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John Agar
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AGAR, JOHN
(1921–2002). American actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: The Magic Carpet (Lew Landers 1951); The Rocket Man (Oscar Rudolph 1954); Bait (Hugo Haas 1954); The Golden Mistress (Joel Judge 1954); Hold Back Tomorrow (Haas 1955); Revenge of the Creature (Jack ARNOLD 1955); Tarantula (Arnold 1955); The Mole People (Virgil Vogel 1956); The Brain from Planet Arous (Nathan JURAN 1957); Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (Edgar G. ULMER 1957); Attack of the Puppet People (Bert I. GORDON 1958); Invisible Invaders (Edward L. CAHN 1959); Destination Space (tv movie) (Joseph PEVNEY 1959); The Hand of Death (Gene Nelson 1961); Journey to the Seventh Planet (Sidney PINK 1961); Women of the Prehistoric Planet (George Gilbert 1966); Curse of the Swamp Creature (Larry BUCHANAN 1966); Zontar: The Thing from Venus (Buchanan 1968); Night Fright (James A. Sullivan 1968); King Kong (John GUILLERMAN 1976); "Return of the Masked Rider" (1984), episode of Highway to Heaven; Attack of the B Movie Monster (video) (Wayne Berwick 1985); "A Day in Beaumont" (1986), episode of Twilight Zone; Miracle Mile (Steve de Jarnatt 1988); Perfect Victims (Shuki Levy 1988); Nightbreed (Clive BARKER 1990); Fear (tv movie) (Rockne O'Bannon 1990); Body Bags (tv movie) (John CARPENTER, Tobe HOOPER, and Larry Sulkis, uncredited 1993); The Pandora Directive (video game) (Adrian Carr 1996); The Vampire Hunters Club (Donald F. Glut 2001); The Naked Monster [reedited, expanded version of Attack of the B Movie Monster] (Berwick and Ted Newsom 2005).

Appeared in video documentaries: Amazing Worlds of Science Fiction and Fantasy (Ray Ferry 1991); 100 Years of Horror: Zombies (short) (1996); 100 Years of Horror: The Walking Dead (short) (1996); 100 Years of Horror: The Double Demons (short) (1996); 100 Years of Horror: Mutants (short) (1996); 100 Years of Horror: Giants and Dinosaurs (short) (1996); 100 Years of Horror: Freaks (short) (1996).

 
Yeah, yeah, I know the kind of entry you're expecting me to write about John Agar, ranting on at great length about what a wretched actor he is, and certainly such a lambasting would not be undeserved. But somehow, today, I just don't have the heart. For one thing, Agar merits a modicum of sympathy as someone driven into an acting career solely by circumstance, in his case an early marriage to beloved Hollywood icon Shirley Temple. And unlike certain other individuals who suffered that fate—yes, I'm talking about you, Lon CHANEY. Jr.—Agar never resorted to excessive drinking or phoning in his performances. In all of his pictures, John Agar is always trying to act, even if he never quite gets it right.

More importantly, I am increasingly persuaded that Agar was operating in a cinematic realm where acting ability is irrelevant, perhaps even counterproductive. It is not simply that the overall context of the low-budget, poorly-written, hastily-filmed Z-movie virtually ensures artistic failure regardless of the actors' efforts—I mean, can anyone sanely argue that The Mole People would have been a classic if only they had cast Laurence Olivier in the lead?—but also that in depictions of  humanity confronting the unknown and the alien, persuasive acting might actually undermine the story's impact. I first noted the phenomenon while contemplating the powerful fascination of This Island Earth (1955) despite the complete ineptitude of stars Rex REASON and Jeff MORROW, but John Agar may function as a better example. Consider this paradox: by any standards of cinematic achievement, The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1953) is far superior to its sequel Revenge of the Creature; and yet, the Gill Man is more terrifying in the latter film, and not because he has abandoned his remote home in the Amazon to menace residents of Florida. It is rather than, in the first film, the presence of capable actors like Richard CARLSON, Richard DENNING, and Whit BISSELL helped to convey the reassurance that, whatever strange evil lurked beneath the water, humanity would ultimately prevail. It is much harder to feel so reassured when your major representative of beleaguered humanity is John Agar.

For several years, if you were in the business of making terrible science fiction films, John Agar was your go-to guy, so that he ended up appearing in more abominations than any man should be forced to watch, let alone star in. He was probably at his best in Tarantula, probably at his worst in The Brain from Planet Arous, but the difference between Agar's best and Agar's worst, frankly, is not terribly large. Given the sorts of science fiction films he was being offered, it is little wonder that he started telling his agent to only put him in westerns, where one hopes that he at last found a little piece of mind. But his ultimate reward for enduring the likes of The Attack of the Puppet People, Journey to the Seventh Planet, and Zontar: The Thing from Venus came when a new generation of filmmakers, part of the tribe of people who had grown up loving such films in spite of everything, eagerly recruited him to bless their homages with his esteemed presence. Strangely, no one to my knowledge was extending similar invitations to Agar's ex-wife, Shirley Temple Black, despite a film career that was in every respect more distinguished—still more proof that the often-execrable science fiction films of the 1950s, and the often-execrable performers who appeared in them, remain uniquely appealing, at least in certain demented circles.

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