Thursday, January 10, 2013

My Top 5 Favorite Charles Durning Roles

Lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season was the news that legendary actor and personal hero Charles Durning passed away on Christmas eve. I’ve long been a fan of Mr. Durning’s, and it saddened me to see the headline. According to the report, the cause of death was simply natural causes for the 89-year-old legend.

In honor of Mr. Durning’s lengthy and stellar acting career, I decided to open my new post series with what are, in my opinion, the best of the best of his more than 200 roles. Here’s a fun fact for ya: Mr. Durning played Santa Claus three different times, and also played a priest, monsignor, and the Pope in different films & shows.

Feel free to list some of your favorite Durning roles in the comments, and may good ole’ Charlie rest in peace.

#5: Lt. Snyder, The Sting
     - From the stars, Newman & Redford, to Durning & the rest of the supporting cast, this movie featured some great performances. Mr. Durning, as always, turned in a magnificent performance. As a matter of fact, lists this movie as his #1 role.

#4: Doc Hopper, The Muppet Movie
Durning as Doc Hopper in The Muppet Movie
     - Is there seriously anybody that hasn’t seen the Muppet movie by now? Mr. Durning plays the antagonist of the film, the “bad guy” who wants to capture Kermit the Frog to use him in advertisements for “Doc Hopper’s Fine Frog Legs”. Of course, by the end of the movie, the Muppets emerge victorious, but as they say, getting there is most of the fun. Mr. Durning delivered a hilarious performance as the villain, complete with a faux Southern accent.

#3: Father Hubley, Everybody Loves Raymond
     - I’ve recently begun watching this series from beginning to end, and Durning’s portrayal of the family’s priest is spot-on. He appeared in six episodes, according to what I found online (I thought it was just five, so I’ll have to see which one I missed). Of the six, my favorite episode that featured him was his  final appearance in the role, the episode called “The First Time”, the sixth season’s finale. In a flashback episode, he is invited to Debra’s apartment lasagna only to find out that Marie has actually set the whole thing up to “inform” Ray & Debra about the dangers of pre-marital sex. Hilarity ensues (as you can imagine), and the Father eventually exclaims “There is no lasagna, is there?!”

#2: The Judge, The Story Lady (TV Movie)
      - An uncredited role in a 1990s TV movie, you might wonder how this role got to #2 on my list. I saw the movie for the first time during the holidays, and while the movie itself was OK, the final ten minutes are great. The film’s title character, played by Jessica Tandy, finds a clause in her TV contract that says if she does anything to tarnish “the story lady’s” reputation, the contract will be considered null and void. So she goes to a large department store and commits the most obvious theft EVER. Everything goes according to her plan, as she is spotted by security, hauled off to the police station, and a TV camera at the station films her pleading with them not to put the story on air, knowing full well that they will. She eventually ends up in Durning’s court, and the two converse in his chambers, 1-on-1. He tells her that she disappointed his granddaughter by leaving her in the middle of the Wind in the Willows (the book she was in the progress of reading when she moved from cable access to network). He tells her that he tried to finish the book, but he couldn’t get Mr. Toad’s voice right. Of course, she teaches him how to get his “Mr. Toad voice”, and he ends up throwing out this deep, almost guttural voice that actually fits Mr. Toad’s persona perfectly. Even though he appeared on screen for around five minutes, Durning was magnificent in the role.

#1: Corporal Ernie Yost, USMC – NCIS episode 2.07 “Call of Silence”
     - My all-time favorite Charles Durning role is not only one of the best on-screen performances I have ever seen, it was also one of the most emotional, tear-jerking forty-five minutes of television I’ve ever watched. Durning plays a Medal of Honor recipient who confesses to murdering his friend on the field of battle. They discover that Ernie recently lost his wife and seems to be suffering from survivor’s guilt (mixed with a bit of Alzheimer’s, it seems to me). The NCIS team works to prove his innocence, all of them falling in love with him as they do. Despite orders from the Secretary of the Navy to proceed with a criminal case against Cpl. Yost, the team hides and protects Ernie until they can prove that he actually struck his buddy to protect the rest of their squad and was only doing his duty. As a war veteran himself, Durning was a perfect fit for this role, and you could just see something in his eyes throughout the episode. I’m not normally a crier when it comes to TV shows or movies, but I’ll admit I have to dab at my eyes every time I watch this episode. If you have never seen it, even if you are not a regular NCIS viewer, I strongly urge you to find the DVD at a library or the episode online and spend the forty-something minutes to watch it. In my opinion, it is one of the strongest episodes they’ve ever put out, in ten years on the air, and Durning’s performance was spectacular.

Not Durning’s best-known roles, but in each I believe he performed absolutely magnificently. He kept right on working until his death, as IMDb credits him in several 2012 films, as well as one that is currently filming, to be released in 2013. I did not know him personally, but I will certainly miss Mr. Durning. He brought excellent style and talent to each of his roles, and was a legend. RIP


  1. Justin, my favorite moment in that NCIS episode is when the Marines are there with the JAG officer and Tony moves Yost tie aside so the Marines can see the Medal of Honor and they snap to attention and deliver a very crisp salute to him.

  2. Don't forget him as Pappy O'Daniel in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?". Great movie.

  3. Liked him as Denis Leary's dad on Rescue Me.