Alan Arkin Movies
As a multi-talented film and stage performer with an intense comic flair, the diminutive and stocky Jewish-American character actor Alan Arkin built a career for himself out of playing slightly gruff and opinionated yet endearing eccentrics. Though not commonly recognized as such, Arkin's ability extends not only beyond the range of the comedic but far beyond the scope of acting. In addition to his before-the-camera work, Arkin is an accomplished theatrical and cinematic director, an author, and a gifted vocalist.
Born March 26, 1934, to immigrant parents of Russian and German Hebrew descent, Arkin came of age in New York City, then attended Los Angeles City College in the early '50s and launched his entertainment career as a key member of the folk band the Tarriers, alongside Erik Darling, Carl Carlton, and Bob Carey. Unfortunately, the Tarriers never managed to find a musical foothold amid the 1960s folk boom -- which, despite the success of a European tour in 1957, encouraged Arkin to leave the group and carve out a niche for himself in another arena.
Arkin instead turned to stage comedy and joined Chicago's Second City troupe, then in its infancy. (It officially began in 1959.) From there, Arkin transitioned to Broadway roles, and won a Tony and critical raves for his debut, in Carl Reiner's autobiographical seriocomedy Enter Laughing (1963). He followed it up with the lead in Murray Schisgal's surrealistic character comedy Luv, and made his onscreen debut alongside friend and fellow actor Reiner, for Norman Jewison's frenetic social satire The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! The picture not only scored with the public and press (and received a Best Picture nod) but netted Arkin a nomination for Best Actor. He lost to Paul Scofield, for the latter's role as Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons.
Arkin evinced pronounced versatility by cutting dramatically against type for his next performance: that of Harry Roat, a psychopath who systematically psychologically tortures Audrey Hepburn, in Terence Young's Wait Until Dark (1967). A return to comedy with 1968's Inspector Clouseau (with Arkin in the Peter Sellers role) proved disastrous. Fortunately, Arkin took this as a cue, and shifted direction once again the following year, with his aforementioned portrayal of Singer in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter -- a gentle and beautiful adaptation of Carson McCullers' wonderful novel. For the effort, Arkin received a much-deserved sophomore Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, but lost to Charly's Cliff Robertson.
The '70s brought mixed prospects for Arkin. He debuted as a film director in 1971, with a screen adaptation of Jules Feiffer's jet-black comedy Little Murders -- a theatrical work that Arkin had previously directed, to rave reviews, off-Broadway. A foray into the subject of American apathy in the face of random violence as it escalated during the late '60s and early '70s, the film tells the story of a sociopathically aggressive woman (Marcia Rodd) who wheedles an apathetic photographer-cum-avant-garde filmmaker (Elliott Gould) into marriage. The film divided journalists sharply. Despite initial reservations and objections, the film aged well with time, and has received renewed critical attention in recent years.
Arkin's choice of projects over the remainder of the decade varied dramatically in quality -- from the dregs of Gene Saks' Neil Simon cinematization Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972) and the tasteless police comedy Freebie and the Bean (1974) to the finely wrought, overlooked comedy-mystery The Seven-Percent Solution (1976) and Arthur Hiller's sensational farce The In-Laws (1979). Alongside his film work during the '70s, Arkin authored two best-sellers: the children's book Tony's Hard Work Day (1972) and an exploration of yoga, Half Way Through the Door: An Actor's Journey Towards the Self (1975). In the late '70s, Arkin made a rare television appearance, delighting younger viewers with a wild and gothic starring role on an episode of Jim Henson's Muppet Show.
If the 1970s struck Arkin fans as something of a mixed bag, the actor's career choices suffered during the '80s, perhaps because of the paucity of solid comedic roles available in Hollywood during that decade. A brief list of Arkin's film credits during that period render it surprising that he could even sustain his own career throughout such poor choices: Chu Chu and the Philly Flash (1981), Improper Channels (1981), Full Moon High (1982), Bad Medicine (1985), Big Trouble (1985), and Escape from Sobibor (1987).
Arkin did make two wonderful contributions to overlooked '80s comedies, however: 1980's Simon and 1985's Joshua Then and Now. In the first picture, directed by fellow Tarrier vocalist (and former Woody Allen co-scenarist) Marshall Brickman, Arkin plays Simon Mendelssohn, a college professor who falls prey to a nutty government think tank run by Max Wright and Austin Pendleton. Although the film remained an obscurity, Joshua delivers some of Arkin's most impressive onscreen work to date, and doubtless enabled him to pull from his own Jewish heritage in developing the character.
The public's decision to snub these two pictures may have foreshadowed Arkin's work in the '90s, when he appeared in several fine, but equally overlooked, efforts. These included: Havana (1990), The Rocketeer (1991), Indian Summer (1993), Bullets Over Broadway (1994), the aforementioned Mother Night (1996), Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), and Slums of Beverly Hills (1998). He delivered a searing performance as the "loser" salesman who robs his company of much-sought-after leads, in James Foley's David Mamet cinematization Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), and offered the only memorable contribution to Andrew Davis' fable Steal Big, Steal Little (1995), as "an opportunist who weighs in with the underdogs and learns the true meaning of decency and friendship...[striking] the perfect blend of cynicism, sincerity, and simpatico."
Arkin maintained a comparatively lower profile during the early years of the millennium, aside from outstanding contributions to the otherwise dull farce America's Sweethearts (2001), the gripping telemovie The Pentagon Papers (2003), and the historical biopic And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself (2003). In early 2007, Arkin received his first Academy Award nod in 38 years: a Best Actor nomination that he subsequently won for his hilarious turn in the road comedy Little Miss Sunshine. In that movie, Arkin played the grandfather of an über-dysfunctional family, who is ejected from a nursing home for his freewheeling lifestyle. The character's passions include porn and heroin -- elements that, as used by the film's directors, enable Arkin to provide much of the film's fresh and inspired humor. The part earned him rave reviews, and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
He appeared in the dog film Marley & Me in 2008, and that same year reteamed with Steve Carell for the big-screen version of Get Smart. He was the executive producer and co-star of the shaggy-dog crime tale Thin Ice in 2010, and the next year he had a brief cameo as a studio tour guide in The Muppets, and appeared in The Change-Up. He had a major part in Ben Affleck's Argo, a thriller about agents attempting to save American hostages held by Iranians by pretending to be making a Hollywood blockbuster. His portrayal of a showbiz producer who helps pull of the scheme, Arkin captured another Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Alan Arkin has married and divorced three times, to Jeremy Yaffe, to Barbara Dana, and to Suzanne Arkin. In addition to the legacy engendered by his own career resumé, Arkin has fathered something of an acting dynasty; his three sons, Adam, Matthew, and Tony, are all gifted and accomplished actors, with Adam Arkin (Northern Exposure, Chicago Hope) maintaining a somewhat higher profile than his brothers. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi
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It was certainly no coincidence that the made-for-cable historical film The Pentagon Papers was timed for released just when America was poised to wrestle with the question as to whether or not the President had the right to declare war on Iraq without full congressional and/or United Nations approval. The film covers several decades in the life of Harvard graduate Daniel Ellsberg (James Spader), who as a Pentagon official during two presidential administrations regards himself as patriotic as the next fellow. According to the unabashedly slanted teleplay by Jason Horwitch, it is this sense of patriotism that compels Ellsberg to release a 7,000-page classified report to The New York Times and The Washington Post, revealing that the official story of America's "success" in Vietnam was both exaggerated and distorted, and that the public has been egregiously misled for years. As a result of this act, Ellsberg, whose family life has already been destroyed by his devotion to his work, faces charges of treason from the Nixon administration. Ironically, it is Nixon's reaction to Ellsberg's security breach which leads him to create his team of gap-stopping "plumbers" -- who would of course bring about the President's downfall with the Watergate scandal. Surprisingly, The Pentagon Papers premiered March 9, 2003, over the FX network, a cable service owned by the markedly conservative Rupert Murdoch. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
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Rebecca Miller (The Ballad of Jack & Rose) adapts her own novel with this comedy drama about a woman who begins a second life after her husband leaves her for a younger woman. Pippa Lee (Robin Wright) is the loving mother of two grown children, and the wife of successful publisher Herb (Alan Arkin). Despite the fact that she's 30 years Herb's junior, Pippa and her husband have never fallen short on things to talk about. She's always enjoyed the hustle and bustle of New York, but after Herb suffers a serious heart attack, Pippa dutifully moves with him to a quaint suburban home in small-town Connecticut. And for a while, at least, she coasts -- enjoying frequent dinner parties with her new friends Sam (Mike Binder) and Sandra (Winona Ryder), and spending quiet nights caring for Herb, who has lately grown increasingly distant. That all starts to change when Chris (Keanu Reeves) comes back to town following a bitter divorce. Gradually, Pippa's suppressed resentments begin bubbling to the surface, highlighting the conflict between the free-spirited girl she used to be and the frustrated woman who has taken her place. Somewhere along the line, Pippa lost track of her own identity. But Pippa's remarkable journey of self-discovery is just beginning. Julianne Moore, Monica Bellucci, Maria Bello, and Blake Lively co-star in a Plan B Entertainment production. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi
- Robin Wright, Blake Lively, (more)
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This patchy, uneven combination of fantasy and musical comedy is hilarious in parts and embarrassing in others, though the premise has great potential in itself -- a screwball Captain Invincible is out to save the world from his nemesis, Mr. Midnight, the white supremacist. Captain Invincible (Alan Arkin) is wallowing in his cups in the Australian outback when he receives an unusual call from the American President asking for his help. Unusual because the Captain had no choice but to go into exile after Joseph McCarthy's Un-American Activities Committee became suspicious of his red cape, and he has never been sober enough to recover from the shock. This history is given in a mock newsreel at the beginning of the film. But now Mr. Midnight is threatening to dismember New York City by convincing all the ethnic groups to live along the seashore. Once they are situated on beachfront property, he will blast out a crack in the earth behind them, cut their connection to the mainland, and send them drifting off into the Atlantic. It seems the dastardly Midnight has stolen the ultra-secret hypno-ray and can slice off New Jersey whenever he wants. Weakened by depression and alcohol, Captain Invincible is nursed back to full throttle by Patty Patria (Kate Fitzpatrick) and is soon ready to zoom over Sydney to the far side of the globe -- after practicing in harness in front of rear-projected scenes. Meanwhile, Mr. Midnight and his sidekick are all set to defend their turf, and their ability to slice it up -- though the (American) patriotic sentimentality that prevails in the end, after several other songs have come and gone, is summarized in a rendition of "God Bless America" that conflicts with the opening scenes and may leave foreign audiences cold. ~ Eleanor Mannikka, Rovi
- Alan Arkin, Christopher Lee, (more)
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After getting his start as a visual effects artist on the original Star Wars trilogy, Spielberg protege Joe Johnston found success as a director with his debut film, the blockbuster family adventure Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. For his sophomore outing, Johnston helmed this action-adventurer, set in 1930s Hollywood and in the spirit of old pulp comics and adventure serials, and co-adapted from the David Stevens graphic novel by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo. Bill Campbell stars as Cliff Secord, an eager young pilot who finds himself in possession of a secret jet-pack that gives him the ability to fly. Cliff soon learns that screen-star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) will stop at nothing to get his hands on the rocket pack so he can give it to the Nazis. As The Rocketeer and with a little help from his mechanic friend played by Alan Arkin, it's up to Cliff to elude Sinclair, defeat the Nazis, and save his girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly). ~ Matthew Tobey, Rovi
- Bill Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, (more)
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Just because The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming was vastly overrated by contemporary critics does not make it any less amusing. The story gets under way when a Soviet submarine accidently gets lodged in a sandbar on the coast of a New England town. In his feature film debut, Alan Arkin plays the sub's second-in-command, who is ordered by commander Theodore Bikel to free up the sub and skeedaddle before an international incident erupts. Hoping to secure a power boat to tug the sub out to sea, Arkin and his men call upon vacationing TV writer Carl Reiner, passing themselves off as Norwegians. When this ruse fails, Arkin is reluctantly compelled to force Reiner at gunpoint to fetch his motorboat, while gentle-natured Russian sailor John Philip Law is left behind to guard Reiner's wife Eva Marie Saint and pretty neighbor girl Andrea Dromm (yes, love blooms). The plot thickens when the locals, notably bullnecked sheriff Brian Keith and superpatriot Paul Ford, spread the word that the Russians have "invaded" their little community. Several slapstick complications later, the Russians and the locals face each other down in the center of the village, weapons at the ready. Fortunately, World War 3 is averted when the Russians and the villagers band together to rescue young Johnny Whittaker from falling to his doom. Enormously popular upon its first release, The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming still works on a slick sitcom level. The film was based on a novel by Nathaniel Benchley, the son of humorist Robert Benchley and the father of Jaws author Peter Benchley. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
- Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, (more)
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Tim Allen returns as a regular guy-turned-Jolly Old Elf in the second sequel to the 1994 hit The Santa Clause. Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), who doubles as Santa Claus, has settled into his home at the North Pole with his new wife, Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell), and is preparing for another Christmas when he receives a visitor -- Jack Frost (Martin Short), the cold-weather sprite who has been sent to help out St. Nick by Mother Nature (Aisha Tyler) and Father Time (Peter Boyle) after making a scene at a meeting of the Council of Legendary Figures. However, while Jack is supposed to acting as an assistant to Santa, he has a habit of making things go haywire, and as it happens this is no mistake -- Jack is hoping that an exasperated Santa will quit his position so Jack can take over and finally have a holiday he can bend to his will. Meanwhile, Scott has invited Carol's parents, Bud (Alan Arkin) and Sylvia (Ann-Margaret), over for a long-promised visit, but since he needs to keep his other identity a secret, he and his elves are forced to go to great lengths to convince them that they're actually in Northern Canada. Wendy Crewson, Judge Reinhold, and Spencer Breslin also reprise their roles from the first two Santa Clause films. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
