February 3, 2023

20. The Seven Percent Solution (1976)

A rather strange and atypical role for Duvall in which he may not have been well cast. He plays a Brit, Dr. Watson, sidekick to Nicol Williamson’s legendary detective Sherlock Holmes in this non-canonical fanfiction story (a genre critic Gilbert Adair dubbed “shlock Holmes”). Watson is convinced that Holmes is suffering from cocaine-induced delusions (due to ingesting his “7% solution”), takes him to Sigmund Freud – and they end up solving a case.

19. Pendulum Blade (1996)

A tiny, unsympathetic, and perhaps uninteresting Duvall role in this breakout movie from writer-director-star Billy Bob Thornton, who plays Karl, a 40-year-old mentally challenged man who has just been released from a psychiatric hospital and killed his mother and her lover with the “sling blade” of the title. In a key scene, he confronts his menacing, almost silent old father (Duvall) about the abuse that traumatized him. Thornton doesn’t give Duvall much to do, perhaps thinking he would get terribly upset.

18. The Conversation (1974)

This is essentially a cameo for Duvall, and yet his presence here is a testament to how iconic he already was. Coppola’s classic of paranoia has Gene Hackman as the shabby surveillance expert hired by Duvall’s mysterious, shadowy “Director” to spy on his wife, who appears to be dating another man. Hackman obsessively replays an overheard conversation between the two and senses the director’s oppressive presence.

Powerful debut… To Kill a Mockingbird.
Powerful debut… To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo: pr

17. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

This was the 31-year-old Duvall’s screen debut, playing the troubled but misunderstood recluse Arthur “Boo” Radley, who fatefully rescues Jem and Scout and becomes analogous to the vulnerable mockingbird of the title. Duvall didn’t have much to do, but he maximizes every second on screen, and the role introduced audiences to the testosterone of a born character actor.

16. True Grit (1969)

Going up against John Wayne is a challenge for any actor, but young Duvall did it in the original True Grit, playing “Lucky” Ned Pepper, the infamous outlaw pursued by Wayne’s aging one-eyed gunfighter, Rooster Cogburn. “I intend to kill you in a minute, Ned!” shouts Cogburn. “Or see you hanged in Fort Smith in front of Judge Parker. Which one will it be?” Duvall’s villain sneered brashly, “I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man” – sparking a hair-raising gunfight.

15. The Paper (1994)

Duvall excels in aging authority figures (often with a short-tempered little boy in his care who needs to be kindly schooled), and the cantankerous newspaper editor is a role he was born to play. In Ron Howard’s underrated editorial drama, Duvall plays Bernie White, the editor of a New York tabloid called The Sun. Stricken with a prostate cancer diagnosis, he hopes his overworked protege Michael Keaton doesn’t sacrifice his life to work the way he did.

14. A Civil Suit (1998)

Robert Duvall garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his mature stage thief in this courtroom drama, playing Jerry Facher, a shrewd corporate lawyer who works for the bad guys — big corporations accused of polluting the city’s drinking water. John Travolta plays the crusade lawyer who acts for the families, but Travolta’s performance is no match for Duvall’s crafty, folksy, grandfatherly old man with the instincts of a cobra.

13. The Judge (2014)

More legal eagle shenanigans for Duvall, who plays a scheming but charming old judge sidewinder, now ailing. When he’s charged with murder, he realizes there’s only one lawyer who can get him out: his son, a smartmouthed, big-city business owner, played by Robert Downey Jr, from whom he’s long been painfully estranged. They will have to heal their wounds before the trial begins: a grand turn from Duvall.

With Lukas Haas in Rambling Rose.
With Lukas Haas in Rambling Rose. Photo: Ronald Grant

12. Walking Rose (1991)

This is a classic mid-period Duvall in the kind of solid studio drama that used to be bread and butter in Hollywood. He plays Mr. Hillyer, a friendly pater familias in Alabama during the Depression; he and his wife (Diane Ladd) out of the goodness of their hearts take in a young girl to become a maid. This is Rose, played by Laura Dern, whose unsophisticated sexuality soon causes problems. Duvall was a bit let down by the mother-daughter team of Ladd and Dern, but his on-screen presence is irresistible.

11. Getting Low (2009)

Duvall is deep into his crusty oldster phase in this film: route-one casting, perhaps, but with some laughs and all very well executed. He plays Felix Bush, a mean old reclusive man, based on a real Tennessee character from the 1930s, who one day decides to fake his death to hear what the townspeople will say at the funeral: played a cynical undertaker by Bill Murray falls in with the plan. It stands out as a broad black comedy, but Bush turns out to be a complex human individual.

10. Colors (1988)

The LAPD has repeatedly been Duvall’s habitat (see True Confessions), and in this Dennis Hopper-directed drama about the gritty streets of South Central, he’s a straightforward cop who takes on the gangs. But he has to contend with his brash and deeply annoying young partner (Sean Penn), who acts like a gangster. In some ways, he’s a priestly figure, out to save Penn’s police soul.

