So, day before yesterday I was sorry to hear about the death at age 91 of actor Orson Bean who played (that is, provided the voice for) Bilbo Baggins in the 1977 Rankin-Bass HOBBIT. This animated movie was much reviled, and with good reason. But back in the late 70s we Tolkien fans had to make due with what we cd get, and so I got this two-record set of the soundtrack (on Saturday December 24th 1977) and listened to the album over and over again in those pre-home VCRs days.
And the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT did have two things going for it. First, it was better than Bakshi's LotR.* And second, it had a remarkable array of voice talent. The great John Huston made for a great Gandalf, and Richard Boone (his last role) a languid yet menacing Smaug. Hans Conried was an excellent Thorin and Bean made for a slightly snarky Bilbo (the line of his that sticks in my mind is his comment upon learning he has a magical ring of invisibility: "How convenient!").**
I'd never seen Bean in anything before, and I don't remember seeing him in anything afterwards, with the major exception of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999), a movie I recommend but won't say anything more about because of spoilers.
So, thanks for the memories, Mr. Bean.
*though even Bakshi's dud was better than the horror that was the Rankin-Bass RETURN OF THE KING.
**I pass over without comment on the more eccentric vocal castings that didn't come off: Cyril Ritchard as Elrond, Otto Preminger (!) as the Elvenking, and 'Theodore' as Gollum.
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