There are some actors who appear in everything. Take Franklin Pangborn for instance. My personal theory is that he appeared in every movie made between 1930 and 1949. Okay, so the facts might not bear that out totally, but it’s not very far off. It’s not an uncommon thing with character actors in classic films. Throw a dart at a TCM schedule and you’re likely to land on something featuring SZ Sakall or Sig Ruman. Those are the easy ones to understand and explain, these six degrees of separation in classic film. Some of the instances are a little stranger. And that’s when a solid actor shows up in every piece of trash ever made.
There is no finer example of this than Cameron Mitchell. Throughout his career, he appeared in such huge films as How to Marry a Millionaire, Carousel and the hit TV series The High Chaparral. He then went on to appear in front of every working camera from the 70s through the 90s. Yes, Mitchell appears in such luminous roles as Dr. Cadaver (Jack-O) and Butt Cutt Cakes (The Klansman). It’s far too much to list all of his shlock appearances, but he sure did find a home in the land of horror films with good but misleading titles: Demon Cop, Mutant War, Night Train to Terror and Blood Link, just to name a few. He even appeared in a genuine porn film and whatever the hell this is:
With as many appearances in a Blockbuster store as Linnea Quigley, Cameron Mitchell is clearly the Kevin Bacon of trash cinema. But of course there are other notable contenders. John Saxon probably walks around in a cop uniform just in case someone needs him for a part at a moment’s notice. He’s been in some prime horror (Black Christmas, Nightmare on Elm Street films) and some less than stellar ones (Zombie Death House, Blood Salvage). In more recent years he’s landed some SyFy original movies like War Wolves. If you need a stern man to add gravitas to your grizzly bear zombie film, John Saxon is still your guy.
Joe Don Baker, for all his MST3K infamy, does have many respectable films to his credit. He’s also got a plethora of shoddy cheese on his résumé, such classics as Wacko, Joysticks and Leonard Part 6. He also played Joseph McCarthy in a TV movie about Roy Cohn (played by James Woods), which sounds scarier than any of his other movies. Baker is the guy you hire for the cop part when John Saxon is tied up with Wolf Hunter 7: The Real Final Chapter.
Even old prominent horror legends can fall into the same kind of trash. Boris Karloff kept his forays into Z grade horror, but Bela Lugosi is in countless low budget horror films. He needed the work and gave it his all, no matter what the film. It didn’t matter if he was a half ape in Ape Man or playing alongside a Jerry Lewis imitator in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. Lugosi still gave it the full treatment.
And as bizarre as it to see good actors in so much schlock, it actually shows make these films more fun. You need a Cameron Mitchell putting his faith in Blast Hardcheese during Space Mutiny. Comedy needs a good straight man, and sometimes trash does too. We salute you, actors who will jump into any tepid pool of celluloid sewage. Thank you for your service.