DVD: That Guy Dick Miller (2014)

July 12, 2019 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Indiecan / Uncork’d

Region: 0 (NTSC)

Released:  May 4, 2015

Genre:  Documentary / Film History

Synopsis: Affectionate, lively chronicle of prolific character actor Dick Miller, a longtime member of Roger Corman and Joe Dante’s respective stock companies.

Special Features: Outtakes (4:49) / Rick Baker Interview: “The Omnibus of Art” (4:04) / Home Movies: “Big Bad Mama” Set (8:34) + “Dick with Animals” (3:03) / L.A. Premiere Dec. 5-7, 2014 + Guest Q&As (48:33).




There have been documentaries on the faces and voices of character actors we’ve seen but can never place, but Dick Miller is a different animal – a hugely prolific character actor and emeritus magnus extremus longevitus of Roger Corman’s stock company who’s appeared in possibly 200+ films in a career than spanned 1955 to 2015.

Intending to work as a writer, the oft-told anecdote has Miller asking Corman for a job, but in need of only actors, Miller changed gears and made his debut as Tall Tree in the low budget western quickie Apache Woman (1955). Two further westerns followed, after which came It Conquered the World (1956), the first of many sci-fi / horror flicks for the iconic producer-director. Corman pioneered successful indie filmmaking outside of the major studios, and made his own mass of films, including the Poe series for American International Pictures, and later exploitation fodder for his own companies, New World, and later Concord.

Corman’s graduates included Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, Alan Arkush, Monte Helleman, Paul Bartel, and many more. As several worked their way from editors, assistant directors, and writers to directors in their own right, they noticed Miller kept showing up in both Corman’s and other people’s movies – so a few started to cast Miller as well, perhaps as a good luck charm.

Miller, who died in 2019 at the age of 90, worked in every genre in film and TV, but he’s best remembered as the star of A Bucket of Blood (1959), playing Walter Paisley, the untalented schnook who wanted to make art like the rest of the beatniks, and found his entry lay by killing and covering cadavers in clay. His second-famous role wasn’t just one, but the numerous bit parts in Dante’s films, spanning Hollywood Boulevard (1976) to Burying the Ex (2014).

That Guy Dick Miller began as a small featurette which prolific special features director Elijah Drenner was hired to make for a German special edition of War of the Satellites (1958), in which Miller enjoyed a rare role as a film’s leading egghead. While that SE was ultimately aborted, Drenner spent the next 2 years building up a body of interviews with Miller, peers, and associates to craft the definitive documentary on Miller, if not the life of a working character actor whose career went through several stages, and a longevity enjoyed by a select few.

Miller’s wife Lainie is the doc’s ostensible producer, hence the film’s very genial tone, and although the focus is almost exclusively on Miller’s film career – no mention of his navy service or interviews with the couple’s kids – That Guy is still an affectionate, lengthy, very funny journey as anecdotes and career steps are told through a series of interconnected interviews between main subject and the preposterous array of colleagues, including Arkush, Steve Carver, Julie Corman, Ernest R. Dickerson, Robert Forster, Zach Galligan, Mark Goldblatt, Robert Picardo, Fred Olen Ray, William Sadler, John Sayles, and Mary Woronov. There’s no shortage of film clips, stills, and rare home movies in the zippy 91 minute doc, and Miller’s two bothers fill in some family history.

Wife Lainie had an uncredited role in The Graduate (1967), but she remained a supporter and anchor to Miller’s career, and captured some off-camera moments with home movies. One rarity shows Corman during a brief period with major studio Columbia. During the making of A Time for Killing (1967), clashes with executives led to Corman being replaced by Phil Karlson (Scandal Street, The Phenix City Story, Kid Galahad). Miller had a small role in the star-studded production, as well as Corman’s prior Columbia film, St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967), a fantastic docu-drama which should’ve firmed up the director’s relationship among the majors.

Corman went back to AIP for another spate of films, but even after he ostensibly quit directing in 1971, Miller appeared in the former’s production, and managed to fulfill his original goal as a writer by penning TNT Jackson (1974), a Philippine-based production directed by Cirio H. Santiago. (Miller’s other writing credits are story for 1970’s Four Rode Out, and Jerry Lewis’ Which Way to the Front?)

They key to Miller’s success is a solid (if not stubborn) work ethic, never being far from the phone, taking a lot of gigs, and gifts for doing good work, creating memorable moments during limited screen time, and getting along with everyone. His sense of humour also spans doodles and assorted sketches (some of his jarringly provocative work is sampled in the doc’s second half) and raw jokes.

The flaw with many film-centric docs is that after the wild & fun periods are covered, what remains are the quieter segments as an artist steps back, refocuses, retires, and health issues take over. Miller worked until his mid-80s – a snippet from his deleted scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) is excerpted in the doc’s finale – and tied to the film’s Los Angeles premiere are screenings of key films and short intros and audience Q&As – segments which have been edited into a nearly hour-long montage.

The bonus materials are extensive, but the premiere bits are a mixed bag – the audio was recorded live but is low, and most of the anecdotes are better told in the film, so there is a strong level of redundancy to the material, lovely as it is to see Miller share the stage on different nights with Dick & Lainie Miller + director Drenner, Maltin, Michael Schlesinger, Dickerson, Rick Baker, Corman, and Jim Shemphill.

Excerpts from Lainie Miller’s home movies include filming a bank robbery and car chase during Carver’s Big Bad Mama (1974), which starred Angie Dickinson, on whose show Police Woman Miller had done a guest spot; and a short montage of Miller literally playing with lions and tigers at Tippi Hedren and Noel Marshall’s Shambala compound (which was the central location for the couple’s ill-fated 1981 eco-drama Roar).

The doc’s okay trailer is augmented by trailers for a quartet of Miller films, an extensive Photo Gallery, an interview with makeup artist Baker on working with Miller on Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), and outtakes of several interviews, including Forster retelling one of Miller’s exceptionally crude jokes.

While Miller has appeared in innumerable films, his appearances in Corman productions might be harder to track down; besides the obvious cult classics, many lesser known or less-regarded programmers tend to drift in & out of print on disc, although as they drift into public domain, rarities can be sampled in place of themed sets.

The DVD from Indiecan and Uncork’d features a sharp transfer, and Jason Brandt’s bouncy score adds extra zest to Drenner’s must-have doc for Miller fans and connoisseurs of Roger Corman’s oeuvre.



© 2019 Mark R. Hasan





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