“Easy Rider” Dennis Hopper’s death on May 29 came as no surprise to Hollywood. He announced the previous October that he was battling cancer and looked weak earlier this year when he appeared at the dedication of his star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Still, Hollywood today is in mourning for one of acting’s most original talents.
For fans of today’s cinema offerings, early Dennis Hopper works may seem tame. He was truly one of the first to push the envelope. His aggressive style (both in acting and directing) may have been spurred by the early death of his good friend and (as Hopper explained) lifelong mentor, James Dean. This weekend, whether you are reading this article in 2010 right after Hopper’s death or 10 years from now when his name has left the headlines, take a moment to enjoy one of Hollywood’s rare originals.
Dennis Hopper’s volume of work began in theathre and included a sizable and long record on television and the movies. Here are what I consider to be Dennis Hopper’s best works:
1. Easy Rider
This comes as no surprise to anyone. Debuting in 1969, the movie follows a couple of misfit bikers ina cross-country journey. Think of it as a bad boys “Vacation” or “Little Miss Sunshine.” And the movie is completely submersed in the counterculture of the late 60s and early 70s: sex, drugs and rock and roll. In addition to Hopper, the movie features Peter Fonda in one of his first roles. You’ll also see a very young Jack Nicholson if you look closely. This movie is not only the best of Dennis Hopper, it’s the best counterculture road trip film ever. If you’re into the arts, this is an excellent learning tools.
2. True Grit (also 1969)
You likely haven’t heard True Grit mentioned in any of the Hopper tributes or obituaries. True Grit is one of the great American westerns; John Wayne received his only Oscar for this movie. Granted, his role his small. He plays a minor villain to Ned Pepper. Pepper his chased by the unlikely trio of Wayne, Glenn Campbell and Kim Darby. Watch it right after Easy Rider. Seeing the two back to back show how versatile Hopper was. I think this movie also shows that, even in small roles, he sought after the chances to work with great 2 actors and learn.
3. 24 (from 2002)
Hopper played Ukranian assassin Victor Drazen in 24, the real-time Keifer Sutherland television vehicle. Hopper’s performance alone is worth the rental price. You’ll be fine if you haven’t seen 24. Hopper does a magnificant job bringing to life a cold war villain that goes head-to-head with Jack Ryan.
4. Hooshers (1986)
Hopper plays the hot-headed assistant coach Shooter in this movie. Gene Hackman’s powerful role in this classic basicketball movie overshadows Hopper and that’s sad. Hopper’s best seen is his effort to control his nerves (and his teams) following Hackman’s ejection. If you’re over 40, you’ve seen this film 10 times in all likelyhood. Next time you watch it, focus on Shooter. Hopper’s performance did receive critical acclaim and it sparked a revival of his career.
5. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Dennis Hopper plays Goon, one of the gang members challenging James Dean’s character to a chicken run. Hooper’s role is small, but vital. And it’ set the standard for bad guys. Dean and Hopper became fast friends and also appeared together in Giant.
Thank you for sharing your talents with the world. RIP Dennis Hopper.