I’ve been familiar with Keir Dullea’s work for over thirty years... Yet I never considered myself a fan. He was, I suppose, too handsome for my taste, too collegiate, too Ivy League, too Kennedyesque. I’ve always preferred gnarly character actors to pretty boy movie star types. And yet, as the camera tracked by him in The Good Shepherd, I had him pegged at first glance. I even called out “Hey, that's Keir Dullea!” and in that moment felt an inexplicable rush of affection.
" /> I’ve been familiar with Keir Dullea’s work for over thirty years... Yet I never considered myself a fan. He was, I suppose, too handsome for my taste, too collegiate, too Ivy League, too Kennedyesque. I’ve always preferred gnarly character actors to pretty boy movie star types. And yet, as the camera tracked by him in The Good Shepherd, I had him pegged at first glance. I even called out “Hey, that's Keir Dullea!” and in that moment felt an inexplicable rush of affection.
" /> I’ve been familiar with Keir Dullea’s work for over thirty years... Yet I never considered myself a fan. He was, I suppose, too handsome for my taste, too collegiate, too Ivy League, too Kennedyesque. I’ve always preferred gnarly character actors to pretty boy movie star types. And yet, as the camera tracked by him in The Good Shepherd, I had him pegged at first glance. I even called out “Hey, that's Keir Dullea!” and in that moment felt an inexplicable rush of affection.
" />

Dave… is that you, Dave?

Keep an eye out for Keir Dullea within the crowded frames of Robert DeNiro’s The Good Shepherd (2006). Dullea’s patrician bearing and cold, senatorial stare are put to good (albeit limited) use in the small role of Angelina Jolie’s politician father. The actor appears in a few scenes, has no real dialogue, is given one significant bit of business (ushering a sexually betrayed and understandably enraged Jolie out of a Skull & Bones sit-down dinner) and then he’s gone, killed off offscreen; the place card acknowledging the passing of his character gets the close-up he never did.

The Good Shepherd

I’ve been familiar with Keir Dullea’s work for over thirty years, having seen most of his important film roles and even the oddball sci-fi TV series, The Star Lost, he did in Canada in 1973. Yet I never considered myself a fan. Dullea was, I suppose, too handsome for my taste, too collegiate, too Ivy League, too Kennedyesque. I’ve always preferred gnarly character actors to pretty boy movie star types. And yet, as the camera tracked by him in The Good Shepherd, I had him pegged at first glance. I even called out “Hey, that's Keir Dullea!”

David and Lisa

In that moment, I felt an inexplicable rush of affection for the man. I’d be hard pressed to name one distinctive physical trait Keir possesses and yet, as anonymous as that makes him sound, he is instantly recognizable. The son of Greenwich Village bookshop owners, Dullea made his film debut as a juvenile delinquent in The Hoodlum Priest (1961) but it was as an emotionally disturbed youth in David and Lisa (1962) that put him on the Hollywood map. Dullea’s prickly haptephobe is tough to like but you wind up not only rooting for him to get his life together but to fall in love with schizophrenic fellow patient Lisa/Muriel (Janet Margolin).

Bunny Lake is Missing

Third-billed in Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), Dullea got to play the Ugly American as the sardonic journalist brother of a fragile woman (Carol Lynley) whose child goes missing after her first day in a London pre-school. Dullea gets many good scenes and some tart dialogue exchanges with star Laurence Olivier and seasoned troupers Martita Hunt, Clive Revill and Anna Massey. Stephen Lake's almost mathematical Yankee bluntness is a tonic to the maddening British understatement that seems to slow the investigation… until one begins to suspect that Stephen's directness hints at an essential cruelty. Dullea was off to Canada next, for The Fox (1967), an adaptation of the D. H. Lawrence story starring Sandy Dennis and Anne Heywood as a pair of college chums whose unnatural closeness is compromised by the arrival of Dullea’s alpha dog. Despite the beautifully stark winter settings, the piece is dreary and deterministic, with Dullea firmly in Big Weirdo mode.

2001

The role with which Keir Dullea will be associated from now ‘til the end of time is astronaut Dave Bowman in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Dullea gets star billing even though his character doesn’t turn up until 57 minutes in. Dave Bowman is Dullea’s ultimate cold fish role and yet, for all that has been written about 2001 over the course of the last forty years, little has been dedicated to Dullea's acting. Mission commander Dave Bowman is one of Dullea's least complicated characters, yet it is his essential aloofness that makes him such an unlikely and worthy hero. Fearing what he dare not say aloud (under the deadly custodianship of supercomputer HAL 9000) and then daring to go where no man has ever gone before, Dave is a subtle tour de force for the actor. Never rising above a 5 on the intensity meter, Dullea nonetheless convincingly portrays a mere mortal whose mind is blown from here to infinity.

