Harry Dean Stanton : Character Actor

Note : this review is a contribution to What A Character! blogathon hosted by Once Upon A Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club.

Harry Dean Stanton : Character Actor

Harry Dean Stanton

When my ever lasting sickness of cinephilia infected me fifteen years ago, I was discovering many pans of cinema and many subtleties passed by me. One of my early discoveries was the 1986 Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas. Staring Harry Dean Stanton as an almost mute presence of a lone man walking and wandering around in life since his divorce with his wife (Natassja Kinski). Back then, I knew Kinski as the daughter of the famous Klaus but Stanton was a familiar face from David Lynch films but not much. Needless, to say that Wenders’ film left a great impression on me and Stanton forged a fascination for introspective characters and loners in cinema. Read here my obsession with Taxi Driver. Stanton’s performance still haunts me to this day and it is something at first that I couldn’t grasp that hooked me. Needless to say, but Wenders’ film is a masterpiece even if it’s a little early to put this crowning label, it generally takes thirty years to actually rank a movie as a masterpiece, I entirely assume my saying of this praise.
With this little introduction in my first real encounter or actual acknowledgement of the screen presence of Harry Dean Stanton, let’s have an overview of his career and his contribution to films.
Wenders' Paris, Texas


Active on screen since 1954, his first uncredited appearance was in the Alfred Hitchcock film staring Henry Fonda; The Wrong Man. Then he was on a row of television roles and minor film secondary characters like in How the West Was Won in 1962 to the Award winning Cool Hand Luke. He is also part of a favorite one mine : In the Heat of the Night by Norman Jewison. He also worked with infamous director Sam Peckinpah on Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, for Francis Ford Coppola on The Godfather Part II, on the sci-fi horror masterpiece Alien from Ridley Scott, and another great director on his resume is John Carpenter for his Escape From New York and Christine.
But it was in 1984 that he was billed as a repo man in the Alex Cox cult classic Repo Man and in the aforementioned Wenders masterpiece Paris, Texas. Those two roles are the most opposed performances by Stanton as the repo man is over the top acting while his subtle mute presence in Paris, Texas is an example of restraint and mastery.

David Lynch

In 1990, became his collaboration with the master that is David Lynch on the film Wild at Heart. They will work together again on Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me, The Straight Story, and Inland Empire. Stanton has been a perfect fit for Lynch’s eerie films set in a dreamlike reality and reclusive world. Especially, in the last and what seems to be the final film by the director, Stanton seems like a presence that is directly linked with Lynch’s vision and seems to be the architect behind the twisted plot that Inland Empire carries. Stanton brings a mysterious recluse character to life while being there is already a promess of classic Lynch.


Now at 89 years old, Harry Dean Stanton still has done a few cameos in The Avengers and Seven Psychopaths. He also was the subject of a documentary titled Harry Dean Stanton : Partly Fiction in 2012.

With more than 250 films in his career and many TV episodes it is needless for me to say that I only have grasped a small part of his work and long career. Many actors would sell father and mother just to have worked with a few of the directors he can claim on his resume. From Hitchcock to Lynch, to Francis Ford Coppola, to Wenders, to Scorsese, to Carpenter, to Gilliam, to Cox, to Rosenberg, to Ridley Scott, to Jewison, and many more. It not just seem that when Harry Dean Stanton is in the credits of a production you will be in for a noticeable film. This is what a great character actor does, it supports the leading cast and elevate the game to bring it to a superior level.

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