by Eric Levy

Created 02/14/13

Edit List

9/16/17: It is with a heavy heart that I share the news of the passing of Harry Dean Stanton yesterday at the age of 91. I created this list not just as a testament to a great actor, but because Harry Dean's performances have touched me in so many ways. 91 is a ripe old age, and we can certainly enjoy his legacy through his work, but it's a tragic loss. Rest in peace Harry Dean. Thank you for everything.

For my part, I will continue to maintain this list. Hopefully Criterion will honor his memory by continuing to release his films. The only changes I've made are to move PARIS, TEXAS to the top of the list (the rest is still chronological), so Harry Dean's face adorns the banner image, and re-wording the next paragraph slightly (gotta use past tense now):

I've noticed there are very few Criterion lists devoted to particular actors (though the number has increased since I created this list), so I thought I'd start this one about one of my favorites: Harry Dean Stanton. Stanton was an American treasure. He was a remarkable actor who tended to redeem any movie he was in—however marginal otherwise. Happily, he usually chose excellent films. He was in seven of David Lynch's projects, and the list below stands as further testament to his knack for appearing in important movies. If you haven't seen any of these, Harry Dean's performance alone makes them worth it.

"I wanna dance with Harry Dean
Drive through Texas in a black limousine"
Debbie Harry, "I Want That Man"

PS. 7/12/14: HDS fans, I just saw the documentary HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION. Fantastic! Don't miss it.

2/18/15: Added THE ROSE.

Cross-references to my other lists are included in the notes.

Personal statistics: S=Seen, D=Own on DVD, B=Own on Blu-ray Disc. Totals: Films 9, Seen 9, Own 7, DVDs 2, BDs 5.

  • 1984 (S/B) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Swing; What Is Cinema?; Cinéarts 6

    Wim Wenders obviously understood Stanton's acting talents and couldn't have made a better choice for the lead in this harrowing, beautiful drama written by Sam Shepard. Stanton plays a middle-aged man who comes to terms with his past, and his performance is haunting. He would appear with Shepard in another film Shepard wrote a year later: Robert Altman's FOOL FOR LOVE. (Side note: co-star Nastassja Kinski made her film debut in Wenders's early film WRONG MOVE.)

  • 1966 (S/B) Cross-reference: Hints

    So exciting to finally add a new title to this list! I haven't seen THE SHOOTING and RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND in over 20 years, and I certainly wasn't aware of "Dean Stanton" (his credited name in RITW) at the time. The funny part is, those two were the first Westerns I ever saw. I was expecting the genre to be boring, and I remember thinking, if this is what Westerns are like, they're amazing. Little did I realize I was seeing something completely revisionist. I will write more about this one after I watch the Blu-ray. Thrilling release!

  • 1971 (S/D) Cross-references: NFR; JR

    Stanton plays a gay hitchhiker in just two brief scenes in this masterpiece from the under-heralded Monte Hellman, but they're hilarious and pretty compassionate given the era. Stanton and Warren Oates have terrific chemistry, as they do in Hellman's later COCKFIGHTER (also brilliant). This film is a must-see of early '70s American independent cinema and a great example of Stanton's mastery of the short-but-crucial appearance in a film, the best of which is in Lynch's THE STRAIGHT STORY. (Criterion PTB: PLEASE release more Hellman films, especially his early anti-Westerns RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND [1965] and THE SHOOTING [1966], both of which feature Jack Nicholson who also wrote RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND, which features Stanton.)*

    *I'm leaving the above paragraph intact, the way I originally wrote it when I created this list. It's nice to have a wish come true :-)

  • 1979 (S/D) Cross-references: JR; I Caved; Upgrade; Sinister Preachers; Lyrics

    One of Stanton's best roles and best performances is as Asa Hawks, a sinister preacher, in this astonishing adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's amazing novel. Easily Huston's best film, and I realize that's saying a lot.