De Sade

Keir Dullea’s star ascendancy was solidified with the lead role in American International Picture’s randy biopic De Sade (1969). Based on a screenplay by Richard Matheson (taking a tip or two from Fellini), De Sade was to have been directed by Gordon Hessler but was passed off to the more rugged, less cerebral Cy Enfield. Allegedly Enfield balked at shooting the requisite orgy scenes and so Roger Corman was flown in to take the reins of the ribaldry. Whomever gets the credit, De Sade's sex scenes are its weakest link; shot through a red filter, these fleshy vignettes are rich on lusty laughing and hard kissing but very poor on the unfettered copulation or transgression that would seem to be the main attraction. And yet… the film shows Keir Dullea at the top of his game, finally shedding the chilly Otherness that characterized his early film roles. Dullea seems to really be enjoying himself and his combative scenes with John Huston (as Louis Alphonse Donatien’s avuncular corruptor) are worth the price of admission.

Black Christmas

De Sade’s failure at the box office seemed to seal Keir Dullea’s fate as a leading man. Cutting his losses at home (where ethnic actors like Al Pacino and, interestingly enough, Robert DeNiro were getting the plum roles), Dullea returned to Canada for a number of interesting but distinctly B-grade films (Welcome to Blood City with a pre-comeback Jack Palance) and the continent for guest starring roles in poorly-received art house productions (Pope Joan with Liv Ullmann) and the occasional thriller (as Mia Farrow’s disbelieving stuffed shirt of a husband in The Haunting of Julia). A favorite among cult film fans is his turn as a temperamental pianist and red herring in the murder of sorority girls in Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974). Dullea returned to the stage in the mid-70s and to television, where his career had started (he was a suave master criminal out to “steal” a famous Paris landmark in The Hostage Tower); his last big film role was as the now-spectral Dave Bowman in Peter Hyams’ workmanlike 2001 sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984).

Maybe I had Keir Dullea wrong all those years ago.  Looking back on his long career, maybe he never really was that pretty boy I typed him out as.  Maybe he was really a character actor all along.  It's great seeing him on the big screen again. Now in his 70s, Keir Dullea looks a lot like they made him up to appear in the final frames of 2001: a little grayed, a little wrinkled but still strapping, dead-handsome, icily imperious… and even a little weird. 

18 Responses Dave… is that you, Dave?
Posted By Mel : June 30, 2007 10:48 am

"Don't touch, touch can kill!" David and Lisa is my favorite Dullea performance because it's his most emotional. Generally though he's a cold fish and I can't separate the characters he plays from the actor. You're right. He was positioned as a leading man but he always behaved like a character actor. And despite the pretty boy looks there was always something odd about that face…those icy eyes, a blankness that was hiding possibly insanity or something worse. That's why I always suspected him as the psychopathic killer in the original Black Christmas. 2001 always amused me because Hal and Dave are kindred spirits. They're both robotic. I should probably catch The Good Shepherd to see if all the intervening years have added a touch of humaness to his persona.

Posted By Mel : June 30, 2007 10:48 am

"Don't touch, touch can kill!" David and Lisa is my favorite Dullea performance because it's his most emotional. Generally though he's a cold fish and I can't separate the characters he plays from the actor. You're right. He was positioned as a leading man but he always behaved like a character actor. And despite the pretty boy looks there was always something odd about that face…those icy eyes, a blankness that was hiding possibly insanity or something worse. That's why I always suspected him as the psychopathic killer in the original Black Christmas. 2001 always amused me because Hal and Dave are kindred spirits. They're both robotic. I should probably catch The Good Shepherd to see if all the intervening years have added a touch of humaness to his persona.

Posted By Jeffrey Allen Rydell : July 1, 2007 3:44 pm

I always found Dullea's role in BLACK CHRISTMAS disquieting because of the character's quite coincidental (and ultimately superficial) resemblance to Ted Bundy.There's, of course, no intentional resemblance - Bundy wasn't yet so much as a suspect in the murders being investigated.  Nonetheless, he was at the height of his activity at the time the film was made, and could have had some impact on the conception of the film – his crimes were extremely unusual for the time, and made headlines up in Canada for sure. Dullea's mask-like handsomeness, his barely-subsumed rage, his (common) turtle-necked fashion sense, the snowy climes and collegiate milieu all put me in mind of Bundy. If you've ever read anything on the case, it's hard to avoid the comparison.Add to this, that a few years later, Bundy escaped custody, broke into a sorority house in the dead of night, and attacked and/or killed  several coeds, and the retroactive resemblance just gets more uncomfortable. 

Posted By Jeffrey Allen Rydell : July 1, 2007 3:44 pm

I always found Dullea's role in BLACK CHRISTMAS disquieting because of the character's quite coincidental (and ultimately superficial) resemblance to Ted Bundy.There's, of course, no intentional resemblance - Bundy wasn't yet so much as a suspect in the murders being investigated.  Nonetheless, he was at the height of his activity at the time the film was made, and could have had some impact on the conception of the film – his crimes were extremely unusual for the time, and made headlines up in Canada for sure. Dullea's mask-like handsomeness, his barely-subsumed rage, his (common) turtle-necked fashion sense, the snowy climes and collegiate milieu all put me in mind of Bundy. If you've ever read anything on the case, it's hard to avoid the comparison.Add to this, that a few years later, Bundy escaped custody, broke into a sorority house in the dead of night, and attacked and/or killed  several coeds, and the retroactive resemblance just gets more uncomfortable. 

