"..a bardy view!"

Bruno Kirby

I've probably seen the movie City Slickers three times over the last 20 years courtesy of the goggle box. Never having been a regular cinema goer, I generally catch the latest films on a long haul plane trip, which is hardly the best place to appreciate anything, let alone the latest movies.
Bruno kirby

So yesterday City Slickers (1991) was shown again on TV and I decided to watch it. I was struck that the essence of the movie was enhanced by Bruno Kirby's performance. He had great screen presence, understated yet crucial to his fellow actors. And then I was thinking where I had seen him before, and instantly I remembered him in the Godfather part II, and Good Morning Vietnam.
I decided to look up Bruno on the internet to see what he was up to. I was fairly shocked to learn that he died in 2006 at the young age of 57 of leukaemia. What a sad loss to the movie industry. He was an actor who was often understated, yet one of those great character actors which holds a movie together by their remarkable contribution.

City Slickers was such a movie in point. Whilst Billy Crystal was the star, it was Bruno, Daniel Stern and Jack Palance which elevated it from the mediocre to the classic it has become. Classic? Well it was sugary and sentimental as many Hollywood movies are, but it was also an entertaining observation on mid-life crisis, and the recapturing of lost youth.

The film was centred around Billy Crystal's "Mitch", who having just reached 39 was questioning his purpose in life. His pals – Bruno who has managed to get hitched with a 24 year old lingerie model but doesn't want any kids, and Stern, who has been browbeaten by a tyrannical wife whose father owns the store he works 18 hours a day and decided to have a clandestine affair with a young check-out employee – chose to take an adventure holiday herding cattle in Colorado. Mitch has a life changing moment courtesy of the grizzled last real cowboy – Palance. Indeed, all three of our musketeers reevaluate their lives as a consequence.

There was a poignant moment when the three were discussing their best and worst days (perhaps riding on the range brings out such discussions – I will never know). Bruno was the last to play, he was very reluctant. Nevertheless, after much encouragement he said his best day was as a child when his violent father finally walked out of the home and he knew then that he would be the one to look after his mother and sister.

"And the worst day?" he was asked. "The same day" he replied. At which point he dug his spurs into his mount and rode off. That scene could not have worked without Bruno Kirby.

The subsequent slush which comes with the masculine bonding, and the sentimental nonsense about rescuing a calf destined for the meat processing factories, and Crystal's ultimate revelation that the only thing that matters is his marriage and kids, must be set aside against the performance of Bruno Kirby, who was the real star of this movie and the one who saved it.

The sequel (City Slickers II – 1994) was panned by the critics and bombed at the box office. Kirby refused to take part because he was unhappy with the script. Clearly that decision affected the popularity of the movie, and justifies the fact that he was crucial to it's success.

Twelve years later he died. Just three weeks of being diagnosed of his condition. He was a keen poker player and never got mad or insulted his hand. "You take what you're dealt" he said, and that was his philosophy in hospital. "I got a little rash and it turns out to be leukaemia? You kiddin' me?"

Unfortunately this wasn't a game and he had to fold. Anyway, this is my tribute to Bruno Kirby.


September 3, 2010 - Posted by | Arts, Film | , , , , , , ,

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