By all accounts, James Gandolfini’s final role is a good way for the man to have gone out. In director Nicole Holofcener’s “Enough Said,” the former Tony Soprano is winning posthumous praise as the slobby-yet-sensitive love interest of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, certainly an acclaimed, dignified way for one of the best actors of his generation to take his final, if unexpected, big screen bow.
Of course, not everyone is so lucky.
Look, we never know when we’re gonna go, and not everyone can bow out as gracefully as Henry Fonda (“On Golden Pond”). You can’t blame an actor if the last entry on their IMDb page is also the most embarrassing. You know, like these poor devils:
Raul Julia: “Street Fighter.” (1994) Ouch. After an impressive career on stage and screen, the beloved, multitalented Julia, like Gandolfini, died young. Unfortunately his final screen role saw him wearing a ludicrous red leather outfit and being kicked in the face by Jean-Claude Van Damme in a film based on a video game.
Veronica Lake: “Flesh Feast.” (1970) Maybe the saddest story on the list, Lake ended her once-iconic screen career (“Sullivan’s Travels,” “This Gun For Hire”) trying for a comeback in a grubby, micro-budgeted abomination about a gang of neo-Nazis trying to revive Hitler – using maggots, for some reason.
Joan Crawford: “Trog.” (1970) Like Lake, legendary movie diva Crawford took her last whack at leading lady status in the dregs of the horror genre, in her case wearing a lab coat and a pained expression as she attempted to civilize the titular character, a “missing link” in a bad monkey suit.
Orson Welles: “Transformers: The Movie.” (1986) Not even the terrible-but-popular Michael Bay ones, poor Orson found his once-storied screen legacy littered with unfinished, unrealized films, and culminating with his final screen credit – as the voice of a robot planet (don’t ask) in an an animated film based on a line of children’s toys.
Errol Flynn: “Cuban Rebel Girls.” (1959) Once the biggest star in the world, the legendary swashbuckler died soon after completing this self-financed turkey, a pro-Castro war film that saw the 50-year-old Flynn starring alongside his teenaged girlfriend, Beverly Aadland. Sad yes, but one imagines that’s how notorious womanizer Flynn would have wanted it.
Gene Kelly: “Xanadu.” (1980) If you don’t count a few appearances on “The Love Boat” (no one does), iconic movie hoofer Kelly flickered out of screen history roller-skating with Olivia Newton-John and Michael Beck as they try to open a roller disco.
Bette Davis: “Wicked Stepmother.” (1989) There’s probably an article to be written about female acting legends being shunted off to terrible horror movies at the end of their careers, as Davis ended her run top-billed in this Larry Cohen flick about a pair of witches, one of whom inhabits the body of a cat. At least Davis, cantankerous to the end, had the good taste to walk off the picture after only a few days, we can hope spouting expletives and disdainful cigarette smoke on the way out.
Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.