Only now does it occur to me... that I'm not sure if a movie has ever been packed with as many beloved character actors as HEAVEN'S GATE, and I'll even include THE LONGEST DAY, COP LAND, THE EXPENDABLES, THE PLAYER, and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS in consideration.
There's so much to say about HEAVEN'S GATE. Probably too much. From its tumultuous production that basically destroyed United Artists to its hideous reception to its latter-day critical re-evaluation to the Johnson County War on which it is based– one could fill a volume. (And people have.) In the end, I'd say it's an ambitious film which flirts with genius, is bogged down by poor pacing, but consistently holds the viewer spellbound with gorgeous Western imagery (courtesy of master cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond) even when the narrative begins to dawdle.on YouTube here), and go ahead and read this interview with Cimino himself for a little taste of the outlandish (and possibly insane) creature who lurks beneath the surface of this genuinely talented and occasionally virtuosic director.
But for now, fasten your seatbelts, and prepare for a whirlwind tour of character actors, the sheer magnitude of whom may even give you whiplash:
Coming up on the left here is Eastwood crony Geoffrey Lewis (10 TO MIDNIGHT, MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, DOUBLE IMPACT, BRONCO BILLY, 'SALEM'S LOT, MAVERICK) looking like the live action mountain man version of "Pigpen" from peanuts.
Attached to Geoffrey Lewis is a hand. And in that hand is a tongue. And that tongue is attached to...
Lookin' pretty young there, Mickey! Good show.
Continuing on with our journey, here's Richard Masur (IT, THE THING, LICENSE TO DRIVE, MR. BOOGEDY, RENT-A-COP, RISKY BUSINESS, MY GIRL)
chomping on a corn cob pipe, giving his all to his colorful brogue, and looking about as intense as he's ever looked (no small feat for a man generally typecast as "suburban dad").
Over on the right here, to the left of that presumably 19th Century malt liquor is edgy queen of French cinema Isabelle Huppert (THE PIANO TEACHER, AMOUR, I HEART HUCKABEE, COUP DE TORCHON, LA CEREMONIE, Hal Hartley's AMATEUR).
Up here behind the beard is Brad Dourif (CHILD'S PLAY, WISE BLOOD, ALIEN: RESURRECTION, DEADWOOD, THE TWO TOWERS, DUNE, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, THE EXORCIST III, BLUE VELVET, GRIM PRAIRIE TALES)
Around the bend in the proto-pimp costume is Bronson heavy Paul Koslo (THE OMEGA MAN, VANISHING POINT, THE STONE KILLER, MR. MAJESTYK, CLEOPATRA JONES, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, LOVE AND BULLETS).
Then, over in that train with the fur hat and the lip carpet is Sam Waterston (THE KILLING FIELDS, THE GREAT GATSBY, SERIAL MOM, LAW AND ORDER, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, CAPRICORN ONE)
who finally gets to play a bad guy, and to great effect!
Over to the side there, you can see a Kris Kristofferson (PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID, BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, CONVOY, FLASHPOINT, BIG-TOP PEE-WEE, BLADE, and star of CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT, the only feature Arnold Schwarzenegger ever directed) in his natural habitat.
And wait– who's that in the shadows behind him? Why, it's the film debut of Willem Dafoe (THE LOVELESS, WILD AT HEART, ANTICHRIST, SPIDERMAN, TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, EXISTENZ, BODY OF EVIDENCE, BOONDOCK SAINTS, THE ENGLISH PATIENT). He's just an extra, but, hot damn!
Down the path a spell is none other than Jeff Bridges (TRON, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, CUTTER'S WAY, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, KING KONG '76, STARMAN, THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT).
He's got a great intensity here in a supporting role– and supposedly when production wrapped, one of the many "cabin" sets were up for grabs, so Bridges swooped in, disassembled it, and reconstructed it on his ranch property!
Over in this glen is Christopher Walken (THE DEER HUNTER, ANNIE HALL, KING OF NEW YORK, THE DEAD ZONE, A VIEW TO A KILL, MCBAIN, BATMAN RETURNS, WAYNE'S WORLD 2, NEW ROSE HOTEL, KANGAROO JACK)
And then right here, if he'll put down the flask long enough for you to get a clear look– is none other than John Hurt (THE ELEPHANT MAN, I CLAUDIUS, ALIEN, THE HIT, 1984, THE STORYTELLER, KING RALPH, DOGVILLE, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, DEAD MAN, HELLBOY, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY '11)!
He delivers an eccentric performance, dripping with pathos. Like every other John Hurt performance! The man is never anything less than superlative.
Whew! I'm impressed. I hope you've enjoyed this breakneck tour of character actors. And perhaps in closing, it begs to be asked: where the hell was Harry Dean Stanton?