Thursday, March 27, 2008

Death Pushes An Elderly Wheelchair Bound Woman Down the Stairs

Richard Widmark 1914-2008

I'll be honest with you, I didn't realize Widmark hadn't already passed away years ago when I heard the news of his death yesterday. He had retired from acting in 1991 and I didn't really discover him myself until a few years after that when I began to delve into film noir and recognized his distinct talents at playing manicial and tortured men. I probably assumed at the time that he had, like the majority of that era's stars by the mid 1990's, long since left us.

His forceful screen presence was already evident in his debut film performance as the psychopathetic ex-con Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death which instantly made him a star. He had a long sustained and varied career, but, like Humphrey Bogart and John Garfield, Widmark will be best remembered most for his vivid potrayls in the post-war American suspense dramas that would later be labeled "film noir" such as the aforementioned Kiss of Death, Sam Fuller's Pickup on South Street and Elia Kazan's Panic in the Streets.

My personal favorite Widmark performance is as the ambitious con artist Harry Fabian that plans a big scheme for finacial freedom that fatally backfires on him in Jules Dassin's Night and the City. His bravura performance in the film's final scenes where a sleep deprived Widmark desperately runs through desolate streets for a shelter that does not exist are still etched in my mind despite the fact it's been nigh ten years since I saw it (note to self, pick up the Criterion DVD already). It actually reminded me a bit of the performance of Roy Schieder at the end of Sorcerer when he reached his physical and mental limit (as discussed in my Schieder write-up).

Night and the City marked the final film Dassin would make in America before escaping to France after being labeled a "communist" by HUAC, he would go on to achieve great recognition and would craft another crime masterpiece, Rififi.

EDITED TO ADD ON 4/1/08--After I wrote this, I learned that Jules Dassin passed away this weekend. Please consider this a tribute to him as well.

Here is the trailer for Night and the City which only hints at the tenor of Widmark's performance.

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