For nearly three decades, Emmy Award-winning, German-born Eric Braeden (nee Hans Gudegast) has played wealthy, powerful tycoon Victor Newman on the CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless.
The deep-voiced Braeden has taken Newman through numerous marriages, medical traumas, prison stays and being mistaken for dead. His most recent project is The Man Who Came Back, a movie co-written and directed by Glen Pitre, which will be released on DVD on Dec. 9. Braeden also arranged a special screening at the Egyptian Theatre to honor co-star George Kennedy and they will both be on hand for a Q&A after the screening. One hundred percent of Braeden is in this film. Not only does he star, but he invested his own money and worked on everything from research to casting to post-production work.
The revenge plot on which The Man Who Came Back centers is not unique. What Braeden hopes will set this film apart is not only the cast, but the historical context in which he demanded the film be firmly placed. Braeden spoke to BW about why he wanted to make this movie and the importance of making it historically accurate, while Kennedy spoke to BW about why he was willing to play such a heinous villian.
Set in the post-Civil War South, Reese Paxton (Eric Braeden) is a Confederate war hero incensed by the way plantation owner Judge William Duke (George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke, for which he won an Oscar) and his depraved son, Billy (James Patrick Stuart, soap opera All My Children) treat newly emancipated slaves heading north.
After standing up to the Dukes, Paxton is arrested by the local sheriff (Armand Assante, American Gangster). During a trial, Paxton is defended by a shady attorney (Billy Zane, Titanic) whose hands are deep in the Dukes' pockets and must hear false evidence against him by money-grubbing Kate (Sean Young, Bladerunner) who grovels at the feet of the Dukes. Paxton is found guilty, caged and driven past his own home where he witnesses the murder of his wife (supermodel Carol Alt) and young son on his way to prison.
While imprisoned, Paxton's desire for revenge burns until it consumes him and, after escaping by posing as a corpse, his raged-tinged tunnel vision guides him home, where his only distraction from bloody retribution is a lovely prostitute, Elena (Jennifer O'Dell, TV's The Lost World).
Co-writer and producer Chuck Walker came to Braeden eight or nine years ago with the script. "I looked at the script and I said, 'Yeah, I'd be interested, but the historical context is not enough the way it is,'" Braeden said, his voice deep and rich with his Germanic ancestry. "It was just a revenge story; I needed more than that. Then [five years ago] I saw a film called Belizaire The Cajun directed by Glen Pitre with Armand Assante ... I thought if anyone understands this, he will."
Braeden gave Pitre a book titled Without Sanctuary, a graphic novel about tense race relations in the South after the Civil War. Braeden said he wanted to include details about that dark part of American history, such as laws that were in place proclaiming if a slave owed money to a company store, then he or she was not free. Once Pitre had done some research, Braeden felt he could stand behind the film (both as an actor and as a financier). "I told [Pitre], 'Now, we have a script,'" Braeden said. And indeed, much of that research made its way directly into the film and does give it the historical context Braeden had hoped for. Specific details in the film provide a depth that, without which, it may have endured a case of cliche and one-dimensionality.
The Man Who Came Back is not a flashy, bright Hollywood release, but the recognizable cast of actors qualifies the independent film as at least off-Broadway. And it's interesting to see a tan, craggy, mature leading man in all senses of the word. Braeden said it was certainly no stretch for him to perform in both the sex scenes and the fight scenes and he's proud that he did all of his own stunts.
George Kennedy, who makes his home in Eagle, is a WWII veteran. He's informed, opinionated, speaks in a gruff voice colored with shades of an accent that belies his New York City upbringing and has great stories about working with John Wayne and James Arness. Kennedy said though he suffers severe arthritis and must use a walker, working on the film was a great experience especially in light of the historical context and America's current political climate.
"This role is one that has not been undertaken because of this type of film has not been made since the '30s. Films with KKK overtones belong in another era, maybe three eras ago. On the underhand side, do those feelings [of racism] still exist? Of course they do," Kennedy said.
"The role that I play [in The Man Who Came Back] is a monstrous man. Monstrous. I tried to make him even more monstrous. But it's worth it if we show what it was really like [back then]," Kennedy said.
The Man Who Came Back does contain factual references but it is, ultimately, meant as entertainment (though nudity and violence mean it's not entertaining for the kiddies). So, whether you have an interest in the post-Civil War South, love the idea of being in the same room as Eric Braeden or George Kennedy—who once served under General George S. Patton and then portrayed him in a film—or just appreciate seeing a film for five dollars, head down to the Egyptian and catch a small screen star on the big screen.
Friday, Dec. 5, 7 p.m., $5. Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St., 208-387-1273, egyptiantheatre.net.