December 17, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

Remembering Don Ameche

A septuagenarian so revived by mysterious waters he can’t stop getting aroused: That Oscar-winning comeback role in 1985’s Cocoon is surely how younger movie fans remember Don Ameche, who died last week of prostate cancer at 85. But he first became a star in the ’30s and ’40s as the model of bland courtliness in dozens of routine romances and musicals. ”I’ve seen my performances,” he once said of those pictures. ”I don’t like them.” Unfortunately, his early-career highs — The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939), the frothy Midnight (1939), and the war drama Happy Land (1943) — haven’t come to home video. Until they do, two other films offer Ameche at his best: Heaven Can Wait (1943, FoxVideo), a confection with Ameche as a playboy in Hades, accounting for his life’s sins; and Things Change (1988, Columbia TriStar), a lovely autumnal romp in which he’s a shoe shiner tapped to serve a jail term for a look-alike Mafia chief.

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