Guest Post | Classic Actor Spotlight: Richard Widmark – Consummate Utility Infielder


Greetings all and sundry!

And allow me this opportunity to state that those rumors of my being deodar mysteriously abducted by aliens have been grossly exaggerated. Though, I have endured two side trips to Northern Virginia’s massive, expansive Mother Ship of Specialized Medicines, INOVA (A sub state unto itself. With superior doctors and eerily always smiling staff) for problems related to age. Leaving me with a surfeit of time to root around, excavate and shine some light on a stalwart of the thespian trade. Whose talent and trade craft, those not always “A-List” or Top Notch through the 1950s, 60s and beyond. Did manage to easily bring many memorable characters. Sometimes heroic. Sometimes creepily slimy, to life under the guidance of some of the best directors Hollywood had to offer.

So, allow me but a few moments of your time while I wax nostalgic and meticulous about one of the near forgotten greats of the trade with:

Richard Widmark.
Consummate Utility Infielder!


First crossed my path as a wide eyed eight year old kid indulging in the forbidden fruit of “Late night” (9:00pm) television movies. And WTTG’s “Movie Greats” presentation of Kiss Of Death. A more than medium budgeted 1947 treasure that, unbeknownst to me at the time; was shot all over key locations throughout Manhattan and its five boroughs. Which added enormously to the film’s strength and tense, gripping story line. And would lock this tile away as a long time favorite.

Focusing around down on his luck Nick Bianco (Victor Mature). Who decides with three others to rob a jewelry store in the upper levels of a skyscraper to improve the lives of himself, his wife and two daughters. The heist goes off well enough. But the proprietor sets off the alarm. A cop intervenes and shoots Nick in the leg. Nick is caught. Held at the Tombs prior to arraignment. Keeps his mouth shut throughout the trial and catches a 20 year sentence at Sing Sing for his efforts. Unaware until three years later that his wife committed suicide after being raped by one of his accomplices, And that his daughters have been sent to orphanages.


Bianco is anxious to cut a deal. But all that he knows and can do has been made useless by the passage o time. So the District Attorney, D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) arranges an early parole and points Bianco towards another case. Putting the word out from Sing Sing that Rizzo squealed and sold out not only Bianco years ago. But is leaking to the cops information on the third member of the robbery crew, Tommy Udo (Mr. Widmark in his debut film role.). Well, but not richly dressed. With an upturned sneering smile that barely hides his close to the surface inner Psychopath. And his paranoid aversion to “squealers”.

Tommy finds Rizzo’s paraplegic mother (Mildred Dunnock) in her apartment and questions her about her son. Mrs. Rizzo says that he is out and will be back later. Udo thinks she’s lying. Ties her into her wheelchair and pushes her down a long and lethal flight of stairs, killing her,

Bianco is finally released and has a “chance encounter” with Udo. Who shows Nick around. Takes him to clubs where there are about twenty parole violations within arm’s reach before calling it a night. Bianco goes running to D’Angelo with a boast or two of Udo’s referring to recent murders.D’Angelo tells the local cops to scoop up Udo for murder.

Bianco gets cold feet. Udo is let go. Udo and Bianco meet at a restaurant. Udo makes threats against Bianco brand new family. A showdown looms on the cobbled, rain reflected streets. Bianco calls D’Angelo. Warns him about what is about to happen. Then exits the restaurant without a gun. A henchman of Udo’s draws on Bianco, but Udo shoots the henchman. Aims at Biance. Fires and hits Bianco as uniformed cops unload on Udo. Killing him in the street, And leaving Nick Bianco with a bright and pleasant future!

Overall Consensus:

Required viewing. Not just for the layered tale itself. But just to relax and bask in what Greatness can truly be!

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Henry Hathaway in charge of one of the earliest and best “Organic” New York films. Filming on several different locations and lighting each and their surroundings in ways to intimate and hint at danger or lascivious delight hidden within. And making me a decades long sucker for most any film or television series shot in and around New York City

Add Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Karl Malden and Coleen Gray to the mix. Give them intelligent dialogue from Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer that moves the plot along without deliberately telegraphing what is to come. And you have the makings of smart entertainment. Enhances by Cinematography by Norbert Brodine. Music by David Buttolph. Art Direction by Leland Fuller and Lyle Wheeler, Plus Editing by J.W. Webb, Jr. help to place this near forgotten early Noir classic high in the genre’s pecking order.

Now. What Makes This Film Great?

The adversarial pairing of veteran, Mature opposite a just starting out Mr. Widmark. Whose film time and scenes are dwarfed by others. Though, in those minutes Mr. Widmark can call his own. He does make the most of and makes them his own. Violence and his scary. creepy laugh not withstanding. Had a lot to do in earning this ingenue a Golden Globe win. And an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Along with a nomination for Best Original Story by Eleazar Lipsky.

With Mr. Widmark firmly locked into my “Actor To Watch” category. Pursuit and finding him in other films was part and parcel of the WTTG’s ‘Movie Greats” and “NBC’s Saturday Night At The Movies” to find Mr. Widmark playing a similar, more powerful and lucrative role in The Street With No Name a year later.

Then a shift in gears and character into “Jealous Sap Territory” in 1948. For a B&W, Noirish trifle directed by Jean Negulesco titled Road House. Where Mr. Widmark’s Jefferson T. “Jefty” Robbins owns and runs a road house out in the sticks, Hires and falls hard for Ida Lupino’s tough talking Torch Singer, Lily Stevens. Who starts playing Jeffty’s restaurant owner and partner, Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde) against him. So, Jeffty starts to frame Pete for embezzlement. And worse once Pete proposes to Lily.

Making time through 1949 for a whaling tale. With Mr. Widmark going upscale, cast wise. Taking on the First Mate’s role, Dan Lunceford. But also the tutor of the Captain Bering Joy’s (Lionel Barrymore) grandson, Jed (Dean Stockwell) in Down To The Sea In Ships. Under the direction of Henry Hathaway. In a surprisingly good maritime drama as young Jed learns about honesty, courage, teamwork and responsibility.


And an upgrade in directors the next year and Panic In The Streets. For the first of its kind police and medical procedural directed by Elia Kazan. And his take of tracking down the carrier of pneumonic plague in the port city of New Orleans. The unwitting carrier and future “Patient Zero” is Jack Palance. And the hero is Navy Lt. Commander Clint Reed, Aided by Police captain Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) as they canvass, interview and slowly eliminate others and narrow the suspect pool as Palance’s slimy ‘Blackie’ slinks around the piers and seeks a way out after a failed robbery.

Then a ground breaking racial drama and thriller. No Way Out (1950) under the direction of Joseph L. Mankwicz with Sidney Poitier and Harry Bellaver, Where Mr. Poitier plays Dr. Luther Brooks. Who works on wounded low rent racist thief, Ray Biddle and his brother, George. Who dies on the table. And sends Ray on a deep and very personal mission of revenge

Followed by the Marine service drama, Halls Of Montezuma with Jack Palance and Richard Boone. The Frogmen. A personal favorite. With Dana Andres, Gary Merrill, Robert Wagner and Harvey Lembeck. Dircetor Lloyd Bacon renders a pretty fair exposition about what Underwater Demolition and the removal of barriers and obstructions is all about before a sea borne invasion. Then onto parachuting “Smoke Jumpers” in Red Skies Of Montana. And the drama involved when two of Mr. Widmark’s Park Rangers and firefighters die after a tragic wildfire. Not a bad film, actually. Under the direction of Joseph M. Newman. And all four films being early top choices for ‘NBC’s Saturday Night At The Movies’.


Another contender from 1953 is an odd WWII film from Robert Wise. Destination Gobi. Where Navy meteorologists are dispatched to the Gobi desert to set up shop and record and transmit weather data to a picket ship to aid the air war against Japan. When not bartering with Mongols for assistance and protection in the form of saddles for their horses. Another ‘Saturday Night At The Movies’ offering. And Robert Wise’s first color film. With Mr. Widmark as a lowly chief Petty Officer (NCO) in charge of Don Taylor, Martin Milner, Darryl Hickman, Alvy Moore and Earl Holliman. In a surprisingly good film which has a pronounced hardscrabble, no frills “You’ve Got To Start Somewhere” vibe, cast wise. While using several parts of the Mojave Desert, Fallon, Nixon and Yuma, Arizona to fill in for Mongolia and southern China..

General Concensus

To this point, Mr. Widmark seems to have spent far more time in military uniforms than civilian finery. Becoming on of the “Go To Guys” along with Martin Miler, Richard Jaeckel. Ty Hardin, Marshall Thompson, Robert Ryan, Van Johnson, James Whitmore and Dana Andrews to play G.I.s, sailors and Marines in immediate post war Hollywood. And to Mr. Widmark’s credit, he did pull those roles and characters off quite well. Usually in the lead. Though often as a small part of a larger objective or story.

