Talk about an under appreciated and underused actor--it's Keith Carradine. Keith, a member of the acting clan that includes dad (John), brothers (David and Robert) and daughter (Martha Plimpton), has had some fine movie moments in the 1970s and early 1980s but never became a "star" star. After a series of terrific films as leads or as a member of strong ensemble casts, his career saw him slipping into the netherworld of bad movies and forgettable TV roles.
It's actually two recent TV roles that has brought Carradine back to my attention and made me realize just how much I like him as an actor. The first was when he sauntered into the first season of HBO's Deadwood (a show I loved and dearly miss!) as Wild Bill Hickock (photo #2). Sporting a huge 'stache and a deadly intensity--Carradine's performance blew me away and he stole every single scene he was in which is really saying something as Deadwood was heavy on the testosterone and stellar performances. Only in four episodes, Carradine should have gotten an Emmy nomination for his stunning performance--it is that good.
TV show number two was a role on season two of Showtime's Dexter. Carradine plays a much different character than Hickock as an FBI agent attempting to capture the cop/serial killer Dexter. Carradine's Agent Lundy is a smart, confident, wry, no-nonsense yet warm character that Carradine makes believable, like able and sort of quirky. It's a terrific, subdued performance with a lot of depth and charm. Carradine is an ace in the hole for shows like these that rely on ensemble casts who need an unselfish, generous addition to the cast.
In 1980 Carradine was in one of my favorite westerns of all time--The Long Riders. I saw this on a Sunday afternoon in some defunct theatre in Tulsa. I was already into the legend of the James/Younger Gang, this Walter Hill film full of real life brothers is about as entertaining as a modern western can be (complete with some great exploding bullets-Carradine actually takes a slug to the jaw while playing Jim Younger!).
Carradine has been in lots of other things worth seeing. He starred in some of Robert Altman's best films in the 1970s--McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Thieves Like Us and Nashville (a film role where he nabbed an Oscar for best song-photo #3). Also worthy films from the '70s were Emperor of the North (reviewed July '06 CineRobot archives), The Duellists (directed by Ridley Scott) and Pretty Baby (directed by Louis Malle). Hill's previously mentioned The Long Riders and a re-teaming with Carradine for 1981's Southern Comfort would be the last hurrah for Carradine before he became mostly lost in a void of bad movies and poor TV--although he did have some success on Broadway and won a Tony nomination in 1991 for playing Will Rogers.
What a shame. After being embraced by such directors as Altman, Scott, Malle and Hill in the 1970s/80s, the string of lacking roles must have been difficult. It looks as though there are a few interesting film roles coming in 2009 (I just found out he's in the lead of a Broadway drama called Mindgame that I'm going to check out when in NY in December) so I'm hopeful Carradine can be "rediscovered" and get some good character roles.