Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Robert Loggia (1930-2015)

The recent death of the great Robert Loggia is an irreplaceable loss to Hollywood filmmaking. Though he was never a leading actor, he did star in a TV detective show, Mancuso FBI in 1989, which unfortunately did not attract enough viewers to be renewed. I watched the show religiously and though it was one of his signature roles. His only other staring television vehicle was for Walt Disney, 10 episodes in which he played the western lawman Elfego Baca. But while he was never a romantic lead, his career as a character actor is one of the most impressive in the last fifty years. Loggia was born in New York and began his career as a TV anchor in Panama. Soon after returning to the States he began an extensive series of guest spots during the sixties on television programs as diverse as Wagon Train, The Untouchables, and the soap opera The Secret Storm. It was in the seventies that he really solidified his credentials as a first call actor in crime dramas. Beginning with a guest shot on The FBI in 1970, he made similar appearances throughout the decade on Kojak, Mannix, Harry O, Ellery Queen, Columbo, SWAT and Police Woman.

Loggia’s first significant film role came in a crime spoof, The Revenge of the Pink Panther in 1978, though he continued television appearances in The Rockford Files, Starsky and Hutch, Hawaii Five-O, and Quincy. He returned for two more Pink Panther sequels in the eighties, but really stood out onscreen in the remake of Scarface with Al Pacino. My first acquaintance with the actor came in Psycho II, the sequel to the great Hitchcock film. Loggia played the psychiatrist for Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates, and again performed the duties of a detective as he attempted to figure out who was trying to drive Perkins crazy again. His next big film role was as the investigator for Glenn Close’s attorney in The Jagged Edge. This, to me, was Loggia’s best film role. He’s abrasive, and coarse, and yet has a heart as big as a mountain for his former boss, and the role earned him his only Oscar nomination. After an appearance as the mob boss in Prizzi’s Honor, he made a change of pace appearing in the Tom Hanks film Big as the CEO of a toy company that hired the grown up child played by the star. The iconic moment in the film is when he plays “Heart and Soul” with his feet as a duet with Hanks on a giant keyboard.

Two other minor roles I remember seeing him in were as a general in Independence Day, and a mysterious neighbor in the Scandinavian mystery Smilla’s Sense of Snow. But no matter what film roles he accepted, he always continued to appear in television--like The Sopranos--to the end. Loggia worked virtually up until his death from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease and still has a few projects in post production. The power of his presence onscreen is undeniable. But he also knew how to work with other actors to bring out the best in their performances. He was ironically strong and tender at the same time, able to shout down his enemies and yet show his vulnerable side to the characters he cared about. Though he was never won an Oscar, he didn’t need to. His work speaks for itself. Robert Loggia was one of the most recognizable faces on either screen and he will truly be missed.

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