Living legend Bill Murray turned 70 yesterday.
The golf-obsessed star of Lost In Translation, Ghostbusters and, personal favourite, Caddyshack, has lead one of the most diverse career paths in Hollywood history. While he’s better known these days for his Wes Anderson collaborations, crashing weddings and singing karaoke with strangers, Murray’s eclectic filmography has made him one of the most loved performers of the last forty years. Getting his start on Saturday Night Live, Murray graduated to the film business as a comedic actor, before evolving into a more dramatic performer with a willingness to try something different. In celebration of Murray’s birthday and long and varied career, here are five of his most underrated performances.
The Razors Edge
Adapted from W. Somerset Maugham’s novel of the same name (by Murray and director John Byrum), The Razors Edge was Murray’s first crack at a dramatic lead… But things didn’t exactly go as Murray had hoped. The film was universally panned upon its release and a box office bomb, but over the years The Razors Edge has gathered a cult following among Murray aficionados. Plot: traumatised by his experiences during the war and plagued with survivor’s guilt, Murray’s Larry Darrell leaves his fiancé and high paying job and travels to Paris and India in search of life’s meaning. It’s a depressing watch at times, but Murray injects the script with his trademark humour and gets the chance to flex his acting chops in a film that will have you questioning your own life choices.
Coffee & Cigarettes
Murray plays a coffee-obsessed version of himself in this weird short from auteur Jim Jarmusch’s anthology film. Working as a waiter, Murray gets into an unusual conversation with the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and GZA. The hip-hop duo advocates the drinking of caffeine-free herbal tea instead of the black stuff Murray drinks straight from the pot, while also helping cure his smoker’s cough by suggesting he gurgle oven cleaner. It’s bizarre, captivating and comes across as an artful nicotine PSA, but Murray is at his deadpan finest as he riffs with RZA and GZA in one of the films best sequences.
This modern retelling of the classic Charles Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol, finds Murray embracing his inner bastard. He plays Frank Cross, an ill-mannered television executive who’s nasty ways come back to haunt him when he’s visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past. Realising he’s been a shit heel, Cross—like Scrooge before him—rediscovers his Christmas spirit and makes amends with those he wronged, and the film ends with an upbeat and surreal rendition of ‘Put A Little Love In Your Heart’ by the cast and crew. Scrooged is a hilarious flick jam-packed with celeb cameos, great writing, and Murray in peak form after a four-year acting hiatus. Special mention must also be made of Bobcat Goldthwait, whose performance as the unhinged Eliot Loudermilk is fantastic.
Where The Buffalo Roam
If you think Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is the only Hunter S. Thompson adaptation, do yourself a favour and check out this little-seen 1980 film. Drawing from several of Thompson’s works—especially Thompson’s eulogy for Acosta, The Banshee Screams For Buffalo Meat—the film stars Murray as the gonzo journalist and depicts his close relationship with attorney Oscar Acosta throughout the 70s. Murray seems to enjoy himself in this slapped together project, but it’s akin to watching a bunch of non-related shorts edited together. Where The Buffalo Roam fails to deliver any real depth to Hunter’s character, Murray gives an engaging performance, and the Neil Young score and epic soundtrack‚—featuring Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Bob Dylan—makes Where The Buffalo Roam well worth your time.
The Man Who Knew Too Little
Another box office bomb that deserves more recognition than it gets, The Man Who Knew Too Little is a spy comedy with enough laughs to make you wonder why you never heard of it. Murray participates in an acting theatre class where a case of mistaken identity finds him hired as a hitman. Believing everything to be part of an extravagant production playing out in the real world, Murray gets caught up in an assassination plot involving Russian killers, crooked cops and a $3 million ransom. Hilarity ensues as Murray bumbles his way through events in a film that’s a combination of The Naked Gun and Johnny English.