Richard Widmark(1914-)

     You could always count on an interesting performance from Richard Widmark. From his very first film, Widmark laid claim to some of the best twisted film sensibilities ever recorded. In Kiss of Death, his 1947 debut, Widmark played creepy killer Tommy Udo with such glee that no one who has ever seen the film will forget Widmark throwing an old woman in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs. Kiss of Death starred Victor Mature, but Widmark made his mark and no one ever forgot that snarling animal performance. 
     Unconventional behavior was backed up by unconventional good looks. The diminutive actor boasted a chiseled face, all angles and shadows, with a rubbery nose. His gravelly voice always comes as a surprise when you first see him. Then you know it: this guy is tough and he means business.  
     Following up on the success of Widmark's Tommy Udo, Twentieth Century Fox cast Widmark as the psychotic bar owner in another noir flick, Road House. Widmark's proves a scene-stealer again as Jefty Robbins, overpowering the mild Cornel Wilde every time he shares the screen in the 1948 film. Ida Lupino is tough enough to stand up to Widmark's style. Fox wasted little time in capitalizing on Widmark's strong supporting villain's presence casting him again in 1948  against Gregory Peck in William Wellman's taut western Yellow Sky. As the decade came to a close, Widmark strayed from psychotic characterizations to a man struggling with his conscience in Slattery's Hurricane and finally to a role model for a youngster learning about the sea in Down to the Sea in Ships, both 1949.
     As a new decade opened, Fox found another villain for the 1950 Panic in the Streets. Jack Palance played a diseased tough on the run with Widmark making the most of his chance at hero as Dr. Clinton Reed, the public health doctor trying to shut down a potential plague outbreak. Directed by Elia Kazan,  Panic gave Widmark a chance to firmly establish his onscreen intelligence. The decade proved Widmark's busiest as an actor with more than twenty-five starring roles. In Jules Dassin's Night and the City Widmark was memorable as two-bit hustler Harry Fabian and in Pickup on South Street the actor played shady for director Sam Fuller. Widmark donned a military uniform a half dozen times in the fifties and was equally comfortable in Western dust covered buckskin garb.
     John Wayne and John Ford discovered Richard Widmark's talent to open the decade of the sixties with The Alamo. Widmark's Jim Bowie is one tough man with a knife and though diminutive, bi enough to share compete for screen dominance with John Wayne. Ford starred Widmark alongside James Stewart in Two Rode Together, a solid 1961 Western. Widmark again starred for Ford in the 1964 Cheyenne Autumn
    One of Richard Widmark's best roles is the title role in the 1968 policer Madigan. Detective Daniel Madigan is a shaded character, a hero and a villain rolled into one. The performance uses the actor's screen bank account tot he fullest, withdrawing assets from the best of his villains and the strongest of his heroes. 
    Widmark's star was on decline by the seventies. His screen time was mostly in supporting roles and he turned more to television. Maybe as his hair thinned and sprinkled gray the dangerous aura that surrounded his screen presence was too diluted to command the big roles. Maybe his choices were not the best. Still, there were solid roles like Coma and When Legends Die, but films like Rollercoaster and or The Swarm took the sting out Widmark's screen buzz.
    Widmark's last film role was almost a decade ago as Senator Stiles in Herb Ross's seriously flawed political flick True Colors. Almost as a reminder of the way the actor could dominate the screen in years past, Widmark commanded the eye in this final interesting portrayal. Weathered but resilient, the actor's keen line delivery helped create terrifically believable screen characters.

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