Playing pompously… M*A*S*H.
Playing pompously… M*A*S*H. Photo: Moviestore Collection Ltd/Alamy

9. M*A*S*H (1970)

On the TV show, uptight Commander Frank Burns was played by Larry Linville for fun as a prudish jerk, but it wasn’t quite the same story in Robert Altman’s original movie. Duvall plays him as a charmless, pompous, incompetent rule fetishist, taunted by Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland) about his illicit relationship with “Hot Lips” Hoolihan. Burns, a dark, gloomy figure, goes on the offensive and is led away in a straitjacket.

8. True Confessions (1981)

Duvall and Robert De Niro get the best of each other in Ulu Grosbard’s intelligent film, co-written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, and based on Dunne’s novel inspired by the Black Dahlia case. Duvall plays a tough LAPD detective in the 1940s haunted by a corrupt past he has left behind. His younger brother is De Niro’s idealistic young Catholic priest, who receives donations from a somewhat shady businessman. A gruesome murder brings the two into a mutually anguished confrontation.

7. The Great Santini (1979)

Duvall brought out the darkness with this stellar role as US Marine Corps officer “Bull” Meacham, a military aviator who is admired on base but feared and even hated by his family back home because of his drinking and temper. He has a habit of playing one-on-one basketball games with his teenage son Ben and cannot accept it when Ben ends up beating, bullying and humiliating him in an unwatchable scene.

THX 1138.
THX 1138. Photo: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy

6.THX 1138 (1971)

George Lucas’s dystopian and pessimistic pre-Star Wars sci-fi is set in a Huxley-esque future world of white-clad individuals with numbers instead of names, where a police state enforces law and order with android agents and emotion-suppressing drugs . (The weird vibe was mocked by Woody Allen in Sleeper.) Duvall plays a factory technician named THX 1138, imprisoned for having sex with his roommate, who escapes. It’s a fiercely dramatic, romantic and sexual role for Duvall, perhaps the closest he’s ever come to an action leader.

5. Network (1976)

In this satirical classic from screenwriter Paddy Chayevsky, Duvall plays the cynical, hard-hitting TV executive Frank Hackett, who is electrocuted by the realization that his deeply depressed newscaster Howard Beale (Peter Finch) has become a coast-to-coast hit by threatening suicide. . live in the air. Hackett doesn’t care about his employee’s mental health, only ratings.

4. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Before there were memes, Duvall became one with his short but sensational performance as Lt. The Ride of the Valkyries. In theory, it’s to fly Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) and his men over, but it’s all too clear he just wants an excuse for a whooping and screaming cavalry charge. He later crouches down to address the men: “I like the smell of napalm in the morning!” – adding with a mysterious hint of regret – “There will come a day when this war will end.”

With Tess Harper in Tender Mercies.
With Tess Harper in Tender Mercies. Photo: Photo 12/Alamy

3. Tender Mercies (1983)

Duvall received his Best Actor Oscar for Bruce Beresford’s Tender Mercies, in which he plays Mac Sledge, a country singer who has lost his wife, daughter and career to booze. He wakes up broke and hungover in a Texas motel, persuades the manager (Tess Harper) to let him stay and eventually marries her. It’s a beautiful, soft performance by Duvall, who has a great singing voice and performs two songs of his own composition: Fool’s Waltz and I’ve Decided To Leave Here Forever.

2. The Godfather (1971) and The Godfather Part II (1974)

Duvall’s Tom Hagen in The Godfather is one of his subtlest and most misunderstood performances. A mild-mannered, self-effacing consigliere for the Corleone crime family, it is he who is responsible for the most macabre and legendary act of violence in Godfather canon. When Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone orders him to fly to Los Angeles to put pressure on a certain movie producer to cast Vito’s godson, the Sinatra-esque singer Johnny Fontane, Tom decides with deadpan composure to stab a horse’s head in to place the man’s bed.

The apostle.
The apostle. Photo: Moviestore/Shutterstock

1. The Apostle (1997)

This was Duvall’s own passion project, as a writer, director, producer (in the sense of putting in his own money), and star. But this isn’t just any vanity piece: it’s a truly awesome and scandalously neglected classic. Duvall plays the charismatic Christian preacher EF Dewey, who has lost his wife and children to his drinking. When he drunkenly beats his estranged wife’s new boyfriend to death with a baseball bat, he goes on the run and ends up in Louisiana, where he starts a new church and becomes a beloved figure in town – until the police catch up with him. it. It’s a beautiful, almost Hardy-esque story, and Duvall is fantastic.

This article was modified on December 8, 2022. Robert Duvall was 31 when he starred in To Kill a Mockingbird, not 21 as an earlier draft said.

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