Special Features – In Memory of John Candy

Tom Jolliffe remembers John Candy….

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of comedic legend, John Candy. One of Canada’s most successful film and TV exports, Candy rose through the TV comedy circuit in Canada alongside contemporaries like Rick Moranis, Harold Ramis (sadly no longer with us now), Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy. Throughout his film career, Candy would continue working on and off with many of the stars he rose with.

Candy has remained a popular figure, both among the audiences who grew up in the 80’s on a staple diet of his comedy films, and from new audiences who rediscover such greats as Planes, Trains and Automobiles. What really made Candy stand out, more than just his physical size and presence, was the warmth and likeability the man projected in virtually every character he played. Often playing the bumbling fool with his heart in the right place, Candy was effortlessly amiable as a character (and by most accounts, as a man). It’s incredibly difficult to not find a Candy character anything but endearing and his gift for projecting such warmth is something very few actors are able to do. Some, like Adam Sandler for example, try to force it, but it comes off, many times insincere.

As a comedian Candy had an ability to be constantly amusing without resorting to extreme physical and facial contortions. He was known to ad lib too, with a quick wit that would help him occasionally steal the movie in some of his less substantial roles. His role in Home Alone comes to mind as Candy’s character Gus Polinski tells Mrs McCallister (Catherine O’Hara) a slightly disturbing, harrowing tale that’s actually misguidedly supposed to be cheering her up. Candy would often find himself cast in supporting roles. He was an actor graced with an ability to have maximum impact, even on minimum screen time. However he could comfortably carry a movie in the headlining role too. Notable favourites include Uncle Buck (his work with John Hughes was very consistent), The Great Outdoors, Cool Runnings and Who’s Harry Crumb.

Perhaps one aspect of Candy’s career might be deemed unfulfilled and that is his dramatic capabilities. Apart from being effortlessly funny, Candy was a good actor. Films like Uncle Buck and Planes, Trains and Automobiles remain as popular as they are because amid the (brilliant) gags, there is heart and Candy projects this just as effortlessly as the comedy. He would appear in JFK in a straight role in the tail end of his career, but for the vast majority of his work, he resided in the comedy genre. It would certainly be unfair for Candy not to be considered a good actor.

So with 20 years having passed since cinema lost a somewhat under-appreciated great, dig out your favourite Candy film in memory. There have been few like him since his passing.

Tom Jolliffe

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