He burst on the scene playing a psychopath. Yet, he was anything but offscreen, and emerged as an A-List Hollywood star spanning some 45 years beginning in the 1950’s. His inverted career was one of the quirkiest in classic Hollywood.
There he is — Richard Widmark above in one of his signature early roles with an observant Mike Mazurki in the backround. (We’ll let you guess the title of the movie.)
Widmark made what is now regarded as his biggest splash early. He was a star of film noir pictures just about a year after the French critic Nino Frank coined the term. Specifically, he lit up the screen in his debut movie, as maniacal Tommy Udo in 1947’s Kiss of Death.
As critic Eddie Muller observed: All told (Widmark as Udo) had about 15 minutes of screen time, and he devoured it. He funnelled bad intentions, annoying habits, grating obnoxiousness, and total amorality into Tommy Udo…and he raised the bar for all subsequent noir nutcases.
Who can easily forget that cackling laugh as Udo straps a squealer’s elderly mother (a young Mildred Dunnock) into her wheelchair with an electrical cord, and sends her crashing down the stairs of her tenement to her death. Widmark became something of a national sensation.
It took a while for the actor to emerge from strictly noir titles, but emerge he did. Widmark was a genuine above-the-line star in a broad range of A-list titles. While most of these have become obscured over time, his shocking, early film noirs retain their currency.
Let’s see how much you know about this influential star. As usual, questions today and answers tomorrow. Here we go:
1) Question: Although he excelled at playing out-of-control screen crazies in a number of pictures, Widmark was offscreen a genuinely nice guy, a well educated Midwesterner and an all-American type. a) True; or b) False.
2) Question: Widmark won his lone Oscar nomination for which one of his pictures? a) 1961’s Judgement at Nuremberg; b) 1954’s Hell and High Water; c) 1960’s The Alamo; or d) 1947’s Kiss of Death.
3) Question: Which one of the following titles was Widmark’s favorite, and why? a) 1951’s Halls of Montezuma; b) 1950’s Panic in the Streets; or c) 1950’s Night and the City; or d) 1948’s Road House.
4) Question: Which one of the following studio bosses stepped in at a crucial moment to launch Widmark’s long screen career? a) Irving Thalberg; b) Darryl Zanuck; c) Harry Cohn or d) Carl Laemmle.
5) Question: Widmark made a raft of westerns in his career, including two for director John Ford. Can you name these two?