“RETIREMENT IS FOR SISSIES!” roar the posters for The Last Stand (seriously? “Sissies?” In 2012? But I digress…), the first starring role for Arnold Schwarzenegger since stepping away from the silver screen for a, shall we say, problematic stint in the California governor’s mansion. Its mid-January release date doesn’t exactly scream box-office or critical confidence, but who knows; Mr. Schwarzenegger has been underestimated before, and usually comes out ahead. Either way it goes, we thought it would be interesting to run down some of the other big-name actors who hit rough or absent patches and tried to work their way back into the spotlight with a well placed role; after the jump we’ll take a look at five comeback vehicles that took, and five that didn’t quite get the job done.
THE VEHICLE: The Godfather (1972)
THE PITCH: Brando led a revolution in screen acting in the 1950s, but by the next decade, he was a risk that studios no longer wanted to take; films like The Chase, Burn!, Candy, and The Appaloosa had underperformed, and his moody temperament was blamed for cost overruns on projects like Mutiny on the Bounty and One-Eyed Jacks. But Francis Ford Coppola badly wanted Brando to play the patriarchal Don Vito Corleone in his adaptation of Mario Puzo’s bestseller The Godfather (even though the actor was only in his forties at the time), and though Paramount insisted they wouldn’t approve the casting, Coppola finally got the okay when he convinced Brando — who would never submit to such a thing — to do a videotaped screen test, which Coppola told him was merely a make-up test.
THE CRITICS SAY: “Brando interiorizes Don Vito’s power, makes him less physically threatening and deeper, hidden within himself… he gives the story the legendary presence need to raise it above gang warfare to archetypal tribal warfare.” –Pauline Kael, The New Yorker
AWARDS: The Academy Award for Best Actor — but that’s a whole other story.
AFTERMATH: Brando immediately followed The Godfather with the triumph of Last Tango in Paris that same year, and while his work over the rest of his life was sporadic and erratic (including such dogs as The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Formula), he turned in winning performances in Apocalypse Now, A Dry White Season, and The Freshman, and made history with his giant paycheck and top billing for a tiny role in Superman.