It’s part of the craft that acting is in which resides a queer understanding of their worth as measured by the skills that hone and shape and define their identities. Interestingly then, while debut movies are understandably special for their actors irrespective of how they fare, it becomes a matter of different realisation when the character of final works is considered. Call it the twist of fate that some of these legendary actors did not even live to witness the release of their final works or term it a more obvious yet somewhat strange occurring of films not being ‘the’ last yet right till the time they are no longer physically present to acknowledge that reality, this uncontested might of unconquerable destiny looms upon all. Here’s some such absolutely memorable final movies that actors managed to deliver in upholding legacies of worthy adulation-
The Misfits might be best known for being Marilyn Monroe’s ultimate work. But deeply entrenched in duality was this 1961 release as it proved to be in terms of its reception, the two stranded nature of which also was evident in it marking the finale for Oscar winning actor Clark Gable’s decorated career. The movie was pronounced a dud upon its immediate release but has dramatically grown since then to assume cult status. Gable’s performance though had been universally acclaimed and the actor himself regards it to be among the finest of his whole repertoire of work. He did not live though to see himself in the role as he died a couple of days after the film was completed.
The Misfits (1961)
The carefully constructed and much publicised image of Marilyn Monroe made her the misfit indeed in this casting of the 1961 film. But it also is what brought to her a greater identity as a talented actress. The sex symbol of the time, one who was known for her looks and physicality and someone who strived as well to maintain this aspect of her recognition, The Misfits did to Marilyn Monroe what perhaps she herself did not expect it to. In fact she hated that her then husband and the film’s writer Arthur Miller had spun the story partly around her personal life. But it cannot be denied still that what she brought into the film was something very real and mature, and that which earned her also the 1961 Golden Globe Award as World Film Favorite.
That The Misfits also provided Monroe with an opportunity to share screen space with her on-screen idol Gable might have quite influenced her performance as well. With such personal somethings to fall back on, it is now wonder that The Misfits proved to be a uniquely memorable final experience for an actress who hadn’t quite acted in these kind of movies.
Raat Aur Din (1967)
For an actress whose very identity plays out as Mother India due to her starring in the Oscar nominated epic drama Mother India, terming her last film as one of the most memorable might seem like making a mention just for the sake of it. But consider her distinction as being the first ever winner of the National Film Awards due to her starring in the 1967 release Raat Aur Din and this true swansong of her career sure ranks right up there as being one of the more supreme expressions of her art.
The Tragedy Queen of Indian Cinema, Meena Kumari’s artisticness is an extension of herself. But the 1972 film Pakeezah being the last film of her life and the most exceptional one itself might not be as accurate a description. It sure was the final release of her movies that she lived to witness and in which she delivered a specially memorable performance as well. It though would be Gomti ke Kinaare that accounts for her final release, albeit a posthumous one. But as the last movie that released during her lifetime and due also to the cinematic quality of it, Pakeezah does indeed deserve a special mention on this list.
In fact, Kumari’s trademark image set in melancholy was something attained out of the Nation Film Award winning Sahid Biwi aur Ghulam that released a decade earlier. Pakeezah however proved to be the culmination of this identity as well as of her life and illustrious career, abruptly cut short by her personal issues. Even beyond Meena Kumari, Pakeezah stands as one of the most memorable movies of Indian cinema and that it marked also the final appearance of one of the nation’s greatest actresses only made it all the more remarkable.
A magnum opus that spanned out of the love that husband Kamal Amrohi held for Kumari, Pakeezah wasn’t just a film. It in fact was a representation of the actress’ life and perhaps the premise upon where she proceeded to outshine every other element in its weaving. A cult classic that is also one of director Amrohi’s finest works, Pakeezah definitely bears the airs that speaks almost the tragic tale of Kumari herself.
On Golden Pond (1981)
For a film that swept that year’s Academy Awards on the criteria of performances by the top actors with the Best Female as well as the Best Male titles in its kitty, there cannot be any doubt that the cinematic character of On Golden Pond was one that epitomised the very narrative of excellence. Starring Henry Fonda in his final career role, through which was reaped the memorable riches of an artisticness across more than one hundred movies, the 1981 film also earned the actor a separate accolade of the Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama at the Golden Globe Awards.
What however makes On Golden Pond even more heartwarming a farewell for this illustrious recipient of the Lifetime Achievement awards from both the Golden Globes and Academy Awards is it marking also a personal win for Fonda. Sharing screen space with daughter Jane in what would be his final on screen appearance did indeed ensure that the curtains on the life of Henry Fonda could not have ever drawn more wholesomely.
The Crow (1994)
There’s something really sinister about death that manages to stir the deepest sentiments , even in it being an unpredictable, uncertain representation of life. That some of the final movie performances of all time have been delivered by actors who shockingly passed away on sets only enhances the frightening yet remarkable realisations that only death can spur. Case in point the unceremonious death of Brandon Lee while filming only the fifth film of his career. The 1994 release of The Crow proved to be the last venture of Lee Junior who had an accidental death in circumstances pertaining to the film’s requirements.
A characteristic offering that stood for Brandon’s milieu of action and yet one rendered remarkable by the alterations that followed and that which Lee himself had envisaged to be the ‘final’ one in making a more dynamic transition between roles beyond the genre, The Crow earned rave reviews for the late star. The unfortunate demise might have even intensified the kind of reception accorded to the film, with allusions and allegories so compelling that one cannot help but praise as true rendition of the cinematic. Over the years, the identity of the The Crow has grown to amass the status of being a cult classic and even further emphasising it being one of the most remarkable final movies of all time.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Undoubtedly the most notable film of Heath Ledger and one much acclaimed as well in a career and life that was unfortunately cut short, The Dark Knight still isn’t the last work proper of this talented actor. That status would accrue to The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus that released a year later. But consider the fact that this 2009 film was not completed with Ledger passing away some months before the proceedings were fully culminated and we take once again the liberty of celebrating instead this remarkable performance by an artist who was always evolving his own genres and interests.
That Ledger’s death did indeed bring upon the film also an appreciation of a emotional construct cannot be denied. But that does not in any way downplay the mastery ‘The Joker’ held over his craft, delivering a performance so stirring that earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as only one among the lost list of accolades showered on him through this particular role. It is but testament of what Heath Ledger held and lent through his artistry that his character of The Joker overshadowed even his own identity. And that’s exactly why The Dark Knight will continue to be counted as of the most remarkable final movies ever of any actor, even when it is more accurately only the penultimate performance of Ledger.