And Mr. Widmark’s luck was about to change in a very noticeable way. By signing onto low budget, independent maverick director, Sam Fuller. And the director’s embellished screenplay about pick pockets flourishing around 1950s Manhattan. To include Russian agents,hollow coins and microfilm regarding atomic bomb secrets and blueprints in the minor 1953 “Red Scare” classic, Pickup On South Street.

Where Mr. Widmark plays Skip McCoy. Two time loser and somewhat gifted “dip” or “cannon” (pick pocket) making his living on the city’s crowded subway trains. Who runs afoul of a cell of Russian agents by snatching the wallet of an unassuming courier, Candy (Jean Peters). And later rifling through an envelope and discovering highly classified documents and microfilm. While still unaware that Candy was being watched by US Federal agents hoping to discover the higher up on the receiving end.


Creating an equally compact and intriguing, noir-ish B&W film that clocks in at 75 minutes. Excels in cramped, neglected and dirty sets and sound stages of 20 Century Fox’s many back lots. Yet looks like thr film was shot on many locations throughout New York City. As the cops stick their noses in. Interviews are logged. Deals are made. Specifically between local soft crime maven, Moe Williams (Thelma Ritter) and Detective Dan Tyger (Murvyn Vye) to narrow the number of suspects down to Skip McCoy. Who has no problem dealing with the highest bidder. Even if it isn’t the US government.As Candy’s boyfriend, Joey (Richard Kiley and a silenced pistol) tidy up loose ends.

In a film that threw critics, select politicians and J. Edgar Hoover for a loop. The critics loved the film’s low budget, Mickey Spillane grittiness. While politicians and the FBI had conniptions over Widmark’s and Skip McCoy’s arrogant, “You’re gonna wave the flag at me?!” line and its inherent “Anti-Americanism”. Especially in the backwash of the House Un American Activities Committee Hearings and The Cold War. Though, for a skint 780.000 dollars. Sam Fuller put together a cramped, claustrophobic and shadowy masterpiece that rises up into the firmament of “Required Viewing’. With an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Thelma Ritter. And a Venice Film Festival Gold Lion win for director, Sam Fuller. Reaffirming his position as a Master of cinematic”Bang For The Buck!”

Which Mr. Widmark would return the following year. After a brief detour to the Army’s anwer to Hell On Earth, Fort Bliss and the city of El Paso, Texas for a Richard Brooks directed Basic Training drama, Take The High Ground!. With Karl Malden training draftees, Steve Forrest, James MacArthur, Russ Tamblyn and others for crucible that is the Korean War. Before returning to Sam Fuller’s next project.


A neat, compact little Cold war thriller titled, Hell And High Water. Where Mr. Widmark takes on the role of former Navy Sub Commander, Adam Jones.Who is mysteriously approached by a group of nuclear scientists in Japan. Who want Jones to take over a retired Japanese sub and check around a string of islands north of Japan. The scientists suspect that China may have had something to do with a recently exploded nuclear device outside the continental US.. And may have designs to join “The Nuclear Country Club” and intimidate their neighbors to the west.

The sub goes out with Jones and a small crew of Jones’ shipmates. Following a Chinese freighter into the North Pacific. Though, due to events. the Japanese sub left in pursuit. Without time to inspect its torpedo tubes. Leaving the boat nearly weaponless. A cat and mouse game with the Chinese navy ensues. A Chinese sub is rammed as the specific island is found. With either a restored American B-29. Or Russian TU-4 in a US paint job on the island’s bare base taxi way (A superb glass matte painting!). One of the scientists sneaks ashore of Capt. Jones. Signals the bomber’s take off… And I’ll leave it right there!

Surely in the simplistic realm of kid and schoolboy fantasy. But superb, well thought out and executed low budget kid and schoolboy fantasy. Director Fuller again raises the tale with deft sleight of hand, excellent model and pool work for the Japanese sub and its Chinese protagonist. And some well spent money (1,870,000 dollar budget) on artists and matte paintings. Since outside of some lush on location shots at Orly Airport, The Arc de Triomph and sights around Paris to establish the plot. Mr. Fuller and company never left 20 Century Studios. Its sets, sound stages and properties.

Setting the stage for three years of training and yeomanry work in post war thrillers and westerns( The Prize of Gold, Broken Lance, Garden of Evil, Backlash, Run Fro the Sun, Saint Joan, The Cobweb). Before joining up again with Karl Malden in the director’s chair for a neat and compelling 1957 post Korean War procedural titled Time Limit. Where Mr. Widmark plays Colonel William Edwards. A JAG officer trying to determine the limits of The Military Code of Conduct for POWs experiencing near Arctic cold, starvation and torture at the hands of the North Koreans. When one can snap. And the end results of possibly finding a traitor among their ranks. With Richard Basehart and Rip Torn under suspicion, Martin Balsam as the Colonel’s aid and conscience, Dolores Michaels as Corporal Jean Evans. And Martin Balsam as the Colonel’s Top Sergeant and conscience.

Then three more years of westerns before an upgrade in cast members with John Wayne directing and starring in The Alamo. Along with Richard Boone and Laurence Harvey. And major stage piece whose parts would be used again in The Green Berets. Giving Mr. Widmark a chance to add to an exceptional ensemble cast as Colonel Jim Bowie. In a fairly accurate depiction of those historic thirteen days. Plus an upgrade in directors to John Ford for his project.

Two Rode Together
. With James Stewart, Shirley Jones and a swath of Mr. Ford’s cinematic regulars re-indoctrinating those captured by Indians back into the world and society. And continuing his high end ensemble streak with Stanley Kramer’s Judgement At Nuremberg, With Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Marlene Dietrich and a “Who’s Who” of Next Generation talent filling any and all remaining roles. Followed quickly by larger than life, generational family Magnum Opus, Covering the Gold Rush and Comstock Lode. To the Civil War. Manifest Destiny. Captains of Industry and the Railroad in How The West Was Won. With not just one director, but four! Henry Hathaway, John Ford, George Marshall and Richard Trope. Each with their own tale or area of expertise to heighten and tell. And enough old and new talent signed on and assigned characters to fill a medium sized high rise apartment complex.


And making the mid 1960s the time when Mr. Widmark seem to come into his own. With small films which made large impressions. With Stanley Kubrick alum, James B. Harris’ The Bedford Incident with Sidney Poitier, Martin Balsam and James MacArthur on a navy destroyer trying to surface a Russian sub inside Territorial Waters. And what can go wrong. Alvarez Kelly. With William Holden and Mr. Widmark as an eye patched Confederate officer wanting to follow the tenets of William Quantrill and John S. Mosby in rustling and hijacking cattle and horses. As long as Mr. Holden’s Alvarez Kelly teaches them how.

It has often been said that I am a sucker for any film shot in Manhattan and its boroughs. And one of the better ones of the 1960s is a near forgotten police procedural with Henry Fonda, Inger Stevens, James Whitmore, Sheree North, Michael Dunn, Don Stroud, Steve Ihnat, Susan Clark. Raymond St. Jacques and Harry Guardino in the Don Siegel directed, Madigan.

Where Mr. Widmark plays Detective Daniel Madigan assigned to a precinct in Spanish Harlem and partnered with Detective Rocco Bonaro (Harry Guardino). Who lose their guns after a third rate low life, (Steve Ihnat) gets the drop on them, And now have 72 hours to catch the creep and get their guns back. In one of the better made for TV “Partner Movies” to be generated by NBC and clocking in at 110 minutes full of dirty, cramped and un glamorous places, sights and sounds rarely seen in 1968. Which adds to the film’s grittiness and no apologies attitude. Ane was so well received as a pilot. That NBC created a six 90 minute episodes package for their Sunday night ‘NBC Mystery Movie’ series in 1972.

Returning to ensemble work for Sidney Lumet’s Murder On The Orient Express with Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Jacqueline Bissett and John Gielgud two years later.

The Doomsday thriller, Twilight’s Last Gleaming with Burt Lancaster and directed by Robert Aldrich. Stanley Kramer’s 1977 political thriller, The Domino Principle with Gene Hackman as an expendable Presidential assassin.

And Mr. Widmark preparing to go out on his own terms with Michael Creighton’s Coma the following year. Then playing a high ranking US hostage in Ian Sharp’s well detailed and executed gritty, sweaty, no frills British Special Air Service (SAS) against an IRA splinter cell gem. The Final Option. And a final return to “Bad Guy Territory” in Taylor Hackford’s Against All Odds. A film that tries very hard to be an updated remake of Jacques Tournier’s Out Of The Past, but doesn’t quite make it!

Overall Concensus

Like so many actors while I was growing up. I cannot remember a time when Mr. Widmark was not working. Consistently supplying grist for the imagination with often more than one film a year. And on the whole, very good films at that. Good guy. Bad Buy. In uniform and out. Mr. Widmark offered something unique in most of his characters. The possibility that there may be a double cross at worse. Or that proposed events would not occur in their correct order.


Slowly covering the spectrum of character types. For his initial “Creep” with Tommy Udo in Kiss Of Death. To “Rebel” in Pickup On South Street and Panic In The Streets. To racist “Thug” in No Way Out. A side trip to Rugged Individualist in The Alamo and How The West Was Won. And “Hero” in War Films, Don Siegel’s Madigan and its later mini-series!


Check out Kevin G’s other posts and reviews

What are your thoughts on Richard Widmark? Differing Opinions are welcome. The floor is now open to discussion!

April 2016 Blindspot: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)


It’s been ages since I wanted to see A Streetcar Named Desire, not sure why I’ve put it off. I feel like I have watched it as one day I actually watched a bunch of clips from this film on youtube. There’s of course the famous scene where Brando yelled ‘Stellaaaaaaa…!’ that’s been parodied many times over, but I definitely need to see it to understand the significance of this steamy Southern classic.

Based on a hit play by Tennessee Williams, it’s one of those rare films that happen to be directed by the same person who did the original Broadway production, Elia Kazan. It’s interesting to see Vivien Leigh as yet another Southern belle, as I’ve only seen her in Gone With The Wind (1939), but really, the appeal of this film for me is Marlon Brando, whose brutish performance is the quintessential sexy bad boy.

As with any of my blindspot reviews, there are definitely spoilers so if you haven’t seen the film yet, proceed with caution.

First Impressions

Well, what can I say… my first impression had more to do with Marlon Brando. Can you blame me? I mean look. at. him.

tumblr_o2qnvyjTWj1qd6639o1_500tumblr_o2qnvyjTWj1qd6639o3_500 From the first moment he came on to the screen when he saw his sister in-law Blanche at his house, Brando’s definitely got a magnetic presence like nobody’s business.

The trivia section of this movie on IMDb is filled with interesting tidbits. So apparently fitted t-shirts could not be bought at the time, so Brando’s apparel had to be washed several times and then the back stitched up, to appear tightly over the actor’s chest.

Err, what was I talking about again?

Ok so obviously there’s SO much more to the movie than Brando’s immense sex appeal, though obviously this role cemented his sex-symbol status.

A classic story adapted beautifully on the big screen

I could see why there are still countless stage adaptations of Williams’ classic story all over the world. Even though time has changed and to a certain degree, gender roles and social norms have evolved, the very core of the human condition still remains. Stories that deals with obsession, distorted reality, fears of aging, etc. are still relevant today and will always remain so. The film version underwent a major change in terms of the homosexuality of Blanche’s late husband, due to the Production Code demands that the film toned it down. The same with the depiction of rape, though it’s implied that Stanley did rape Blanche with the scene of smashed mirror and a firehose spurting onto the street.


It was a clever way Kazan dealt with the strict Code, and also when Stella was in bed the morning after Stanley hit her. She had a big, gleeful grin on her face that indicated they had um, a very satisfying make-up sex.

Kazan’s big screen adaptation not only look beautiful in black and white, but it has an atmospheric and moody feel to it. I read that he worked closely with the production designer to create the authentically sordid look and literally had the walls around Brando and Leigh closed in on them during filming to create a claustrophobic tension within the space. Well that worked because that constricted feeling practically ricochets off the screen and into my living room!

Blanche and Stanley are such an interesting pair to watch on screen because there’s all this nervous energy around them. They’re attracted as well as repulsed by each other at the same time, at times they couldn’t even reconcile the two, which creates such interesting dynamic.

Kazan doesn’t immediately expose that Blanche’s dark past and the fact that she’s got mental issues, but it’s more of a steady buildup that escalates to the boiling point. The more her brutish brother in-law relentlessly torments her, the more she goes off the rails.

I’m constantly torn in how I feel for the characters as well, which is what a good movie should. A good character is not simple, one-dimensional and how we feel about a character could (and perhaps should) change as the movie progresses. Well, I initially feels sorry for Blanche but also exasperated by her, even if she couldn’t control it. As with Stanley, what starts out as a carnal attraction to this brooding, hunky man (as any full-blooded woman would) quickly changes to disgust and repulsion. I literally want to strangle him many times as I watch the movie, especially his treatment of his pregnant wife!


Performance wise, the film definitely belonged to Leigh and Brando. The British actress played yet another American Southern belle but in a completely different role. Leigh definitely got to display her vulnerability even more, especially towards the end when Blanche’s gone completely mental. It’s interesting that she had played the character in the London production under her husband Laurence Olivier’s direction. Per IMDb, she later said that Olivier’s direction of that production influenced her performance in the film more than Elia Kazan’s in this film.

Brando has had many memorable roles in his illustrious career, but no doubt this is one of the earlier ones he’s most remembered for. His intensity is second to none, there’s few actors who are as explosive on screen in terms of presence and charisma as Brando.

Kim Hunter was pretty memorable as Stella, but I think every cast member was practically outshone by the two leads. So was Karl Malden as Blanche’s potential suitor. I think both were believable in the roles, it just didn’t leave a lasting impression to me. I guess it has less to do with their performances, but more about the strength of the two leads. I wish Brando had won Best Actor as well, but then again I hadn’t seen the other male performers of that year.


Does it live up to the hype?

The film won four Oscars out of twelve nominations and also rank #47 in AFI Top 100 Films. Elia Kazan was certainly one of those stellar directors who have won acclaimed in film AND on broadway, winning multiple Oscars as well as Tony awards. I’m always astonished when a story could work as well on stage as on screen.

I have never seen the stage adaptation, but my impression of the film was that it was sexy, gritty, but deeply unsettling to the point that by the end I was just quite revolted by the whole thing. None of the characters are likable except for Stella, Blanche DuBois’ devoted younger sister. I think that was the point though. This wasn’t going to be a cheerful movie with a happy ending and there’s also very little humor to give you relief from all that tension.


I’m glad I’ve finally watched this film from start to finish. It’s one that won’t easily escape from one’s memory. I have to say though, compared to other classics like say, Casablanca or Gone With the Wind or Roman Holiday, I’m not sure this is something I’m keen on watching again. It’s just not a pleasant film overall, and I don’t find it to be an emotionally-gratifying film either as it’s hard to care for any of the characters. That said, it’s definitely essential viewing for cinephiles. The story is such an intriguing character study that is chock full of riveting-but-inherently-imperfect relationships.

Final Thoughts:

The film ending is apparently different from the stage version. In the film, Stella no longer trusts her husband and she took her baby and leaves. We hear Stanley yelling ‘Stellaaaa….’ again as he did in the most famous scene in the film. I read that in the stage version, Stella chooses to be with Stanley as her sister is escorted to a mental institution. I’m not sure which version I prefer, I think it’s riskier to have an ending that isn’t tied neatly with a big red bow, though not necessarily better.

Regardless of the different ending, there are certainly plenty of thought provoking themes to grapple with. Delusion, denial, forbidden passion, and tragic irony… Williams’ timeless play has all the ingredients for an engrossing story, and Elia Kazan certainly had what it takes to do it justice… both on stage AND on screen.


Check out my full 2016 lineup by clicking the graphic below


Have you seen A Streetcar Named Desire? I’d love to hear what you think!

Guest Post: Spotlight on Darren McGavin – Master Character Actor!


Greetings all and sundry!

After a few weeks of laying low and perusing vicariously the wares of various film festivals supplied by our Hostess, Ruth. I decided to embrace a wave of nostalgia. Break open a fresh set of digging clothes. Brain bucket, miner’s light, tools. And a few carafes of coffee. To plumb a vein of rich material and grist for conversation.

A memorable chunk of time. From the mid 1950s and the just starting to fade glimmers of the Hollywood System in film. And that young upstart and seat stealing entity known as Television. Whose talented and charismatic legions were but cogs in a slightly less than smoothly operating machine. To this new century. Where decades old procedures are firmly ensconced for generating “product”. And the final visualization of countless writers, cinematographers and directors dreams.

To that end, allow me but a few moments of your time to wax nostalgic. As I excavate, investigate and lay bare a few prime examples of honed and polished talent. Presented by a familiar face for anyone born around 1954. And a sizable number beyond:

Darren McGavin: Master Character Actor!


I’ll allow you a requisite few seconds to scratch your head and allow the “Who”s and “What?”s to die down, Before noting the first time the actor and I crossed paths was while watching Otto Preminger’s then ground breaking The Man With The Golden Arm from 1955.

A neat little back lot drama awash in Skid Row shabbiness and tackling the then, taboo subject of heroin addiction as experienced through Frankie Machine. Two time loser, card sharp known for dealing “seconds”. And would be, wannabe drummer just returned from prison. And brought to life by Frank Sinatra in his return to the big screen after From Here To Eternity.


The Man With The Golden Arm

Now. Anyone of Mr. Sinatra’s popularity requires a nemesis of equal or greater lousiness and slimy evil. And Mr. McGavin’s drug dealer and low rent pimp with an elegant “Boston Blackie” mustache more than fills the bill. Patient to a fault and quietly mobile. Seeing all sorts of opportunities along filthy streets and dark allies. Nearly invisible and incredibly confident that Mr. Sinatra’s Frankie Machine will screw up sometime soon. And come knocking at his door for a fix.

