I recently watched The Way, in which Martin Sheen walks the Camino de Santiago to honour his dead son, and I noticed that one of my favourite character actors, Matt Clark, is in it, albeit rather old and infirm now. Matt has never been a leading man, nor even a supporting actor in the sense that we conventionally understand the term. No, Matt is always lurking somewhere between 10th and 20th in the cast and for much of the 1970s (his heyday) he played a cowhand who would, like as not, meet a bloody end in Western after Western. Matt has to make the most of his small parts, knowing that his time on screen – in this world – is limited. In the Heat of the Night was his first film of note and sees him get a creditable 12th billing, behind Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger and Warren Oates, but Will Penny  marks the beginning of his Golden Period (roughly 1969 to 1979), where he found himself cast almost exclusively in what are, somewhat pejoratively, known as “anti-Westerns” or (more kindly) revisionist Westerns. The war movie Bridge at Remagen (15th billing) Macho Callahan (11th billing) and Monte Walsh (16th billing) were followed by his first masterpiece, Don Siegel’s The Beguiled, in which he makes a fleeting appearance (in 14th place) as Scroggins. He’s then up against John Wayne and a bunch of kids in the distasteful rites of passage movie The Cowboys and STILL only gets 22nd billing, before the glory days of the early and mid 70s (glory days indeed, whatever the punks and Tories might say). The Culpepper Cattle Company (8th billing) and The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (8th again!) mark Matt’s cinematic zenith.  After Jeremiah Johnson (10th billing) and Judge Roy Bean (17th in an admittedly heavyweight cast) he makes what is, I believe, his one and only appearance in a Sam Peckinpah movie, getting shot by Kris Kristofferson in Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid (he falls down the stairs in slow motion, blood spurting out of his back, which is the Peckinpah equivalent of winning an Oscar, whatever the lowly 13th billing might suggest). He then slips to 14th billing in The Outlaw Josey Wales, directed (as if I needed to tell you) by Clint Eastwood.  Then came the 80s, the most horrible decade of the Common Era, worse even than the 30s or the Black Death, when there were no more Westerns, and Matt made an unwise twenty-year detour into so-called comedy. In the new millennium he bounced back, with South of Heaven, West of Hell – quite one of the weirdest Westerns ever made. This seems to be off most people’s radars, although not everyone’s, as the anti-rave reviews on Amazon make clear. Okay, so it’s a Western, and even Clint Eastwood gave up making Westerns in the 21st century, but any Western with Pee Wee Herman in has to be worth a look, doesn’t it? Directed by and starring Dwight Yoakam, the cast includes Luke Askew, Peter Fonda (as the villainous patriarch, stepping into the boots John Huston would once have worn) and Vince Vaughan, who is less irritating than usual, perhaps because he gets blown up with a stick of dynamite. Matt gets 12th billing, so he is – once more – peripheral to the story. I guess that’s why I like him so much. I can identify with him. We can all identify with Matt Clark.

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