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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Farewell, Dom Deluise

Dom Deluise, who just died at the age of 75, was one of the great sidekicks in entertainment history. He was part of comedy ensembles that included Burt Reynolds and was a mirthful bit player in Mel Brooks' early works. He was often cast as the fleshy foil, the butt of the joke but impervious to hurt feelings.

Our favorite memory of Deluise, however, was in Fatso, a film which he pretty much carried and almost seemed autobiographical. Here Deluise, the films star, was all raw emotion and sensetivity; in Fatso Deluise let loose all the hurt he felt in all those other films where he was only a supporting character. Deluise in Fatso played the amiable “Dominick DiNapoli,” a big-boned man who was addicted to rich Italian food. In order to avoid the fate of his obese brother who died early, Dominick goes on a diet. When we think of Deluise at his finest, he is in the film, listening as a family doctor rattles off all the fatty Italian foods he can no longer eat while a single tear runs down his chubby cheek … genius.

Another great scene in the film is when Deluise is at the wake of his brother. Deluise, again weeping, leaves the main room to check in on the simmering sauce. Deluise, weeping profoundly, buries his pain in the task of stirring the sauce. Soon he gets into the act of cooking, adding oregano, perhaps some Parmesan. Then, Deluise breaks off a wad of Italian bread, dips it in the sauce and looks genuinely happy. For a second. Soon he is weeping uncontrollably once again. Then munching on the sauced bread. Credit has to be given to Anne Bancroft who directed the scene. But the pathos, the humor, the sadness was also Deluise. It is too bad he did not have more opportunities to go at it alone, headlining a film.

May he rest in peace.

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