Though only having about twenty minutes of the film’s 119. Mr. McGavin makes those scenes, secrets, spoilers, revelations (And this film has more than its share!) and moments his own. While allowing his character to thoroughly despised by any and all!

Now, one may ask from whence does such self deprecating talent arise?… Ten solid years of summer stock, stage and traveling Road Shows, Intermixed with just starting out and unnoticed apprenticeship in small, forgotten films. And being one of thousands standing in line to ply their craft and trade in this just burgeoning thing called “Television”.

At the time and more often than not. Stage plays performed before three cameras, And privy to all of the accidents and mishaps that come with the territory of that form of art. While being lucky enough to catch the lead in a two season series, Crime Photographer. Holding court in a New York greasy spoon diner. While regaling reporters of that paper’s Bulldog (Late Night) edition with tales of past adventurous cases. A format that would be returned to decades later in ABC’s Kolchak: The Night Stalker. And latching onto notable performances with Goodyear Television Playhouse offerings of The Witness, Better Than Walking and The Rainmaker.


Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Then returning to television for two more years of honing and polishing with many of the heavy hitters of the day. Including Alfred Hitchcock, Armstrong Circle Theater, Robert Montgomery Presents and The Alcoa Hour.

Creating a brief margin in time in 1956 and 57 for Mr. McGavin to show off his stoic “Straight Man” abilities opposite Jerry Lewis in The Delicate Delinquent. A Don McGuire directed, Paramount black lot comedy. Notable in its being the first film for Mr. Lewis after breaking up his full spectrum slapstick comedy teamwork with Dean Martin.

Mr. McGavin plays veteran uniform beat cop, Mike Damon. Who comes across klutzy, bumbling janitor, Sidney L. Pythias (Jerry Lewis). Whose building and home in its basement is in the middle of a “No Man’s Land” between warring street gangs. And being conned, cajoled and other wise persuaded to choose a side. Sight gags and pratfall humor abounds in many scenes. Especially in Sidney’s one room efficiency apartment. As Damon befriends Sidney. Tries to get him away and into the Police academy.

Does the film have a script?… Sort of. By director Don McGuire. More of extended set up foresight and other gags. All footed by producer, Mr. Lewis. When not delving into dramatic encounters with Social Worker, Martha Hyer. A decent enough outing. With huge Kudos to Set Decorators Sam Comer and Ray Moyer arranging and executing eye catching time saving Rube Goldberg gimmicks inside Sidney’s digs. And many comedic blackouts and scenes lifted, updated and reused by Woody Allen and his later film, Take The Money And Run.


The Delicate Delinquent

Then returning to television for several roles in drama in Studio One in Hollywood. And creating a serviceable episodic Mike Hammer for two seasons and 79 episodes in 1958 and 59. Most tales written by Mickey Spillane. Delivering his character in ways Ralph Meeker, Stacy Keach. Spillane himself and Kevin Dobson ( Sgt. Crocker of’ ‘Kojak’) would approve. Though not so much Armand Assante.

Gaining more and more of the spotlight an Mississippi gambler and later Captain Grey Holden in Riverboat. Offset by former stunt man turned actor, Burt Reynolds for 42 hour long episodes in 1959 and 1960.

When not making the rounds of “Bread & Butter”, B&W and color Westerns. Guest stars and recurring television characters during the 1960s in Route 66, Rawhide, Alfred Hitchcock, The Defenders, Ben Casey, The Rogues. Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible.

And during this time. Some brilliant minds at NBC (Grant Tinker. Mr. Mary Tyler Moore.) and ABC (Aaron Spelling front and center) were kicking around ideas on how to streamline budget, stories and filming times. To make initial and introductory television tales in an Anthology vein more acceptable for future series. And thus the “Pilot” Concept was created.

Where a topic or story with the potential for a series is decided upon. Scripted and cast while locations and back lots are sought out and reserved. To create a ninety minute or two hour introduction while attention is paid to audience feedback. And Voila!. The basis for a future group of tales is in the works for future consumption!

NBC moved first and bet heavily upon a magazine conglomerate. Its rarely seen CEO and Managing Editor and slick investigative reporter (Tony Franciosa) delving into the private diary of a high end Call Girl and escort with Fame Is The Name Of The Game in November of 1966. The very first “Made For Television Movie”. And oil was struck. A boon created. And a niche created for the talents of many, many actors and actresses. In the form of ABC “Movie(s) Of The Week” and “NBC Mystery Movies”.

Darren_TVGuideMr. McGavin among the first front line shock troops. Signing onto veteran ABC and NBC writer and creator, Roy Huggins’ idea for an orphaned released convict delving into Private Investigation (Mr. McGavin as David Ross). Without a gun due to his criminal record. Trying to make ends meet while avoiding cops and friends of friends he might have angered in prison, alike. In the sunny expanses of Los Angeles and its cities, towns, adult playgrounds and “Cultural Retreats” of Venice Beach and Big Sur of the later 1960s in The Outsider. Which returned as an hour long weekly series less than a year later for 26 episodes…. Sounds familiar? It shouldn’t. Mr. Huggins brought back and reinvigorated the same plot line and lateraled the idea to James Garner and hid Cherokee Television Productions. And The Rockford Filers were born. For a six year, 122 episode run. Along with six later television films.

Dipping his Dramatic Tongs back into the Furnace and Billows as disgraced and soon to be facing Court Martial disgraced for alleged “War Crimes” (Dispatching his own enemy “Kill List” of NVA and VC Officers and collecting their sandals for verification on both sides of the DMZ and Laos in ABC’s The Challenge (1970). With Lt. William Calley and “the My Lai Massacre” still thick in the air. Special Operator. Jacob Gallery is given the opportunity to wage a “Surrogate”. Or “One on One” war on a remote Pacific island. Against an equally well trained and talented Peoples Republic Chinese number. Yuro (Mako).

Photo courtesy of

The Challenge – screencaps courtesy of

High Stakes and Winner Takes All. With a fallen out of orbit spy satellite deep beneath the ocean being the Grand Prize! Gallery accepts. Gears up with an overloaded rucksack, jungle fatigues, sundry items and a very cool weapons system. Two 9mm Madsen M-50 Sub machine Guns bracketed side by side. Half of it last seen in ‘The Godfather’. And I had originally mistaken for S&W M-76 at first glance (H/T to Michael and

Both soldiers infiltrate by submarine and rubber raft. Are well trained in Pioneering and living off the land. Stalking and ambushes ensue. With small gains made outside their own perimeters. A battle of wits and guile. That stays dormant. Until Yuro finds Gallery’s tree borne base camp and slips a straight edge razor low into the tree’s massive trunk. Just enough for a quick, not felt medium deep wound to become infected and fester below the knee.

As is expected. Both sides watching away from the island cheats. Another Chinese soldier is killed by a very young and fresh faced Sam Elliot. Who, is in turn shot and killed by a suddenly betrayed, Gallery. Setting the stage for a final showdown!

I’ll leave it right here for Spoilers sake.

And move the clock forward only slightly. To a time just after the failed Tet Offensive and siege of Khe Sahn. When the Marine Corp broke long standing tradition through Presidential fiat and began accepting draftees instead of those who volunteer. Not a great time for the Corp. With tales of drug use, race riots and even desertion filtering back eastward across the Pacific. And adding extra impetus for those Masters of Intimidation, Peer Pressure and Fear to inculcate log haired, lackadaisical young men into the Mythos, Mystique and History of the Corps. Before being sent out to fight a war.

That task falls on the shoulders of Drill Instructors Gunnery Sergeant Drake (Mr. McGavin in splendid form!). Aided by a brash and bullying “Good Ol’ Boy”, Staff Sergeant DePayster. (Earl Holliman. Who seems made for the role.) And waste no time belittling and harassing the latest busload of unwary cannon fodder to darken the entrance of the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, circa early 1968. In Tribes.

A very well written effort from just starting out Tracy Keenan Wynn. Under deft direction from Joseph Sargent. And shot mostly on location. A rather clean cut tale unfolds. With blonde haired, Zen friendly, Hippie, Adrian (Jan Michael Vincent) slowly singles himself out as an outsider. Who doesn’t balk. back or break down in tears. Earning the ire. And later admiration for a very Zen “Mind Over Matter” mindset. If you don’t mind. It don’t matter! Enduring long sessions of PT (Physical Training) which helps break down individuality. And creates the initial building blocks of uniformity, like mindset and instant obedience to the word of God. The D.I..



Drake tries every trick in the book. From seeing how far he can push the brim of his Instructor’s Campaign (Smoky The Bear. For those uninitiated.) Hat just above the bridge of Adrian’s and other slacker’s noses during extended periods of verbal abuse. To standing at Attention. Arms out to the sides at shoulder height to either side. While seeing how long aluminum buckets of sand can be kept aloft before “Boots” (Recruits) collapse. Some tactics work. Some don’t as Drake’s platoon begin to excel in strenuous training, drills and tactics. But remain individuals. With Adrian as their sub rosa leader.

