World of Westfahl | Encyclopedia Introduction | All Entries | Acknowledgements
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

N Entries
Noel Neill
Kurt Neumann
John Newland
Julie Newmar
Nichelle Nichols
Jack Nicholson
Leonard Nimoy
 
NICHOLSON, JACK
(John Joseph Nicholson 1937– ). American actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: The Little Shop of Horrors (Roger CORMAN 1960); The Terror (and co-directed, uncredited) (Corman 1963); The Raven (Corman 1963); "The Lost Bomb" (uncredited) (1966), episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; Targets (Peter Bogdanovich 1968); On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (Vicente Minnelli 1970); A Safe Place (Harry Jaglom 1971); The Passenger (Michelangelo Antonioni 1975); Tommy (Ken RUSSELL 1975); The Shining (Stanley KUBRICK 1979); Making "The Shining" (tv documentary) (1980); Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks 1983); Rabbit Ears: The Elephant's Child (animated video; voice) (1986); The Witches of Eastwick (George MILLER 1987); Rabbit Ears: How the Rhinoceros Got Its Skin and How the Camel Got Its Hump (animated video; voice) (1989); Batman (Tim BURTON 1989); Wolf (Mike Nichols 1994); Mars Attacks! (Burton 1996); The Evening Star (Robert Harling 1997).

Wrote: Head (with Bob Rafaelson) (and produced; and appeared in, uncredited) (Rafaelson 1968); The Trip (Corman 1968).

 
It is not really incongruous that Walter Brennan and Jack Nicholson are the only two men who have won three Academy Awards for their acting. Both were widely beloved figures, both within and outside of the film community; both maintained long careers largely by playing the same part over and over again; and there are similarities in their screen characters, as both begin by resolutely maintaining that they just don't give a damn but are gradually coaxed into revealing their true compassionate nature. Their key difference, and the reason why Nicholson is a superior performer, is that Nicholson's self-revelations are never wholly persuasive; even when he surprises everyone by showing up at the daughter's funeral in Terms of Endearment, there remains the slight suspicion that this apparently kindly gesture is only another twist in some bigger game he is playing. We can never completely trust Nicholson, and that is one secret of his charm.

This persona did not emerge in the first, forgettable phase of Nicholson's career as one of Roger CORMAN's buddies on the B-movie circuit of the 1960s. His much-overpraised cameo as the masochistic dental patient in The Little Shop of Horrors demonstrated that he wasn't going to be very good as a clown (as would later be confirmed by his work in Tommy and Mars Attacks!), and his squeaky-voiced haplessness as the ostensible hero of The Terror and The Raven demonstrated that he wasn't going to be very good as a conventional leading man either. Perhaps fearing that he had little future as a performer, Nicholson sometimes moved behind the camera with unimpressive results, serving as the uncredited co-director of The Terror and writing (if that is the proper word) the script for the disastrously incoherent Monkees film Head. It was a blessing, then, that Nicholson's acting career got a boost from his small role in Easy Rider (1969), which led to a string of mainstream films in the early 1970s—Five Easy Pieces (1970), Carnal Knowledge (1971), The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), The Last Detail (1973), Chinatown (1974), and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)—that cemented his reputation and immortalized his appealing screen personality.

Regularly brilliant in realistic roles, Nicholson is not necessarily a good choice for science fiction and fantasy films, which may demand the sort of unquestionable passion and commitment that Nicholson cannot convey. On two occasions, he has been spectacularly unsuccessful in portraying quiet, unassuming characters who turn into violent monsters. In The Shining, the miscasting was not a problem, since Stanley KUBRICK's films never depend upon the skill of their performers; but in a film from a lesser director, Mike Nichols, Nicholson's inability to inhabit the role doomed Wolf to mediocrity. The Nicholson we know and love is too cool to be a raging werewolf, too self-involved to bother to pick up an ax and try to slaughter somebody. He was far more comfortable, and comforting, as a slyly seductive Devil in The Witches of Eastwick. On the other hand, he made a significant contribution to science fiction film in a work that few people would even consider part of the genre, James Brooks' Terms of Endearment, as he perfectly portrayed the irksome swagger, empty camaraderie, and inner uncertainties of an ex-astronaut. Who else but Nicholson could have provided a fascinating ten-minute summary of The Right Stuff buried inside of a sentimental soap opera?

The most difficult Nicholson performance to evaluate came in Batman, a film best appreciated as the spiritual journey of two gifted performers, Michael KEATON and Nicholson, struggling to find the answers to two questions: why on Earth was I cast in this film? And, what can I possibly contribute to it? Keaton eventually shrugs his shoulders, says, "I'm the wrong person for this job, but somebody's got to do it," and soldiers on as a grim, businesslike superhero. Nicholson, while occasionally surrendering to a script that would depict him as Batman's twisted twin and vengeful opponent, eventually relaxes and portrays the Joker only as a fun-loving guy who loves to be the center of attention and engages in colorful crimes presumably because he can't get front-row tickets to Los Angeles Lakers basketball games. It is strange that director Tim BURTON was smart enough to grab Nicholson for this role, but not smart enough to tailor the story to his unique talents. Then again, he is not the only person who has had trouble getting a handle on this endearingly elusive scoundrel.

To contact us about encyclopedia matters, send an email to Gary Westfahl.
If you find any Web site errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to our Webmaster.
Copyright © 1999–2014 Gary Westfahl All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Hosted & Designed By:
SF Site spot art