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    Taylor-Made Professionalism

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    “He was ruggedly handsome, the stuff of movie stardom, but he had a gentle demeanor and soft, cultured voice that made him much more accessible – and also somewhat difficult to categorize. Taylor could have easily played both Cary Grant and John Wayne roles (and, occasionally, did), and yet, he was interested in something more intricate and less clearly-defined. He became a character actor early on in his film career. And often played supporting roles. But that didn't seem to matter.” Film historian and The Passionate Moviegoer blogger Joe Baltake wrote the above on the occasion two years ago of the death of Rod Taylor (1930-2015), who was born 87 years ago today, came to Hollywood from Australia and got cast in sturdy secondary parts with the biggest stars in a formidable run of movies (The Catered Affair, Giant, Raintree County, Separate Tables and more), culminating with his most-loved role, as the adventurous inventor of The Time Machine (1960) in George Pal’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’s classic. In Baltake’s view, “The years 1963 and 1964 were the most vital, career-wise, for Taylor. He appeared in no less than six titles, all good. Besides The Birds [for Alfred Hitchcock], he reunited with Elizabeth Taylor in Anthony Asquith's immensely popular The V.I.P.s, took on Rock Hudson in Delbert Mann's A Gathering of Eagles, tried to seduce Jane Fonda (in his Cary Grant role) in Peter Tewksbury's Sunday in New York, starred with Glenn Ford, Nancy Kwan and Suzanne Pleshette (his The Birds co-star) in Ralph Nelson's airplane thriller Fate Is the Hunter (1964) and, along with Eva Marie Saint, tried to fool James Garner in George Seaton's excellent 36 Hours, from a Roald Dahl story.” From this entertainment bumper crop, perhaps Fate Is the Hunter, adapted from a best-selling book by Ernest K. Gann, offers the most emblematic Taylor performance as a charming, swaggering but incomparably talented veteran pilot – known to be a heavy drinker – whose commercial jetliner inexplicably crashes, killing all aboard except one traumatized survivor (stewardess Pleshette). Following an unnerving pre-credits sequence depicting the tragedy, the full portrait of his character, under attack for negligence and the subject of investigator Glenn Ford’s efforts to find the truth about what went wrong, unfolds in a series of flashback reminiscences – including scenes of World War II combat and R&R camaraderie – that paint a picture of, in Twilight Time scribe Julie Kirgo’s words, “an attractive, fatalistic scapegrace – and a superb flyer” who, Ford and the audience both hope, remains unfailingly professional at the cockpit controls to the shattering end. The movie, marvelously and unobtrusively directed by Ralph Nelson (Lilies of the Field, Soldier in the Rain), becomes a search for the truth of Taylor’s character. The Australian’s 55-year career, marked by multi-genre versatility and virility, is also worth the inquiry; try these appreciations, one from a Land Down Under perspective from The Hollywood Reporter – – and 10 Things You Might Not Know… from Streamline: The Filmstruck Blog Plus, for an absorbing precursor to the professionally executed, aviation-minded thrillers Flight and Sully, lift off with Fate Is the Hunter, also starring Nancy Kwan, Wally Cox and Nehemiah Persoff, on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.