Thursday, March 27, 2008

Richard Widmark

Alas, the good night beckons us all, gently or otherwise. At the tender age of 93, one of the great screen actors of the 20th century passes away as the 21st century continues to crumble around us. Richard Widmark, good night sweet prince, and rest in peace, if not in pieces.

Close to my heart, Widmark almost single-handedly typified a certain kind of film noir actor. Not the leading man type, even when playing the leading man, Widmark made his reputation in Hollywood starting with the role of the sadistic psychopath, Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death. Among the many achievements of career, personally for me his reputation is carved in the granite by two films for the Harry Fabian in Jules Dassin's Night and the City and as Skip McCoy in Sam Fuller's Pickup on South Street.

There is not much for me to utter to the Widmark-curious other than to direct them to the two following flicks. "Night and the City" is arguably Dassin's masterpiece... wrestling-noir, London-noir...the city is a character, a beast devouring all, with Widmark as Fabian on a crazed suicide mission to tame that beast. Created on the cusp of Dassin's blacklisting and resultant exile to France, the film, and Widmark's portrayal, pulls no punches. "Pickup on South Street" is also arguably Fuller's own masterpiece. Richard Widmark's chops as an actor complete the directors' respective visions in both instances.

What is it about Widmark? Intentionally or not, he was, ironically, the leading man in a couple of unpretentious films that indicted post-WWII culture as it careened into the Communist witch-hunt days, a couple of movies crafted by directors who knew how to say something profound without making self-conscious message pictures.

The only actor I can think of in conjunction with Widmark is one of the other great noir actors, Dan Duryea, who left this mortal coil back in '68. Ultimately, Richard Widmark was just one helluva screen actor, period.

Losing Widmark has the same effect on me as losing certain figures in recent memory such as Robert Mitchum or Ike Turner. His passing leaves me quiet. Reflective with nothing seemingly left to reflect upon. Quiet, yes, but not entirely without motion...his passing leaves me silently considering a landscape which ever more increasingly becomes barren of objects upon which to gaze.


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