- Tim Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell, (more)
Nicholas Meyer based his screenplay for the "retro" Sherlock Holmes adventure The Seven Percent Solution on his own best-selling novel. As any Baker Street Irregular will tell you, the title refers to the dosage of cocaine taken by Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson). The Great Detective's friend and chronicler Doctor Watson (Robert Duvall), concerned that Holmes' drug dependency is getting out of hand, suggests a cure under the auspices of Viennese psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (top-billed Alan Arkin). While undergoing treatment, Holmes comes to the realization that his archival Professor Moriarty (Laurence Olivier) is not the Napoleon of Crime, but instead a somewhat pathetic philanderer. Not yet completely cured, Holmes recharges his deductive batteries by undertaking a tricky conspiracy case involving another ex-addict, beautiful actress Lola Devereaux (Vanessa Redgrave). The traditional Holmesian sleuthing and split-second rescues of the film's second half are not as innovative as the Holmes-Freud scenes at the beginning of The Seven Percent Solution, but they provide this largely cerebral effort with a rousing climax. A success with both critics and filmgoers, The Seven Percent Solution opened the floodgates for subsequent TV and movie "reprises" of Conan Doyle's immortal literary figure. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
- Alan Arkin, Vanessa Redgrave, (more)
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A salesman in a slump turns to a life of crime in this comedy-drama from filmmaker Jill Sprecher. Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear) is an insurance salesman living and working in rural Wisconsin. Mickey likes to believe that he's a talented salesman who can talk anyone in to buying a policy, but the truth is his career has hit the skids, he's struggling to make ends meet, and his divorce from his wife Jo Ann (Lea Thompson) has shaken his confidence. Mickey and his new partner Bob Egan (David Harbour) are able to sell a policy to elderly farmer Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin), though Gorvy seems more interested in having someone come by and fix his television than discussing his financial future. One day, Mickey is paying Gorvy a visit when he makes a remarkable discovery -- the old violin in his living room is a vintage one worth $30,000. Seeing an easy payday, Mickey begins hatching a scheme to get the instrument away from Gorvy and into the hands of a violin dealer, but his plan gets more complicated at every turn and eventually goes from difficult to dangerous. Also starring Bob Balaban and Billy Crudup, The Convincer (aka Thin Ice) was an official selection at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
- Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, (more)
This Danish film is set in 1963, at the height of Beatlemania. Played out against the standard pop-culture backdrop is the story of the friendship between Adam Tonsberg and Lars Simonson. His ego in tatters thanks to a domineering father, Simonsen yearns for the affections of snooty Ulrikke Juul Bondo, though it is "common knowledge" that she's Tonsberg's girl. Tonsberg, however, prefers the company of the down-to-earth Camilla Soeberg. When Soeberg becomes pregnant, Tonsberg is forced to borrow the abortion money from former girlfriend Bondo, who wants him to spend a weekend with her in exchange. This is all going according to Bondo's plan, and soon she and Tonsberg are making wedding plans. Suddenly gaining a moral backbone, Tonsberg calls off the wedding, then helps his friend Simonsen, who is endeavoring to prove that his mother is not the lunatic described by his tyrannical father. The coming-of-age process in this film is even more complex than these notes would suggest, but young Danish filmgoers had no trouble relating to Twist and Shout (originally Tro, Hab Og Karlighed), which allegedly made more money than any previous Danish film. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
- Adam Tønsberg, Lars Simonsen, (more)
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Wait Until Dark is an innovative, highly entertaining and suspenseful thriller about a blind housewife, Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn). Independent and resourceful, Susy is learning to cope with her blindness, which resulted from a recent accident. She is aided by her difficult, slightly unreliable young neighbor Gloria (Julie Herrod) with whom she has an exasperated but lovingly maternal relationship. Susy's life is changed as she is terrorized by a group of criminals who believe she has hidden a baby doll used by them to smuggle heroin into the country. Unknown to Susy, her photographer husband Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) took the doll as a favor for a woman he met on an international plane flight and unwittingly brought the doll to the couple's New York apartment when the woman became afraid of the customs officials. Alone in her apartment and cut-off from the outside world, Susy must fight for her life against a gang of ruthless criminals, led by the violent, psychotic Roat (Alan Arkin). The tension builds as Roat, aided by his gang, impersonates police officers and friends of her husband in order to win Susy's confidence, gaining access to her apartment to look for the doll. The climax of the film, a violent physical confrontation between Susie and Roat in her dark kitchen, is one of the most memorable and frightening scenes in screen history. All performances are outstanding, particularly those of Audrey Hepburn who plays a vulnerable, but self-reliant woman, and Alan Arkin, in perhaps his best role, as the ruthless, manipulative Roat. ~ Linda Rasmussen, Rovi
- Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, (more)