  • 1979 (S) Cross-reference: Theme Songs

    I haven't seen this since it came out and barely remember the film, much less Harry Dean's performance in it. Will report back after I re-watch.*

    *10/22/17: Finally re-watched this. Didn't like it much. Harry Dean gives another of his cameo performances. He's reliably good, but it's an underdeveloped character. For completists only...

  • 1984 (S/B) Cross-references: Hints; Theme Songs

    REPO MAN and PARIS, TEXAS were Stanton's only two lead roles until LUCKY in 2017, which is a terrible shame, but at least we have these three. I'm so happy REPO MAN has joined the Criterion family; it is clever and hilarious. Stanton had an underused flair for comedy. Just thinking about him saying "Never mind about that, right now we gotta get both my cars out of this bad area" still cracks me up.

  • 1988 (S) Cross-references: Greenaway 2; Swing

    I like Scorsese a lot and love several of his films (THE KING OF COMEDY is my favorite). This one I've never been so crazy about, though you sure can't beat the cast. Stanton plays Saul and does his usual fantastic job.

  • 1992 (S/B*) Cross-references: Hints; Swing

    Talk about an underrated film! Happily, it is finally getting recognized for the masterpiece that it is now that TWIN PEAKS has been revived. Harry Dean plays Carl Rodd, the trailer park supervisor, and he's amazing, shifting from crotchety to mysterious in a heartbeat. His work with Lynch stretches from THE COWBOY AND THE FRENCHMAN in 1988 to 2017 with a reprise of his FWWM role in the third season of TWIN PEAKS.

  • 1998 (S/B) Cross-references: Hints; Swing

    I have to admit, I haven't seen this film since it came out. I loved it at the time, and Gilliam is definitely one of my heroes, but to be honest, I don't even remember Stanton in this one. He plays a judge, which alone sounds pretty tantalizing. I own this on Blu-ray, so I'll add more details after I re-watch it.

    4/12/15: I finally re-watched this. Still a great film! Harry Dean gives one of those blink-and-you-miss-it performances, but as usual, he's completely amazing. He's the judge in a disturbing fantasy sequence, where, wielding an axe for a gavel, he sentences Gonzo and Duke to "Double castration!"


  • By Eric Levy
    March 21, 2014
    06:05 AM

    Thanks for the comments Scott and Alexander! Glad to know there are are other Harry Dean fans out there. Please check out my other lists too. And thank you Criterion for featuring this one on the home page!
    • By Alexander Miller
      March 26, 2014
      10:39 AM

      My pleasure, It's also a pleasure to see someone else talk about Monte Hellman, and how awesome his films are. How cool would a double pack of The Shooting, and Ride in the Whirlwind be? Maybe China 9, Liberty 37?
    • By Eric Levy
      March 26, 2014
      12:03 PM

      All great films! (Though I have to admit, I saw IGUANA and found it rather silly, but that's definitely the exception with Hellman's work.) You know, there were plans for a Blu-ray release of THE SHOOTING and RIDE THE WHIRLWIND on some small label last year. It fell through at the last minute, and the titles seem to be in limbo now. Criterion stepping in would be very exciting. Fingers crossed.
    • By Eric Levy
      April 11, 2014
      06:14 AM

      Looks like some wishes do come true:
  • By Davey32
    April 01, 2014
    08:38 PM

    I love that you have a list all about Harry Dean Stanton. He is arguably the greatest character actor of all-time. Film history is so much better for having him.
    • By Eric Levy
      April 02, 2014
      02:26 PM

      Thanks Sidney! He sure is a marvel. I just re-watched Lynch's extraordinary epic INLAND EMPIRE, and Harry Dean is of course fantastic in it as usual. It's great to know there are so many other fans.
  • By JustinDW
    April 09, 2014
    08:49 PM

    What a wonderful idea for a list! No actor is more deserving. Stanton is simply phenomenal. No matter the size of the role, he captivates. His cameo in The Avengers was a highlight of a huge movie chock full of stuff. A true cinematic living legend. I'll have to check out the ones I have not seen!
    • By Eric Levy
      April 10, 2014
      10:07 AM

