The fulsomely paternal Sydney Greenstreet handed him over to the cops on a silver platter.
A “luminously wicked” Marie Windsor (above) two-timed and belittled him in what has been perversely referred to as film noir’s “most perfectly married couple.”
A crazed Peter Lorre was thrilled when he was framed for a brutal murder that you-know-who committed.
Writes Eddie Muller in Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir (1998, St. Martin’s Press), he was noir’s favorite fall guy…savagely slapped, brutally beaten and mercilessly murdered dozens more times in a career that seemed like one long death scene.
Hello, everybody. Your classic movie guys here today to add our voices to the chorus praising the work of one of Hollywood’s finest and most durable character actors, Elisha Cook Jr.
Born on the West Coast in 1903, Cook was making movies in earnest by the mid-Thirties, and was routinely cast as collegian rah-rah types — check out two Twentieth Century Fox films of the period: 1936’s Pigskin Parade costarring a pre-Wizard of Oz Judy Garland and a young Betty Grable; and a year later, Life Begins in College with the Ritz Brothers and Tony Martin.
Cook’s entrance into the world of film noir came most famously four years later in John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon remake costarring Humphrey Bogart, Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Gladys George. He played “the fat man’s” gun-toting sidekick, Wilmer Cook, loathed by Sam Spade and set up to take the fall for at least one murder. (Conveniently, the pint-sized Cook was three inches shorter than the relative diminutive Bogart, who stood all of 5-feet-8.)
The year before Cook got his toes wet by portraying the weasly cabbie falsely fingered as the murderer in the crisp noir signature, The Stranger on the Third Floor. Cook turned up seven years later in RKO’s Born To Kill as out-of-control murderer Lawrence Tierney’s nebbishy buddy, who futilely lectures him about the merits of self restraint.
And let’s not forget Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 thriller, The Killing, with a browbeaten Cook vainly trying to placate his patronizing and dismissive wife (the superb Windsor), a vixen flagrantly unfaithful with Vince Edwards. For any man who has ever been married, Cook’s performance is something straight out of a nightmare.
He led a long and fruitful life, dying in 1995 at age 91 after appearing in more than 200 film and tv titles. After the 1950’s Cook’s career shifted to television, and his Maltese Falcon fame endeared him to a later generation of filmmakers: Rosemary’s Baby’s Roman Polanski, Electra Glide In Blue’s James William Guercio and Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid’s Sam Peckinpah.
On television, Cook appeared in dozens of major tv series from Rawhide in the late Fifties through Magnum, P.I. thirty years later. He was the very definition of what we call an honest working actor. No fuss, no muss, just do your job and go home.
As director Huston wrote: Elisha Cook Jr., lived … up in the High Sierra, tied flies and caught golden trout between films. When he was wanted in Hollywood, they sent up word to his mountain cabin by courier. He would come down, do a picture and then withdraw again to his retreat.
He was a working actor, and a superb one.