When a character actor dies, you often look at his picture in the newspaper and say, ”Oh, yeah — I know that guy…he was in tons of stuff.” But sometimes you have a special memory — not a showy star turn, but a scene that just sticks with you. Richard Bright, who died at age 68 when a New York City bus struck him on Feb. 18, conjures one such vivid moment. It’s in Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway. The film’s antiheroes, robber Steve McQueen and his gal Ali MacGraw, leave a satchel filled with money in a train station locker, and Bright’s petty grifter (I doubt he has more than a couple of lines) steals the satchel out of habit, not knowing it contains a small fortune. He gets on a train and as it chugs out of the station, Bright opens the bag and sees stacks and stacks of cash. Now, this is great acting: Bright stares wordlessly at the money, not believing his luck, and his eyes start to glisten — you can’t tell whether he’s going to whoop with joy or cry. Instead, all he does is slam the satchel shut, pull it onto his lap, and he hugs that bag, looking out the train window and smiling. Of course, a few minutes later, McQueen will find him, sit down next to him, elbow-punch him in the face, and leave with the satchel; we barely see Bright again. But I’ll always see Bright in my mind, so criminally happy.
Posted March 10 2006 — 12:00 AM EST
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