I confess—the first thing I think of Donald Sutherland as, when I think of Donald Sutherland, is “Kiefer’s dad.” I can’t help it. I own both Young Guns movies and The Lost Boys, and Donald Sutherland is the third person I’ve written about so far because I know I’m going to want to write about at least one of their kids at some point. I’m sorry. I can’t help it; I was born in 1976.
Still, there’s a lot to be said for Donald Sutherland beyond “Kiefer’s dad.” I mean, we are talking about a man who has 129 movie listings on IMDb, including three still unreleased, going back to 1963, when he played “Tall Man in Nightclub” in The World Ten Times Over, which I’d never even heard of. Haven’t heard of most of the cast, either. He’d done a little television before that, including such stirring credits as “Unhelpful Neighbour (uncredited)” on a British show called Man of the World.
However, it was probably Vernon Pinkley in The Dirty Dozen that brought him to people’s notice, and if it wasn’t that, it was of course Dr. Hawkeye Pierce in MASH. The internet in general probably remembers him best from the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or realistically, from that screen grab that gives away the ending. That’s fine; I’m not sure he minds.
These days, he is wonderfully leonine, with that long, somber face and long, snow-white hair and ever so slightly shaggy beard. Piercing blue eyes set in a craggy face. There are actually several roles I’d love to see him in because I think he’d look great in them, and his voice would be a pleasure in them as well. He’s got a good voice that has only gotten better with age.
I discovered, to my astonishment, that we are really quite lucky to have had him at all—and, yes, by extension Kiefer. He came down with three major illnesses as a child, two of them now vaccine-preventable. He had rheumatic fever, hepatitis, and polio. Any of the three could have killed him; admittedly, it’s more rare with both rheumatic fever and hepatitis, but it’s still possible. Certainly any of the three could have damaged his health irreparably. We’re lucky he came out of the three pretty much okay and has been able to give so many fine performances.
So okay, yes. I first think of him as Kiefer’s dad. That doesn’t mean I think it’s all he’s done or even necessarily the best thing he’s done. He’s done a lot of good work, and he legitimately deserves to be on this list for his own merits, not just so I don’t feel guilty about getting to the son before the father. If he weren’t good, I wouldn’t (eventually) feel guilty about it.