Dennis the Menace

Now word comes out of Ridgway, Colorado, that Dennis Weaver died on Friday, making him the true number three in the triptych of fine actors who left us last week. Though he’s certainly remembered for his Emmy-winning performance as Chester Goode (“Mis-ter Dil-lon! Mis-ter Dil-lon!”) on Gunsmoke (1955-1964), for me Weaver was most memorable in two of the finest films ever made: Orson Welles’ classic Touch of Evil (1958), where Weaver’s night manager of the Mirador Motel even out-creeps Norman Bates; and as David Mann in Steven Spielberg’s first film, Duel (1971), where he portrayed a not-so-nice “everymann” who encounters road rage (before it was fashionable) with a 40-ton semi. (A couple of ironies shared by Duel and The Night Stalker, which starred Darren McGavin, who also died last week: both were Movies of the Week and both were written for the small screen by Richard Matheson.) 

These edgy performances permitted Weaver to demonstrate (show off, even) that his acting chops weren’t dependent on the nice-guy image on which his celebrity was founded. It’s performances like these for which he’ll be missed.

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