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

IMDB credits Yes, I know the kind of entry you expected 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, I just don't have the heart. For one thing, Agar merits a modicum of sympathy as someone forced 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 showed up drunk on the set or phoned in a performance. Visibly, in all of his pictures, John Agar was always trying to act, even if he never quite got 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 (1956) 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 (1955); and yet, the Gill Man is more terrifying in the latter film, and not only 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 (1955), and probably at his worst in The Brain from Planet Arous (1957), but the difference between Agar's best and Agar's worst, frankly, is not terribly large. Still, even if his films are generally forgotten, it is important to realize that, by the late 1950s, Agar was considered one of the genre's stars; as evidence, consider the long-overlooked television pilot Destination Space (1959), which clearly gave Agar a supporting part who contributed nothing to its story solely as a way to add his distinguished name to the credits.

Nonetheless, given the sorts of science fiction films he was being offered, it is little wonder that Agar started telling his agent to only put him in westerns, where one hopes that he at last found a little piece of mind, as he did seem to prefer that milieu . But his ultimate reward for enduring the likes of The Attack of the Puppet People (1958), Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962), and Zontar: The Thing from Venus (1966) came when a new generation of filmmakers, part of the tribe of people who had grown up loving such films in spite of solid reasons to despise them, eagerly recruited him to bless their homages to these now-reclassified classics 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 much 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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