Saturday, December 8, 2012

31 Performances Ripe for Rediscovery (24) Stacy Keach in THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980)

"In order for life to have appeared spontaneously on earth, there first had to be hundreds of millions of protein molecules of the ninth configuration. But given the size of the planet Earth, do you know how long it would have taken for just one of these protein molecules to appear entirely by chance? Roughly ten to the two hundred and forty-third power billions of years. And I find that far, far more fantastic than simply believing in God."

Savannah born Stacy Keach was nearing forty when William Peter Blatty cast him the role of his career as the unforgettable Col. Vincent Kane, one of the most fractured and ultimately heroic characters in all of modern cinema.  A much-honored Shakespearean-stage performer, accomplished musician and television star Stacy Keach has had quite a life and career but, for me, his shining moment as an artist came under Blatty's startling direction in The Ninth Configuration, a film and book that has haunted me for most of my adult life.  
Keach began his film career in 1968 with a part in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a film that was originally going to star Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor.  Throughout the seventies Keach rotated successfully between the big and small screen and he found work with such heavyweight filmmakers as John Huston, Robert Altman, Ridley Scott and even Sergio Martino!  While Keach arguably wouldn't become a 'star' until his run as television's 'Mike Hammer' in the eighties his screen run in the seventies is still quite impressive and has many rich performances worthy of rediscovery.  
The plum role of Blatty's doomed Col. Vincent Kane was an ideal one for a Shakespearean trained actor like Keach as it had all the tragic, dramatic (and even comedic) elements of the best of Shakespeare's characters.    Amazingly Keach hadn't been Blatty's first choice, although he had been for The Exorcist's Father Damien Karras, a role which Keach famously turned down. In Blatty, Keach found a rare modern writer with a dazzling handle of the English language, a perfect ear for dialogue and a rare insight into the human psyche and soul.  While the whole ensemble cast of The Ninth Configuration is quite astonishing, Keach's performance as the crazed 'Killer Kane' (who is either in charge or, or a ward of, an isolated asylum) looking for spiritual redemption is particularly miraculous and unbelievably rich.  
One of the great modern films, The Ninth Configuration was greeted with a mixture of praise, scorn and bewilderment upon its initial release and Keach's Oscar worthy work was lost in the shuffle.  Re-released in a variety of different versions since, The Ninth Configuration can currently be seen in a DVD version that has some marvelous extras but a lousy transfer.  A fully-restored Blu-ray of Blatty's masterpiece is much-much needed.  

Now in his seventies, Stacy Keach continues to work steadily and always provides excellent work no matter how small the role or slight the material.  More information on his life and career can be found here at his official site.  For more on The Ninth Configuration please visit this comprehensive site.  

-Jeremy Richey, 2012-

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