R.I.P. Richard Widmark
I haven't actually seen him in his Oscar-nominated performance in Kiss of Death (where he played "Tommy Udo." Why haven't I seen that in more crosswords?). But if you have and want something different (but still noirish), you can't do better, I think, than his role as the street hustler in over his head in Jules Dassin's Night and the City (the Criterion disk is one of their best)--though I'm also fond of Pickup on South Street (with the fabulous Thelma Ritter) and Panic in the Streets (with probably the first-ever public-plague plot, ages before The Stand or Outbreak, and with Widmark in a rare heroic role as a government health agent).
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go push an old lady down some stairs.
LATER: I just realized that I've reviewed a number of his movies over on Netflix, and I doubt anyone has read them. So I'm importing a few over here. Throw the guy a few dollars this week.
NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950) *****
This is a four- or four-and-a-half-star movie in a five-star package. This tale of a two-bit hustler (played by Richard Widmark) who dares to dream big and gets in way over his head has all the features of good film noir: crime, grittiness, interestingly unwinding plot, emotional stakes. But this film also has a nonstop energy, a terrific score, and some of the best noir cinematography I've ever seen. The extras, too, are uniformly terrific: smart commentary, a fascinating look at the differences between the British and US versions, and two interviews with the endlessly charming Jules Dassin. A must for any noir cinephile's shelf.
PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (1953) ****
Some noirs are the real classic deal: morally ambiguous descents into violence and darkness (Out of the Past, Laura, Murder My Sweet) and some are more like hooray-for-bureaucracy crime dramas where the good guys are never in doubt (T-Men, Border Incident, He Walked By Night). On paper, Pickup on South Street seemingly wants to be one of the latter, but it's saved by Sam Fuller, who takes what could have been merely patriotic urban actioner and makes every scene a series of small fuses--of character, of dialog, of actual brutal violence. Even the plot is unusually discursive, and if you're the sort of person who likes to predict where scenes will go, you'll be surprised more than once. Thelma Ritter is as wonderful as usual, but the real standout for me is Richard Widmark. In fact, this is probably my favorite Richard Widmark role, where he gets to play to his hardbitten strengths without becoming a mere lunatic. The only reason this isn't five stars is because of the too-easy ending, which I don't know whether to blame on the studio or on the 1950s. (Same thing happened with Gilda; just pretend the last five minutes were a dream.) But that aside, gee is it fun.
Hmm. Looks like I never reviewed Panic in the Streets. (I just rated it: ****). Guess I know what I'll be doing tonight...