It is really a pity that those of us Of A Certain Age encountered Charles Grodin in Beethoven and Clifford (neither of which, admittedly, I have myself seen) and therefore had it in our heads that he was a man who made terrible movies. I’m afraid I tried Ishtar when I heard of its reappraisal in recent years and still didn’t like it even a little. But as an adult, I can look at the idea that he rejected the role of Benjamin Braddock and not automatically recoil from the idea. Oh, I’m still not sure it was a good one, but I’m not appalled at the very notion?
And, yes, we also knew him as Nicky Holiday, scheming and sleazy brother of Diana Rigg’s Lady Holiday in The Muppets Take Manhattan. Which includes the fantastic slam “You know what? You can’t even sing! Your voice was dubbed!” Which of course it was, and the Muppet world is such that everyone in it knows. Though no one seems to know by whom. Still, he’s wonderful in that movie, and it’s kind of a shame that Child Gillian allowed her knowledge of how wonderful he was in that moment to be overshadowed by how awful he doubtless was in the other three. Which is surely more the fault of the script than Grodin.
Honestly, as I got older, I also should have remembered how much he did with an extremely minor part in So I Married an Axe Murderer. It’s a running gag in that movie that Anthony La Paglia’s character wishes he were more of a cop in a movie, and he is absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to commandeer a vehicle. Alas for him, the guy he stops is Charles Grodin’s nameless character, who knows his rights and adamantly is not going along with the whole thing. And he isn’t as excited as La Paglia, or as Alan Arkin as La Paglia’s boss is. Which makes it all the better for the audience, of course.
Another theoretically thankless role, this time with a name, is as Murray Blum in Dave. He’s the eponymous Dave’s best friend, an accountant. Frankly, the idea that they just bring in some random accountant to solve the country’s budget woes and it’s all okay is . . . the sort of simplified thinking you get of the politics in Dave. Which is okay; I like that movie, and I like Murray. He’s a good guy, but he’s also extremely practical, and it’s hard for him to get dragged along by Dave’s enthusiasm all the time because he knows that saying no makes him the bad guy.
It’s probably simplistic to say that his experiences on Clifford made him quit acting, though I am given to understand that working with Martin Short on that film was about as far from fun as it gets when you’re making a comedic, or theoretically comedic, film. But he did quit for a long time and had only just gotten back to it in the last handful of years. That’s nice, because you wouldn’t want that movie to be your legacy; far better to have a Law & Order episode under your belt after. I can’t say as I’ve actually seen any of the things he did in his career renaissance. Still, it’s nice to know that he had one. And his film debut was in the Disney 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a child; that’s an amazing thing to learn about him, no matter why I learned it.