EIFF: That Guy Dick Miller

Anyone heard of a guy called Dick Miller? Well, the name may not be readily familiar, but his face certainly will be. For almost 60 years, Dick Miller has been one of the busiest actors in Hollywood, with a list of credits that run into the hundreds!

So the documentary film “That Guy Dick Miller” pays an affectionate tribute to this likeable, if unlikely, movie star, who has worked his way through B movie dross to big budget blockbusters. The film turned out to be a surprisingly warm-hearted and funny salute to a man whose presence has graced both the best and the worst of what Hollywood can offer. His wife, his brothers, and numerous actors, writers and directors shower him with glowing praise for his professionalism and sheer durability, in an industry that can be, well, somewhat fickle in its appreciation.

Yet so well thought of is he within the film business that the cry often goes out from directors and producers like so: “If you can’t get me a Dick Miller type – then get me Dick Miller!”

He first emerged as a film presence in a number of Roger Corman’s early films that have, over the years, attained cult status (as Dick himself has). He made his debut way back in 1955 with a (very) low budget western called “Apache Woman” in which he appears (complete with a decidedly dodgy wig) as an Apache – then, in the very same film, also pops up as a cowboy – minus wig. Other credits during this time included the likes of “A Bucket Of Blood”, “War Of The Satellites”, “Not Of This Earth”, “The Little Shop Of Horrors” and “The Terror”. In “The Terror” he shares the screen alongside veteran horror star Boris Karloff, as well as a very young actor called Jack Nicholson.

The documentary manages to shed light on the life of a prominent supporting character actor, blessed with average everyman looks, and someone that the audience can warm to immediately. Now well into his eighties, he is still working, and still waiting for the phone to ring offering him yet another role, in yet another movie.

So this turned out to be a fascinating insight into the life and career of an actor (and sometime screenwriter) who has existed for so long alongside the fringes of stardom. Fondly remembered as a figure from their movie-going youth, he is now looked upon by a number of contemporary filmmakers as almost a “lucky charm figure” helping to bring recognisable believability to a film. As well as giving them the opportunity to say “I’ve worked with Dick Miller”.

Speaking personally, I first encountered Dick Miller on screen back in the early eighties, when he played “Mr Futterman” in the Christmas classic “Gremlins”. Since then, he has appeared as a constant fixture in the films of Joe Dante. And even if he only appears in a couple of scenes, he always makes an impact with his New York twang, and good-natured average Joe persona.

This was a lovely filmic tribute to a fine actor, and the kind of modern day equivalent to the old studio contract player, that always prompted the question from regular filmgoers: “Is that guy in the film, you know, what’s his name?”

Lawrence Lettice