Charles Grodin’s Most Underrated Movie Roles
Charles Grodin died on May 18 after a battle with bone marrow cancer. Grodin had recently returned to acting roles after a hiatus in the ‘90s that saw him become a talk show host and commentator. It was great to see Grodin pop up in While We’re Young, The Comedian and the Madoff miniseries, but if you really want to experience prime Grodin, you should see some of his classic movies.
The classic The Heartbreak Kid was a breakthrough role for Grodin, and the Beethoven movies showed families everywhere the majesty of Grodin’s annoyed reactions. But Showbiz Cheat Sheet is here to help you take a deep dive into some of Grodin’s best roles that may have been overlooked.
‘Heart and Souls’ was heaven for Charles Grodin
The 1993 fantasy comedy Heart and Souls is a great movie for many reasons. It used a high concept to really say something about living your life to the fullest. Robert Downey Jr. plays a man who grew up with four souls attached to him. Nobody told them they were supposed to use his body to fulfill their lifelong regret, so they all have to resolve their lives within a few days.
Grodin played an aspiring singer with stage fright who never had the nerve to perform. When he finally does it, it’s Downey who puts on the show. Still, Grodin conveys enough regret, in the guise of a big magical comedy, to represent the heart of the film.
‘Clifford’ terrorized Charles Grodin
Clifford was practically buried in its initial life. Filmed in 1991, Orion went bankrupt so Clifford wasn’t released until 1994. Even then, its outrageous premise made it a tough sell to moviegooing audiences. Martin Short played a 10-year-old boy. He was over 40 at the time.
Grodin played the grownup who was victim to all of Clifford’s misbehavior. Just think of Clifford as a human Beethoven terrorizing a hapless Grodin even more than a canine ever could.
Don’t forget the classic ‘Midnight Run’
Midnight Run is one of the movies often mentioned in connection with Grodin. Fortunately, it has retained its classic status, but since it came out in 1988 it is worth reminding modern audiences. The buddy action-comedy paired Grodin with tough guy Robert De Niro.
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De Niro played bounty hunter Jack Walsh. He captures mob accountant The Duke (Grodin) but the Duke makes it really difficult for Walsh to bring him in. Their misadventure filled journey takes about a week during which time they bicker and bond. This is an all-timer and shows how you do the tried and true formula right. Grodin alternates between helpless and calculating, and never makes the bromance obvious.
‘It Runs in the Family’ or ‘My Summer Story’ brought back a classic
The marketing definitely botched this one. Fans of A Christmas Story never knew that It Runs in the Family was a sequel! Grodin played the father, originally played by Darren McGavin, to Ralphie (now Kieran Culkin). Maybe it helpe a little when they retitled it My Summer Story on video but it was too late.
Now, My Summer Story/It Runs in the Family is not as good as A Christmas Story. It probably doesn’t capture such universal nostalgia since it’s not tied to a specific holiday. But, it is still based on Jean Shephard’s stories. Shepherd wrote the screenplay and Bob Clark returned to direct so it is a true sequel. The original actors had grown up too much to reprise their roles, but if you ever wondered what Ralphie got up to in the summer, here you go. The Old Man still feuds with the Bumpuses.
More memorable Charles Grodin supporting roles
Grodin was always a reliable straight man to the comic star of a movie. So there are plenty of great roles where he didn’t have to carry the movie, but he stole the show. Case in point, Dave. When presidential imposter Dave (Kevin Kline) has to actually do the job, he calls his friend (Grodin) for help. Grodin’s critique of the federal budget was political satire and simply great comedy.
The Lonely Guy seems to fade next to some other Steve Martin classics but it’s a good one. Martin plays a perrenially single guy, and because he’s the star he’s the one who keeps toying with romance. Grodin gets to play a real lonely guy whose situation would be depressing if he weren’t so funny about it. Seems Like Old Times was a Chevy Chase/Goldie Hawn vehicle, but Grodin was relentless as the other man in the love triangle, and of course he costarred with Miss Piggy in The Great Muppet Caper.
Grodin played the husband to The Incredible Shrinking Woman. The film is a vehicle for Lily Tomlin to react to oversized sets, but Grodin helps make it all believable as the husband who just has to add “wife shrinking” to his list of familial problems. The Jim Belushi vehicle Taking Care of Business starred Grodin as a businessman who loses his Filofax. The escaped convict (Belushi) who finds it impersonates him until they meet, by which point Grodin has already gone pretty much feral.