That Guy Dick Miller

You know Dick Miller, don’t you? He played that wannabe artist who murdered people into art in A Bucket of Blood. Never saw it? How about the sleazy resort owner from Piranha? The pawn shop owner who gets assaulted by the T-800 in The Terminator? Murray Futterman from Gremlins? If you’re still not sure who he is, don’t worry about it. The man has been in an endless stream of movies that once you see this documentary you’ll be saying “oh, THAT guy.”

In this loving tribute to the man’s career – still continuing after this documentary – we get to know more about Dick Miller through personal interviews and stories out of school. Even at 86 years old, the man is still going strong in both spirit and career. He stages a bit towards the end of picture that he’s thinking about retiring just as he answers the phone for another gig that he jumps at without question. During the filming of this documentary, Dick was in the middle of acting on a set with another legendary actor, Abe Vigoda (yes, he’s still alive). He just keeps plugging away and doesn’t seem to have lost any of that charm even with his wrinkled body and scruffier voice.

While there are plenty of great tales from the man behind the scenes – including a picture where he had to hold a monkey that kept assaulting him – it was more interesting to see what Miller did outside acting. He initially wanted to be a writer, writing several screenplays he would like to have sold. And while he didn’t sell many with the few he did turning out to be disasters, he still kept at it all these years. Dick’s wife shows off his packed filing cabinet stuffed with many scripts he has written. Look at the walls of his house and you’ll note some of his artwork. Dick spent just as much time drawing and doodling as he did writing – from sketches on scripts to large sheets of paper. His material is uniquely surreal – featuring twisted versions of the human form – and worthy of being in the likes of Heavy Metal magazine.

The interviews with his various colleagues and critics are mostly about them gushing over Dick’s warm presence and ease on screen. There’s certainly plenty of amazing stories to be told from his early years as Roger Corman regular to gem of a cameo for movies of the 1980’s – 1990’s. Some of my favorites include Dick Miller working with a rather fickle monkey and his unique experience on the set of Demon Night being surrounded by topless women. For a man who has been reduced to being a familiar secondary character, he certainly seems to have the most glowing spirit that never diminished with age.

But if you’ve somehow never seen a movie with Dick Miller, just what is his appeal? All of it comes from his natural presence. He’s attempted some different roles from the Corman era as a struggling artist and a sci-fi hero, but he’s far more memorable as the bright-eyed elder which he fits like a glove. He takes every role seriously from an acting perspective, but with a twinkle in his eye to let us know that he’s having fun no matter the project.

And what of his darker side? It’s hard to find, but Dick did have his struggles. During his early years, he aspired to be a writer, but it took a backseat to his acting. He managed to sell one script, but only after it was tampered with and nearly had his name removed from the credits. It’s easy to see why he stuck with more acting considering the work was more consistent and his name more widely known. Outside of some minor issues with contracts, Dick’s life seems just as sweet as the man himself.

The documentary maintains a casual and playful tone throughout with brilliant cartoons to dramatize the life of Dick Miller and the people around him. Plenty of movie clips are placed on display to make sure that any avid movie watcher will get a chance to point at the screen and remark “I remember that guy.” There’s even some astounding archival footage of Dick’s personal life and experiences on movie sets. All of this keeps the movie constantly moving and endlessly entertaining.

That Guy Dick Miller is a celebratory love-letter to the man who dominated the big screen in his own small way. That may not sound like the deepest of documentaries the way it doesn’t critically dissect his career. There are even parts of the movie where it feels as though you’re playing a game of Spot Dick Miller. But I couldn’t help getting caught up in his aura with this glowing tribute that is deservingly bestowed on such an actor. He’s funny, devoted, multi-talented and just a great guy to be around. I just recently saw him as a cop in the horror/comedy Burying the Ex – directed by his pal Joe Dante – and he certainly hasn’t lost that likable personality.

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