      Thanks Justin! I haven't seen THE AVENGERS, and until now didn't have much interest, but if Harry Dean is in it...
  • By JustinDW
    April 12, 2014
    08:28 AM

    For a big, dumb Hollywood movie, The Avengers is quite a lot of fun. He's in it for about one minute, but has one of the more memorable moments.
  • By Alexander Miller
    April 16, 2014
    06:27 AM

    I just saw Cockfighter for the first time, great stuff! I hope that too will have a spine number, along with .......... THE SHOOTING!!!!!! (Thank you for the link)
  • By JAH
    July 04, 2014
    12:36 AM

    • By Eric Levy
      July 07, 2014
      05:55 AM

      Wow! Great catch. You know, I own the BBS box set, but haven't watched all of them yet (including this one). I know Nicholson and Harry Dean were friends, so that shot doesn't surprise me. Though since he's not actually in the movie, I'm not adding it to this list.
    August 16, 2014
    11:30 PM

    That man is a cinema gold mine
  • By Stephen Castro
    August 24, 2014
    09:31 PM

  • By Stephen Castro
    August 24, 2014
    09:40 PM

    Yes a remarkable "Natural" actor. His performances never seem to be, well, performances! It is like he is actually living that life and the film just sort of........ sprang up around him! I remember him in "Kelley's Heroes", billed as Dean Stanton, Small part, great lines, and playing harmonica! "Kinda reminds ya of home don't it Willard?" "Kinda Does!"
    • By Eric Levy
      August 26, 2014
      01:21 PM

      Thanks for the comments Stephen. I haven't seen KELLEY'S HEROES yet, but it sounds great. Harry Dean plays guitar and sings in COOL HAND LUKE too.
  • By eleven
    February 17, 2015
    07:45 PM

    You can add THE ROSE now!
  • By Eric Levy
    February 18, 2015
    02:02 PM

    Thanks eleven! I never wold have remembered that one. It has been added. So is your name a SPINAL TAP reference?
    • By Collection
      February 18, 2015
      04:31 PM

      Glad to see you're keeping this list current, as well. Any new lists in the works for 2015 or just plans to develop existing ones?
  • By Gaydn_Deceased
    March 13, 2015
    12:53 PM

    Waiting for the day you can add WILD AT HEART. He oddly enough plays one of the more normal characters.
  • By Eric Levy
    March 13, 2015
    01:56 PM

    I agree that would be wonderful, but it recently came out on Blu-ray on the Twilight Time label, so I don't think we'll see that one get Criterioned any time soon :-( From BLUE VELVET to INLAND EMPIRE, Harry Dean has done some of his best work in Lynch's films. Have you seen the short THE COWBOY AND THE FRENCHMAN?
  • By Kilianf286
    July 14, 2016
    11:09 AM

    Happy 90th birthday Harry Dean!
  • By Eric Levy
    July 15, 2016
    08:57 AM

    Thanks Kilian! I adjusted my intro. Awesome he's still active. Working on a new film now.
  • By Kilianf286
    July 18, 2017
    09:09 PM

    You add TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME nows. Glad to see Harry Dean in revival series!
  • By Eric Levy
    July 22, 2017
    07:31 PM

    Sorry for the delay. I was out of town and didn't have computer access. Exciting to add another one. And yeah, HD's appearance in the new series was awesome. Is the new series blowing you away too?
  • By Kilianf286
    July 22, 2017
    11:56 PM

    It definitely is! I'm all caught up now. Looking forward to seeing the film LUCKY starring HDS and featuring David Lynch. BTW, with the addition of BARRY LYNDON to the collection, I can finally add Patrick Magee to my Beckett list!
  • By Sean Ramsdell
    September 15, 2017
    08:31 PM

    HDS just died
  • By Eric Levy
    September 16, 2017
    02:46 PM

    Just tragic. I've added a new intro above.