by David Christopher Bell
It’s not his birthday, he didn’t die (at least not when this was written), and he doesn’t have a new movie out, but gosh darn it – let’s talk Bill Murray. He is, as we all know, the best person.
Today I wanted to try and find some more roles in the vein of The Razor’s Edge; just some odd, maybe funny/maybe not characters he’s played over the years that we all may have missed out on.
My goal here: to give you, at the very least, one Bill Murray role you didn’t know about, but would now really like to watch. Here we go…
10. Bill Murray The K & Man On The Street in All You Need is Cash/Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video
As a performance, there’s nothing too out of the ordinary here; it’s just Murray screaming and being Murray-like. That said – the hair as Bill Murray The K is pretty impressive.
No, the reason I wanted to open with these two is because they are the last Bill Murray bit roles that happened before “bit role” would turn into “cameo.” A member of SNL at the time, for better or for worse he was doing little parts in his colleague’s work. The result is two of the weirdest films you’ll ever see with Bill Murray in it. Want proof?
9. “American” in The Limits Of Control
Jim Jarmusch and Bill Murray are such a delightful pair. The reason is that Jarmusch specializes in a certain level of what some might call tedium in his work, brought on by his patient pacing style and simple story lines that often conclude inconclusively. Murray is the kind of guy that you can just stick on screen without a word of dialogue and manage to somehow act entertaining. So together, Murray seems to compliment the simple moments that Jarmusch creates.
In the case of The Limits Of Control, the role is brief, filled with profanity, and cut surprisingly short before it even begins. So in other words, exactly what you’d expect from this director.
8. Mayor Cole in City Of Ember
City of Ember is pretty much THX 1138 for kids. The world is an underground one, fearful of the toxic surface and corrupt from centuries-old tradition and power mongering as well as blatant incompetence. The big difference is that our supreme ruler is none other than Bill Murray, who serves as the film’s villainous mayor who hoards canned goods and like, chases kids around. It’s a weird film. The whole world is lit by hanging floodlights, which is the first big indicator that we’re seeing some kind of weirdo movie.
The whole look and feel is very Guillermo Del Toro/Jean-Pierre Jeunet but without the blatant weirdness, which makes it almost weirder in a way. Sticking Bill Murray as the bad guy in this world just makes it all more confusing to watch.
7. Lefty Schwartz in Coming Attractions aka Loose Shoes aka Quackers
First sign that a movie might have some kind of production problem is when it has three names. Coming Attractions seems like a great idea; a sketch comedy movie presented as a series of movie trailers could say a lot about the state of Hollywood while serving as a great canvas for hilarity, but considering that no one has heard of this film it probably didn’t work out that way. In fact, is this not also, more or less, the idea behind Movie 43? Maybe this is a cursed premise.
Anyway, Bill Murray’s bit is that of a death row inmate being shit on by fate while trying to find a tunnel out. The whole thing is downright bizarre, never concluding its own premise. And yet, it has Bill Murray, so that’s enough to ramp it up to “watchable.” “Interesting,” even.
6. Hunter S. Thompson in Where The Buffalo Roam
No one is going to blame you for not knowing about this film, however this is probably the most known “unknown” Murray role out there. After all, holy shit. The film itself was doomed from the start, optioned with Thompson’s blessing only due to his disbelief it would get made. When it actually did get put together, the script was so out of touch with the spirit of the original article it was based on (the obituary of activist Oscar Zeta Acosta) that almost everyone involved put more energy into having fun while making the film than actually making it.
Bill Murray overwhelmed himself in Thompson, who was on set as a consultant – but claimed have “wandered around and fired machine guns on the set” instead of actually consulting. Along with engulfing himself in the character, Murray also engulfed himself in water as he almost drowned when Thompson threw him in a swimming pool during a contest to see who could “out-Houdini whom.” So basically it’s a terrible movie as well as the best fucking production that ever happened.
5. Polonius in Hamlet
Watching Bill Murray do Shakespeare is like… it’s like watching a dog do Shakespeare. Firstly you’re surprised that such words can come out of their mouth, and secondly you’re surprised about how goddamn entertaining it is. If only he was able to ad-lib somehow – that would be amazing. He does, however, play with his inflection and movements it seems – making the part oddly his. When he waves away Laertes with a “The time invites you; go!” it sounds positively Bill Murray.
Then again, it’s hard to tell if he takes so many pauses in his lines for emphasis or because he has to keep remembering them. Either way is probably fine; that Shakespeare shit is just hogwash. It’s not even real words.
4. Frank Milo in Mad Dog and Glory
This film comes with a bonus: not only does Bill Murray play a ruthless yet sarcastic mobster who roughs up a timid police officer, but that officer is played by Robert De Niro. That’s right, De Niro gets beat up by Bill Murray, and also has the most awkward sex scene known to man with Uma Thurman. Like, really awkward – think drunken dog having sex with a bag of snakes. This film is all kinds of confusing awesomeness, and yet nobody I bring it up to seems to know it exists – it’s like that movie where Julianne Moore and McNulty can’t find their kids and it turns out to be aliens.
This was directed by the guy who did Wild Things, which probably also deserves a nod on this list as it features Murray as a slime ball lawyer in a neck brace. It’s weird to think that you can have both lesbian make out scenes and Bill Murray in the same film, as those two concepts exist in very different parts of my brain.
3. Happy Shannon in Passion Play
In this 2010 film made by the same guy who wrote Scrooged and the aforementioned Mondo Video, Bill Murray plays what is probably the closest you could ever get to an unlikable character – an abusive mobster named Happy Shannon who is gunning for Mickey Rourke’s girlfriend, a winged showie played by Megan Fox. Yeah, that’s actually the plot.
While not perfect, a lot of people seemed to miss the point of this film. When it was first reviewed by Variety it was panned for having gaps in realism, and at least one critic walked out of its first hour at its Toronto International Film Festival screening. The irony of both events is that, if you actually watch the ending, the purpose of the film and its lack of realism are actually explained perfectly.
Again, I’m not saying this film was perfect, rather that – at least these days – it feels like if people don’t instantly understand what they are witnessing right away they completely turn on it. I think back to high school watching films like Wings Of Desire and The Illustrated Man and having an appreciation for the weirdness, and the art of that. It makes me wonder if the same people, people like myself who praise those films, would praise them if they came out today. Also I was stoned out of my grill in high school so that… that probably played into it.
2. Ted Breughel The Sky Host in Nothing Lasts Forever
This is as perfect of a rare and bizarre combination as it gets. The film, based on the book of the same name, was directed by Tom Schiller – a writer for SNL. It starred Lauren Tom and Gremlin’s Zach Gilligan and included Dan Aykroyd and our man Bill Murray. It was made in 1984 and never officially released to DVD. While occasionally there are showings, there’s not much else you can do to watch this film, which features Murray as a sinister bus driver for a magical bus that goes to the moon. Yeah, that’s the kind of film we’re talking about here.
1. Johnny Blaze aka The Human Friggin Torch in Fantastic Four
This is so freaking weird that I wrote this entire list just to share it. Bill Murray was in a Fantastic Four radio show. Seriously that happened. ’Twas 1975 and a young Bill Murray was mere months away from becoming a member of Saturday Night Live. Until then he would do work for the 10-episode Marvel Fantastic Four Radio Show, a show that you can listen to right here.
In it, Murray depicts the Human Torch exactly like you’d imagine it: like Bill Murray. It’s so not the right role for him, and yet who cares? Brilliance.