Re: RARA-AVIS: Richard Widmark

From: sonny (
Date: 30 Mar 2008


he was for gun control, a political liberal. by all accounts a truly nice guy. sandy koufax was his son-in-law.

--- Steve Novak <> wrote:

> The best answer to your question is the article in NYT yesterday...and
> the
> assesment of The Night & the City is perfect...probably the most
> accomplished noir film of that
> name it)
> Montois
> March 29, 2008
> A Star Who Mastered a New Moral Ambiguity
> Of the generation of leading men who emerged in the aftermath of World
> War
> II, quite a few began their careers playing villains. Kirk Douglas,
> Anthony
> Quinn, Robert Mitchum, Jack Palance and Lee Marvin were among the
> postwar
> stars who served apprenticeships ‹ some long, some short ‹ as outlaws
> gunned
> down in the last reel of westerns or as hoodlums crumpling under police
> fire
> in crime pictures. Richard Widmark, who died at 93 on Monday, was
> another.
> Unlike many of his contemporaries, Mr. Widmark never quite shook the
> dark
> associations of his early roles, even after his studio, 20th Century
> Fox,
> rehabilitated him as a leading man. The obituaries that followed Mr.
> Widmark¹s death almost invariably began by evoking his first and still
> most
> famous film appearance, as the psychotic killer Tommy Udo in Henry
> Hathaway¹s 1947 film noir, ³Kiss of Death² ‹ a role that required Mr.
> Widmark to giggle and grin as he bound an old woman (Mildred Dunnock) to
> her
> wheelchair and shoved her down a flight of stairs.
> The sadistic, unhinged Udo was something new in American movies, and the
> impression he left was indelible. ³Mr. Widmark runs away with all the
> acting
> honors,² The New York Times said, and Mr. Widmark was rewarded with an
> Oscar
> nomination for best supporting actor ‹ the one and only time the Academy
> took notice of him. (On Friday night, Turner Classic Movies is set for a
> Widmark triple feature: ³Alvarez Kelly,² ³Take the High Ground² and ³The
> Tunnel of Love.²)
> Mr. Widmark, then 33, had fourth billing in ³Kiss of Death²; his Oscar
> nomination earned him better billing but similar roles in three 1948
> films:
> William Keighley¹s ³Street With No Name,² Jean Negulesco¹s ³Road House²
> and
> William Wellman¹s ³Yellow Sky.² Only with Hathaway¹s ³Down to the Sea in
> Ships² (1949) did Mr. Widmark get a heroic role and his name on top, but
> the
> public didn¹t seem interested in this bright, blond, squeaky-clean
> figure:
> they wanted their morally flawed, unpredictably violent Widmark back.
> And so, through much of the 1950s, Mr. Widmark moved back and forth ‹
> shuttling between heavies and heroes ‹ with a freedom mostly unknown to
> other performers of the period. He was a selfless Public Health Service
> doctor searching for a gangster (Jack Palance) infected with plague in
> Elia
> Kazan¹s 1950 ³Panic in the Streets²; that same year found him as a
> racist
> street punk taunting a black doctor (Sidney Poitier) in Joseph L.
> Mankiewicz¹s ³No Way Out.²
> Mr. Widmark¹s richest roles were those that placed him somewhere in the
> middle ‹ in that great swamp of moral ambiguity that four years of
> active
> conflict and a shadowy new cold war had made Americans ready to
> acknowledge.
> In Samuel Fuller¹s ³Pickup on South Street² (1953) Mr. Widmark is Skip
> McCoy, a New York pickpocket who unknowingly lifts a microfilmed roll of
> government secrets from a fallen woman (Jean Peters) working for a cell
> of
> Soviet agents. Smirkingly antisocial to the last (Skip has learned to
> taunt
> cops into hitting him, as a way of invalidating arrests), he ends by
> lending
> his criminal skills to the side of law and order, motivated less by
> patriotism than by a desire for revenge.
> In ³Hell and High Water² (1954) Mr. Widmark again worked with Mr.
> Fuller,
> and the film helped to move Mr. Widmark¹s screen personality in a
> different
> direction. In this slightly mad cold war fantasy, he is a former Navy
> officer hired by a group of civic-minded scientists to pilot a submarine
> to
> the Arctic Circle, where, they suspect, the Red Chinese are constructing
> a
> nuclear missile base. The military lent a new context to Mr. Widmark¹s
> moral
> equivocality: in films like ³Halls of Montezuma,² ³The Frogmen,² ³Take
> the
> High Ground!² and ³Destination Gobi² Mr. Widmark played hard-bitten
> commanders whose apparent coldness and cruelty masked a deeper concern
> with
> the safety of their men.
> His psycho killers and military leaders shared one prominent character
> trait: callousness, a quality Mr. Widmark portrayed with disdainful
> ease.
> From the mid-¹50s on, his filmography was filled with colonels,
> captains,
> lieutenants and even a couple of generals.
> In Robert Aldrich¹s 1977 ³Twilight¹s Last Gleaming² Mr. Widmark had his
> last
> great role, as a senior officer whose job it is to persuade a renegade
> general (Burt Lancaster, Mr. Widmark¹s contemporary and fellow
> recovering
> gangster) to relinquish control of the nuclear missile silo he has taken
> over as a political protest. The casting is impeccable: here are two
> actors
> whose careers have run in parallel, just as their characters¹ lives
> have.
> As an actor, Mr. Widmark fell between the presentational style of prewar
> filmmaking and the inner-directed, psychological focus of the Method
> actors,
> who came into vogue in the 1950s. With his prominent teeth and tight
> skin,
> his face had a certain skull-like quality that suggested Conrad Veidt in
> the
> German Expressionist films of the ¹20s, yet there was a watery,
> vulnerable
> quality in his large blue eyes that could sometimes make him seem almost
> childlike.
> The role that best combined these two sides of Mr. Widmark was, perhaps,
> that of the naﶥ American boxing promoter, Harry Fabian, who is
> devoured by
> the London underworld in Jules Dassin¹s 1950 noir masterpiece, ³Night
> and
> the City.²
> It¹s hard to imagine another tough-guy actor of the period allowing
> himself
> to come as close to tearful impotence as Mr. Widmark does at the end of
> that
> film, at the moment his character realizes that there is no escape from
> the
> vengeful associates he has betrayed. Running toward the camera, as well
> as
> toward his death, Mr. Widmark allows his face to go slack and his limbs
> to
> loosen; he seems to become a panicked child before our eyes, shrinking
> into
> infantile helplessness. A jump cut might take us to the opening scene of
> ³Rebel Without a Cause,² when James Dean¹s drunken teenager collapses on
> the
> sidewalk, playing with a toy monkey.
> A great star, perhaps, is someone who embodies a cultural moment while
> nudging us on to something new, to feelings not yet explored and
> contradictions not yet expressed. By that definition, as well as by many
> others, Richard Widmark was a great star.
> Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
> On 3/30/08 9:41 AM, "Jack Bludis" <> wrote:
> >
> >
> >
> > Eric Chambers said:
> >
> >>> >> ... I would have expected, in a forum dedicated to Noir amoung
> other
> >>> things, that more would have been made of Richard Widmark's
> passing.<<
> >
> > Mea Culpa. You're right, Eric.
> >
> > Widmark could get as down, dark, and dirty as any of them, and we
> certainly
> > owe him the honor of a mention.
> >
> > Sorry.
> >
> > I'm curious to know if Widmark was a tough "little guy" a la Allan
> Ladd?
> >
> > Anyone?
> >
> > Jack
> >
> >
> >
> >
> [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
> ------------------------------------
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