Well that was quite a gap team but we're back with the always planned Part 2 of our Surprising Swan Songs feature. If we can find any more, we may be back with Part 3 but given that it's taken more than a year to get back with this one, don't be holding your breath...
Elizabeth Taylor (1932 - 2011)
Few have achieved the level of stardom that Londoner Taylor managed. Probably one of the first movie megastars, she was as famous for what she did off screen as what she did on screen. But let’s not forget that Taylor also starred in some of the biggest movies ever made. Really coming to prominence starring alongside a very young Mickey Rooney in 1944’s National Velvet, it was Joseph L Mankiewicz’s historical epic Cleopatra that introduced her to Richard Burton and the wide world of Celebrity. Her big screen swan song though was a little less spectacular starring in live action flop The Flintstones alongside John Goodman and many others who should have known better. To be fair, her final screen incarnation did have a great name - Pearl Slaghoople……
Bette Davies (1908 - 1989)
Another absolute legend of the screen, Bette Davies had an enormous career spanning almost sixty years and more than a hundred movies. Winning an Oscar in 1935 for her performance as Joyce Heath in Dangerous, her most famous roles came later in All About Eve (1950) and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962). The latter being a particularly brilliant piece of work, Davies playing former child-star Baby Jane Hudson alongside Joan Crawford. Davies was never one to take exploitation lying down and fought with studios, executives and a wide variety of people over her career. Her final appearance? The almost unheard of 1989 comedy Wicked Stepmother - tagline ‘Which witch is which?’. A sad send-off for such a legend.
Robert Shaw (1927 - 1978)
Taken from us far too early at only 51, Robert Shaw was an accomplished writer as well as performer. An impressive team player (he never really fronted a movie), he is of course most well remembered for his movie stealing performance as shark killer Quint in the best movie ever made (we’re keen on Jaws here, in case you missed that). When he wasn’t reminiscing about bow legged women though, Shaw also stood out as con target Doyle Lonnegan in George Roy Hill’s genius heist movie The Sting. He was also suitably stoic smashing Sean Connery around the place as Rosa Klebb’s beefcake hit man Grant in From Russia with Love. Not one of the longer careered stars in our list we’re sadly left with all too few memories of how awesome a presence Shaw was. His final movie? 1979’s Avalanche Express alongside Lee Marvin and Linda Evans as defecting Russian General Marenkov. The mention of the latter’s name should give you some idea of the quality of this effort.
Gene Hackman (1930 - Retired)
We’re of that age that mostly remembers Gene Hackman as the original movie presence of Superman nemesis Lex Luthor. And we’d still argue it’s one of his best parts. The fact is of course that by then, Hackman had starred in a veritable arm’s length of now classic movies - Bonnie and Clyde, The French Connection, The Poseidon Adventure, The Conversation (possibly his best performance), Young Frankenstein, Night Moves and A Bridge Too Far (to name a few). Later years brought fewer truly impressive roles but Hackman resurfaced in Clint Eastwood’s 1992 western Unforgiven and went on to star in Crimson Tide and Get Shorty. His final standout role was as family patriarch Royal Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums, perfectly fitting in with Wes Anderson’s wonderful off kilter style. Sadly his final movie before his retirement was less impressive, the 2004 comedy Welcome to Mooseport starring as retired US president Monroe Cole, alongside er… Ray Romano. Who I’m pretty sure is big in America. But nowhere else.
John Candy (1950 - 1994)
Another who was taken way too early, John Candy had what can only be described as a patchy career but when he picked a good movie, boy did he pick a good movie. Candy is rightly most fondly remembered for his career best performance as travelling salesman Del Griffith alongside a still funny then Steve Martin in one of the finest comedies ever made - Planes Trains and Automobiles. He was also great in Uncle Buck, Home Alone and Cool Runnings (granted not some of the most prestigious movies mentioned in this piece). We also have a soft spot for him, though mainly for his character’s name, as Barf in Mel Brooks’ hit and miss Star Wars spoof Spaceballs. Sadly his final role before reporting to the big projectionist in the sky was as Sheriff Bud Boomer in Michael Moore’s (yes, THAT Michael Moore) 1995 comedy Canadian Bacon. By no means a complete stinker, it was still a long drop from Planes Trains but then to be honest, most movies probably would have been.