Friday Feature: Beards On Film by @lexx2099

When you imagine the classic leading-man names like Paul NewmanCary Grant or Dirk Bogarde spring to mind. These guys were intense, clean cut and dependable. Their thrusting chins and fast-paced dialogue powering plenty of two-fisted detective tales and epics with casts of thousands. If there is a deep-down manly essence that sums up classic-era Hollywood, then it probably smells like Clark Gable. If you look really closely though, you’ll notice a dissenter in the ranks; Errol Flynn. This borderline-Nazi, sheep’s-bollock biter (Honestly! Wiki it!) from Queensland had one crucial advantage over his fellows that eventually gave rise to the phrase ‘In like Flynn’. What could it be? What was John Wayne missing that let our Errol slip between the sheets of a thousand starlets? Answer: the ‘tache.   

As Hollywood started to grow up in the 70s, this sorely-overlooked aspect of masculinity finally had the chance to sprout, manly face fungus filling our screens at every opportunity. Of course it took a while to get it right - Dennis Hopper had nothing on Chewbacca - but these days, if an actor wants to add gravitas to his performance, there’s only one way to go: hairy. Look at Clooney (Syriana), Pitt (Jesse James) and even Christian Bale (ummm… Reign of Fire..  more of which later…). So, what, if anything, is this woolly monologue leading to? Why, isn’t the answer obvious? Ladeez and Gents, we proudly give you:
The Greatest Facial Hair in Movies!

Kurt Russell – The Thing (1982)

Kurt isn’t a shrinking violet and he’s not the type to hide his Goldie Hawn-ensnaring chin behind a beard either. Stubble, sure! His Snake Plissken look gave rise to a whole generation of 80s anti-heroes who were too busy being badass to shave; and you never know when you’ll need to blow up a weapons depo by striking a match on your face do you?

But there is a (very) notable exception to Russell’s rule: The Thing.

Trapped in the frozen north with only an AIDS allegory and a broken chess computer for company, Kurt does what any lone-wolf, alpha-male chopper pilot would and grows a beard so impressive it can’t be replicated. There’s nothing on Earth (or in this case, anywhere else), that could possibly imitate his magnificent face plumage. It looks like the result of an early atomic test at a ZZ Top concert. A hulking behemoth-beard capable of seeing off mutating dogs, crazed gunmen and sub-zero terrors from beyond the stars alike. This beard should qualify ‘Mack’ as the bear in the gay parable group, but it goes even further, emerging out the other side into a kind of hyper-masculinity that just might save the world. It probably helps that it’s a great movie too.

Unicron. Ok, so he’s a cartoon character from a convoluted tale of toys that turn into things. He’s also big enough to eat the moon and his quite literally Earth-shaking baritone comes courtesy of Orson Welles – himself an obnoxiously-hairy individual in his latter years. Although having an animated beard may be an unfair advantage (Look at Davy Jones in ‘Pirates’ 2), this hairy apocalypse comes with numerous distinguishing features; of course it’s the only Van Dyke on our list, a style more usually associated with the fop or mincing dandy. This one qualifies however, by being thirteen miles long and made from solid Titanium. Oh yes - and it can transform into a laser gun. Even our next candidate never managed that…

Burt Reynolds – Everything he’s ever been in

Burt Reynolds began his career in the 60s as a stuntman, but Burt’s ‘Tache (Yes, this ‘Tache gets a capital T) first shows up being worshipped by the Sumerians around 6000BC (Before Clippers). We can argue about its most famous appearance, but it’s in the early 80s that this bad boy really comes alive, seducing Dolly Parton, outwitting the Tennessee highway patrol and slipping into Farah Fawcett’s good books at 200 miles an hour, there is literally nothing this facial hair cannot accomplish. Its absence in Deliverance can only be attributed to the fact that it was on loan to John Guillermin, busy remaking King Kong on the lot next door at the time.

Chuck Heston has a few memorable beard moments to choose from: in Planet of the Apes, it’s there; in Ben Hur, he remains resolutely clean shaven despite being imprisoned and tortured for months on end. This leads us to the conclusion that Chuck’s mutant super-power is the ability to spontaneously grow hair at will, and never was it used more wisely than in classic relig-o-thon The Ten Commandments. Despite a cast of thousands, almost to a man sporting huge woolly Jewish face fuzz, Chuck is the only dude manly enough to grow a beard even MORE IMPRESSIVE THAN GOD’S! Yep, Jehovah may have forgotten to shave on the seventh day - or since - but the erstwhile John Charles Carter managed to play the last man on Earth in The Omega Man and the manliest man on Earth in this, carrying those commandments down a mountain and screaming ‘from my cold dead chin’, and showing Satan’s goatee up for the girly bum-fluff it is...

A slightly leftfield entry here, as Van Wilder is usually another example of the media friendly waxed-chest wimp that typifies modern Hollywood. Deep down though, Reynolds knows that a shiny hairless boy-face will be the mark of death in a real emergency, and only the bearded can stand strong in the face of, well, Dracula. In Blade 3, Drac looks like a perfume-advertising nancy boy, while the ghosts in Amityville can’t even manage a face, let alone a roughly-hewn demon beard upon it. Reynolds looks like a man used to dealing with evil, he knows that there’s no time to shave during an exorcism, and he emrges triumphant because of it. Facial hair as religious iconography!

And so we find the yin to Burt Reynolds' yang. A fantastic example of the singer-turned-actor beard that was sorely missed from Neil Diamond’s take on The Jazz Singer (it also helps that Kris’ leonine mane doesn’t look like bits of fluff stuck to a light bulb). Here, the beard is used as a reflection of the manly, 70s soul, the great American Dreamer, rolling down the highway with the spirit of Bachman Turner Overdrive kept close to his chin. Kris’ beard acts both as fanny magnet and Man-tractor, pulling in the disparate truckers who form the convoy, each of them with a dream of one day managing to maintain such a neatly trimmed chin warmer despite living in a truck and having no electric razors. Razor burn? Like water off a rubber duck’s back, cementing Kris’ position as the smoovest ride on the highway. Beard as freedom allegory.

Mr Mconaughey is best known for playing the bongos in his pants and has even turned to the diabolical Ted Danson Weave to save the hair on his head, but in this movie. he finally realises that hair on the top of your head is for fools and little girls with pig tails. Here he goes bald, tattooed and grows what appears to be a horse’s nose-bag on the front of his head. Using it’s terrible power to beat up a similarly woolly-looking Batman, leap from helicopters without a ‘chute and take out a fucking big dinosaur with the words “ Come on Big Boy!”. Truly, cinema’s finest example of beard as weapon.

Technically, this shouldn’t be here. Statham doesn’t have a beard in the true sense, but it’s testament to the sheer manliness of his stubble that it’s climbed so high in the list, even managing to nudge Ian McKellan’s Gandalf off the bottom. Legend has it that the stubble sported by this cockney chancer in The Transporter is the only substance known to cut through diamond... and sunlight... not to mention your hopes and dreams of ever being able to satisfy Kelly Brook. The facial hair that looks like the actor is an afterthought. Which came first? The stubble or the Stath? It takes the rough hero moulded by Bruce Willis in Die Hard and utterly destroys it, raping it with the Desperate Dan shadow from Stallone’s Cobra. If they ever decide to build a space elevator, then this stubble will be what anchors it to the earth.


  1. Fantastic post. Would liked to have seen Hugo Weaving's recent effort in The Wolfman but apart from that I agree entirely!

  2. Brilliant piece, an honorary mention to Travolta for Battlefield Earth though as it began John Travolta's current method of acting which is to decide on his hair style and facial follicle arrangement and not actually bother acting, letting the hair do the actual work.

    Work smarter (hairier) not harder.