Rich On Film Lists: Dennis Hopper's Ten Most Underrated Performances
As a tribute to Dennis Hopper's brilliant contribution to cinema and pop culture I have gathered a list covering some of his lesser known performances. Many of these films are the reason why I personally loved seeing him on screen. Some are bit parts, some are films you may not have heard of but all of them are better because of his presence. All hail Hopper! Stay away from Heiniken folks.
The Story of Mankind (1957)
A year after starring with James Dean in Giant Hopper took this small role as Napoleon in disaster movie king Irwin Allen's first real narrative film. Yep you heard it right, a young Dennis Hopper as Napoleon. The film itself is insane, beginning with two stars discussing the fate of humanity before mankind is itself put on trial. We then see a cosmic court in the clouds where Vincent Price acts as the devil and travels through time visiting key moment in human history trying to prove humanity should be destroyed.
Red Rock West (1993)
One of the best neo-noirs to come out of the retro noir phase in the early 90s. Nicolas Cage plays the classic noir anti-hero who gets mistaken for a hitman and plays along to pocket the cash. Shit really hits the fan when Hopper shows up as the real hitman hired for the job - Lyle from Texas. Hopper is perfect and the film itself comes very highly recommended from me!
I love this film. I'm just putting that out there. Those that don't love it probably haven't seen it. It is one of the single most deconstructive films to come out of Hollywood. The highlight for me is a scene that breaks down the fourth wall and features Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper arguing with director Bob Rafelson. See this film!
Mad Dog Morgan (1976)
Hopper plays bushranger Dan Morgan in that classic ozploitation film recently brought back into the limelight by the great doco Not Quite Hollywood. One of the roles Hopper played during his infamous drunk period, the behind the scenes stories rival the actual film for craziness. The film itself though features a great unhinged role that no one other than Hopper could play.
A vital film for any true Hopper fan. He basically plays a variation on himself. As a bearded old hippy radical past his prime, Hopper is escorted on a cross country trip back to prison by an FBI agent played by Kiefer Sutherland. There are several sharp meta-rants by Hopper musing on the changing times that accuratatly capture the spirit of transition that occurred throughout the 80s and early 90s as the 60s spirit became commodified. Secretly I enjoy this film quite a bit.
So sue me! I loved Hopper in this. The type of role he played a lot in his later years. He elevated this film and was magnetic in every moment on screen. Heaps better than his bad guy in Speed which is the film that people more frequently point towards.
The American Dreamer (1971)
A truly stunning documentary shot when Hopper was editing The Last Movie. We see Hopper in classic drug fueled form in the post Easy Rider days. Scenes of him smoking joints while lying naked in a bath joined by random naked women are amazing time capsule moments. This was made at the key moment when Hopper truly was the king of the world. Everything came crashing down with the release of The Last Movie but for a moment he was the king that could do anything and this doco showed that he knew it too.
24 (Season 1, 2002)
When Hopper appeared late in the game as the big bad Victor Draven, this show suddenly went from excellent to classic. Playing the regular Hopper bad guy he took this show to another level and instantly millions of people signed up as viewers for several more seasons of this show.
Jesus' Son (1999)
This is an amazing film that sadly got lost in a the gamut of herion chic films that blotted the cinema landscape in the late 90s. Hopper appears late in the film as a recovering addict in a treatment centre and gives a brilliant monologue which feels virtually semi-autobiographical. This mature, reserved performance was of a type we didn't get to see enough of in his later years. His face speaks a thousand words here. Hunt this film down please!
Blue Velvet (1986)
I am contractualy obliged to insert this onto any list featuring Hopper for fear of Frank Booth arriving on my doorstep and taking me for a drive. Sorry...