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Cliff Robertson (1923-2011)

Cliff Robertson (1923-2011) (photo)

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Various outlets report that Cliff Robertson, the versatile actor and star of six decades of films and television shows, passed away on Saturday. He was 88 years old.

Robertson won an Academy Award in 1969 for his lead performance in “Charly,” the big-screen adaptation of Daniel Keyes’ novel “Flowers for Algernon.” But to people of my generation and younger, he’s best known as Uncle Ben in Sam Raimi‘s “Spider-Man” trilogy. And with good reason: Robertson was amazing in the role, making a huge impression in a small amount of screen time.

In the original Stan Lee – Steve Ditko “Spider-Man” comic books, Uncle Ben dies off-panel. Peter Parker, newly imbued with the proportionate powers of a spider, is so wrapped up in himself and his newfound stardom, that he can’t be bothered to stop a thief who’s stealing money from a wrestling promoter. By the time he returns home that night, the same thief has broken into his aunt and uncle’s house and killed Ben. In Raimi’s version, the thief carjacks Ben outside the wrestling venue while he’s waiting to pick up Peter. Peter arrives on the scene just in time to hold Ben in his arms as he passes away. This isn’t one of those touching, beatific movie deaths where the victim has time to reconcile with his loved one and send him off with some inspirational words. Ben, clearly in agony, barely has time to cry out Peter’s name before he’s gone.

It’s such a moving scene, and it’s a very important one to the success of the movie. That’s the moment when Raimi makes it clear this is not a “Biff! Zap! Pow!” kind of comic book picture. There are real stakes and these are real people. It’s pretty dark beat for a comic book movie, but I have always loved the way Raimi refused to soft-peddle that moment, and the fact that he moved me with a version of a scene I had literally read hundreds of times. To his credit, Robertson played it perfectly. It’s the reason why we become so invested in Peter as a character, and it still gets me choked up every time I watch it.

No question: Robertson will always be remembered as Uncle Ben. But younger fans of Robertson’s performance in “Spider-Man” are missing out if that’s all they’ve seen of his work. Obviously, they should go back and check out “Charly,” with Robertson as a mentally handicapped man who undergoes an experimental procedure to boost his intelligence. They should also look for him in “Obsession,” which is director Brian De Palma and screenwriter Paul Schrader’s moody riff on Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”

He’s also terrific in my favorite 1970s paranoid thriller, “Three Days of the Condor.” At the end of the movie, Robertson has this verbal showdown with Robert Redford, the star of the picture. Essentially, Redford is telling Robertson that he knows about his massive conspiracy and that he’s going to bring the truth to the press. Robertson had the near-impossible task of making us hate this guy while also recognizing that he might be right about everything. He pulled it off. You can watch the scene on YouTube, but be wary of spoilers. And if you’ve never seen Robertson as the guy who begins to believe his ventriloquist dummy is coming to life in a great episode of “The Twilight Zone” and you’ve got Netflix, you can watch that right now here. It’s Season 3, Episode 33, “The Dummy.”

I got to meet Robertson one time, when I worked the red carpet for “Spider-Man 3” at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. Robertson walked the press line and when I spotted him I practically leapt over the barricade to interview him. Generally speaking, I don’t typically get starstruck. I never ask for autographs or photographs. But this was Uncle Ben! Ignoring every journalistic instinct, I humbly requested that he recite Uncle Ben’s iconic line — “With great power, comes great responsibility,” — for a lifelong Spider-Man fan. With a huge grin, he obliged, and gave a nerd-turned-professional-nerd one of the biggest thrills of his professional life.

For more on Robertson’s life and career, be sure to read his obituary in The New York Times, which includes details on a period of his life that I’d never read about before. In the late 1970s, Robertson discovered that the head of Columbia Pictures was embezzling money from the studio using a check forgery scheme. Rather than follow the advice of friends and advisers and keep quiet, Robertson publicized the incident, and helped bring charges against the executive. For his honesty, Robertson was blacklisted from Hollywood for years.

No wonder he was so good at saying “with great power comes great responsibility.” It was an ethos Robertson clearly understood.

What is your favorite memory of Cliff Robertson? Tell us in the feedback below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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