Saturday, June 20, 2009

All hail the character actor

He’s never going to be a romantic lead, and he’s never even going to be the central villain in an action film. The character actor (and actress) is of course the unsung hero of the movie biz and is also the backbone of many a great crime picture (or Western or sci-fi movie or comedy or drama). I was pleased to see a thematic tribute on YouTube to the character actors of old posted by a gentleman in Switzerland. What he has done is isolate their segments and underscore them with fades to black. This may seem odd and disjunctive (“isn’t something missing?”). But it serves to illustrate how they enter a movie, do their bit, and occasionally steal the show. He includes the likely suspects including Mike Mazurki and Lionel Stander, but the posts are most interesting when he finds clips where the person is dominating the action, as this bit of Oscar Homolka from Hitchock’s Sabotage

Here Max Showalter, the grotesque, guffawing dad from Lord Love a Duck is used to sentimental effect in How to Murder Your Wife

The immortal Elisha Cook, Jr., puts the menace on a “glamour girl” in the noir Born to Kill:

And the all-purpose ethnic guy who made such an impression in Orson Welles’ movies, Akim Tamiroff. Here he’s seen with Funhouse god Peter Ustinov (a pretty strong character person himself) in Topkapi.

The poster also goes to somewhat more recent character performers like the great Val Avery. His clip (from the completely forgotten Russian Roulette) is an interesting one, but I would have to direct you to this bit from Cassavetes’ nearly perfect rough-edged romantic comedy Minnie and Moskowitz wherein Avery completely dominates the proceedings and can never be forgotten:

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