The "Jumping the Shark" Phenemonon

Discussion of the actors, directors and film-makers who 'made it all happen'

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moira finnie
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The "Jumping the Shark" Phenemonon

Post by moira finnie »

Jumping the shark: a metaphor that was originally used to denote the tipping point at which a tv show* or an actor's career moved from being innovative, novel and intriguing to a new phase, in which the actor repeated or parodied himself and, may even have become too cautious in his or her career choices. In other words, it was all down hill from this point.

I've asked this question on TCM, but I wonder if I might be permitted to frame this question here as well:
After viewing the excellent work of Kirk Douglas recently in Detective Story and Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival), both made in 1951, it occurred to me that I really preferred his acting in his earlier roles to that of his later films, especially those after about '63. What happened? While Douglas is always sort of entertaining, he seemed to go from being really edgy, relishing playing complex and even unlikable men, to, well, not to be overly critical, but more often, sort of preening, even rather smug, self-congratulatory fellows in such films as The Big Trees, The Heroes of Telemark or The War Wagon.

Don't get me wrong, I always like Kirk, and treasure the occasional Paths of Glory and Lonely are the Brave, as well as his wonderfully entertaining turns in such popcorn classics as The Vikings, but I do wonder: What happened? Was it just a consequence of getting older, more successful or worried about maintaining his star status above his acting prowess?

I understand that many may vigorously disagree with my reactions, but hope that you might offer your own opinion and offer some comments about other actors, actresses or directors whose careers seemed to have a trajectory similar to that of Mr. Douglas.

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Kirk Douglas, (center) acting up a storm, with Luis Van Rooten (left) & William Bendix(right), in Detective Story(1951).
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*"Jumping the Shark" was originally used as a phrase that described the impact of the episode of the program Happy Days in which Fonzie (Henry Winkler) literally jumped over a shark while on water skis. This is the cultural moment when the show and his character allegedly started to decline in quality. There's an amusing website called Jumping the Shark that many may be familiar with on the internet which documents these instances in tv shows.
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Post by ken123 »

Detective Story, Ace in the Hole, Champion and The Bad and the Beautiful are classic Kirk Douglas films. I think that he become successful and self - satisfied and took less demanding roles. His role in 7 Mays in Day was later in his career and not an easy one. Burt Lancaster gave a powerful performance in that one, as an ultra right wing Major ( LeMay ? ) planning a coup against a liberal President, Fredic March. Not that any such thing could ever happen !


" Happy Days " was always bad. I remember watching the first episode, and saying tha poort Tom Bosley, a Chicago native, will soon be out of work because this show is so bad. Some judge of popular culture I am . H. L. Mencken had the American public pegged correctly . :shock:
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Post by jdb1 »

Moira, I'd say that the end of John Barrymore's career reflected that phenomenon, but I think it may have been more deliberate on the part of the studio, recognizing that he wasn't the "Barrymore" of old.

His last few films were comedies, in which he parodied the Barrymore persona, to generally excellent effect, even if the films themselves aren't so great. I'm thinking specifically of "Midnight" and "The Great Man Votes," both very good comedies, and both stolen by Barrymore (although Virginia Weidler runs him a very close second in "The Great Man Votes").
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Post by pktrekgirl »

I can think of one annoying aspect of film-making that (thankfully) very quickly jumped the shark: this 60's obsession with the "Overture" and "Exit Music". David Lean was a big purveyor of this sort of thing...but there might have been others as well.

And personally, I find it extremely annoying.

There IS no greater fan of Doctor Zhivago than I - I've seen that film so many times I have whole pieces of dialog memorized. And I even love the music in the film.

But a 5 minute Overture where absolutely NOTHING happens is really kind of pretentious, IMO.

And of course, he does the same in Lawrence of Arabia.

And I've seen other films (not David Lean productions) that did the same thing. I think they were trying to communicate 'sweeping epic' or something...but all I can say is thank goodness for the FF button! :P
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Post by movieman1957 »

"Khartoum" also has the intro music. If memory serves me also "The Alamo" with John Wayne, "Ben Hur". I think they went primarily with epic pictures. That would certainly account for Lean's influence.
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Post by pktrekgirl »

^ Yeah...one of those 'gallery of stars' westerns has it too. And that one is particularly annoying because you can see 'creases' in the *still* picture of the river they use during the overture. It's divided into thirds by the creases...almost like creases in a magazine.

Very disturbing to look at for 5 minutes.
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"It could be worse..."

Post by Rusty »

moira,

I could go on and on about movie stars and the twilight years (career-wise). I mean, how many movie performer's careers end with a bang... like Spencer Tracy in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?

I could go on and on, but I won't. I will just mention a couple of people.

Last Sunday, I watched the Cameron Mitchell crapola movie Space Mutiny (1988). Only because the Space Mutiny I watched included a guy in a jump suit and a couple of robots cracking wise...I was able to stomach watching the entire run time of Space Mutiny. I know Cameron Mitchell was never an "A list" star. While watching Space Mutiny, I thought, "Cameron Mitchell. Space Mutiny. How sad. Hmm...well, what did Cameron Mitchell ever do that was good?". I had no answer to my question. So, I said to my wife (while watching Space Mutiny), "Cameron Mitchell in THIS junk? You know, it could be worse. It could be Claude Rains in a cheap-jack Italian piece of s***...". My wife agreed. She knew about Claude Rains.

Talk about jumping the shark. Claude Rains...The Invisible Man Claude Rains. The Notorious, Mr. Skeffington, Casablanca, Here Comes Mr. Jordan Claude Rains. Poor Claude Rains starring in the incomprehensible science fiction non-epic...Battle Of The Worlds (1961). How sad. Show business is a tough business.

I will note Mr. Rains picked himself up after his Italian job and starred in Twilight Of Honor (1963). A very good performance by Claude Rains in a pretty darn good movie.

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Post by SSO Admins »

ken123 wrote:Detective Story, Ace in the Hole, Champion and The Bad and the Beautiful are classic Kirk Douglas films. I think that he become successful and self - satisfied and took less demanding roles. His role in 7 Mays in Day was later in his career and not an easy one. Burt Lancaster gave a powerful performance in that one, as an ultra right wing Major ( LeMay ? ) planning a coup against a liberal President, Fredic March.
Speaking of jumping the shark, I gotta say that Burt Lancaster never jumped the shark. Over the last few months I've become a huge fan of his. I've never been all that interested in the time period where he did most of his movies, so he just kind of skimmed under my radar. I knew who he was, and I'd seen him in a few things, but never really realized what a great actor he was.

He's one of those really rare actors who continually challenged themselves to play difficult and not always appealing roles, when he could have just coasted through a career based on his physique and his teeth.

Amazing guy, with a great career. He wasn't getting starring roles toward the end, but he was still doing great work.
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Post by dfordoom »

jondaris wrote:Speaking of jumping the shark, I gotta say that Burt Lancaster never jumped the shark.
He's excellent in an underrated and almost forgotten film noir called I Walk Alone. I love him in Elmer Gantry too - a role that could easily have descended into caricature, but never does.
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Post by SSO Admins »

dfordoom wrote:
jondaris wrote:Speaking of jumping the shark, I gotta say that Burt Lancaster never jumped the shark.
He's excellent in an underrated and almost forgotten film noir called I Walk Alone. I love him in Elmer Gantry too - a role that could easily have descended into caricature, but never does.
I haven't seen I Walk Alone, but Elmer Gantry is an amazing movie. Shirley Jones is good in that too, which was a surprise to someone who grew up thinking of her as Mrs. Partridge.
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Post by Dewey1960 »

One classic example of a contemporary shark jumper would be none other than Jack Nicholson. Back in the late 60s and throughout the 70s Nicholson was constantly breaking the rules with films like EASY RIDER, 5 EASY PIECES, CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, KING OF MARVIN GARDENS, CHINATOWN, CUCKOO'S NEST, and THE SHINING. But beginning in the early 80s he seemed more interested in commercial blockbusters (A FEW GOOD MEN, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, HOFFA, AS GOOD AS IT GETS, SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE, ANGER MANAGEMENT), annoying star turns (BATMAN) and disappointing (to some) misfires (REDS, THE TWO JAKES, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE). Which is not to necessarily say that all of these films are without value; they simply seem to lack the early spark and fire that typified his thoroughly spectacular ascention to stardom. Even his most recent appearance in Scorsese's THE DEPARTED seems like an uninspired attempt to cash in on that previous cache.
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Post by dfordoom »

jondaris wrote:Elmer Gantry is an amazing movie. Shirley Jones is good in that too, which was a surprise to someone who grew up thinking of her as Mrs. Partridge.
I was surprised and impressed by Shirley Jones as well. Mrs Partridge as a hooker. Who'd have thought it?
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Post by Sue Sue Applegate »

Burt Lancaster in I Walk Alone and Elmer Gantry were wonderful showcases of his talent. But I think he is one actor who didn't "Jump the Shark" like Jondaris says. Lancaster was amazing in Field of Dreams. I think he had one of the best roles in that film.

And dfordoom, I think Shirley Jones was great in Elmer Gantry.
As I recall, Shirley had to audition or somehow campaign for the role because of her Oklahoma "good girl" reputation. Jean Simmons was also wonderful.
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