So, we realize we just spent last week’s Friday Five on Escape From New York – certainly one of Kurt Russell’s best films, though our previous piece wasn’t really about him. This one? It’s all Kurt, all the time…
It occurred to us that we don’t always necessarily just go the easiest route when making recommendations in this column – finding unique ways to theme our fave films and TV together is part of the fun, obviously – but occasionally, it’s nice to just celebrate the CV of one particular person. And, full disclosure, I’ve been a Kurt Russell fan since I was a kid (50,000 years ago… KIDDING! Almost.) He’s basically been on our screens his entire life, from his childhood performances in Disney flicks to today. He’s done horror, action, comedy, drama – name a genre, there’s a great Kurt Russell flick in it. So today’s Friday Five highlights a few of the best, while sidestepping the ones we figure most of you have likely seen: The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Stargate… Overboard. Everyone’s seen Overboard, right?!
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes
Believe it or not, kids, there was once an era at Disney where they were far more successful with their live-action fare than they were with animation. Kicking off in the late 1960s and winding well into the early 80’s (though wild experiments in tone like The Black Hole and Something Wicked This Way Comes bombed, they have their cult favorite cred now), Disney features were broad-ranging and often fanciful. Just like the 1969 gem featuring a teenage Russell (He was just 17 when they shot it) as Dexter Riley, a college freshman who receives an electric shock from a computer during a thunderstorm and whoa, suddenly he’s super smart! We know, it really stretches the imagination, but he’s so damn charming even at this young age that the film spawned two sequels: Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (in which Dexter goes invisible) and The Strongest Man in the World (In which he… yeah, you guessed it.) Fun fact!: Medfield College in this film is the same school that the earlier Disney classic The Absent-Minded Professor was set in.
And you thought Escape From New York was the first collaboration between the maestro John Carpenter and his favorite leading man of the 80’s – psych! Not so. Two years prior to Escape From New York‘s release, Carpenter directed a television biopic of Elvis Presley (who had passed away just two years before that) that was a big small-screen event, and starred Russell in one of his earliest “grown-up” roles. Does he look a lot like Elvis? Kinda? Not really, but he’s got that trademark charm where it counts so he pulls off the performance pretty damn well. (And no, he didn’t do his own singing but lip-synched to the vocals of country singer Ronnie McDowell). Please enjoy this straight-from-the-telly preview on the night it aired, including a superb retro scheduling announcement (If you had tuned in to see the o.g. Battlestar Galactica that night on ABC, you were kinda screwed!)
Tango & Cash
Ah, the buddy-cop movie: A tried and true sub-genre all its own, and it definitely hit it’s stride in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Now, no one’s going to accuse Tango & Cash of being a top notch example of this era – the script is so quippy, so shot through with every trope there is that you half expect to find out it was the result of someone programming a computer to write a buddy-cops script – yet some how it’s still pretty entertaining for all these reasons. Also it sure doesn’t hurt when your stars are Russell and Sylvester Stallone, as two rival LAPD detectives forced to work together when they are framed for murder by a kingpin played by Jack freakin’ Palance! The production was reportedly a complete mess (Patrick Swayze originally had Russell’s role before dropping out to do Road House instead), so the fact this got made at all is kind of amazing. As is Russell’s Top 10 mullet.
So this one’s right on the edge in terms of our original plan to focus on Kurt Russell films that we figure maybe not everyone has seen. Today Tombstone is pretty much credited with being one of the few Westerns of the modern era that really soars; this movie has got fans, man. And with good reason: Russell is outstanding as a retired Wyatt Earp who is pulled back into defending the town of Tombstone from outlaws; Val Kilmer steals every single scene he’s in as a dying Doc Holliday; it covers some major real-life Western events, like the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral; and the cast is packed with talent like Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Dana Delany, Michael Biehn, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Rooker… so many. Dating myself here, but when I worked in a video store during college we couldn’t keep copies of Tombstone on the shelf! Which brings me to why it’s on this list: I asked a few co-workers in their 20’s if they’d ever seen it and they’d never even heard of it. Fix that if you’re in the same boat, for sure.
And once again, here’s a recommendation that brings with it a certain level of nostalgia, this time for an event that the under-30 crowd weren’t even alive for when it happened. Rocking some of the most righteously fugly plaid sport coats you’ve ever seen, Russell shines in Miracle as Herb Brooks, the man who was brought in to assemble and coach the United States national hockey team for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. The Soviet Union’s team had taken the gold medal in hockey for the past four Olympics in a row; everyone assumed they were unstoppable. And then… well, the movie’s not called Miracle for nothing, kids! It’s hard to overstate what a huge sports event this was; back in the day of just three TV networks, it felt like 99.9% of America was watching that US/USSR game play out, and Gavin O’Connor’s film captures the hoopla around the “Miracle on Ice” perfectly. Up there with the likes of Hoosiers and Rudy among the very best sports team flicks ever, check it out!