An impasse is sure to happen. Which I’ll keep in my hip pocket.As Mr. McGavin excels in presenting all of the scary elements of a Drill Instructor. With Jack Webb”s rapid fire delivery from his earlier, The D.I. down pat. Offset by far less imaginative, intimidating, vulgar and profane qualities (Television Censors) honed to perfection by R. Lee Ermey in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. While winning a Prime Time Emmy Awards for neophyte Tracy Keenan Wynn and director Joseph Sargent for Outstanding Achievement in Drama-Original Teleplay. And Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama. A Single Program among others.

An elusive film nowadays. And well worth the effort of discovery and watching. If you can get past its God Awful theme song!

Garnering Mr. McGavin a bit more credibility and wherewithal to be one of the “Go To Guys” in this new cinematic realm for the next two years. Dropping by NBC’s Hollywood Studio based Bracken’s World. ABC’s “Mobile Shrink”. Matt Lincoln. A return to his earlier Outsider, David Ross character for The Forty Eight Hour Mile and Quinn Martin’s 1930s Los Angeles Private Eye, Banyon United Artists Mrs. Pollifax-Spy. With Rosalind Russell. And NBC/Universal’s The Bold Ones: The Lawyers. Before touching The Holy Grail of episodic television roles in January, 1972 The Night Stalker.

Where Mr. McGavin is given the role on veteran. perpetually down on his luck Las Vegas newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak. Resplendently scruffy in a much used white Seersucker suit. Narrow, uneven tie and woven bamboo Panama Hat. Perpetually on the move. Tracing down leads to offbeat and “Man On The Street” stories. Until stumbling across a secluded Crime Scene. Whose victim seems to have drained of blood!

Weird, right?… Ridiculous?… Absolutely! Yet taken with a grain of salt. With words, mood and setting derived from a screenplay by Richard Matheson. A distinct, eerie, shadowy, vibe courtesy of Producer, Dan Curtis of ABC’s afternoon Gothic Soap Opera, Dark Shadows fame. And under the deft touch of John Llewellyn Moxie. A New Sheriff has just rode into town. As Kolchak follows leads and missed evidence. And starts whittling down rumors between arguments with his boss, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland, Bullitt). On and Off again girlfriend, Gail Foster (Carol Lynley). And a Rogues Gallery of secondary talent. Including Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins and Elisha Cook. Jr. Kolchak get closer to his mysterious nemesis, Janos Skorzeny (Barry Attwater).


Photo courtesy of Tumblr

A Nielsen Ratings Slam Dunk overnight, by 1972 standards. With more than enough creepy and eerie to offset the occasional humor. And keep an audience coming back for more. Specifically, another 74 minute jaunt a year later. After a shift in locales to Seattle. Where an ancient Alchemist (John Carradine) striving to remain young through the blood of young women in The Night Strangler. And then getting the full blown treatment in Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Moved to Chicago and an independent newspaper. Kolchak uncovers all sorts of explainable, though eerie close to supernatural happenings. Each episode introduced by Kolchak’s voice dictating possibilities and questions into his trademarked portable tape recorder. Pens and notebooks being so passe though useful. Subtly setting up the plot before the actions begins. Then returning for a quick epilogue. In lieu of today’s more cliche “Hugs and Happy Endings”.

The series is also unique in providing an early test bed for mysterious and paranormal activities which would be plunged into more deeply in FOX’s The X Files just shy of two decades later. With Mr. McGavin portraying veteran FBI Agent Arthur Dales. One of the first agents assigned to the files. And impromptu guide and mentor to Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) for two adventures in 1998 and 1999.


In the interim. Mr. McGavin indulged in a tale of three generations of Irish American NYC cops for NBC. Law & Order (1976). Based on the novel by former detective Dorothy Uhnak. The story is meticulous in 1940s to 1970s flash back details. Where small incidents may grow into major career destroying scandals later on. And what goes on in the day to day workings of police officers. From uniformed beat cop. To plain clothes detectives. To the higher strata where Mr. McGavin’s Deputy Chief Brian O’Malley resides and rides herd. Clocking in at just under two and a half hours. Shot almost entirely on back lots. Directed by Marvin Chomsky. And shown in two parts. The film is a grittier, more virulent version of today’s ‘Blue Bloods’. Though both casts are equally rich and up to the task!

Allowing more time to check in with characters for Mr. McGavin to fill in Airport ’77. Three different heroic characters during the last gasps of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Ike: The War Years. With Mr. McGavin delivering a fairly decent General George S. Patton opposite Robert Duvall’s General Eisenhower, The Martian Chronicles. The far inferior, 1981 William Conrad and Lee Horsley Nero Wolf and Tom Sellick’s Magnum, P.I. Before catching lightning in a bottle again. As Ralphie Parker’s (Peter Billingsley) “Old Man” in Bob Clark’s 1983 multi award winning 1947 centered, A Christmas Story.



Though Mr. McGavin is not on the screen a lot. And in the majority of those scenes, he’s a secondary character. When he is there. He is GOLD! With just enough back story through young Ralphie’s older voice overs “He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master.” and “In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” filling in the gaps. Several have squabbled that Mr. McGavin may have been too old to play the part. While I believe it adds to the wear and tear of Old Man Parker. Whose facial expressions, timing with a gift wrapped bowling ball dropped in his lap. And refusal to verbalize often mentioned profanities is a cool, piquant move. That places this film in the sometimes Marathons of “Holiday Heavy Hitters”. It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas and most recently, Elf.

Not a bad collection of work. 183 roles. With time and money to spare to as Executive Producer for four episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Producer of film, Happy Mother’s day. Love George in the early 1970s. Cranking out the screen play for Zero To Sixty and the Documentary, American Reunion a few years later. And arranging the soundtrack for the TV movie, The Night Stalker.

Overall Consensus:

Yes, I may have gone a bit long in this dissertation. Though considering the talents, consistent availability and superb luck and timing through the progression of cinematic and trail blazing and cost cutting improvements. Consistently working and turning in memorable performance in roles small to large. Contentedly staying in the realm of television. Though always available for the larger screen and delivering more than asked for required.

All in all. The definition of A Character Actor!


Check out Kevin’s other posts and reviews

Agree?…. Disagree?…. Like And Differing Opinions and Comments Are More Than Welcome… The Floor is now open!

2016 BLIND SPOT series film picks

Blindspot2016Ok, so I dropped the ball last year on this Blindspot series as I wanted to spend more time on my script. I’ve also blogged a lot less for the same reason and will continue doing so until my script is done. But given how much I’ve enjoyed discovering *old classics* or acclaimed films I’ve missed over the years, I thought I’d do it again this year. But instead of doing 12 films, I opt to do just 10 films in 2016.

As I did last year, I try to cover a variety of genres here, and include at least one that I don’t normally go for. In this case, I include… I’m also putting in one of the films I missed in 2015 (The Big Sleep). I included mostly classic films here but there are a couple that fulfilled two criteria I wanted to be represented on my list: a foreign film that’s preferably directed by a woman. Well, After the Wedding is an Oscar-nominated Danish film by Susanne Bier and Andrea Arnold‘s Fish Tank fit perfectly. I also have to have at least one period drama on here, and why not one directed by a woman (Sofia Copolla’s Marie Antoinette) as I’ve pledged to participate Women in Film‘s #52FilmsByWomen movement. Do join if you haven’t already!

Anyhoo, here’s my 10 picks in alphabetical order:

  1. 8 1/2 (1963)
  2. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
  3. After the Wedding (2006)
  4. American Graffiti (1973)
  5. Fish Tank (2009)
  6. Funny Face (1957)
  7. Laura (1944)
  8. Marie Antoinette (2006)
  9. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
  10. The Big Sleep (1946)

Per usual, I will just pick at random which film I want to see in a given month and I shall try to publish it in the first week of every month.

The Blind Spot series was originally spearheaded by Ryan at The Matinee, and I was also inspired by Dan’s list at Public Transportation Snob.

Well, have you seen any of these films? Which one(s) are your favorite?

Last Blindspot film of the year: The Sting (1973)


In 1930s Chicago, a young con man seeking revenge for his murdered partner teams up with a master of the big con to win a fortune from a criminal banker.

This turns out to be second George Roy Hill movie I saw, whom I didn’t know was born in Minnesota. The first film of his I saw was Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, in fact, it’s the pairing of Robert Redford and Paul Newman that was the main draw for me as they have a great rapport together. I could see why this movie was popular, a box office hit and a critical darling, even winning three out of ten nominations: Best Picture Oscar, Best Director and Best Screenplay for David S. Ward. It’s a fun and entertaining caper movie set in Chicago during the Great Depression.


