Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Richard Widmark, Dead at 93, Was the Man

As Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947)

Richard Widmark, who died Monday at the age of 93, will no doubt be best remembered for his debut role, that of the gleefully psychopathic Tommy Udo in Henry Hathaway's Kiss of Death. It was a dazzling introduction to moviegoers and critics alike; Widmark was electrifying and unpredictable and his Udo became an indelible creation, the kind of shockingly vile, violent weasel Steve Buscemi played in Fargo nearly fifty years before Fargo was made. But Widmark, when his characters weren't pushing wheelchair-bound women down staircases with wild-eyed, giddy abandon, was also capable of projecting an easy con man charm (even when his characters were morally conflicted, as in Samuel Fuller's gritty Pickup on South Street), and, in Jules Dassin's classic Night and the City, such palpable desperation that you'll break into a sweat just looking at him. He was a fascinating actor, one of my favorites, and if you haven't seen his work in the films mentioned here, you should head over to Netflix and add them to your queue.

Programming note: Widmark will be remembered by Turner Classic Movies with a 3-film retrospective on Friday, April 4th, but they've inexplicably chosen to show movies that kind of suck. What were you thinking, TCM programmers? Is The Tunnel of Love really the best you can do?

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