There were some leading men who weren’t handsome in the traditional sense, and still played leading character men. Brian Donlevy, better looking than most, was great in war films, but he also made other movies, even comedies.
One of his best pictures benefits from his starring role in Fritz Lang’s 1943 thriller, Hangmen Also Die, the real life story of a hated Nazi leader. (See above; Donlevy is to the right.)
Any war buffs out there know who we’re referring to?
Although only 5-feet-8-inches tall, Donlevy usually projected a dominating presence onscreen.
He was especially good in hyper-masculine roles in war pictures –1942’s Wake Island; Donlevy is to the left above along with Robert Preston and MacDonald Carey) — and film noir (as the district attorney in 1947’s Kiss of Death with Victor Mature). Yes, that’s Karl Malden below to the left.
We especially liked him in the 1942 adaptation of a Dashiell Hammett thriller, The Glass Key, an early pairing of that infamous noir duo, Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd. (They made seven films together from 1942 to 1948.)
But, as mentioned, Donlevey was an agile performer in comedies such as director Preston Sturges’ first movie, The Great McGinty. He won plaudits for his performance in this rowdy political satire.
His best-supporting-actor Oscar nomination was for 1939’s Beau Geste costarring Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Preston as three English brothers in the World War I-era French Foreign Legion. It was an update of a 1926 silent version. Donlevy plays the tough Sargeant Markoff, and very nearly walked off with an Academy Award.
The competition was especially formidable that year. Winner was Thomas Mitchell for John Ford’s Stagecoach.
Almost anything Donlevy made is worth another look. He appeared in some 120 movie and TV creations over the course of a 46-year career.
Born in 1901, he died in 1972. A stronger screen presence than character actor status, Donlevy never quite achieved top ranked stardom. In no sense should he be forgotten.