Question: how many of you can instantly identify these names: Herbert Marshall, Pat O’Brien, Farley Granger, Ray Milland, Franchot Tone, Dennis Morgan, Dane Clark, George Brent and Robert Walker?
Missed a few did you?
The point is that each of these guys was considered a star in their day, capable of “opening” a movie. In other words, because they were in a picture audiences went to see it. But how many of these august figures are easily recalled today (without the prompting of sites such as classicmoviechat.com)?
Now, what about this name — Charles McGraw?
He was never considered an A-list star in his day (he made over 65 movies in a career lasting 34 years from the early Forties to the mid Seventies). But the betting is that you’d recognize him right away today by his distinctive voice and look (see above).
McGraw was a standout star in low-budget film noir outings in the Forties and Fifties, some of the best crime dramas ever made.
That makes him at least a B-list star. Whatever the category, McGraw is much like Ward Bond, Edward Everett Horton, James Gleason, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet in that these guys are far more recognizable among contemporary movie fans than their “star” peers mentioned above.
Yes, stardom is often fleeting. But in McGraw’s case, his “working actor” stature has only increased with time. It’s not too much to say that it is difficult to be a fan of the film noir genre without admiring his work. He was a true original.
This preamble presumes you don’t know a great deal about McGraw. So regard today’s Monday Quiz as a combination information challenge cum affectionate remembrance. We are inspired here by Alan K. Rode’s CHARLES McGRAW: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy (2008, McFarland & Co.). On to our quiz. (Answers tomorrow.)
1) Question: McGraw makes a vivid impression as one of two hit men in the 1946 thriller, The Killers. But what is the main reason this movie is remembered today? a) For Ava Garner’s breakthrough performance as Kitty Collins; b) It is based on a 1927 Ernest Hemingway short story; c) For Burt Lancaster’s athletic lead performance as the hunted man; or d) Because it is regarded “the Citizen Kane of film noir.”
2) Question: Early in his career, in 1937, McGraw landed a small part in the Group Theater’s stage production of Golden Boy. Which one of the following was NOT part of that cast? a) Karl Malden; b) Lee J. Cobb; c) Richard Widmark or d) Elia Kazan.
3) Question: From 1946 through 1957, McGraw starred in many film noirs mostly shot at one studio. How many noirs were involved, and which studio was most responsible for filming them? a) nine at 20th Century Fox; b) seven at MGM; c) 22 at RKO; or d) 15 at Warner Bros.
4) Question: Which one of these name directors did McGraw NOT work with? a) Alfred Hitchcock; b) John Ford; c) Stanley Kubrick; or d) Richard Brooks.
5) Question: In 1947′s T-Men, McGraw portrayed a brutal gangster who literally parboils a stool pigeon by locking him in a steam bath. Who played the unfortunate stoolie? a) Walter Brennan; b) Wallace Ford; c) William Bendix; or d) Preston Foster.
6) Question: McGraw replayed one of classic movie’s most famous roles in a 1955 tv series that lasted a mere eight episodes. Can you name the film on which the tv series was based? a) Journey Into Fear; b) Casablanca; c) The Maltese Falcon; or d) Stranger on the Third Floor.
7) Question: McGraw muttered onscreen what has been termed “the bluntest expression of bereavement in film history.” What was the title of the movie, and what he his character say?
8) Question: McGraw’s costars in 1949′s Border Incident, about immigrant smuggling across the Mexican border, were Ricardo Montalban and an actor who went on to hold high political office. Can you name him? a) Ronald Reagan; b) Sonny Bono; c) George Murphy; or d) Albert Dekker.
9) Question: One of McGraw’s female costars, dubbed the “Queen of B Noirs,” was both his offscreen friend and onscreen nemesis. Who was she? a) Ida Lupino; b) Lizabeth Scott; c) Marie Windsor; or d) Mary Astor.
10) Question: McGraw shuffled off this mortal coil on July 30, 1980 at age 66, and the end was not pretty. How did he die? a) By electrocuting himself; b) Accidentally slipping in the shower and bleeding to death; c) After a heart attack in a crowded bar; or d) A grisly car accident.