Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: David Carradine

Thursday, June 4, 2009

David Carradine

David Carradine belonged to an acting dynasty that, if not necessarily legendary, was familiar and well regarded by film buffs. His father, creepy character actor John Carradine (The Grapes of Wrath), and brothers, Keith (Nashville) and Robert (Revenge of the Nerds), all made notable contributions to the world of film... as did David. But perhaps because of his willingness to be in just about any class of movie, he was always better known as a TV icon for his role as Kwai Chang Caine in the martial arts/western mashup, Kung Fu (1972-75). Despite Carradine's roles in movies directed by such greats as Robert Altman (The Long Goodbye), Hal Ashby (Bound for Glory), Ingmar Bergman (The Serpent's Egg), and Martin Scorsese (Boxcar Bertha), he was often known more for his genre work. I wish I could say I was well versed in Carradine's work, but like many, I knew him from his B movies. My favorite role of his was in Paul Bartel's underrated Death Race 2000 (1975), as Frankenstein, the reigning champion of the Transcontinental Road Race - a race where you get points for hitting pedestrians - in a future dystopic America. Here, he interacts with the up-and-coming, young Sylvester Stallone as "Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo, and cult hags Mary Woronov and Roberta Collins. Quentin Tarantino did a lot to revive Carradine's moribund career in the 21st century by casting him as the titular Bill in the two volume Kill Bill (2003-4). Most young'uns may know him from that, but to Tarantino and the rest of my generation... well, one need only listen to this exchange in Pulp Fiction (1994) to find acknowledgement of what Carradine's most famous role was:
Jules: I'll just walk the earth. Vincent: What'cha mean walk the earth? Jules: You know, walk the earth, meet people... get into adventures. Like Caine from Kung Fu.
Whether it was martial arts, like Circle of Iron (1978), where he played a role meant for Bruce Lee before his untimely death (the irony being that his role in Kung Fu is oft-rumored to have been created for Lee); westerns, like Walter Hill's The Long Riders (1980) (cool gimmick where all of the Carradines, the Guests, the Keach brothers, and the Quaids all play members of the James-Younger gang); or science fiction, like the satirical Death Race 2000, Carradine would always play it straight. Sometimes this helped sell the movie, even though often, the twinkle in his eyes behind that poker face let you know he was in on the joke. He was found dead today at the age of 72. Recommended Films - Boxcar Bertha, Death Race 2000, Bound for Glory, The Serpent's Egg, Circle of Iron, The Long Riders, Kill Bill, Vols. 1 and 2,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We will all remember David Carradine Kung Fu TV Series Legend. May he Rest In Peace. Perhaps, his death will start a revival in interest in his movies among younger people...