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[personal profile] wileypeter
This one goes out to Mr. Charles Durning. No, he’s not dead. At least not to my knowledge. I just wanted to salute him.

When he appears at the door in the original When A Stranger Calls you honestly don’t know if he’s the killer or an arriving cop. His eyes are dead, and it’s no small amount of creepy. He makes the burnt-out detective utterly believable, and between them he and Carol Kane elevate what might be a cheap potboiler to some real suspense.

That same year, Durning was Doc Hopper, the villain stalking Kermit The Frog in The Muppet Movie. Oily, unctuous and determined to force Kermit to hawk Doc’s French Fried Froglegs, he is nonetheless able to dial the menace down enough for a kids’ movie. (An aside: The Muppet Movie also featured Carol Kane in a recurring joke bit.)

Durning is equally skilled at playing an intolerant, by-the-numbers priest, an enjoyably slimy politician, or Santa Claus. He’s always fun to watch.

But beyond his acting, I want to salute Charles Durning the Veteran. Durning was drafted during WWII. He went ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day. In the course of the Allied Campaign he was wounded three times. The last time was when he and his unit were taken prisoner by a column of SS, marched out into a field, and summarily shot near Malmedy*. Durning was one of about forty survivors out of roughly 120 prisoners, and was later returned to the scene by Allied authorities to help identify the dead. It took years to recover from the physical wounds. I can only imagine what kind of psychological toll it must have taken.

Here’s to you, sir. Thank you for your service, and thank you for the great movies.

*Which I suppose means it was Durning that Bill O'Reilly accused of war crimes for, you know, being a victim of a war crime.
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