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Ghost of future past

Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow
By BRETT MICHEL  |  June 19, 2008

When film actor Keir Dullea turned up in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as the father of Angelina Jolie’s character in Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd, in 2006, I was not only surprised to see him again onscreen, but amazed that he wasn’t dead. (My apologies if you’re reading this, Mr. Dullea.) At 72, Janet Margolin’s co-star in the 1962 cult melodrama David and Lisa is alive and still filming, with a credited role in Griffin Dunn’s upcoming The Accidental Husband.

And so while this past Thursday evening found Hollywood star Mark Wahlberg appearing at the AMC Loews Boston Common for a benefit screening of his latest movie, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, I politely declined my editor’s request to cover the red-carpet festivities. You see, for film fans, a far more interesting event was, well . . . happening.

Across the river in Harvard Square’s venerable Brattle Theatre, Dullea, who has never been nominated for an Oscar, nor appeared in a Best Picture winner (Wahlberg accomplished both courtesy of The Departed) was sitting on the Brattle’s creaky wooden stage discussing his long career and answering audience questions prior to a 40th-anniversary screening of his best-known film, a movie that will surely outlive Martin Scorsese’s crime drama: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dullea’s star rose highest in the late 1960s, thanks to his portrayal of astronaut Dave Bowman in that enduring science-fiction classic.

While average moviegoers may not know his name, many who filled the Brattle’s seats knew Dullea’s film biography far better than I do, and I’m a professional movie critic. It was this unfamiliarity with the actor’s oeuvre since his reappearance as Bowman 24 years ago in 2010, Peter Hyam’s best-forgotten sequel, that led me also to politely decline Brattle Artistic Director Ned Hinkle’s 11th-hour offer to moderate the evening’s discussion. (Hinkle himself did a fine job filling the role.)

It was almost like seeing a ghost when Dullea (whose subtle wrinkles and silver hair possesses an eerie similarity to his aged visage near the conclusion of 2001) took a seat beside Hinkle, uttering the phrase “Open the pod bay doors please, HAL,” sending a slight chill down my spine.

Dullea took delight when presented with a certificate from the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce proclaiming June 12, 2008, as “Keir Dullea Day.” While the honor won’t eclipse working with Kubrick, it should provide better memories than his experience under director Otto Preminger on 1965’s Bunny Lake Is Missing.

Asking the audience if they’ve seen Preminger’s performance as the ruthless commandant in Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17, Dullea opined, “That’s him . . . on a good day.”

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