Dennis Hopper always seemed like that stoner high school pal, one that showed up every few years and always seemed ready to crash and burn.
Of course we really noticed him when he slammed across the screen in “Easy Rider” in 1969 — an absolutely shocking movie for its time. As usual you couldn’t keep your eyes off him and, as usual, you knew he was doomed.
It was shocking when you looked back at “Rebel Without a Cause” from 1955 and saw him there as a teen gang member, hassling James Dean. Then he was in “Giant” with Dean and Elizabeth Taylor, of all people.
Although he was a certified pain in the neck, Hollywood kept calling him back until he appeared in a whopping 203 movies during his career. He even showed up as a drug-addled (imagine!) reporter in one of my top 10 movies, “Apocalypse Now.”
It seemed like he was everywhere.
When Hopper died at 74 last week, the flood of reviews and reports omitted one of Hopper’s most outstanding movies, “True Romance,” from 1993. The sleeper movie also is noted for the brutal scene when James Gandolfini as Virgil beats Alabama (Patricia Arquette) almost to death in a bathroom. Although Alabama eventually kills Virgil, it was that scene that reportedly got Gandolfini the job as Anthony Soprano, in the noted television series. Brad Pitt and Samuel L. Jackson have cameo roles.
But Hopper stole the movie in a great scene with Christopher Walken, another all-time favorite.
It is still hard to watch. Hopper played Clifford Worley against the inimitable Walken as a Mafia boss named Vincenzo Coccotti. The plot had Worley’s son, Clarence (Christian Slater), killing a mobster and stealing his large bag of dope. A bad idea, indeed. The mob traced the idiot son easily since he left his driver’s license in the dead man’s hand. The father, tied in a chair, knew he was doomed (once again) and knew he was going to die. He wanted to incite the mob boss to kill him quickly to protect his son’s location.
For openers, Coccotti smashes Worley in the face.
“That smarts, doesn’t it? Getting slammed in the nose. [Messes] you all up. You get that pain shootin’ through your brain, your eyes fill up with water. That ain’t any kind of fun, but what I have to offer you, that’s as good as it’s gonna get. And it won’t ever get that good again. We talked to your neighbors. They saw a Cadillac. Purple Cadillac. Clarence’s purple Cadillac, parked in front of your trailer yesterday. Mr. Worley, you seen your son?”
Worley decided to tell the mob boss that Sicilians were actually African, a very touchy subject.
“Ya know, I read a lot. Especially about things, about history. I find that [stuff] fascinating. Here’s a fact I don’t know whether you know or not. Sicilians were spawned by [Africans].
“You see, uh, Sicilians have, uh, black blood pumpin’ through their hearts. Hey, no, if you don’t believe me, uh, you can look it up. Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, uh, you see, uh, the Moors conquered Sicily. And the Moors are [Africans].
“You see, way back then, uh, Sicilians all had blonde hair and blue eyes, but, uh, well, then the Moors moved in there, and uh, well, they changed the whole country. They did so much [you can guess] with Sicilian women, huh? That they changed the whole bloodline forever. That’s why blonde hair and blue eyes became black hair and dark skin. You know, it’s absolutely amazing to me to think that to this day, hundreds of years later, that, uh, that Sicilians still carry that [African] gene.”
I have seen the scene a dozen times and I still wince. Naturally, the boss decides to complete this task himself, borrows a gun and shoots Worley in the face.
Dennis Hopper. Totally unique.