Richard Widmark: 1914-2008

One of motion pictures greatest actors, an icon of film noir and an intelligent, decent man in real life has left us.
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And just after my tenth (eleventh?) viewing of one of my favorite film noir, that daylight ménage à trois (or rather, ménage à trois by way of intimidation, which only makes the picture all the more fascinating and kinky) -- Road House -- just when I was really wrapping my head around my obsession with both the movie and that hot blonde laughing lunatic of menace and twisted sex appeal, he ups and leaves me.
One of motion pictures greatest actors, an icon of film noir and an intelligent, decent man in real life has left us. Richard Widmark died Monday at the age of 93-years-old.
An actor who stunned audiences (and earned his one and only Oscar nomination) with his film debut as the giggling psychopath Tommy Udo in Henry Hathaway's Kiss of Death, a character who, in the film's most notorious scene, pushes an old woman in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs, Widmark worked a long career filled with intriguing, daring roles that left a permanent impression on the movie-going public. So much, in fact, that Tommy Udo clubs formed around the country at various colleges, honoring the maniac for not taking any guff from women, men or life itself -- no matter how venal and self destructive he was. But that was part of Widmark's power and subversion -- you enjoyed his lunatics, you almost wanted to be near them, if only for a moment, just to witness that all that live wire insanity and bad seed evil.
But his career wasn't all about hassling little old ladies, he also helped create some of film noir's most immortal characters including, in my mind, two ultimate existential noir anti-hero icons in two ultimate film noir masterpieces -- Skip McCoy in Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street, and Harry Fabian in Jules Dassin's Night and the City.
There was also The Street with No Name, Panic in the Streets (where he made the smart career move by playing the good guy and allowing Jack Palance the role of creepy heavy), the stunning aforementioned Road House (with Ida Lupino and Cornel Wilde), Don't Bother To Knock (with Marilyn Monroe), No Way Out (playing such a convicing racist, that the real life and very passionate liberal apologized to young Sidney Poitier after nearly every take), Judgment at Nuremberg, How the West Was Won, Madigan and more and more and more.
His presence was always missed once he stepped away from the screen but it was nice knowing the man, one of the last men standing of all the noir legends, was still alive and kicking. That he was enjoying his very non Tommy Udo-like life away from the spotlight in Connecticut, critical of modern movies and soul baring celebrities and the general dumbing down of cinema while keeping his life in healthy perspective. I've got so much more to write about one of my absolute all-time favorite actors, but to put it simply -- he was a rare one.
Rest in Peace Mr. Widmark. We'll always have Jefty's. And, here's your famous push...for old time's sake.

Read more Kim Morgan at Sunset Gun.

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