Despite the light and humorous tone, there’s some emotional and moving scenes, especially when the main lead lost his good friend who’s killed by the mob, Doyle Lonnegan. That incident leads to the two leads on a vengeful quest in conning the mob boss out of his money. Redford plays a small time grifter Johnny Hooker who teams up a once-great conman Henry Gondorff (Newman) to teach him the big con. Given the 11-year difference, it make sense that Newman is playing more of a mentor role to Redford.

The plot is a bit complicated, but not overly convoluted that you’re too confused to enjoy the movie. It’s quite fun to see how they plan each trick, whilst still keeping it unpredictable. Hill broke the film down in chapters with its own title, i.e. The Set Up, The Wire, etc. which I find to be quite unique in and of itself. It’s worth noting too that the movie’s two leads are NOT good guys, they’re con artists after all, but yet you’re rooting for them right from the start. The pairing of Redford/Newman are played down a bit here compared to Butch Cassidy. In fact, we don’t even see Newman until after about 25 minutes in and he has less screen time overall than Redford. His intro of him waking up with a huge hangover is pretty fun to watch though.

The film focuses more on the tricky scheme itself that involves a great ensemble of supporting actors. There are many familiar faces, i.e. Robert Shaw (most remembered for From Russia With Love) who plays another icy villain here. The guy who played Luther looked strangely familiar to me as he looked so much like James Earl Jones, sure enough that’s his father, Robert Earl Jones. Of course there’s also Dana Elcar (Pete Thornton on one of my fave 90s shows MacGyver) as the FBI agent.


The Sting‘s got everything going for it in terms of entertainment value. First-rate production quality down to those sharp suits, fast-paced direction, good acting by the two great-looking leads, AND it’s got a fabulous featuring ragtime music by Scott Joplin. It’s a hugely popular song I’ve heard time and time again, but I had no idea it was featured in this film. Apparently composer Marvin Hamlisch adapted Joplin’s tune The Entertainer for the film and it made Joplin’s music popular again in the 70s and beyond.

I’m glad I finally saw this one. I appreciate the fact that Hill didn’t make this caper a dark, brooding and somber affair like most crime thrillers. No unnecessary romance to over-complicate matters either, thank goodness. There’s not too many action scenes here, but there are definitely some tense and surprising moments that got me on the edge of my seat. Overall it’s a fun, thrilling and suspenseful ride from start to finish. That said, I wouldn’t call The Sting a masterpiece of cinema or anything. It’s more of a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t quite make a lingering emotional impact afterwards, but a perfectly satisfying piece of entertainment I certainly don’t mind seeing again.

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Have you seen The Sting? Let me know what you think!

2015 BLIND SPOT series: My 12 film picks

2015BlindSpotOk so I’ve completed my first Blind Spot series! Well ok I might’ve missed a couple for one reason or another – Time Bandits and How The West Was Won – but I’d still watch them at some point. The Blind Spot series was originally spearheaded by Ryan at The Matinee, and I was also inspired by Dan’s list at Public Transportation Snob.

It’s been great catching up on classic films that’ve somehow eluded me all these years. Most of them have ranged from good to excellent. Now, I try to cover a variety of genres here, and include at least one that I don’t normally go for. In this case, I include a silent film, Wings, which happens to be the first silent film to win Best Picture Oscar back in 1927. I ended up including two Hitchcock films. I had picked Rear Window initially, but upon reading Cindy’s review of Marnie, I just had to include that, too. And thanks to Michael for helping me decide which film noir to include, The Big Sleep.

Anyhoo, here’s my 12 picks in alphabetical order:

  1. 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968)
  2. A Place in the Sun (1951)
  3. A Star Is Born (1954)
  4. The Big Sleep (1946)
  5. Breathless (1960)
  6. Giant (1956)
  7. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967)
  8. Marnie (1964)
  9. The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
  10. Rear Window (1954)
  11. Sunset Blvd. (1950)
  12. Wings (1927)

Boy, it’s a lot tougher than I thought to put this together, but I’m excited to finally getting around to watching them! Like I did this year, I will just pick at random which film I want to see in a given month.

Well, have you seen any of these? Which one(s) are your favorite?

November Blind Spot: Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

RebelWithoutACausePosterI chose this film because for some reason I had never seen any James Dean film. It seems that some of Hollywood’s legends have escaped me, as I had just seen Marilyn Monroe’s and Bette Davis’ films for the first time recently. It’s also my first time seeing Natalie Wood, though I have seen her previously in various clips of West Side Story. Strange that both leads died tragically and prematurely, in fact, Wood’s drowning death is still unsolved to this day. Per IMDb, two other cast members also died under tragic circumstances: Sal Mineo was stabbed to death whilst Edward Platt committed suicide.

This film was nominated for 3 Oscars (including 2 acting nods for Wood and Mineo) and ranked #59 amongst 100 Greatest Films by AFI in 1998. Even before seeing the film, I’ve seen what Dean looked like in his iconic white t-shirt and red leather jacket. I wonder though if he had become such an influential cultural icon if he hadn’t died at the peak of his career at the young age of 24.


The one thing I noticed right away as the film opens with Dean’s character Jim Stark lying drunk on the street is that he’s way too mature to play a high school teenager. Sure enough, I learned later that he’s already 24 when he got the role. Yet somehow Dean’s able to capture that brooding teenage angst that becomes his signature performance. No doubt even today’s young male actors wants to imitate Dean’s style and swagger that one either has or doesn’t. But Jim’s not smug nor cocky, there’s actually a layer of vulnerability about Jim and all that malaise stems from a deeper longing that’s left unfulfilled.

This films isn’t just a commentary on the foibles of youth but I think it has a good message for parents, especially parents of teens who desperately need guidance as they navigate the complexities of their young lives.

“What do you do when you have to be a man?”
– Jim repeatedly asks his father

Jim’s parents are in constant fights that often ends with his mom winning the argument. In fact, it’s shown time and again that his dad just can’t stand up to his domineering wife. Early in the film, one of the cops (played by Edward Platt) actually sympathized with Jimmy whilst he was booked at the police station. For a while I thought he’d be a good mentor for him but then he sort of disappeared for most of the film.


There’s an interesting relationship between the school bully Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen) and Jim who’s his target. The switchblade fight following Buzz slashing Jim’s car’s tire is wonderfully-filmed and packed with tension. I read that the actors wore chain mail under their shirt as they used real blades during that scene. What’s interesting is that for being called a *rebel*, Jim is actually a really nice guy who wants to do the right thing. Even when Buzz called him ‘chicken,’ something that really aggravated him, he’s still able to control himself instead of going completely berserk as I’d imagine a lot of teens would do under the circumstances.

[Spoiler alert – in case some of you still haven’t seen this one]

Now, what does baffle me is the bit involving the tragic car accident that killed Buzz. His jacket sleeve got caught in the car door handle which prevents him from jumping out of the car before it goes over a cliff, but wouldn’t you think that he can still hit brakes as soon as he realizes he can’t open the door? I don’t know maybe I’m missing some crucial piece of info here. Were the stolen cars been rigged so that the brakes don’t work??

[End of Spoiler]

In any case, that’s a small quibble in an otherwise intriguing drama. I have to admit though, if it weren’t for Dean’s performance, I don’t know if the film had been as interesting. He’s definitely the best thing of the film even though I’m not as captivated by him the way I was with other Golden Age actors, especially Gregory Peck. I do get his appeal however, there’s something so beguiling about that devil-may-care attitude and those chiseled cheekbones & piercing eyes are certainly matinee-idols material.


Natalie Wood on the other hand, seems miscast here as the supposedly wild teenage girl Judy. I read that director Nicholas Ray initially didn’t feel right about casting her either. Plus some of the scenes of her with her dad comes across as creepy and bizarre to me, I’m really not sure what that’s about. I wonder if someone feistier like Elizabeth Taylor, Dean’s co-star in Giant, might’ve been a better fit. Sal Mineo (who looked a lot like Ralph Macchio) is quite good as John aka Plato, a forlorn young boy from a privileged family who idolizes Jim. Plato’s looking for a father figure and somehow he finds that in Jim who obviously is lacking an adequate parental figure himself. Right from the start, there’s a strange parallel between the two as Plato was also arrested the same night as Jim. Given the strict Hays Code at the time, the homosexuality factor is never mentioned, but it’s glaringly obvious that Plato has a thing for Jim. Two other performers worth mentioning here is Jim Backus who played a key role as Dean’s father and there’s a very young, baby-faced Dennis Hopper in a small role as one of Buzz’s inner circle.


The third act is both tender and intense. Knowing that they’re hunted by Buzz’s friends, Jimmy and Judy’s romance blossomed as they hide out in an abandoned mansion. There’s an odd threesome going on between Jim, Judy and Plato as they sort of acting out a fantasy of being a family, with Jim & Judy as the parents and Plato as the child. I really had no idea what’s going to happen in the finale, a lot of scenarios are playing in my head as to what’ll become of Jim. I’m not going to spoil it for you but I found myself quite moved by Dean’s impassioned performance. If I wasn’t sure about Dean’s appeal initially, by the end of the film, I totally got what the fuss was about him and why he’s become such an icon. It’s really too bad he died so young and I can’t help thinking how eerie it is that the film that he’s best known for contains a scene of a fatal car accident.

