"Oh, Thank Jesus for Rene Auberjonois!"
When you think of actors in Hollywood who you really want to work with, who comes to mind? Miguel Ferrer? Bruce Greenwood? Jeff Fahey? Well, all of you can take those actors because there's only one guy I've ever just repeatedly wanted to work with as he is just so impossibly versatile - Rene Auberjonois.
Auberjonois has a new vehicle out in theaters that started yesterday and I must say, it is what you might refer to as an absolute high point in his career. It is the third movie in what I call the Auberjonois "Preacher-Trilogy" which began when he played Father Mulcahy in the "M*A*S*H*" movie and then when he played Father Kudos in "The Big Bus." With his role as Reverend Oliver in "The Patriot," Auberjonois has gone all the way.
In an odd coincidence, I almost added a footnote to this trilogy in the early 70's when both Auberjonois and I were looking for projects to attach ourselves to and weren't entirely averse to doing television. The pilot was called "Card-Sharpin' Preacher Man" and was one of the rare times when I was actually planning to do some directing of a script that I hadn't written myself.
Apparently Auberjonois, right off the success of "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," was nosing around for something to do next and as he had already recently done a television movie - "The Escape of the Birdmen" - he already was hot on the minds of small screen producers. I was approached by a couple of these producers and handed the script. Initially I turned my nose up at it. There were enough Westerns on television and one more show about a preacher who was also a top gambler. The preacher travelled the west beating out all the great poker players and then handed the money over to charity.
No, this wasn't the best script I'd ever heard of, but it did sound like it would be successful. In retrospect, looking at the success of something like "Maverick" or "The Wild, Wild West," it may well have been a successful show.
As things like this go, however, Auberjonois passed on the project and didn't really do a successful pic until "Hindenburg" a few years later, though he did a guest spot on a hilarious episode of "The Bob Newhart Show" a year later.
I, too, passed on the project and "Card-Sharpin' Preacher Man" disappeared completely off the map and was never done.
Yeah, that's about it - my one chance to work with Rene Auberjonois. At the time, I didn't really want to do television and apparently, neither did he. Looking back on where his career went over the next thirty years, I wish I had pressed the matter as we probably could've worked something out. The pilot probably wouldn't have sold as most don't (which would've been a good thing as I'm sure Auberjonois didn't want to get tied down), but that would just be one more great experience with an actor that I would've had and that's what it's all about, right?
In "The Patriot," Auberjonois plays the semi-clutzy preacher/title character (much like in "M*A*S*H*" and "The Big Bus") who rallies his town into fighting against the British during the Revolutionary War. He isn't the best fighter, but he learns throughout the movie. When he is killed by the evil leader of the dragoons, Col. Tavington, right before Tavington kills Gabriel (a supporting character played by Heath Ledger) Auberjonois hits the ground and in his last dying action, he tosses his flintlock to Gabriel in hopes that he will kill Tavington first (Gabriel shoots him, but it is hardly a kill shot. 20 minutes later, Mel Gibson's character Benjamin Martin kills Tavington with a bayonet).
So, "The Patriot" is a magnificent film that will be forever seen as a high point in Auberjonois' career. If he continues to play a preacher in further films, it will only add to his magnificent legacy. Three cheers for Auberjonois!
Four Stars out of Four (Excellent Auberjonois Vehicle!)
Any similarities between Smilin' Jack Ruby and legendary film director G. Gordon Castle are purely coincidental.
Starring Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Tcherky Karyo
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Reviewed by Smilin' Jack Ruby