Friday, March 28, 2008

Richard Widmark 1915-2008

Richard Widmark was a compelling on screen presence throughout the Hollywood of the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and indeed, into the 70’s. A native Minnesotan, he did time as a teacher and stage and radio actor before making his infamous movie debut at the late age of 32 in 1947’s Kiss of Death. Playing a disturbingly gleeful psychopath named Tommy Udo, his gaunt features, hyena laugh, pinpoint eyeballs, and the ever lasting image of his character pushing an elderly women in a wheelchair down a staircase would mark him as one of the unforgettable agents of violence of all time for a Hollywood studio product. Widmark seem to grow sturdier as he aged, and wound up as a leading man in the solid Midwestern mode of Henry Fonda or William Holden, although Widmark’s characters often displayed propensities for malice or sadism and the way his measured voice was occasionally broken up by a malevolent sneer or a glinty, penetrative gaze, hinted at neuroses bubbling much closer to the surface then those parts inhabited by the two aforementioned actors. Equally at home on the range, in the military, or as an urbanite, the actor did exceptional work in three separate 1950 releases, as a hustler in the noir Night and the City, as a bigoted cop in No Way Out and as a doctor fighting the plague in Panic in the Streets. Widmark was also picture perfect as a small time pickpocket in Sam Fuller’s classic Pickup on South Street (1953), two John Ford westerns, Two Rode Together (1961) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964), and particularly fine as a tired and tough New York Cop in Don Siegel’s gritty Madigan (1968).

No comments: