Welcome all and Sundry. To this closing installment of a very intriguing three post arc covering different “types” of characters demanded in film. And those few character actors with the talent, desire and ability to embody those rare roles that are larger than life. Requiring a tradesman whose presence alone more than fills the bill. Or whose physique and attitude can frighten into paralysis. Or sicken, disgust and make your skin crawl to the point of needing a shower.
So allow me a few moments of your time as we delve into:
Hollywood’s Rugged Individualists, Thugs and Creeps
The Rugged Individualist may be the shortest of all lists. Definitely a creature of the mid to late Twentieth Century. And starting in the Cowboy genre. With an Iowa born USC student named Marion Mitchell Morrison. Who had lost his Athletic/Football scholarship due to a dislocated collarbone. And took to acting and its diminutive tasks like set dressing like a fish to water. Performing uncredited extra and yeomanry work in twenty plus films between 1926 and 1930. Acquiring an agent and a new name. Working his way through dozens of two and three reel college sport and westerns. Plying his craft in four, five and six films a year between 1933 ro 1938. Playing such characters as “Singin’ Sandy” Saundrers and Stoney Brooke of ‘The Three Mesquiteers”.
Until fate crossed the actor’s path. In the form of a large budgeted (Close to $400,000) western being filmed in several locations. From Santa Clarita and Muroc Dry Lake (Later, Edwards Air Force Base), California, Carson City, Colorado. And Monument Valley in Utah. A project so expansive. That A-List director John Ford wanted David O. Selznick to produce.But, Mr. Selznick wanted Marlene Dietrich in Claire Trevor’s role as Dallas. And Gary Cooper to play the Ringo Kid, instead of a relative unknown named John Wayne.
The film, of course was Stagecoach. And it did reinvigorate and lift the idea of this Hollywood staple from “B” Level and less than an hour serials. To “A”. With new hard scrabble, rustic and occasionally treacherous terrain, stunts and sights to see and experience. As the stagecoach full of passengers. Dallas, a prostitute on the run (Claire Trevor). Alcoholic doctor Boone, (Thomas Mitchell). Pregnant Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt) anxious to see her Cavalry officer husband. And whiskey salesman, Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek). Traveling from Tonto, Arizona Territory to Lordsburg, New Mexico Territory.
The stagecoach, under the guidance of Buck Strongly muscled Andy Devine. Who constantly snaps the reins of a nonexistent team of horses in his many close ups). And protected by Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft) riding shotgun. Heads off after being warned that Geronimo is on the warpath. With two extra passengers. A southern gentleman gambler, Hatfield, (John Carradine) and crooked banker, Henry Gatewood (Benton Churchill) and his stolen $50,000.
Quite a few solid plot devices are in place and play before the stage crosses a horseless Ringo Kid. Who is out for payback. And is not averse to being handcuffed. or helping lift and lash logs around a burned down Ferry crossing to help the coach ford a wide though shallow river before Apaches appear on the near horizon and a running gun battle ensues and fades as the stage rattles into Lordsburg. Leaving Ringo and an expectant Dallas with one final task before exploring and enjoying their futures in Mexico.
Overall Consensus: Outside of putting Mr. Wayne, Ms. Trevor. Mr. Carradine and Thomas Mitchell (Oscar win fir Best Supporting Actor) on the map for the following decades. Stagecoach sets the standards for countless later westerns. With suspenseful stunts, chases and bugler led cavalry charges. Leaving room for romance before the books balancing final shoot out. The one in Mr. Ford’s offering has a retired sports writer, Bat Masterson as a Technical Advisor among other cinematic tricks and treats!
With Mr. Wayne firmly placed in a burgeoning film audience. The opportunities arrived to close out his “Stoney Brooke” contract and slowly become the face, if not the embodiment of the United States with several western films in the following years. Until war was declared in 1941 and films became incentives for war bond drives. As well as to donate to myriad drives as essentials and extravagances were rationed.
In films like The Fighting Seabees in 1944. Back To Bataan and They were Expendable (A personal favorite. With Mr. Wayne underplaying for a refreshing change) in 1945. Before returning to Monument Valley for Fort Apache with Henry Fonda and John Ford at the reins. Followed by a shift to Howard Hawks and the template of a “Cattle Drive Western” with Red River to close out 1948.
The following year would see The Fighting Kentuckian with Oliver Hardy. A return to Monument Valley and second segment of John Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy” with She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (A bit formulaic, but still excellent. Especially like the development of fellow Rugged Individualist, Ben Johnson as Sergeant Tyree).
Followed by The Sands of Iwo Jima and Mr. Wayne’s first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in one of the best ensemble Pacific WWII films to come out of Hollywood. Followed the next year with Rio Grande. And an early teaming with Maureen O’Hara and the final chapter of John Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy”. Operation Pacific with Patricia Neal. And Flying Leathernecks with Robert Ryan. And directed by Nicholas Ray. With masterfully edited Gun Camera and aerial Stock Footage heightening tension of Guadalcanal’s “Cactus Air Force” in another personal favorite from 1951.
Then onto a refreshingly nice change of pace. To romantic light comedy shot all across Ireland and another team up with director, John Ford and Maureen O’Hara as the Duke’s lady love in the lush, sometimes splashy Technicolor classic, The Quiet Man.
Then filling the next three years with the hunting Commies in Hawaii, “Red Scare” farce, Big Jim McLain with James Arness. The Crashed Cargo Plane~Arctic Survival film, Island In The Sky, Directed by William Wellman. From a screenplay by Ernest K. Gann from his own novel. The very prescient, Hondo. Under the guidance of John Farrow. Where Mr. Wayne protects a pioneer family in the middle of “Injun Country”. Before joining up with John Ford again to dive deep into the dark end of the diving well as Ethan Edwards.
A Civil War veteran driven to rescue his niece (Vera Miles) from a tribe of Comanche Indians. And not caring much who he has to hurt to get the job done in The Searchers. With a very ballsy gamble for Mr. Wayne to go against type and character in ways not touched since Red River. As he and nephew, Martin Pawlet (Jeffrey Hunter) ride and scours many breath-taking Technicolor parts of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Edmonton, Alberta. Canada on their years long quest.
Which leaves room for some personal favorites and classics. Starting with a near unknown John Ford effort from 1957. The Wings of Eagles. A very decent bio-pic about Frank “Spig” Wead. The Grandfather of safe naval carrier and ground air operations. From bi-planes and float planes. To fighter operations on Guadalcanal and beyond in WWII. Writing major segments of “The Book” from his hospital bed after being paralyzed in a home accident. Then going on to write screenplays for major Hollywood studios after the war. As well as being another team up with Maureen O’Hara, Ward Bond and a clutch of familiar players.
Then the first team up with Jimmy Stewart and Lee Marvin under John Ford’s direction in the hardscrabble western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in 1962. With Vera Miles and a large chunk of the cast of Ford’s earlier Stagecoach. Mr. Wayne takes a back seat. Playing the watchful catalyst behind trying to bring law, order and future legislation to the wild, under developed Territory. Who needs to wise up and toughen up lawyer, Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) for an inevitable upcoming fight with renegade, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).
Then onto The Longest Day. Still one of the best “Fair Weather” re-tellings of that history making and changing day in June, 1944. Mr. Wayne takes a small part and does what he can and a bit more with it. As Lt. Col. Benjamin “Dutch” Vandervoort of the 82nd Airborne and their objective of St. Marigles. While leaving the decisive beaches of Omaha and Utah to Robert Mitchum and myriad Infantry and Rangers. Followed in rapid succession with Andrew V. McLaughlen’s very John Ford-like McLintock! from 1963. With Mr. Wayne as a major cattleman and power broker for an untamed Territory. When not otherwise involved with the return of his long estranged wife, Katherine (Maureen O’Hara).
Then, a very decent film from Otto Preminger covering WWII from Pearl Harbor, through Guadalcanal, To Leyte and the Battle of the Surigao Straits with In Harm’s Way from 1965. With Kirk Douglas in a surprising good “Superb Louse-Rat Bastard” role as Mr. Wayne’s lecherous Executive Officer. Along with Burgess Meredith, Tom Tryon, Paula Prentiss, Patrick O’Neal and Patricia Neal.
Followed by Howard Hawk’s El Dorado in 1967. And a superlative team up with Robert Mitchum, Christopher George, James Caan and Arthur Hunnicutt. Against corrupt Ed Asner and his hired gun, Christopher George.
Before Mr. Wayne’s crowning achievement of playing himself as Rooster Cogburn in Henry Hathaway’s True Grit. Which garnered an Oscar for Mr. Wayne. In a film I still prefer over the Coen brothers latest attempt with Jeff Bridges in the starring role.
Overall Consensus: I’ve covered a lot of ground with this pioneer’s history. Which set the stage for others to follow. Most notably:
#2 – Lee Marvin
Mentioned long ago in my First Impressions From Second Stringers post for Ruth over at “Flixchatter”.Mr. Marvin took the baton, reins and mantle from John Wayne. And ran to the bleachers in a succession of films. From the well executed stage play brought to B&W cinema, Eight Iron Men from 1952. Where Mr. Marvin plays long-suffering, savvy platoon Sergeant trying to rescue a private pinned down by a German machine gun nest in bombed out, rain soaked Italy before having word come down from Higher to move out.
Add to that Mr. Marvin’s role as “Chino” in The Wild One a year later. Where he embodies the raw sinew and kind of slimy personality necessary for the leader of Marlon Brando’s rival Biker Gang. Tack on some ensemble yeomanry work in The Caine Mutiny the following year. The Shack Out on 101 and three solid seasons as Chicago Detective Lt. Frank Ballinger in M Squad. And you have an impressive body of individual “Man’s man” work. To be embellished and augmented by the following films:
Bad Day at Black Rock. Superb John Sturges “Middle of Nowhere” mystery with a plethora of bad guys. And Spencer Tracey.
Attack. Excellent ensemble piece directed by Robert Aldrich. With Jack Palance in charge of a squad led by cowardly Eddie Albert. And Mr. Marvin as Higher. Who takes no BS or crap from Mr. Albert.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. For Mr. Marvin at his absolute most terrifying best!
One single B&W episode of Combat!. Titled The Bridge At Chalons. Where Mr. Marvin plays an Engineer tasked with blowing a bridge behind enemy lines. And Sgt. Saunders (Vic Morrow) and his squad providing escort. A near hour-long Testosterone filled battle of Alpha Males butting heads while trying to get the job done!
Don Siegel’s The Killers from 1964. A Los Angeles based re-make of the Burt Lancaster classic. With Mr. Marvin and Clu Gulager as the hit men. And Ronald Reagan and Angie Dickinson as their double crossing bosses. Also the film which seemed to start writers and directors tailoring films to fit Mr. Marvin and his persona(s).
Cat Ballou. Just to watch and admire Mr. Marvin rarely seen comedic chops as he steals scenes. Upstages Ms. Fonda and company. And has a ball lampooning generations of evil. black dressed, gun slinging Desperados!
The Professionals. An alliance, instead of a battle of egos. As Mr. Marvin leads Burt Lancaster, Woody Strode and Robert Ryan on a mercenary mission to rescue the kidnapped wife (Claudia Cardinale) of a rich land and cattle baron (Ralph Bellamy) in turn of the century Mexico. Excellent direction from Richard Brooks in a film I’d gladly put opposite John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven as a superior “Guy Flick”!
Point Blank. Lee Marvin. The L.A. mob. And a large, five-figure chunk of stolen cash Mr. Marvin’s Walker wants back! A very intriguing and mysterious early effort from John Boorman filming all around Los Angeles, San Francisco and Alcatraz island to get the job done.
Hell In The Pacific. Another Boorman film from 1968. With Mr. Marvin as a shot down American fighter pilot. And Toshiro Mifune as a marooned Japanese Naval Captain on a nameless island in the Pacific. Where both have to discover a language and work together to survive and hopefully, get off the island. Exceptional work with using Palau as their base of operations. Mr. Marvin and Mifune excel in the little known survival gem!
Prime Cut. Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman going to great lengths to take each other out and settle a gangland dispute. Required viewing.
Emperor Of The North. Another Robert Aldrich classic from 1973. Focusing on Depression era hobos and their ability to jump trains and travel. Except for the Number 19 train and its sadistic conductor, Shack (Ernest Borgnine). Mr. Marvin’s “A No. 1″ takes the northwest train’s challenge as a personal wager. And uses every trick in his book to delay and stay on the train, despite the party crashing efforts of green horn.”Cigaret” (Keith Carradine). Superlative work all around. Even though some scenes may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Any or all of these films will give you a full dose of the Peoples Choice of Rugged Individualism.
