewhat tainted because I find the show itself hugely overrated. Still, I'm weary of Alec playing Jack both on-screen and off these days.

Aside from his acting skills, I was always impressed by his loyalty to Kim Basinger. He was there visibly rooting for her when she won her Oscar; he joined her in her life passion, animal activism, and is still active himself, and he was there supporting her in the courtroom when she faced two messy lawsuits - one regarding her pulling out of "Boxing Helena" and the other the debacle involving that small town she purchased.

He seems like he's be a passionate friend and a worthy adversary.

Anonymous said...

I thought he was terrific in "The Cooler." I believed he was a man who used violence the way most of us use our ATM cards. I believed he truly loved the old Vegas that was being edged out by the new, family-friendly version - he almost made me nostalgic for a thing I truly have no use for at all. And I loved his relationship with Paul Sorvino's character.

Among his smaller roles, I liked him in a cameo as Julia Roberts' actor boyfriend in "Notting Hill. A little gem of solipsism and entitlement.

I think Baldwin was hurt by arriving on the scene after Dustin Hoffman, among others, made the idea of great physical beauty in our screen performers a cause for suspicion: if one is physically unattractive, then one must be "authentic," and being "authentic" is proof of artistic integrity. This is fatuous thinking, but it's also a popular belief.

Ralph DeLuca said...

I am disappointed that Alec Baldwin, didn't become a bigger star out of himself. that said I do enjoy his acting, and he seems like a very decent person.

Ralph DeLuca
Madison, NJ

Paola P said...

I Love the way he looks now much more than the way he looked before!!!
Gimme a fat man in his 50's looking like Alec Baldwin, and I'll marry him straight away! ;o)