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Richard Widmark 1914-2008

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The actor Richard Widmark passed away last Wednesday. You might remember him as the guy who played Jim Bowie in 'The Alamo.' But if you don't know who he was, you're the reason that Dane Cook gets movie roles. And the reason Austin High grads watch 'Love Actually.'

Like all actors he had an up and down career so I'm going to focus on his early career when he was one of the best actors around. He did his seminal work in the film noir movies of the late 1940s and early 1950s. These black and white movies were full of morally ambiguous characters trying to survive in their bleak surroundings. Great dialogue with interesting camera angles. And shadows. Always shadows. Still my favorite genre.

So I'll take a look at four of Widmark's movies.

Kiss of Death (1947) - Directed by Henry Hathaway

This was Widmark's first movie and his only Oscar nomination. It was later remade with David Caruso and Nicholas Cage and sucked as only a David Caruso and Nicholas Cage movie can. Widmark plays sociopath Tommy Udo in what is one of the most memorable screen debuts in cinema.

The most shocking scene (below) was Widmark's character tying an old woman into her wheel chair and then pushing her down the stairs. While he giggled. Still hardcore shit now. You can imagine what it was like seeing this in 1947.

Night and The City (1950) - Directed by Jules Dassin

The movie's dark portrayal of postwar London and its seedy underworld is maybe the best on film. Widmark plays con artist Harry Fabian, who comes up with a scheme to finally make the big time. When his scheme begins to unravel, the desperation that Fabian feels is palpable. This was also remade later with Robert DeNiro, but it's memorable only for Freddy Mercury's cover of 'The Great Pretender.' DeNiro had none of Widmark's urgency.

The original trailer is below including much of the frenzied final scene.

No Way Out (1950) - Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Featured the movie debuts of both Sidney Poitier and Ossie Davis. Takes a look at both white and black racism. Widmark's character says stuff so vile that Widmark would actually apologize to Poitier after the scenes. Imagine micing Scipio the next time he drives into Oakland. You get the idea.

Pickup on South Street (1953) - Directed by Sam Fuller

The great Sam Fuller deserves his own post so go watch the documentary 'The Typewriter, The Rifle and The Movie Camera.' Widmark is the ultimate anti-hero in the film. He plays a pickpocket who gets caught between the police and communist spies, playing both sides against each other.