The Best of Alan Arkin

Clips from the long and excellent career of one of our best character actors, who passed away last week

Actor and filmmaker Alan Arkin passed away on June 29 at age 89. In his over six decades in entertainment, Arkin received four Oscar nominations, and won Best Supporting Actor for 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine. From unlikely leading man in the 70s to in-demand character actor until his death, Arkin was a reliable presence on movie screens. His almost deadpan demeanor was equally suited to comedy and drama. Here are a few of his best moments:

The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming (1966)

This Cold War comedy envisions what would happen if a Russian submarine got stuck off the coast of New England and the townspeople assumed an invasion was underway. Arkin plays a Russian lieutenant leading the shore party who just wants to find a motor boat, push the sub free, and go home; of course, it’s not that simple. He made enough of an impression in his first major role to earn a Golden Globe and a Best Actor Oscar nomination.


Calypso Heat Wave (1957)

Arkin’s first screen appearance was with his band, The Tarriers, playing The Banana Boat Song (Which he co-wrote! Yes, that one!) in this low budget musical attempting to cash-in on the calypso music fad. The Tarriers performances are highlights in this B movie which also includes an early role for Joel Grey and two musical numbers from “Miss Calypso” herself, Maya Angelou.

Wait Until Dark (1967)

In this thriller, Arkin took on the job that no other actor wanted: to be mean to Audrey Hepburn. Sporting a haircut that only an evil person would choose, Arkin leads a gang of thieves looking for something hidden inside a blind woman’s apartment. While he often played gruff, even sometimes mean, Arkin rarely displayed true menace as he does here.

The In-Laws (1979)

In this classic comedy Arkin tries to get to know his in-law-to-be Peter Falk, and, as one does,  gets pulled into a scheme to sell US Mint engraving plates to a Central American dictator.


So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993)

Though he’s on screen for less than five minutes, Arkin’s turn as a supportive police captain is one of the best bits in this Mike Myers comedy.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

In this popular and critical darling about a family on a road trip to a child’s pageant, Arkin stole the show as the family’s heroin-using grandfather. This role ushered in the final era of Arkin’s career in which he was seemingly every filmmaker’s first choice to play the irascible old guy who’s quick with a one-liner (see: Sunshine Cleaning, Get Smart, Argo, Going in Style, Spenser Confidential). However, the role also provided Arkin the chance for uncharacteristically sweet moments with the film’s young star, Abigail Breslin.

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Lani Gonzalez

Lani Gonzalez has appeared as a guest programmer on Turner Classic Movies and occasionally writes about what she sees at Cinema Then and Now.

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