We all have our favorite actors that we've carried with us since childhood. Every movie fanatic has a dozen or more (fine, maybe hundreds) but among my particular generation (and perhaps the one that preceded it) few "character actors" are as widely respected as Mr. Robert Duvall. He's absolutely one of those "I'll see whatever movie he's in" actors, which means I've seen a ton of his films. Gathered below are a handful of Mr. Duvall's best moments. You can find dozens more just by picking through his filmography.
'To Kill a Mockingbird' (1962) -- He played Boo Radley! And it was his very first film! (Read Peter Martin's views on this auspicious debut right here.)
'True Grit' (1969) -- Played a great villain in the original film. And not the dumb one, either. The role played by Barry Pepper in the remake.
'M*A*S*H' (1970) -- Before Larry Linville took over the role on television it was Robert Duvall as the pious but very annoying Major Frank Burns.
'The Godfather' (1972) & 'The Godfather Part 2' (1974) -- These go without saying, but Duvall's Tom Hagen is an absolutely essential part of these classic crime thrillers, and the actor has no problem playing a relatively decent man who works for a den of thieves. (First Oscar nomination: 'The Godfather')
'Network' (1976) -- As a TV executive who's more than happy to put a suicidal man on the evening news, Duvall is a royal hoot.
'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' (1978) -- What a strange, creepy little cameo appearance.
'Apocalypse Now' (1980) -- "I love the smell of napalm in the morning!" This is what we call a 'force of nature' performance, and man is it fun. (Second Oscar nomination)
'The Great Santini' (1981) -- Just a quiet little "people drama" about a powerfully bull-headed father, but man is Duvall something to see here. (Third Oscar nomination)
'True Confessions' (1981) -- Duvall and De Niro play brothers; one a cop and the other a priest. Guess which is which.
'Tender Mercies' (1983) -- Sounds like a snoozer (a drama about a country singer's comeback) but it's really anything but. (Fourth Oscar nomination; first win)
'The Natural' (1984) -- Even in an ensemble this great, Mr. Duvall stands out as a skeptical sportswriter who also has a soft side.
'Colors' (1988) -- Duvall and Sean Penn play two tough cops in the gang-laden streets of Los Angeles.
'Lonesome Dove' (1989) -- Perhaps it's a cheat to include a television mini-series, but this is truly one of the best. Doubly so if you love westerns.
'Stalin' (1992) -- Another cheat, since this one's a cable movie. But MAN was this an impressive portrayal of a historical figure who's usually presented in caricature.
'Falling Down' (1993) -- It's mostly Michael Douglas' show, but even when playing "a cop on the cusp of retirement," Robert Duvall brings something special.
'The Man Who Captured Eichmann' (1996) -- Here's another cable movie semi-cheat, but hey: Robert Duvall has done some darn fine work on the small screen too.
'Sling Blade' (1996) -- Duvall's work late in this film is really quite haunting. Impressive and a little bit disturbing.
'The Apostle' (1997) -- The performance is one thing, but Duvall also wrote and directed this fascinating character study of a preacher who seeks redemption, but might not deserve it. (Fifth Oscar nomination)
'Deep Impact' (1998) -- Not the most exciting "end of the world" flick out there, but you have to respect a big sci-fi adventure film that hires Robert Duvall as its action hero.
'A Civil Action' (1998) -- Leave it to an actor like Robert Duvall to get the role of "callous corporate attorney" and turn it into the most fascinating person in the whole film. (Sixth Oscar nomination)
'Gone in 60 Seconds' (1999) -- Typical Bruckheimer wackiness, but as usual Robert Duvall adds some rascally charm to even the silliest movies.
'Assassination Tango' (2002) -- A strange but engaging tale of a veteran hit man distracted by a beautiful woman. And dancing. (He also wrote and directed this film too.)
'Open Range' (2003) -- Something about Robert Duvall and westerns just goes together really well. Fortunately Kevin Costner knew what to do with the man.
'Secondhand Lions' (2003) -- A fairly slight family film, but Duvall and Michael Caine are just a joy to watch together.
'Broken Trail' (2006) -- Another (way) better than average "made for TV" western, and not just because Duvall is in it.
'Crazy Heart' (2009) -- He and Jeff Bridges share a few scenes that are worthy of framing.
'Get Low' (2009) -- As a man trying to pre-plan his own funeral, Duvall strikes a fantastic balance between bittersweet and just plain old ornery.
And if you think that's a lot, just look at some of the flicks we passed over: 'Bullitt' (1968), 'THX-1138' (1971), 'Joe Kidd' (1972), 'The Eagle Has Landed' (1976), 'The Seven Percent Solution' (1976), 'The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper' (1981), 'The Stone Boy' (1984), 'Days of Thunder' (1990), 'Rambling Rose' (1991), 'Newsies' (1992), 'Geronimo: An American Legend' (1993), 'Wrestling Ernest Hemingway' (1993), 'The Paper' (1994), 'Something to Talk About' (1995), 'Phenomenon' (1996), and 'John Q' and 'The Sixth Day' and 'Kicking & Screaming' and 'Thank You For Smoking' ... and more. Many more.
Oh, and here's a really weird Robert Duvall moment. It comes from a 1963 episode of 'The Twilight Zone.'
So clearly you can see why a movie freak of a certain age would be crazy in love with the work of Robert Duvall. Actually, scratch that ... a movie freak of any age. The man's as entertaining today as he was 25 years ago. And just as prolific.
From everyone here at Cinematical & Moviefone to a man who feels like a beloved family friend after all these years: Happy 80th Birthday, Robert Duvall!
(Top photo credits: Universal ('To Kill a Mockingbird'), Paramount ('The Godfather'), Warner Bros. ('The Great Santini'), Lionsgate ('Apocalypse Now' & 'Tender Mercies'), Sony Pictures Classics ('Get Low')