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Whatever Happened to Ron Underwood? One-Shots, Wash-Ups & Never-Has-Beens…

I think it’s happened to all of us. We’re flicking through the television channels, and we hit on an old movie we like. In my case, it was the superb 1990 B-movie Tremors. As we’re watching it, and remembering how much we loved it, our mind gets to wondering, “Whatever happened to that guy?” It could be an actor, an actress, a director or a writer. It’s somebody who showed a decent amount of talent (or, in the most frustrating circumstances, a phenomenal amount of talent), but who seemed to fade from view, and who we never heard from again. In this case, it was the director of the film, Ron Underwood. Whatever happened to that guy? Are they still alive? Are they still working? Why haven’t I heard from them since this one really good film I’m watching?

One shot at fame and fortune?

So, as the credits rolled at the end of Tremors, having thoroughly enjoyed re-watching the creature feature, I did a bit of research. What else did Ron Underwood do? Surely there were some other quirky little films to add immediately to my “to watch” list. And the results were somewhat disheartening. Underwood had indeed directed a big film afterwards, in City Slickers. It was an entertaining enough film – and perhaps a film that many people would consider superior to Tremors, for all its B-movie charm. However, that was really the high-point of Underwood’s directorial career.

The fact that he had directed the remake of Mighty Joe Young was disheartening enough, and the sure sign of a director whose career was in a downward spiral, but then I saw it – the genuine turkey: The Adventures of Pluto Nash. I suppose that a misfire like that would be enough to dent anybody’s career, and it certainly nearly finished Underwood as a feature director. He’s currently working in television and has directed episodes of shows like Heroes, Harry’s Law, Castle and Grey’s Anatomy. It’s a shame that he’s faded from view so completely – I know Pluto Nash was toxic in every sense of the word, but I can’t help but think that Tremors and even City Slickers showed more than a hint of talent. I felt a bit disappointed.

So bad, it's out of this world...

In fairness, that curiousity (and the inevitable disappoint that follows) is probably an experience unique to film fans. After all, we tend to get a bit obsessive. Regular people tend to recognise the names that appear above the title on posters, or who get named in the advertisements. Ordinary movie-goers first really noticed the name Rooney Mara, for example, when she appeared in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Movie fans like myself would have made a note to catch her name in the credits after the first scene of The Social Network. It’s that sort of movie mindset that makes this sort of trivia hunt so frustrating. People who watch lots of movies tend to assume that they can chart careers, that they have – from their hours of extensive research – collected the names and details of those “worth knowing.”

We like to assume, when we watch older movies, that those actors giving notable performances, or those directors or writers delivering notable films, automatically went on to bigger or better things – or at least went on to enjoy steady careers as quirky ensemble players. Of course, that doesn’t always happen, for any number of reasons. Perhaps the timing was wrong, perhaps they got a bigger project and it tanked, perhaps they retired – there are any number of reasons that anybody related with a given film might not have gone on to bigger or better things afterwards. It’s still strange to see – it’s especially disconcerting when you see a strange lead actor opposite a supporting actor who has gone on to greater things.

"This is our time... and possibly Rooney Mara's..."

I was flicking through the channels at the weekend and caught No Man’s Land. Admittedly, there’s no reason anybody should have heard of the film (it’s not that bad, but it isn’t too good either), but it was really weird to read the information text informing me that “D.B. Sweeney stars…” This is a movie featuring Charlie Sheen as the bad guy, with supporting turns from Bill Duke, Randy Quaid and M. Emmet Walsh, and I was left with a lead actor who I didn’t recognise. (In my defense, I’m not alone, the DVD cover does make sure to list Charlie Sheen first.) I hadn’t seen any of his supporting turns in earlier films, and a quick check of IMDb revealed that he had appeared on 24 a few years back, presumably in a small and forgettable role.

Of course, this is probably entirely subjective. There are probably huge fans of D.B. Sweeney out there, hugely offended that I first noticed his name over the weekend. But it’s still surreal to discover that there was an actor big enough to headline a film star several recognisable actors, but who faded so completely from view. Even more frustrating though, is the experience of literally watching actors careers decline before your eyes. I am not talking about the decline in the quality of the films produced by former dramatic heavyweights, but instead watching actors who played great roles in great films slowly fading from view.

"I'm sorry, Hollywood only has room for so many distinguished British actors..."

Malcolm McDowell is perhaps the great example of this. The actor has certainly produced a number of classic films. He was the headliner in A Clockwork Orange and If… One would imagine that this would more than count as paying your cinematic dues, and entitle you to coast gently on the esteem of those roles. Even if he was never going to headline a film, I’m surprised he hasn’t at least become a fixture of ensemble pieces, like Michael Caine has, for example.

While McDowell’s filmography shows a staggeringly impressive work ethic, I can’t help but feel that the actor never really got the profile he deserved – reduced to playing scenery-chewing villains in Star Trek: Generations and Tank Girl, as well as making cameos in films like The Player or Easy A or The Artist. It’s not even that his performances are bad, because he’s generally quite awesome (even if the project he’s working on is not), it’s just disappointing that he hasn’t enjoyed a proper shot at the limelight, and it feels like he’s slowly fading from view.

Don't hate The Player... (In fact, if you haven't seen it, watch it...)

Then again, I suppose that this is the flipside of the Hollywood generation gap I was talking about yesterday. While those who make it must inevitably find themselves replaced by younger and newer models, I guess some never get that chance to really make it in the first place. It’s just quite sad to look back and see talent that probably could have developed so much stronger.

3 Responses

  1. I always find it a little disturbing to watch an American film from, say, even the 80s and when I do some research on an actor in it, they have ended up in real estate or are an extra on Desperate Housewives. I mean, they may actually be quite content with their lives, but something tells me that career-wise, it wasn’t quite what they had planned. Perhaps they are happier when Hollywood-free and understandably so!

    • I kinda hope so. I choose to believe the same sort thing – that they aren’t around anymore because they don’t want to be, rather than because their career dried up. I don’t know why, but it makes me feel better.

  2. I feel the same about Malcolm McDowell. But he’s still doing good stuff. No one can’t love him in Franklin & Bash 🙂

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