Favorite Fictional Characters, #301: Damon Killian
The 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle The Running Man is pretty cheesy stuff, adapted from the much-better Stephen King source material. In a dystopian future, a post-collapse United States is a cultural wasteland, with only phony "reality" television as an opiate for the masses. The most popular of these is The Running Man, a broadcast of criminals fleeing for their lives from gladitorial stalkers. Arnold finds himself thrust into this vulgar process as one of the villains, despite his innocence of the charges trumped up against him. The action and one-liners that ensue are classic 80s Arnold and make this film a bit of a guilty pleasure. But what really endures is the performance by Richard Dawson as the sleazy, manipulative host Damon Killian.
First off, I've always enjoyed Richard Dawson, especially his style as the longtime host of the Family Feud, kissing more questionably willing women than Donald Trump at a beauty pageant. He had a kind of latter-day Dean Martin rat-pack suavity, a tuxedo with the bowtie unslung and gin stains on the lapel, a cigarette in one hand and a somewhat-slurred corny joke at the ready. It worked because of Dawson's charm and harmless agreeableness. He brings this persona to Damon Killian, ramping up the phony bonhomie and slathering everything with a liberal dose of sensationalism and over-the-top dramatics. That's the public face of Killian; the best comes when he struts off-screen and reveals his true dastardly self. Egotistical, greedy, and ruthless, Killian is a master salesman for the modern age of hype and inhumanity, skilled at dividing humanity into disposable props and desensitized spectators. He's managed to capitalize on crisis, to profit from pain, and run a well-oiled con that depends on the reliable gullibility of the cessile spectator. It's a role that Dawson absolutely nails, and it's both funny and haunting.
A reminder - the movie is set in 2017. Coming to you soon, America.