passing in 1994 left a huge gap in my love of Hollywood films. I
grew up watching the versatile actor play a surprising variety of
roles. His screen choices left me off balance,
unsure about my own feelings about the star's persona. He
could be a hero, like Dardo in The Flame and the
Arrow(1950), a spirited action film from Warner Brothers
or a simple, lustful, worker, as in The Rose Tatoo(1955). Of
course, in my youth, I appreciated the magnificence of
Lancaster's athletic presence, the power of his smile to charm
an audience from one corner of the theater to the other, and the
sheer physically of the actor. In later years, I learned
to appreciate Lancaster's attempts to explore the darker side.
Above all, the actor was unafraid to explore himself on the
Burt Lancaster was
33 years old when he made his screen debut in The
Killers(1946). Lancaster was a force from the get-go,
with his powerful frame matched to strong dialogue delivery.
There was nothing halfway about the actor. Audiences sensed
danger and integrity. As a measure of integrity, I always think
of Lancaster's partner from his acrobat days , Nick Cravat, who had
significant parts in many Lancaster films once the star could
use some of that screen power behind the scenes. Over the years,
beginning in 1950's Flame and the Arrow and
finally with the 1977 The Island of Doctor Moreau,
the diminutive actor made seven films that starred Lancaster.
One of the
first actors to turn producer in a big way, Lancaster sought to
create a varied screen presence through a lot of daring work. In
1948, he formed a producing company with his agent Harold Hecht.
Lancaster was an active producer, often battling with the other
artistic talent involved in his company's productions. He even
directed two films, the less than memorable The
Kentuckian(1955) and the underrated Midnight
Lancaster, clearly made of the stuff of
matinee idols, doggedly sought parts infused with
actors like Lancaster often get pigeon-holed into safe roles
that maximize those physical assets. Lancaster in succeeded in
creating an interesting and diverse body of work. For every Wyatt Earp (Gunfight at the OK
Corral/1957) on his filmography, there's a Doc
Delaney (Come Back Little Sheba/1952). Critics often chastised the actor for a similarity of line
delivery no matter what role he was playing, but it would have
been foolish for Lancaster to fail to make use of one of his
grand assets. His distinctive voice made believers of movie
audiences. No, he never seemed the same from role to role,
despite almost never using an accent.
best role of all is the darkest, most mean-spirited screen
portrait of an entertainment personality ever, J. J. Hunsecker
in Sweet Smell of Success(1957). Playing the
manipulative and ruthless gossip columnist opposite Tony
Curtis's sniveling press agent Sidney Falco, Lancaster
overpowered everyone around him with brute force. Elmer
Gantry in 1960 won the actor his lone Academy Award as
Best Actor. Lancaster pulled out all the stops as the
charismatic evangelist, calling on his great star presence for
one side for one side of Gantry and exploring the the darker
reaches of his soul to create a lasting character of the other
side of the tent preacher. One of my favorite Lancaster roles is
in Atlantic City(1980). The star plays an aging
small-time hood, decaying alongside the splintered boardwalks of
Atlantic City, pumping up his memories of the past with false
bravado. In the end, Lancaster gives the character of Lou a
great deal of dignity. It's a wonderful and typically brave Burt
Lancaster performance Lancaster once again received an Oscar®
for his work, but failed to win a second time.
was paired with many stars over the years, but his six
collaborative efforts with Kirk Douglas, another notable
independent film figure, top the list. I Walk Alone(1948),
a strong noir effort, was the first Lancaster/Douglas film and Tough
Guys(1986), a good-natured homage to the two actors, was
the last. In between was Gunfight at the OK Corral, Devil's
Disciple(1959), List of Adrien Messinger(1963),
and Seven Days in May(1964). The last film
featured the actor in one of his darker roles as General James
Mattoon Scott, a presidential candidate with a plan for certain
victory in the works.
Most stars of Lancaster's stature are
often associated with one female star in series of films. Not
with Burt. He did make four movies with Deborah Kerr, and their
most famous pairing, From Here to Eternity(1953),
includes one of the great movie love scenes of all time, with
the stars embraced in a kiss as the ocean surf strokes their
passions. Two or three movies with Virginia Mayo or Yvonne De
Carlo, maybe a couple with Ava Gardner, but I think the roles
were more the thing for Lancaster; it was never a question of
looking for chemistry with that certain lady.
Burt wore a
military uniform in nine films, including From Here to
Eternity. Western garb was the actor's most frequent costume. In fourteen
oaters, the rugged actor with the mile wide smile played tough
heroes and likeable bad guys. The Professionals(1966) is
Lancaster at his most charismatic, from his first scene as a
prisoner in dirty long-johns to the lusty quips he exchanges
with Chiquita while holding the Mexican pursuers at the pass.
Whether soldier or cowboy, hood or lover, Lancaster lit the
screen with mile to mile smile and thrilled audiences for five
The actor guarded his private life with
the same vigor he sought fine screen roles. Lancaster
was married three times and had five children, and was reputed
to have been a wild man with the woman, yet, he stayed clear of
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Selections from the feature archive
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Watching Movies or Watching Video
Don't lose sight of why you
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A fine selection of links to articles, photo spreads and
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Burt's complete filmography at the Internet Movie Database.
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Morris's insightful publication Bright Lights Film Journal
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Darabont is the cover interview in the current online issue of
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Hershenson Move Posters
Bruce Hershenson has been running successful movie
poster auctions for a number of years, most notably for
Christies. His site includes many images and a huge variety of
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Movie Poster Archive includes extensive poster images from the
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'I stick my neck out for nobody.' :Humphrey Bogart as Rick in Casablanca after
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The Hunted/B+,A-: Christopher Lambert is perfectly cast as a American
businessman in Japan caught in the middle of a Samurai feud. Plenty of
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