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Changing his stripes

It's a show-biz tradition, the clown who wants to be taken seriously. Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen: None of them managed to do it. Bill Murray has. Three decades ago he was on ''Saturday Night Live," singing lyrics to ''Star Wars" (''Those near and far wars"). Now he's acclaimed as a kind of Zen master of film acting, earning raves for ''Broken Flowers." Yet long before Murray's Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for ''Lost in Translation" (2003), there were hints -- all right, very faint hints -- of the seriousness to come.

''Where the Buffalo Roam" (1980) Murray plays a celebrated American journalist. Of course, that celebrated American journalist is Hunter S. Thompson. Still, it beats anchoring ''Weekend Update."

''Caddyshack" (1980) Groundskeeper Carl Spackler may not be that far up the evolutionary ladder from his rodent nemesis. But Carl's also a Vietnam veteran. Think of ''Caddyshack" as ''The Gopher Hunter" -- and preparation for going toe to toe with Robert DeNiro in ''Mad Dog and Glory" (1993).

''Tootsie" (1982) Murray, playing Dustin Hoffman's roommate, offers another of his classic goofballs, as well as one of the great comic turns of the '80s. But wait, Jeff Slater is a goofball who's a playwright, author of that extremely serious social drama, ''Return to Love Canal."

''The Razor's Edge" (1984) Murray (above) helps adapt this W. Somerset Maugham novel about a World War I veteran whose search to find himself takes him to Tibet. Played totally straight, it's Murray's ''The Day the Clown Cried."

''Rushmore" (1998) Beginning his onscreen association with director Wes Anderson, Murray plays another Vietnam vet, industrialist Herman Blume, and the New York Film Critics Circle names him Best Supporting Actor.

''Hamlet" (2000) Murray plays Polonius, whose most famous lines might be Murray's acting motto: ''This above all: to thine ownself be true/ And it must follow, as the night the day/ Thou canst not then be false to any man."

MARK FEENEY

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