Overall Rebel Without A Cause is a well-crafted piece with beautiful, evocative cinematography by Ernest Haller (who won an Oscar for his work in Gone With the Wind) that somehow helps convey the mood of a given scene. Even seeing this six decades after its release, there’s a timeless quality about it as the social themes are still relevant that today’s teens can relate to. Having seen this, now I’m curious to check out Dean’s other films, I think I will put Giant in my Blindspot list next year as I also need to see a Rock Hudson film.

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Check out my previous 2014 Blind Spot reviews

So have you seen Rebel Without A Cause? I’d love to hear what you think!

September Blind Spot: Double Indemnity (1944)


This is the second Billy Wilder film on my Blindspot [first one was The Apartment] and the fourth film of his I’ve seen, which happens to be the fourth film he directed. It’s also the first Barbara Stanwyck movie I saw as well as my first viewing of Fred MacMurray in the lead role. Ok now that we’ve got the stats out of the way, let me tell you that I LOVED it! Some people say it’s one of the best Hollywood noir films and it’s currently ranked #29 Greatest Movie of All Time by AFI. Well, I’d say it lives up to the hype.

The story is quite simple and easy to follow, though there are twists as the story goes on that makes it all the more intriguing, even if it’s a tad predictable. The gist of the story is this: MacMurray is Walter Neff, an insurance agent who upon meeting the sultry wife of his client somehow got himself talked into a murderous insurance fraud scheme. Double Indemnity refers to a life insurance policy clause where the payout doubles when the recipient dies of an accidental death. The film begins with Walter going into his office at night and starts talking into a Dictaphone Machine. In the shadowy B&W lighting, I slowly notice he has been hurt and that he’s making a confession of a crime he’s committed. The story then goes into flashback mode that clues the audience into just what has happened to Walter and why he’s confessing it all.

It’s a By the time Walter Neff realizes he’s been ensnared by her deceitful net, it was all too late. In a way, I too felt like I had been played by Phyllis into thinking she had been wronged by her husband. But of course as the story unfolds, we learn that Phyllis has been planning this scheme all along and it’s not the first time she’s done something like this. I have to say that the romance isn’t particularly gripping, though the flirtatious banter the first time they meet is quite amusing. It’s obvious Walter was lusting after Phyllis the second he saw her during his routine house call.

“I was thinking about that dame upstairs, and the way she had looked at me, and I wanted to see her again, close, without that silly staircase between us.”


The dialog sounds a bit cheesy and simplistic at times, it made me laugh how Walter kept calling Phyllis baby. But both actors fit the role nicely, and they do look good together even if the chemistry isn’t exactly scorching. What I do enjoy is the dialog between Walter and his claims adjuster colleague Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). I’ve only seen Robinson in The Ten Commandments as Moses’ adversary Dathan, but he’s the kind of scene-stealing character actor who lights up any scene. He reminds me of Claude Rains in Casablanca, one of my fave performances of all time. At first Keyes seems to be on Walter-Phyllis side, unknowingly working in their favor when he insisted that Phyllis’ husband’s death wasn’t a suicide. Little did they know soon he became their biggest *adversary* that puts their evil scheme in jeopardy. I LOVE this part when Keyes laid it out on Walter that he isn’t easily fooled… and once he’s on to something, he wouldn’t ever let it go.


Barton Keyes: Eh? There it is, Walter. It’s beginning to come apart at the seams already. Murder’s never perfect. Always comes apart sooner or later, and when two people are involved it’s usually sooner. Now we know the Dietrichson dame is in it *and* a somebody else. Pretty soon, we’ll know who that somebody else is. He’ll show. He’s got to show. Sometime, somewhere, they’ve got to meet. Their emotions are all kicked up. Whether it’s love or hate doesn’t matter; they can’t keep away from each other. They may think it’s twice as safe because there’s two of them [chuckles]

Barton Keyes: but it isn’t twice as safe. It’s ten times twice as dangerous. They’ve committed a *murder*! And it’s not like taking a trolley ride together where they can get off at different stops. They’re stuck with each other and they got to ride all the way to the end of the line and it’s a one-way trip and the last stop is the cemetery. She put in her claim… I’m gonna throw it right back at her. [Walter hands Keyes a light]

Barton Keyes: Let her sue us if she dares. I’ll be ready for her *and* that somebody else. They’ll be digging their own graves.

I love how quickly the table’s turned on Walter/Phyllis, it’s inevitable yet the film manages to create some suspense thanks to Wilder’s direction. There are many iconic scenes here, the store scenes where Walter & Phyllis secretly meet and the scene at Walter’s apartment when Barton drops by unexpectedly come to mind. They both are laden with tension despite not having much action going on.


The story immediately grabs me, just like The Apartment was. It must be Billy Wilder’s gift to create such a compelling intro. Of course it helps having celebrated crime novelist Raymond Chandler co-writing the screenplay. Though it was only his fourth film, I could see why this was regarded as one of Wilder’s best work. The way the story flows, combined with Miklós Rózsa‘s unsettling score and John F. Seitz‘s stunning cinematography, this film is as captivating as its femme fatale. Barbara Stanwyck‘s Phyllis Dietrichson is beautiful and seductive, but there’s still a certain softness about her that somehow camouflages her wickedness. Stanwyck isn’t over-the-top in her portrayal either, the way some of today’s femme fatale might play someone like her. Think of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct for example, or even Eva Green in the Sin City sequel, Stanwyck’s charm and seduction is a lot more subtle, though definitely not less lethal.

I have to mention the cinematography again here as it really enhances the mood of the film. I read in Wikipedia Seitz used a lighting technique called the “venetian blind” which almost gives the illusion of prison bars trapping the characters. Stanwyck later reflected, “…and for an actress, let me tell you the way those sets were lit, the house, Walter’s apartment, those dark shadows, those slices of harsh light at strange angles – all that helped my performance. The way Billy staged it and John Seitz lit it, it was all one sensational mood.” MacMurray was terrific as well, no wonder my friend Jack D. dedicated a post to him as a superb louse. I love the scenes when his conscience is creeping up on him … “I couldn’t hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.” 


I’m impressed once again by Wilder’s work here. It’s amazing that this is his first ever thriller as it’s now been regarded as one of the most important film in its noir genre. Though there is very little action in this film, but it’s far from boring. It’s the quintessential film noir driven by story and character, not laden with violence but lacking in real suspense *cough* Sin City 2 *cough* Apparently Stanwyck’s character set the mold of unforgettable femme fatale, and signals a noir trend centered on women of questionable virtue.

The trifecta of main actors: Stanwyck, MacMurray and Robinson are all superb. Everything about this film just works, so I’m surprised it didn’t win any of the seven Oscar nominations. I even like the small details such as the lighter, how Walter often lights Barton’s cigarette. It sort of becomes a thing between the two of them, and in the finale, it’s Barton who lights Walter’s cigarette in his moment of desperation. Whilst the film’s main focus was on the unholy romance of Walter & Phyllis, there’s also a story of friendship between the two men. In a way, his friendship with Barton might’ve given Walter his conscience back. I also learned from Wiki that the ending is different from James M. Cain‘s novel it’s based on, but the author was actually pleased with it.

I’m glad I finally got to see it. I could see how this film inspires countless imitation, in terms of story and character development. Few could match the brilliance of Wilder’s noir masterpiece.

4.5 out of 5 reels

BlindSpotSeriesSidebarCheck out my previous 2014 Blind Spot reviews

So have you seen Double Indemnity? I’d love to hear what you think!

August Blind Spot: The Philadelphia Story (1940)


Instead of a straight review, this post is more of my reaction of the movie and the cast, so I’m going to include some observations as well as trivia from IMDb.

There’s been a lot of ‘firsts’ with some of the Blindspot movies I saw. Well, with this one, it’s a lot of ‘seconds.’ It’s the second George Cukor film I saw (the first was My Fair Lady, but I’m not counting Gone With the Wind as he was fired early on from his directing duties) and it’s also the second Cary Grant + Katharine Hepburn film I saw after Bringing Up Baby.

It is however, the first time I saw both Cary Grant AND Jimmy Stewart in a movie together and honestly, that’s the main draw for me. I was also curious because this movie was regarded as one of the best rom-coms, in fact it ranked #5 on the AFI’s list of 10 greatest films in that genre. Well, now that I’ve seen it, I think it’s an enjoyable movie but it wasn’t GREAT by any means, in fact it got a bit silly at times and Stewart seems awkward in some of the scenes and not as effortless in comedy as Grant was. That’s why I was  surprised that Stewart actually won Best Actor that year, say what? Well, apparently the actor himself was shocked as well. According to IMDb, ‘Stewart never felt he deserved the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in this film, especially since he had initially felt miscast. He always maintained that Henry Fonda should have won instead for The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and that the award was probably “deferred payment for my work on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)”.’ Yep, I totally agree Stewart should’ve won for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which was another Blindspot film I saw earlier this year (read my review).


