Just found out Larry Hagman died. He's best known for I Dream of Jeannie and Dallas. Both fun shows. Both dumb shows. Well, dumb can be fun, can't it? Remember Cousin Otto's New Year's Eve party? The one where your Aunt Hazel got so drunk she tried to play the harpsichord with your Uncle Lester's buttocks after he passed out over the pool table? Not too intellectually stimulating that, yet you laughed so hard you fell backwards into the goat cheese stuffed tomatoes. So let's not get snooty.
In his autobiography, Hagman referred to his success as a fluke. By "success" I'm assuming he meant fame and fortune. But what about artistic success? He was no Robert Duvall. But then Robert Duvall would have had a difficult time being Robert Duvall on Dallas. Was there perhaps a higher, more nobler fluke that skipped right by the rich and famous Hagman? A movie early in his career may offer a clue.
Fail-Safe came out in 1964, a couple years after the Cuban Missile Crises. In it, a malfunctioning Pentagon computer orders an attack on the Soviet Union. Unable to stop it (computers crashed even back then) President Henry Fonda offers to make it up to the Russians for the destruction of Moscow by dropping the Bomb on Manhattan. All's fair in love and nuclear war. Fonda dominates the following clip (as does the impending demise of the Big Apple), but keep an eye on Hagman as the interpreter who has to relay the opinions of the Soviet Premier to the President. This lowly White House functionary has been instructed by his boss to capture every little nuance of the Premier's comments, to not just interpret but to inhabit the Russian leader, right down to the accent. Actor Hagman is essentially playing a actor, and he's superb. Is the fear we see in his eyes his or the Premier's? Probably both.
SPOILER ALERT: This movie doesn't really have what you would call a happy ending:
Here's Larry Hagman many decades later at a Q&A session with Jeannie co-stars Barbara Eden and Bill Daily:
As Larry Hagman himself said, thank Gawd Jeannie came along