Posted By Brent : July 3, 2007 5:18 pm

I think Kerr Dullea's wildest role was in "Paperback Hero", a loony Canadian movie from 1973. He's the macho star of an industrial-league hockey team in a tiny town out west His entire life revolves around women, beer and westerns (he's actually nicknamed "Marshall"). This is KERI DULLEA? The intellectual underplayer? The funny thing is, he nails the character. It's difficult for an intelligent man to play a buckethead, but Dullea is so convincing that when he get's arrested – and uses his one phone call to order Chinese food – you're not surprised. (P.S. this is the movie that the song "If You Could Read My Mind" came from).

Posted By Brent : July 3, 2007 5:18 pm

I think Kerr Dullea's wildest role was in "Paperback Hero", a loony Canadian movie from 1973. He's the macho star of an industrial-league hockey team in a tiny town out west His entire life revolves around women, beer and westerns (he's actually nicknamed "Marshall"). This is KERI DULLEA? The intellectual underplayer? The funny thing is, he nails the character. It's difficult for an intelligent man to play a buckethead, but Dullea is so convincing that when he get's arrested – and uses his one phone call to order Chinese food – you're not surprised. (P.S. this is the movie that the song "If You Could Read My Mind" came from).

Posted By RHS : July 4, 2007 12:15 am

We shouldn't forget that Dullea grew up in Greenwich Village; he was 20 or 21 when Jack Kerouac's On the Road was published and I'd bet the Beats had some influence on his upbringing.  It's just that he had a square look that worked for Camelot America (and which of course served him very well in 2001).  So I'll bet it was a hoot for him to do Paperback Hero and play something of an iconoclast.

Posted By RHS : July 4, 2007 12:15 am

We shouldn't forget that Dullea grew up in Greenwich Village; he was 20 or 21 when Jack Kerouac's On the Road was published and I'd bet the Beats had some influence on his upbringing.  It's just that he had a square look that worked for Camelot America (and which of course served him very well in 2001).  So I'll bet it was a hoot for him to do Paperback Hero and play something of an iconoclast.

Posted By Bernardo González : February 21, 2008 12:56 pm

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Posted By Bernardo González : February 21, 2008 12:56 pm

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Posted By Athena : March 15, 2008 8:43 pm

Kier duella is a pretty good actor. iv seen clips on the internet.

Posted By Athena : March 15, 2008 8:43 pm

Kier duella is a pretty good actor. iv seen clips on the internet.

Posted By stephanie : September 29, 2008 5:10 am

I think Keir Dullea is underrated and incredibly gifted. I just watched him in Hoodlum Priest tonight, and he was marvelous. There was absolutely NOTHING cold or aloof about his ex-convict, clutching a gun and terrified for his life. Oh, and the great line toward the end of the film, “I wish I was being born.” He was amazing. From an actor’s perspective, his performance in 2001 was subtle, restrained and intense – so different from Billy facing his mortality in Hoodlum Priest (shaking, screaming). The kind of performance Keir gave in 2001 is INCREDIBLY difficult to play convincingly. He did it beautifully and is one of two primary reasons 2001 is considered a masterpiece (the other reason being of course Kubrick’s brilliant direction). I really wish he had been given more opportunities as a film actor.

Posted By stephanie : September 29, 2008 5:10 am

I think Keir Dullea is underrated and incredibly gifted. I just watched him in Hoodlum Priest tonight, and he was marvelous. There was absolutely NOTHING cold or aloof about his ex-convict, clutching a gun and terrified for his life. Oh, and the great line toward the end of the film, “I wish I was being born.” He was amazing. From an actor’s perspective, his performance in 2001 was subtle, restrained and intense – so different from Billy facing his mortality in Hoodlum Priest (shaking, screaming). The kind of performance Keir gave in 2001 is INCREDIBLY difficult to play convincingly. He did it beautifully and is one of two primary reasons 2001 is considered a masterpiece (the other reason being of course Kubrick’s brilliant direction). I really wish he had been given more opportunities as a film actor.

Posted By rhsmith : October 1, 2008 10:46 am

I’m in agreement with you on this, Stephanie. 2001 is a subtle tour de force for the actor. And there’s a lot of humor in his performance that I don’t think he gets credit for. Viva Dullea!

Posted By rhsmith : October 1, 2008 10:46 am

I’m in agreement with you on this, Stephanie. 2001 is a subtle tour de force for the actor. And there’s a lot of humor in his performance that I don’t think he gets credit for. Viva Dullea!

Posted By susan Cinoman : May 21, 2009 10:22 pm

Keir Dullea stars this summer in “All Me, All the Time” with his wife, Mia Dillon and daughter of Shirley Maclaine, Sachi Parker. A comedy about divorce and the empty nest on the edge.

Posted By susan Cinoman : May 21, 2009 10:22 pm

Keir Dullea stars this summer in “All Me, All the Time” with his wife, Mia Dillon and daughter of Shirley Maclaine, Sachi Parker. A comedy about divorce and the empty nest on the edge.

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