Should you hear a few knowing chuckles from the viewer next to you at the start of Philadelphia’s courtroom sequence, don’t automatically assume your neighbor’s being crassly insensitive to the movie’s AIDS theme. He or she is probably just a film cultist momentarily distracted by the sight of the Dick Tracy-jawed fellow playing the judge: Charles Napier. Philadelphia director Jonathan Demme has cast B-picture stalwart Napier in every movie he’s made since they first worked together on 1977’s Citizen’s Band (a.k.a. Handle With Care), but fans of weird cinema know Napier best from his work with director/ breast fetishist Russ Meyer. Napier played starring or supporting roles in three Meyer films, most memorably as the impotent heavy in the 1974 Supervixens. Prior to that, this veteran of the Army’s 11th Airborne Division had been doing television work. ”I got my union card for holding a dog on an episode of Mission: Impossible, I think,” the affable Kentucky-born actor recalls. Napier’s career started to click when his work with the maverick Meyer earned him a powerful Hollywood patron. ”Alfred Hitchcock was a Russ Meyer fan. He got me a contract at Universal for a year, and I was assigned to a lot of different TV shows. That’s how I met Sylvester Stallone-we were both on an episode of Kojak, playing villains.” Years later, Stallone cast Napier as the Army bureaucrat who unwisely gets the goat of lone-wolf soldier Rambo in Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985). After Citizen’s Band, which chronicled the CB radio craze of the ’70s, Napier got a gig as spokesperson for Radio Shack; its corporate honchos may not have been familiar with his work for Meyer. Although he’s played memorable character roles in The Blues Brothers and The Grifters, Napier generally does % yeoman work in the low-budget action field, where the responsibilities don’t always end with acting. Calling from a shoot in New Orleans, he mentions that he has to go out that day ”and find a boat we can blow up.” -Glenn Kenny
Posted January 17 2015 — 3:29 AM EST
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