by Bonnie Squires
The closing night of the Philadelphia Film Festival, which ran from Oct. 17 to 27, featured David Morse in “McCanick,” an exciting, if violent, cop drama. But when it opens in theaters early next year, you will have to suspend your vision of Morse as a good doctor in “St. Elsewhere,” as well as hero detective opposite Melissa Leo in the HBO series “Treme.” The 6-foot-4 Morse, who just celebrated his 60th birthday on Oct. 11, is also a long-time Chestnut Hill resident who definitely keeps a low profile when he’s not on screen.
“McCanick” is like a Chinese puzzle as the viewer tries to figure out why the narcotics detective is so obsessed with finding Simon Weeks, a young street punk, played by the late Cory Monteith, who has just been paroled after serving a prison sentence. McCanick, or “Mack” as his colleagues call him, had been the cause of Weeks’ incarceration.
Monteith was a handsome Canadian actor and musician, best known for his role as Finn Hudson on the Fox television series, “Glee.” He died of a self-administered overdose of heroin and alcohol on July 13 of this year in a Vancouver hotel room at the age of 31. He had been fighting a heroin addiction for years.
At the Prince Theater Saturday night, Oct. 26, producer Josh Wallis, the actors David Morse and his police car partner in the film, Mike Vogel, a Philly native, came on stage after the dramatic ending to take questions from the audience. Vogel said this was the second film he had made with Morse and spoke of how much he learned from just watching the actor at work.
Morse choked up when he began to speak about Cory Monteith, especially how brave Monteith had been in a particularly difficult scene for both actors. Morse related how Monteith’s acting coach from Canada had flown to Philly the day they were to film that scene and had rehearsed with him privately right before they shot it.
Josh Waller, the director, told the audience that the original script by Daniel Noah was set in New York. But once Morse was on board as the featured character, as well as one of the producers of the independent film, he kept pushing for the story to be filmed in Philadelphia. And the city really becomes a character in the plot.
Morse thanked the audience several times for the support which the city had given to the project, especially as dozens of extras and other people who had worked on the film were there. He singled out Sharon Pinkenson, director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office who was in attendance Saturday night, for her assistance.
The police officer Eugene McCanick is not a lovable character, with his guilty conscience (for good reason), his broken marriage, his estranged son and his tendency to violence whenever he confronts someone who is on the wrong side of the law. He disobeys orders from Ciaran Hinds, his superior officer, even though the two seem to be long-time friends as well as colleagues.
Morse allows his conflicting emotions to run across his face and his body throughout the film, even when he is not speaking. This is a different David Morse than we are used to seeing, but it is a powerful and memorable portrayal of a tortured soul.
And all agreed that Monteith had shown what he was capable of doing as an actor. At least he had a chance to demonstrate the full range of his talent before he passed from this earth. The film was reviewed favorably at the Toronto Film Festival last month, and plans are to release it in theaters after the first of the year.
Morse, who was also the star of a CBS-TV series, “Hack,” which ran from 2002 to 2004, lives in Chestnut Hill with his wife, Susan, two sons and a daughter. Susan is also the author of a memoir, “The Habit,” which was discussed at a public event early last year at the Epiphany Chapel on the Willow Grove campus of SpringsideCHA. Susan Morse’s memoir paints a picture of her unique relationship with her mother, “Ma,” who at 85 became an Orthodox nun, Mother Bridget.
“I knew Susan from her days here as a parent of two CHA boys and a Springside girl,” Anne Anspach, school store manager at SCH, said at the time. “I read her book, which is funny and beautifully written. Many of us are taking care of parents and children, so her book really struck a chord with me and many of my friends.”
David Morse’s professional acting career began in 1971 with the Boston Repertory Company. He acted in 30 productions with them over six years. His movie debut was in 1980 with a role in “Inside Moves.” His most significant TV role was that of Dr. Jack “Boomer” Morrison in “St. Elsewhere,” which ran from 1982 to 1988.
An earthquake in 1994 destroyed his home in Sherman Oaks, California, whereupon he moved to Chestnut Hill, where Susan is from originally.
* Additional material for the story by Len Lear