It's Robert Duvall's birthday, and for once, I found exactly the image I wanted to share. Duvall is 75 years old today, but the above photo is from his first film role, when he was barely 30 years old. Describing the image is a tad spoiler-ish if you are one of the six remaining people who haven't yet read or seen To Kill a Mockingbird -- in which case, go rent the movie already, immediately, and come back when you're done. The rest of us surely remember Boo Radley, a nons-peaking yet memorable character, talked about but unseen until the last scene of the 1962 movie. I was a junior in high school when I first saw To Kill a Mockingbird in my English class, and I was just starting to become interested in movies. The realization that this pale, eerie chararacter was played by the same guy who portrayed Frank Burns in the movie M*A*S*H was a bit of a shock ... and when I tried to share the news with various classmates, I realized that no one else had seen the movie M*A*S*H, or any of Duvall's other films until that point (the late 80s). I also remember mentioning Diane Keaton to my classmates -- her birthday is today, too -- and having someone ask if she was a character on Family Ties. Ah, the sad and lonely life of the film geek.
I first saw Duvall in The Great Santini, and although I haven't seen the movie since childhood, I still remember that nasty and powerful scene in which he plays basketball with his son. Over the years, Duvall hasn't been afraid to play unsympathetic characters, but even when he's mean or ornery, he's a treat to watch. He's been in some of the best movies of the 1970s: the first two Godfather movies, Network, Apocalypse Now. At QT Fest last year, I enjoyed watching him in a more obscure 1973 film, The Outfit, based on a Donald Westlake novel. He won an Oscar for his role in the 1983 film Tender Mercies. In recent years, he's continued to take memorable roles, whether he's the center of attention, as in The Apostle, or in an amusing supporting role, as in Thank You for Smoking. Now tell me which of your favorite Duvall films I haven't mentioned.