In this week’s choppy, confusing And the Sea Will Tell, Richard Crenna is a calm, reassuring presence. He’s playing famous defense attorney Vincent Bugliosi, but he doesn’t go in for courtroom flamboyance. With his craggy face, sad eyes, and wistful smile, Crenna has spent much of his recent career as a soothing, virtuous dramatic actor, and few performers make a viewer feel more comfortable.
This wasn’t always so. Crenna started out as a hyper comic actor in the ’50s, as Our Miss Brooks‘ nerdy Walter Denton — the Steve Urkel (Family Matters) of his day — and then played the overly earnest Luke McCoy in The Real McCoys (1957-63). Crenna calmed down and proved his dramatic skills in the widely praised but short-lived Slattery’s People (1964-65), the Emmy-winning 1985 TV movie The Rape of Richard Beck, as well as in feature films like Body Heat and The Flamingo Kid. As Sylvester Stallone’s superior officer in the Rambo movies, Crenna was one of the only real actors around for miles. And in recent years, Crenna has done what may be his best work ever as the world-weary detective Frank Janek in a sequence of TV movies that began with the 1985 miniseries Doubletake and continued with Internal Affairs, Murder in Black and White, and Murder Times Seven.
Understated and serene, Crenna is the sort of performer who rarely gets the credit he deserves. Here’s giving him some now.