Pierce Brosnan had it easy. He took over the 007 movie franchise from Timothy Dalton. If he’d had to step in for Sean Connery, he’d have learned what poor George Lazenby did: When an actor becomes one with a role, his shoes are hard to fill. Here are other replacements who couldn’t help coming off second best, along with the actors we would like to have seen cast.
Best: Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932, MGM/UA), the Olympic swimming champ whose famous yell contained more syllables than any word he spoke. Next: Lex Barker, Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949, not available). He had the look, but not the style. After wild child Weissmuller, who’d want an introspective Tarzan using complete sentences? Shoulda been: Burt Lancaster. Who better to swing through the jungle than this former circus acrobat?
— Charlie Chan
Best: Warner Oland, Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936, FoxVideo), a Swedish actor in bad ”Oriental” makeup, politely solving murders while dispensing fortune-cookie aphorisms. Next: Sidney Toler, Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938, not available). An American in worse Oriental makeup, grinning creepily as the series slowly declined. Shoulda been: Keye Luke, the Oland Chan’s ”No. 1 Son” and an actual Asian actor.
— Hercule Poirot
Best: Albert Finney, Murder on the Orient Express (1974, Paramount). All waxworks makeup and fussy tics and twitches, a virtuoso caricature of the Agatha Christie sleuth. Next: Peter Ustinov, Death on the Nile (1978, Republic). Pompous and primping, but a fat cat next to Finney’s peacock. Shoulda been: Peter Sellers. Think Inspector Clouseau sans pratfalls and malaprops.
Best: Michael Keaton, Batman (1989, Warner). Edgy yet subdued. Next: Val Kilmer, Batman Forever (1995, Warner). More macho and brooding, but less substantial — or was it that he shared the screen with Jim Carrey? Shoulda been: Dean Cain. We already know how he looks in a cape.