Wednesday, January 25, 2006

41. Cave Canem

I was just visiting the Internet Movie Database to check on something, and there on the front page was the news: Chris Penn is dead. (He was only 40.) I hesitate to admit it, but my first thought was selfish: What are we going to do without Chris Penn? I have written elsewhere about William Bendix, and Penn for me was more his--not Sean's--younger brother, so to speak, granted with a career that sometimes tread darker waters than Bendix's. Still, I remember Bendix in the 1942 version of The Glass Key, his sadistic henchman perversely calling Alan Ladd's character "Baby" as he beat him to a pulp. Chris could've done that in his sleep. He had the ability to move in two directions at once; in fact, when I read the news of his death, two images flashed simultaneously: Chris enraged, and Chris grinning. He did both so well, at least as good as Bendix, frightening me with his rage, inviting me into the joke with that grin. He was like certain guys I knew in high school: wild but amiable, almost a bully but too attention-deficient to turn it into a fulltime gig. And I write this with affection and respect. I always wanted to see him do more--even though, looking at his page on the IMDB, he seemed to keep busy. Still, after his early teenage moments--Rumble Fish, All the Right Moves, Footloose--and perhaps Mulholland Falls--what we all remember about him is Reservoir Dogs. That engrained in our hearts--or is it spleens?--his scary/silly bear routine, one that he did all the way down to his eyes. In memoriam I'm going to watch Abel Ferarra's The Funeral (1996), a fitting choice, and a movie where I think he is given the most room--aside from At Close Range--to tumble around on the screen, eyes narrowing, smile broadening, like Joe Pesci's beefier cousin.

I'm being selfish to think it--poor Chris Penn, I'm sorry you've moved on--but who will replace him? Maybe it's OK no one will, because it seems Movieland didn't know what it had. Oh, well; yet another reason to hope for heaven, and the great movies we'll get. I can see him now, playing Bendix's cop brother in a remake of True Confessions. Sic 'em, Chris.

(Credit Where Credit Is Due Dept.: The title of this blog is a reference to a piece by James Thurber, "The Dog That Bit People," about, well, you figure it out. When the dog died, Thurber's mother wanted a headstone engraved with "Flights of Angels Sing Thee to Thy Rest"; the young Thurber, though, knew that the dog was not exactly melancholy--let alone a Dane, Great or otherwise--and rightly figured that the "simple Latin epitaph would do." I think the same goes for Chris.)

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