Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Richard Widmark’ Category

Richard Widmark circa 1950’s
December 26, 1914 – March 24, 2008

Years ago when I first got a cell phone with text capabilties, I signed up for entertainment text alerts from a news company. Since then I’ve switched phones, but not numbers, so I continue to get them–and it’s through these text alerts that I found out Richard Widmark had passed away today. Via text message. Ahh, technology, how you manage to depress me.

Click for larger imageI’ll admit that I haven’t seen as many of Richard Widmark’s movies as the average classic movie fan, and with many of his greatest films available on dvd (Kiss of Death, No Way Out), I really have no excuse. However, I didn’t particularly enjoy him when I first started getting into the classics. His characters were too mean, too vicious and I found him cold and unlikable. It took awhile for me to warm up to Richard Widmark, but in time, I did. I wouldn’t call him one of my favorite actors, but I’ve always enjoyed his performances.

I think the first film I saw him in was The Bedford Incident (1965) in which Widmark portrays the ruthless and stubborn captain that eventually leads his crew to their deaths. It’s an excellent cold war drama, highlighting the paranoia that many Americans felt at the time. There are fantastic performances by all the actors involved (Sidney Poitier, James MacArthur and Martin Balsam to name a few), but it’s Widmark that steals the film. His turn as Captain Eric Finlander is amazingly frightening. He’s insane with power, not caring about the health and well-being of his men. The only thing he cares about is attacking the Soviet’s submarines. It’s this determination that leads to his downfall, but by the time he realizes it, it’s way too late. The final scene where Widmark and Poitier just stare at each other, with the realization of what is about to happen…it’s chilling. And it was with this film that I started gaining respect for Widmark. Could any other actor besides him pull such a role off? Widmark not only had the acting chops, but he looked like a villain: that menacing stare and cold, heartless expression made him perfect for the part.

As I began watching more films and gained interest in other actors and actresses, I saw more of Richard Widmark as well. There were comedies like The Tunnel of Love (1958) where he’s oddly matched with the wholesome Doris Day, as well as westerns such as Yellow Sky (1948) and How the West Was Won (1962). Romantically paired with Shirley Jones, Widmark outshined Jimmy Stewart in John Ford’s Two Rode Together (1961) and years before, turned in a top-notch performance as a military investigator in Time Limit (1957), Karl Malden’s only directorial effort. Time Limit is a lesser known film that centers around a group of Korean War POW’s who are guarding a terrible secret and it’s up to Widmark to find out what happened. I’ve only seen TCM air this film once, which is a shame because it really deserves to be better known.

Richard Widmark in “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974)However, my favorite movie of his also happens to be one of my all-time favorites: 1974’s all-star mystery, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. While small, Widmark’s role is also one of the most important: that of Mr. Ratchett, the somewhat mysterious, but wealthy American who is murdered aboard the Orient Express.

While Widmark’s scenes are few, he certainly makes an impact when he graces the screen. As Mr. Ratchett, he’s not only extremely rude to his assistant, Hector (Anthony Perkins) but fails to make an impression on the flamboyant Poirot (Albert Finney), whom he asks for help after receiving some threatening letters. In showing Poirot the gun he keeps with him for protection, Ratchett suddenly takes on an air of suspicion. There’s no doubt in one’s mind that he’s involved in something devious, and therefore, will deserve his fate. After turning down Ratchett’s offer and passing through a darkened tunnel, Poirot finds that he has disappeared, the only trace of his presence marked by a wildly swinging door. And with that, you know Ratchett is up to no good. Even in that short scene, Widmark proved why he was so adapt at playing bad guys: he took their characteristics and made them his own. He never just went through the motions–he became the character, and ultimately, made them completely believable.

Having a drink with his fanclub!
Richard Widmark has a drink with his fanclub! From l. to r.: June Cornetta, President of the Richard Widmark Fan Club; Nan Douglas, Widmark and Adrienne Siegal.

It’s interesting to note that Widmark was the complete opposite of his on-screen persona and in fact, was a caring, non-violent man. Yet, strangers and fans who met him on the street expected him to be exactly like one of the tough psychopaths he portrayed. It just goes to show you how good of an actor Widmark really was, to play so many characters that were unlike his own personality. In all the movies I’ve seen him in, he’s never turned in a bad performance. Sure, the script may have been weak (such as in The Tunnel of Love), but his acting was always strong.

Perhaps one of the saddest realizations that Mr. Widmark’s passing brings, is that classic Hollywood is becoming extinct. There are still a few big names living, as well as lesser known character actors and actresses (I’m not jinxing anyone by naming them here!), but in time, they’ll be gone as well. And when they go, so will the last remaining links to Hollywood’s illustrious past. Yes, we’ll still have their movies on TCM and various other cable outlets, as well as dvd’s, but it’s depressing to think about. And it’s even more depressing to realize that there are people out there who simply do not care about the past. I’m sure there are folks who didn’t have a clue to who Richard Widmark was, but thankfully, there are people out there who did. Classic movie fans who have watched his many performances knew what a terrific actor he was and what great work he was capable of. And it’s because of that work and his acting skills, that Richard Widmark will be truly missed.

Doris Day and Richard Widmark in “The Tunnel of Love”His Lengthy and Informative New York Times Obituary

TCM will be altering their prime-time linup on Friday, April 4th in honor of Mr. Widmark’s passing:

8:00 pm ALVAREZ KELLY (1966)
10:00 pm TAKE THE HIGH GROUND (1953)
12:00 am THE TUNNEL OF LOVE (1958)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »