Born in 1910, the son of an Italian-American barber in Jersey City, Richard Conte made the most of his heritage — playing unsavory tough guys, cops and fast-talking World War II G.I.’s in a career that spanned some 95 movie and tv credits over a nearly 40-year period.
He never consistently made it to top of the line stardom, but he came close. He is perhaps best remembered today for playing Don Barzini, the rival of Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone in 1972’s The Godfather. We like Conte in less celebrated roles: as the svelte but sinister gangster pursuing a succulent Jean Wallace in Allied Artists’ The Big Combo. (There’s our happy couple pictured above.)
He effectively provides a lecture of sorts on what motivates many film noir characters: Hate the man who tries to kill you, Conte’s character advises. Hate him until you see red and you come out winning the big money. The girls will come tumbling after. You’ll have to shut off the phone and lock the door to get a night’s rest.
That being said, it’s important to note that Conte showed surprising versatility. His subtly underplayed performance in 1948’s Call Northside 777 — as a working class Chicagoan wrongly convicted of a policeman’s murder — upstages James Stewart’s portrayal of a somewhat pompous journalist. Conte effectively steals the picture.
We enjoyed him enormously in perhaps our favorite World War II movie, director Lewis Milestone’s superb A Walk In The Sun (1945). Conte’s character, machine gunner Private Rivera, a resilient, fast-talking platoon mate who energizes a mixed group of infantrymen, nicely played to his acting strengths. (He shared top billing on the picture with Dana Andrews.)
Ok, let’s see how much you remember about Richard Conte. As usual, questions today and answers tomorrow. Here we go:
1) Question: Sharing Italian heritage and hailing from New Jersey, Conte and Frank Sinatra naturally became friends both onscreen and off. Which one of the following pictures did Sinatra and Conte NOT appear in? a) 1967’s Tony Rome; b) 1968’s Lady in Cement; c) 1960’s Ocean’s 11; or d) 1954’s Highway Dragnet.
2) Question: Conte is a fairly prominent part of The Godfather movie. Why doesn’t he then appear in the 1974 sequel, The Godfather Part II? a) Director Francis Coppola soured on Conte as an actor; b) His character was killed off in the original; c) Conte demanded what was considered an exorbitent salary; or d) none of the above.
3) Question: Which one of the following is credited with “discovering” Conte during his period as a stage actor? a) John Garfield; b) Elia Kazan; c) Samuel Goldwyn; or d) Darryl Zanuck.
4) Question: During his scuffling early days as an actor, Conte worked many temporary jobs. Which one of the following did he not hold down? a) Singing waiter; b) Nightclub bouncer; c) Truck Driver; or d) Wall Street clerk.
5) Question: Which one of the following actors appeared in two of Conte’s best movies? a) Ricardo Montalbon; b) Marlon Brando; c) Lee J. Cobb; or d) Dan Duryea.