Just a few words of appreciation for the late Robert Loggia, who passed away yesterday at the age of 85. The first word that popped into my head when I heard he had passed was irreplaceable. By this I don’t mean no one can fill his shoes, or that nowhere is there to be found an actor who can play his type (gruff, craggy, coarse Italian-American) but that we’ll miss him, we’ll want that face, that voice, those readings. Loggia had been around forever. And we want people who’ve been around forever to BE around forever.
Staten Island native Loggia broke into TV in the 1950s. Until the end of the 1970s, almost all of his credits were in television. Then, two things happened to raise his profile. One, as often happens with character actors who aren’t stars per se, after three decades of constant exposure he began to percolate up into everyone’s consciousness. And two, he aged in a terrific way. As a young man he had been almost but not quite handsome. As a middle aged man, his hair receded, his look got lean, the nose turned into a beak, he developed a sort of squint, his whole face sort of turned into a mask of fatigue, or disbelief, or disgust. Beyond this (and this is one of the reasons I think he was truly irreplaceable) was that he had an intelligence. By that, I don’t mean he had an intelligent look. He was clearly a bright guy. And I’ll be frank, not a lot of actors are. I’m working off of what I see on screen. Cast as doctors and lawyers and coroners and other professionals they spout lines they clearly don’t understand like so much gibberish, getting by on their good looks and our inability to catch up and call them on the fact that they don’t even know what they’re saying.
Loggia…knew what he was saying. Sounds like faint praise, but in Hollywood it’s really not. It’s quite rare. And it’s necessary in all sorts of surprising ways, if you want to get at something like the truth. For example, Loggia played many types of roles, but he must be best known for playing mobsters. It’s commonplace to portray hoodlums as idiots. And no doubt a good many of the soldiers are. But the guys at the top are at the top for a reason. They might be rough around the edges but they have a brain in their head. (This is also why we prized James Gandolfini). And what is true of mob bosses is also true of army generals and police detectives, which Loggia also specialized in. These guys might be pugnacious or bellicose, but it’s a mistaken choice (and rather a boring one) to decide, as Hollywood often does, that they are uniformly dumb (no pun intended). And Loggia’s intelligence was his transcendent quality, allowing him often to be believably cast against type, as say a scientist, or something, and that was always welcome.
So somewhere around 1980 he became THAT GUY, the perfect guy you needed for certain roles. Look at his rap sheet (haha, I mean his IMDB page): he guested on nearly every cop show there ever was, on one side of the law or the other. But his big breakthrough (I think) was his role as Al Pacino’s mentor and rival Frank Lopez in Brian DePalma’s 1983 remake of Scarface. (A movie that was thought laughable in its day, and remains so, but gains historical interest with every passing year). Then he begins to get high visibility roles. He’s Eduardo Prizzi in John Huston’s Prizzi’s Honor (1985), a detective in The Jagged Edge (1985, an Oscar-nominated portrayal), a union boss in Armed and Dangerous (1986), a police lieutenant in John Schlesinger’s The Believers (1987), and a CEO in Big (1988). In 1989, he got his own TV series Mancuso, FBI, which lasted a single season. He was memorable as an army general in Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day (1996). He plays two roles in David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997). On and on and on.
One of my favorite of his performances was in the obscure 1992 horror comedy Innocent Blood, directed by John Landis. In that film, Loggia plays a gangster who is also a vampire. Who else could do that? There aren’t many. Ya know how I know? Hilariously, his most recent film credit is in the film Sicilian Vampire, which was released just month. So now I have a vision of Loggia not dead, but undead, roaming the streets of New York at night in his limousine, in a panama hat and cape, searching for new victims. Don’t think of this as sacrilege. It’s a happy thought, a kind of Hollywood heaven.