Turkel, Joe

Turkel, Joe
(b. 1927)
   Joe Turkel’s career as a character actor spanned six decades. In 1949, he made his film and television debuts, appearing in three films (City Across the River, Sword in the Desert, and Angels in Disguise), and two episodes of The Lone Ranger. He appeared in such notable films as Hellcats of the Navy (1957; Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis’s only film together), Samuel Fuller’s Verboten (1958), The Carpetbaggers (1964), Robert Wise’s The Sand Pebbles (1966), Roger Corman’s The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967), and Wise’s The Hindenburg (1975). In addition, from the ’50s through the ’70s, he appeared in episodes of such television series as The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin, Bat Masterson, Bonanza, Wagon Train, The Andy Griffith Show, The Untouchables,Adam-12, and Kojak.
   But Turkel made his mark on film culture in four films, including three roles for STANLEY KUBRICK-Tiny in THE KILLING (1956), Pvt. Pierre Arnaud in PATHS OF GLORY (1957), and Lloyd in THE SHINING (1980)—in addition to what is perhaps his signature role, Dr. Eldon Tyrell in Blade Runner (1982). Early in The Killing, we hear this voice-over narration: Waiting for the race to become official, he began to feel as if he had as much effect on the final outcome of the operation as a single piece of a jumbled jig-saw puzzle has to its predetermined final design. Only the addition of the missing fragments of the puzzle would reveal whether the picture was as he guessed it would be.
   Certainly, the character played by Turkel in the film, a hood named Tiny, is but a very small part of the whole puzzle, but that part is emblematic of the carefully interwoven threads of the narrative. Tiny first appears in a bar in which one of the racetrack thieves, Patrolman Randy Kennan, meets his loan shark. Kennan greets Tiny casually before his meeting. We think nothing of it. Later, another of the thieves, George Peatty (ELISHA COOK JR. ), tells his wife, Sherry (MARIE WINDSOR) about an upcoming job that will make both of them rich. Unfortunately, Sherry is cheating on George with Val Cannon (VINCE EDWARDS), and tells Val of the job. The two concoct a plan whereby Val will steal George’s money, and the two adulterers will be rich. Val has slightly different plans and reckons to steal all the money from the heist. Whom does he enlist for help? Tiny. Tiny and Val spy on the thieves’ meeting and later, after the robbery, burst in on them and demand the money. An enraged George comes out firing, and when the shots have died down, the other thieves (minus the hero, Johnny Clay, played by STERLING HAYDEN),Val, and Tiny all lie dead. George survives only long enough to avenge himself on his wife. Turkel’s role is minor, and he has virtually no dialogue. But by becoming one thread that connects two separate narrative strands (Kennan’s debts, Sherry’s cheating) purely by chance, Tiny’s presence helps reinforce the film’s central impression of looming, predetermined fate, a spiderweb design that catches and dooms each of the characters.
   Turkel’s role in Paths of Glory is more substantial. In that film, French army commanders decree that three soldiers must be tried and executed in order to set an example to the supposedly cowardly troops that failed to carry out what was in fact an impossible plan of attack, foisted on them by ambitious, venal generals. Turkel plays Private Arnaud, a brave, decorated soldier randomly chosen by his sergeant for court-martial. Arnaud reacts to his situation by plunging into despair, and eventually drunkenness. He rails against the generals’ hypocrisy, and when a priest tries to elicit his confession, he instead pleads fealty to “the Holy Bottle. ” Nearing hysteria,Arnaud attacks the priest, only to be fought off by another of the sacrificial lambs, Corporal Paris (RALPH MEEKER). Paris accidentally causes Arnaud to suffer a skull fracture. Arnaud remains unconscious for the rest of the film, except for a moment when he is woken up in front of the firing squad. Of the three executed soldiers, Fereol (Timothy Carey) has the more colorful role, and Paris the more sympathetic. But each has a distinct function, and it is Arnaud’s particular fate that crystallizes the absurdity of the situation. He is an exceptional soldier, chosen for death purely by chance, not because his own actions in the battle were in any way exceptional. His skull fracture is a serious injury, and indeed one that may have led to his death, but the medics bandage and medicate him so that he might die in the specific manner ordained by his superiors. At his execution, he is carried into the courtyard on a stretcher, the stretcher is tied to the post, and he is unconscious when shot. His fate is perhaps not the one that elicits the most outrage, but it is certainly the one that elicits the bitterest sense of the ridiculous. Turkel’s performance convincingly ranges from restraint to high emotion to unconsciousness. In The Shining, Turkel’s role is small but highly memorable, and he is at his most restrained yet insinuating. Turkel plays one of the Overlook Hotel’s most notable ghosts, Lloyd the bartender. When Lloyd serves Jack a drink at the hotel bar, this becomes the first instance in which the hotel directly contacts Jack, and it is significant that it does so by appealing to the darkest element of Jack’s past, his alcoholism. Lloyd’s only function is to pour drinks for Jack, but because this scene is a turning point in the film, and our clearest indication to that point of both the hotel’s power and the extent of Jack’s vulnerability, the scene is iconic in relation to the film as a whole. Indeed, the production still of Jack and Lloyd at the bar is among the film’s most frequently reproduced images. Aside from context, Turkel certainly deserves part of the credit for the impact of his scenes. With age, his voice had deepened, and the lines of his face had become even sharper, suggesting considerable, if hidden, menace. Turkel’s performance in this role is cold, impassive, and thus genuinely eerie and threatening. It is open to speculation whether this effect was achieved through or in spite of Kubrick’s shooting takes for this scene, as many as 36 times. If the latter, as seems likely,Turkel is to be praised.
   Two years later,Turkel would appear in his most important role, as Dr. Tyrell in Ridley Scott’s landmark SCIENCE FICTION film, Blade Runner. The emotionlessness seen in his work as Lloyd is carried to its logical end here. In Blade Runner’s future Los Angeles, Tyrell is a sort of god—he creates the replicants who have become “more human than human. ” Turkel plays Tyrell as a cool, cerebral, smug, officious man, and his performance is a striking contrast to the (relative) emotional expressivity of Harrison Ford’s Deckard, William Sanderson’s Sebastian, Rutger Hauer’s near-operatic Batty, even the slowly melting glacier that is Sean Young’s Rachael. Indeed, Tyrell, the man who did most to create the temperamental replicants whom Deckard must track and kill, is the coldest, most impassive, and remotest character in the film, even at the moment when he faces his own death.
   Turkel has worked only sporadically since then, appearing in such television series as Tales from the Darkside and Miami Vice. On film, he appeared in The Dark Side of the Moon in 1990 and in a 2000 documentary on the making of Blade Runner.
   ■ “Joe Turkel,” Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com;
   ■ LoBrutto, Vincent, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (New York: D. I. Fine, 1999).
   P. B. R.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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