By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Bob Hoskins, who passed away last week, belonged to that rare circle of actors with character-man looks and leading-man charisma. “A five-foot-six cubic” is how he often described himself.
He always credited his pal Michael Caine for opening doors (and minds) to a working-class star. And Hoskins did work. And he was a star. He appeared in about 100 movies and TV shows. And even if the piece as a whole wasn’t brilliant, he always was.
Here are a few movies you should check into to see what I mean.
“The Long Good Friday”
Both a witty social parable and a thoroughly gripping tough-guy movie, this British gangster film introduced Hoskins to American audiences back in 1980.
Harry Shand, London’s underworld overlord, wants to go legit. But just as he’s about to seal the real estate deal that will make it possible, all bloody hell breaks loose. Bombs, corpses, that sort of thing.
And Harry, with as much relish as regret, regresses from civic-minded businessman to savage thug. There’s a lot of violence in this adult thriller, but the real thrills are the intelligent script and the remarkable Hoskins who creates in Harry a complex amalgam of bullet-headed aggression and bluff, little-boy charm.
This film-noire fairy tale also takes place among London’s criminal types. And it’s bloody wonderful. It’s also bloody, period. Think of “The Frog Prince” as told by Damon Runyon, but given a nasty twist.
Hoskins stars as a minor-league thug who chauffeurs a classy prostitute (Cathy Tyson). When she asks him to find a teen hooker, a pal from her former streetwalking days, her request becomes a quest.
He’s a Cockney Don Quixote whose fatal flaw isn’t that he tilts at illusions, but that he’s fallen in love with one. Director Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game”) blends a Brothers Grimm sensibility with a grimly real setting. Underneath all the sleaze, this is actually a sentimental romantic fable about the last gallant man.
Tyson gives a bold performance as the woman with Mona Lisa smile and Michael Caine has a cameo as a pasty-faced crime czar. But the movie belongs to Hoskins — a brute-angel who learns a bitter lesson about impossible dreams.
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
If “The Long Good Friday” was his breakthrough role, “Roger Rabbit” is the movie that made him a star.
Director Robert Zemeckis’s dazzling conceit is an animated “Around the World in 80 Days,” with cameo appearances by dozens of cartoon greats. Donald and Daffy play a ducky duet. Mickey and Bugs share a magic moment of free fall.
The movie’s inspired notion is that, in ‘40s Hollywood, pen-and-ink characters, known as Toons co-exist with their flesh-and blood counterparts. They report for work at the studio and then go home to their Technicolor ghetto called Toontown.
A seedy gumshoe (Hoskins, marvelous) is hired by a mogul to find out what’s bugging his star bunny Roger Rabbit. Seems Roger’s super-sexy wife (voiced by Kathleen Turner) has been seen fooling around. When the other man turns up dead, Roger is the prime suspect.
Plotwise, the picture doesn’t always live up to its impressive premise. The finale is especially overdone.
But the film’s effortless lunacy pays fitting tribute to the endearing and enduring magic of the Golden Age of animation. When Porky Pig finally stammers, “That’s all, folks,” you can’t help but think it’s not nearly enough.