As you all have heard by now, Peter Boyle passed away Dec. 12. He was best known for his nine years on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond but best-loved because of his turn as the monster in one of the greatest comedies of all time, Young Frankenstein. I was eleven when it came out and my mother dragged me along to the Lindenhurst Theater to sit alongside her in the dark (I guess she couldn't find a babysitter) cringing and sinking down in my seat every time she laughed, which was often. My mother has a VERY loud laugh. When we got back home she phoned friends to tell them how funny the movie was, employing the classic, yet disturbing line, "I WET MY PANTS I LAUGHED SO HARD!"
I next encountered Boyle in 1976 when he guest-hosted Saturday Night Live, performing the infamous "Dueling Brandos" sketch with John Belushi. Then came Wizard in Taxi Driver, counseling Robert DeNiro's imploding Travis Bickle to "...go out and get laid."
I didn't get to Boyle's breakout movie role - the title character in Joe (mp4 movie excerpt) - until many years after its 1970 release. Written by Norman Wexler (Serpico, Saturday Night Fever), Joe is set at the tail-end of the "hippie movement" and follows the blue-collar Everyman as he bonds with businessman Bill Compton (Dennis Patrick) over their mutual hatred of the "kids" and in search of one of them, Compton's daughter (played by Susan Sarandon in her first movie role). She's disappeared in the wake of a murder and the unlikely duo search her out in the coffee-houses, bookstores and "crash pads" of the Lower East Side. Along the way they smoke pot, experience "free love" and otherwise "go native".
Directed by John G. Avildsen (Save the Tiger, Rocky, The Karate Kid) the film may seem quaint now but was quite the sensation in its day (the height of the Vietnam War) - and not just because of the nudity and drug use. Wexler even received an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay. A soundtrack album was released that featured mostly dialogue (mp3 files):
Peter Boyle - in reality 180 degrees opposite the bigoted hardhat Joe Curran - was apparently so troubled by the positive reaction to his character that he turned down "violent" roles for years, including - most famously - the part of Popeye Doyle (also turned down by James Caan) in The French Connection, which garnered a Best Actor Oscar for Gene Hackman. Perhaps becoming friends with John Lennon (who served as Best Man at Boyle's wedding) was a consolation prize...