Now, for those who haven’t seen the film, the film is about a socialite, Tracy Lord (Hepburn) whose wedding plans to nouveau riche George Kittredge (John Howard) are complicated by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant) and a tabloid magazine journalist Macaulay Connor (Stewart). The movie didn’t immediately click with me, which I often find with some classic films I saw, but fortunately it got a bit more engrossing as the film progressed. One reason I didn’t click with the movie right away could be because I couldn’t quite warm up to Hepburn. Yes I know she’s one of Hollywood’s best actresses and the most decorated with 12 nominations and four wins (WOW!), but out of the three films I saw her in, I find that she’s not immediately sympathetic. I mean there are other actresses who often play strong independent women with minds of their own, but they somehow still have a certain vulnerability and even warmth about them that I don’t quite see in Hepburn.

In any case, the movie itself is enjoyable enough, but lack the emotional resonance I felt with say, The Apartment or Roman Holiday. The actors are fun to watch as they’re bantering with one another, but I feel somewhat detached from them that it was hard for me to care about any of them. So for most of the movie, I was busy admiring the gorgeous costume design, especially all Hepburn’s dressed designed by Adrian.


Hepburn had such a svelte figure that everything looked good on her, I especially love the Grecian dress she wore when she was dancing with Stewart by the pool. The transparent silk organza dress with string tie belt she wore in the finale [see above, bottom left] is my favorite as it looks ethereal and elegant, and it fits Hepburn so beautifully.

The chemistry between her and her male co-stars are ok, I think she seems most comfortable with Grant which is perhaps why they often do a film together. What I do enjoy more than the romance is the scenes of Grant and Stewart together. They seem to have a good rapport as they play off each other well. Just seeing these two biggest classic male superstars together is amusing enough, but the two have quite different styles of acting which made it even more fun to watch.


The scene where Stewart got the hiccups as he was drunk is pretty hilarious. I could tell Grant was amused and at times he looked like he was about to burst out laughing. As it turns out, the hiccup was improvised and Stewart didn’t tell Grant ahead of time, hence Grant’s natural amused reaction. LOVE it!


The supporting cast is pretty good, I thought Virginia Weidler is so darn cute as Tracy’s smart-alecky teenage sister and Ruth Hussey as the sardonic photographer who’s not-so-secretly in love with Stewart’s character.

SPOILER ALERT! [I figure I might not be the only one who hasn’t seen this] Now the movie ends in happy ending of course. And the trouble with seeing tons of still photos of the wedding scene before I finally saw it, I kind of know how it’d end so there’s no surprise there. Still it was pretty sweet, I think that’s probably the only dramatic moment in the entire film as the camera pans to both Grant and Hussey’s look of dismay as Stewart’s character proposed to Hepburn’s.


Final Thoughts: The high-society type comedies are pretty amusing to me and having three major movie stars certainly didn’t hurt, but for some reason I just wasn’t wowed by it. I know I’m in the minority as seems like everyone else LOVED this movie. I wish I loved it more but hey, it is what it is. That said, I’m glad I finally saw it and I’m still curious to see more work from all three actors. This movie is apparently based on a Broadway production and I think this story might actually work better on stage. I just saw Noël Coward’s 1930s comedy of manners Private Lives starring Toby Stephens & Anna Chancellor, I’d imagine the battle of the sexes with all the witty repartee would be similar to that. So overall the movie an enjoyable farce, but not exactly a comedic masterpiece it’s made out to be.

3.5 reels

BlindSpotSeriesSidebarCheck out my previous 2014 Blind Spot reviews

So have you seen The Philadelphia Story? I’m curious to hear what you think!

July 2014 Blind Spot Film: Purple Noon / Plein Soleil (1960)


It’s been over three years since I saw an Alain Delon film, that was  Le Samouraï  where he played a silent-but-deadly assassin. Well as Tom Ripley, he isn’t quite as taciturn but he’s just as deadly. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, I was familiar with the story from the 1996 film version. I can’t remember much of the details of that one thankfully, so when I watched it, the story still felt fresh to me. Though it’s based on the same novel, the two films were pretty different. There’s a homo-erotic undertones in the 1996 version that wasn’t present in this one, and the ending is also very different.

Just like other Blindspot entries, this review may contain some plot discussions.

Right away I thought Delon was a far more appealing and at the same time more sinister version of Tom Ripley than Matt Damon was. With his razor-sharp cheekbones and steely gaze, Delon possesses a certain coldness, that dangerous undercurrent lurking beneath his impossible good looks. Sent to Italy by a wealthy Mr. Greenleaf to retrieve his playboy son Philipe and bring him back to San Francisco. Though Delon essentially plays an American, he barely spoke a word of English as this is a French film.

Tom is to be paid $5000 for his services but later the offer is retracted when Mr Greenfield realizes Tom fails to do his mission. By the time we see him hanging out with Philipe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), the two are like inseparable friends. Even as Philipe’s longtime friend Freddie (Billy Kearns) resents Tom for being a moocher, Philipe enjoys spending time with him … for a little while at least.


Philipe’s fiancee Marge (Marie Laforêt) feels sorry for Tom but at the same time she’s not comfortable having him around. Well, can’t say I blame him, especially when it’s someone who obviously doesn’t mind spending other people’s money and wears her fiance’s clothes. There’s a really disturbing scene where Ripley is mimicking Philipe in front of the mirror whilst wearing his clothes and shoes. What’s more disturbing is that Philipe is well aware that Tom is lusting after his lavish lifestyle, yet he still lets him hang around with him. They even go on a yacht trip together, the three of them. Whilst Philipe is making out with the beautiful Marge under the scorching Mediterranean sun, Tom’s lustful eye follows every inch of them.


Director René Clément filmed the psychological thriller in an expertly manner. The tension isn’t overt but it’s always lurking, waiting for the right moment to strike. The dialog at the yacht between Philipe and Tom is particularly fascinating as Tom jokingly tells him about his whole plan about killing him and taking his identity. At first Philipe seems nonchalant about the joke, even pointing out the weak points about Tom’s plan and all that. He gradually begins to suspect it wasn’t a joke after all, but by then it was too late. This is the most action-packed scene in the whole film, and Clement doesn’t overwhelm us with ominous score, instead he lets the natural elements like the choppy waters and high winds build  tension. Delon’s shirtless tanned body as he vigorously grabs the yacht steering wheel in this scene definitely sticks with you. An iconic combination of sex appeal and disquieting menace set in a panoramic vista.


The cinematography by Henri Decaë is absolutely striking, whether it’s the narrow, cobblestone streets or the vast blue ocean, every frame is postcard-worthy. This movie could practically double as a Italian tourism video, especially mixed with Nino Rota‘s jazzy score. Best scenery of all is in Delon himself, what with cheekbones you could cut yourself on and those chilling, penetrating blue eyes that Decaë often frame in extreme close-ups. The devil comes in attractive packages and there are few men more attractive than the French actor. All the beautiful people and striking scenery gives a staggering contrast to the ugly-ness and darkness of the human soul. Even Philipe who’s the victim in the story is not a sympathetic character as he’s a hedonist and a bully. In a strange way, as wicked as Tom was, there’s a bit part of me that’s curious if he would get away with it. I’m not saying I sympathize with him, but like any great cinematic villain, he remains magnetic and captivating despite his vice.

Delon practically outshines everyone in the film as you can’t take your eyes off him. Obviously he’s devastatingly beautiful, but looks alone isn’t enough to carry a role like this. Peter Bradshaw’s review at the Guardian says it best “… his almost unearthly perfection is creepy itself, as if he is imitating a human being.”


Now, about that ending. I found out after watching the film that in the book, Ripley did get away with his crime, but he becomes haunted with paranoia that he would be caught. But the ending in the film implies that Ripley was arrested when the policemen discovered Philipe’s decomposed body still tied to the anchor cable that’s tangled around its propeller. I do think the book’s ending is far more intriguing and audacious, it seems that the censorship code is to blame for the more tame finale. But still, it was a memorable ending with the sun-drenched Ripley sipping cocktails on the beach… the tranquil sight of the beautiful Riviera contrasted with a stomach-churning shot of a decomposed hand peeking out from a body bag.

If you have seen The Talented Mr. Ripley, I highly recommend you to check out this one. I’ve never seen Mr. Clément’s work before but I definitely should check out more. I’m also curious to see other roles by Delon as the two I’ve seen so far depict him as this cool and calculated persona, which he obviously excels at. He’s the perfect Tom Ripley here, far more effective than Damon and even John Malkovich in Ripley’s Game. Clément’s been called the French Hitchcock and it’s definitely fitting, yet his direction is still unique in that somehow the suspense is more subtle and there’s even a laid-back approach, keeping us mesmerized and on edge at the same time.

4.5 out of 5 reels

This is the fifth entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

What do you think of  Purple Noon? I’d love to hear what you think!