Greatish Performances #46

raul greatish

#46 — Raul Julia as Gomez Addams in The Addams Family (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1991)

Movie screens weren’t big enough for Raul Julia. He started working in film in the early nineteen-seventies and picked up a few additional credits throughout the decade, but it is the stage work resume he built concurrently that better indicates the level of his talent. He delivered well-regarded performances in Shakespeare plays and earned four Tony nominations for his work as a lead actor in musicals, including two performances — in The Threepenny Opera and Nine — that almost immediately ascended to the level of iconic. The projection equipment in movie houses could make him larger than life, by literal definition. In truth, the camera diminished Julia. He needed a full auditorium that he could level his gaze upon, a mass of people to regale with his fervent energy, a whole world to play against.

In its basics, including the bare motivations that got it made, The Addams Family shouldn’t really be the project that gave Julia his finest showcase on film. Officially based on the odd, macabre cartoons by Charles Addams, The Addams Family more plainly cribs from the nineteen-sixties sitcom that drew from the same source material. The film was released at the mouth of of the river of constantly repurposed entertainment brands that carved the modern mindset of Hollywood studios. Playing Gomez Addams, the title family’s sartorially resplendent patriarch, wasn’t exactly a formidable test of the more intricate elements of Julia’s craft.  It was, however, a marvelous platform for Julia to unleash every iota of his jubilant creativity.

I can’t think of another film performance of the era — and very few when the search parameters are expanded to any era — that resounds with such evident delight. My perception of Julia’s personal feelings could be mistaken. Maybe playing Gomez was misery for him, or maybe it was purely a paycheck role, rousing no motivation in him to excel in his scenes of boisterous comedy. But Julia’s pure, unbridled gusto in every physical flourish and punchline launched like a verbal bottle rocket suggest otherwise. He is devastating charismatic and exuberantly devilish. Julia careens across The Addams Family like the screen’s last swashbuckler.

The Addams Family was a sizable hit, spawning a sequel. Julia wasn’t able to truly capitalize on his suddenly elevated status. Less than three years after the release The Addams Family, Julia died after a series of escalating health problems. He was only fifty-four years old. Coming so soon after The Addams Family, the news was a particular shock because one of the best ways to describe Julia’s performance in the film is as vibrantly, dazzlingly alive.


About Greatish Performances
#1 — Mason Gamble in Rushmore
#2 — Judy Davis in The Ref
#3 — Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca
#4 — Kirsten Dunst in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
#5 — Parker Posey in Waiting for Guffman
#6 — Patricia Clarkson in Shutter Island
#7 — Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise
#8 — Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
#9 — Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy
#10 — Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny
#11 — Nick Nolte in the “Life Lessons” segment of New York Stories
#12 — Thandie Newton in The Truth About Charlie
#13 — Danny Glover in Grand Canyon
#14 — Rachel McAdams in Red Eye
#15 — Malcolm McDowell in Time After Time
#16 — John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig and the Angry Inch
#17 — Michelle Pfeiffer in White Oleander
#18 — Kurt Russell in The Thing
#19 — Eric Bogosian in Talk Radio
#20 — Linda Cardellini in Return
#21 — Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King
#22 — Oliver Platt in Bulworth
#23 — Michael B. Jordan in Creed
#24 — Thora Birch in Ghost World
#25 — Kate Beckinsale in The Last Days of Disco
#26 — Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys
#27 — Wilford Brimley in The Natural
#28 — Kevin Kline in Dave
#29 — Bill Murray in Scrooged
#30 — Bill Paxton in One False Move
#31 — Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight
#32 — Essie Davis in The Babadook
#33 — Ashley Judd in Heat
#34 — Mira Sorvino in Mimic
#35 — James Gandolfini in The Mexican
#36 — Evangeline Lilly in Ant-Man
#37 — Kelly Marie Tran in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
#38 — Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit
#39 — Kristin Scott Thomas in The English Patient
#40 — Katie Holmes in Pieces of April
#41 — Brie Larson in Short Term 12
#42 — Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums
#43 — Jean Arthur in Only Angels Have Wings
#44 — Matthew Macfadyen in Pride & Prejudice
#45 — Peter Fonda in Ulee’s Gold

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