Monday, April 17, 2017

James Made Loathsomeness Watchable

Clifton James was an actor I hadn’t thought about in some while, but when he passed away this last Saturday, April 15, at age 96, the memories suddenly came flooding back.

The Hollywood Reporter notes that, although he hailed originally from Spokane, Washington, and lived during most of his career in New York, James “often played a convincing Southerner … One of his first significant roles playing a Southerner was as a cigar-chomping, prison floor-walker in the 1967 classic Cool Hand Luke.” Still more memorably, perhaps, the portly James appeared as “a redneck sheriff in two 007 films …,” recalls The Spy Command. “James embodied a 1970s shift in James Bond films to a lighter, more comedic tone. He played Sheriff J.W. Pepper, a Louisiana lawman who was comic relief in 1973’s Live and Let Die and 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun.” Wikipedia adds that James was seen as “a very similar character in both Silver Streak (1976) and Superman II (1980), and had a more serious role in The Reivers (1969). In that last movie, opposite Steve McQueen, James played a mean,corrupt, bungling country sheriff.”

All of this reminds of the first time I really noticed James on screen, in the short-lived 1976 NBC-TV drama City of Angels. That show featured ex-M*A*S*H co-star Wayne Rogers as not-too-tough and poorly recompensed 1930s Los Angeles private eye Jake Axminster. James held a recurring role as Murray Quint, a thoroughly repellent, again cigar-chomping, police lieutenant who thrived on graft and greed, and found particular delight in making Axminster’s life hell, whenever their paths crossed. Clifton James’ résumé is long and quite impressive, with parts played in TV shows from Naked City and Mannix to Gunsmoke, Hart to Hart, Quincy, M.E., The Fall Guy, and The A-Team. But it’s as Quint that he’s likely to stick in my memory. Below is a scene from “The November Plan,” the three-part introductory episode of City of Angels, in which Quint sends some of his cops out to roust Axminster from bed for a late-night grilling.

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