Followed closely by:
#3 – Ernest Borgnine
Starting with Mr. Borgnine’s work as the brutal Stockade Sergeant “Fatso” Judson in From Here To Eternity put him on my radar very early as an actor who played his characters his own way. As one you love to hate. And definitely someone to watch!
Then onto Bad Day At Black Rock. Where Mr. Borgnine’s oversized bully, Corey Timble finds himself no match for Spenser Tracey’s one-armed John J, Macreedy in close quarters had to hand combat.
And a quick reversal of character for Delbert Mann and Paddy Chayefsky’s Marty from 1955. Creating a much more sympathetic and endearing butcher looking for love than Rod Steiger had two years earlier for television.
Then onto 1965 and Mr. Borgnine’s role as Tucker Cobb in Robert Aldrich’s 1965’s The Flight Of The Phoenix, Where a corporate C-119 crashes somewhere in the African desert and the survivors ( Jimmy Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Aeronautical Engineer, Hardy Kruger, George Kennedy, Ian Bannen, Mr. Borgnine, Christian Marquand and Dan Duryea ) decide to salvage a flyable aircraft out of the plane’s wreckage. In one of the best “Man Against Time and the Elements” films of that, or any decade. Extremely high marks for Mr. Aldrich and cinematographer, Joseph Biroc for focusing on the vast loneliness and seclusion of the sand dunes and dust bowl that is Buttercup Valley in California. And minimal set direction by Lucien Halley.
Returning to Mr. Aldrich again for The Dirty Dozen. Though Mr. Borgnine’s role as General Worden is not large. It is essential in the mission’s initiation. And keeping tempers cool between Mr. Marvin’s OSS Major Reisman and Robert Ryan’s Col. Breed as training progresses to a live fire war game with the capture of Breed as the objective.
A large role awaited south of the border and under Sam Peckinpah’s direction in The Wild Bunch from 1969. Where Mr. Borgnine played “Dutch” Engstrom. Second in command to William Holden’s Pike Bishop. Warren Oates and Ben Johnson as Lyle and Tector Gorch and Jaime Sanchez as Angel. All looking for a large score as the technologies and laws of the new 20th century close in around them.
A magnificent dusty, dirty, sweaty old fashioned western. Told from the Desperados’ point of view, Starting with a bank robbery that turns into a sloppy ambush at the hands of Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) and his band of low rent, skeevy scalp and bounty hunters. Including Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones. Then moving on to a well executed robbery and its cache of rifles and Maxim machine guns for a warring Mexican general. After blowing up a large trestle bridge with the train and Deke Thornton’s men on one side of the rock face. And The Wild Bunch on the other. Setting the stage for a final full blown shoot out with the double crossing Mexicans that must be seen to be believed!
And finally, Mr. Borgnine’s tete a tete with Mr. Marin’s “A No.1” and Keith Carradine’s “Cigaret” in Emperor Of The North. Which has “No Place for Young Men” writ large all over it!
#4 – John Cassavettes
More for his directorial skills in five episodes of 27 episodes of the 1959-1960 shot on location drama, Johnny Staccato. Where Mr. Cassavettes embodied a wise ass piano playing occasional Private Eye in the boroughs of New York City. In a grittier, more shadowy answer to Craig Stevens’ Peter Gunn.
#5 – Clint Eastwood
Another fine director who makes his own films his own way. After creating a handful of iconic characters. From cattle driving ramrod, Rowdy Yates from Rawhide. To Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” from For A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and Hang ‘Em High. Taking the US by storm with these characters and Shoot ’em up! “Spaghetti Westerns”. Before sliding under Don Siegel’s wing in 1971 to take on the role of San Francisco Homicide Inspector, Dirty Harry Callahan.
Working his territory with a 6″ barreled S&W .44 Magnum hand cannon in a series of films. Before Mr. Eastwood shifted over to directing a large number of notable and Academy Award winning films of the late 20th and early 21st century.
These choices are mine and may vary with others.Differing choices and opinions are most welcome. Since the floor is open to discussion!