For many people including myself, we first knew him as Mr. Futterman in Gremlins. Then we saw him as the shorter guy warning people against horror cinema in Matinee. His face kept popping up everywhere, in so many genre films fans hold dear. Most could recognize the face, but most didn’t know the name. Now the man, the character actor who has appeared in over 150 movies since the mid ‘50s, gets his well-deserved time in the spotlight thanks to the entertaining and charming documentary That Guy Dick Miller.
Director Elijah Drenner (American Grindhouse) gathers an impressive line up of filmmakers, family, friends, and actors (even Corey Feldman) who talk about Miller’s career and personal life. After 90 minutes of listening to them, it’s tough not to argue that Dick Miller is the man.
The film only flirts a little with his pre-acting life. We meet his brothers and they talk about growing up and the impact on Dick’s life their mother had (she was a renowned opera singer). He came up in the Bronx and that New York swagger would become a trademark of pretty much all his roles. As many of the participants point out in the film, Dick makes it look easy and steals the show no matter how small of a role he’s in.
This passion for the art of acting is contrasted nicely in the film with Dick’s workingman diligence for paying the bills. That Guy Dick Miller splits up his career into two distinct categories: Corman and Post-Corman. Roger himself pops up a lot in the doc, providing insight on his work with Dick and just what’s so damn appealing about the guy. His classic portrayal of Walter Paisley in Corman’s A Bucket of Blood is noted as the pinnacle of this era. Not just because Dick kills it as the iconic wannabe-hipster, but because it would be one of the last times he got a leading role, which is a damn, damn shame.
From there the film touches on loads of Dick’s iconic smaller roles in films like The Terminator, Night of the Creeps, and Gremlins. Joe Dante brings particularly deep insight into his love for the man and his frequent collaborations with him (including the blink-and-you-miss-it role in Innerspace). Their relationship really is a joy to hear about and as always, Dante is a terrific orator.
The glimpses into his personal life that Drenner provides show how dedicated Dick really is. They also allow viewers to get to intimately know the man whose face we’ve noticed in dozens of our favorite movies over the past decades. Even at 85, he’s quick with a joke and wildly in love with his wife. That Guy Dick Miller does a remarkable job spotlighting one of film’s great character actors. And it’s about time.