|The first time I saw Dick Miller may very well have been on TV in Roger Corman's "It Conquered the World" (1956)|
Mr. Miller also had the good fortune to be associated with a number of great directors who would use him frequently in their films. At the beginning of his career he was lucky enough to be a part of Roger Corman's stable of actors that he would use in all of his quickly-made, low-budget "B" movies in the mid- to late-1950s. For someone so well known for NOT being a star it's interesting to note that early in his career Dick Miller WAS the star of Corman's cult classic "A Bucket of Blood" (1959). His work in that film, and his association with Roger Corman had a lot to do with him becoming a regular in the films of fellow Corman "graduate" Joe Dante (who made a point of casting him in all of his movies). He also appeared in films by James Cameron, Martin Scorsese and many others. I think it's a testament to Dick Miller's greatness that a lot of people (famous and otherwise) have taken to Twitter to note his passing. Here's just a few:
Gremlins (1984). While I'm listing this as one of my favorites, it's probably my "least favorite" of those favorites. But nevertheless the part of Murray Futterman in Joe Dante's "Gremlins" (and 1990's Gremlins 2: The New Batch) remains one of his most well-known roles.
After Hours (1985). "After Hours" is one of Martin Scorsese's lesser-known films, but ever since I first saw it on cable in late 1985 or early 1986 it has remained one of my favorites of his works (probably second only to "Taxi Driver" truth be told). It's very funny, quirky and rather dark, and Dick Miller fits perfectly into the late-night world of the film. While his role is simply listed as "Waiter" I've always thought of him as the owner of the diner rather than simply a waiter. Small quibble sure, but a good example of how "unimportant" a character actor can seem that they don't even need to have an actual name assigned to them, and the role can be called simply "Waiter".
Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). I'll admit that this was an even smaller role than usual for Dick Miller, but "Twilight Zone: The Movie" was a very important film from my early teen years, so his small role as Walter Paisley in the "It's a Good Life" segment ranks right up there. Walter Paisley was the name of the character Miller played when he starred in "A Bucket of Blood" and was a recurring name that he's been given in many roles for the rest of his career. It's an acknowledgement of what he meant to so many filmmakers that they'd give a subtle nod to him that most people wouldn't even notice in the days before IMDb (myself included). In this case this Walter Paisley is a textbook Dick Miller role. This character could have very easily been the same one who was found in the diner in "After Hours" above, or in any of the other roles I'm listing here.
The Terminator (1984). Simply having a small role in such a great movie and being associated with it has to be a good thing. But Dick Miller really steals his scene with Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron's classic film when he can't offer the Terminator a "phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range". He responds with "Hey, just what you see, Pal." Again, it's another oddly named character. He actually has no name, but is simply listed as "Pawn Shop Clerk". While again I see him more as the owner of the store rather than simply a clerk (like the issue with the "Waiter" role in "After Hours"), the biggest problem I have with it is that it's clearly a gun store rather than a pawn shop. Maybe it was a pawn shop in the original screenplay or something like that? Whatever, it's another small quibble with a great role--and a great death scene too when Arnold loads up the shotgun and quips "Wrong." after Dick Miller tells him "You can't do that."
The 'Burbs (1989). These films have been listed more or less in order of my favorites (least to most). And "The 'Burbs" does indeed rank pretty high among my all-time favorite films. There are too many "favorite" moments to mention (though I have written about the film before back in 2010, if you'd care to read more about it). But the scene where Dick Miller and Robert Picardo show up is quite hilarious. They are simply billed as being "Garbagemen", though Dick is referred to as Vic by Picardo a couple times in the scene. Most of the film centers around a small group of core characters, so Miller and Picardo are very much outsiders. Dick Miller's best line comes when the tensions rise and Bruce Dern tells him "Who's picks up this mess? Why, you're going to pick up the mess because YOU are a garbageman." He responds with "I pick up garbage in cans, not from the street!" It's a great scene in a great (IMO) film!
Of course my list here is just the tip of the iceberg of a long and fruitful career. I could go on writing about his small roles in movies and on television for hours. But the point is that he was a great character actor who did a lot of great work and will be missed. Here's a trailer for the documentary about Dick Miller from 2014, "That Guy Dick Miller" (which I still haven't seen myself):
And here's one more tweet that I think is the best way to finish up this little tribute to Dick Miller. While he only had a small role in Scorsese's "After Hours", co-star Rosanna Arquette remembered him with this touching tweet referencing a specific scene: