Wednesday, July 01, 2009

RIP Karl Malden

Unlike this week's other passings (including Pina Bausch) it can't be said that the Oscar-winning actor died before his time. Indeed, he lived to enjoy a full and active career onstage, onscreen and on TV, and made the most of his unprepossessing looks in a string of outstanding character parts. He was an effective counterweight to outsized or more obviously charismatic performers like Marlon Brando in their three terrific films together (A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, and Brando's One-Eyed Jacks), George C. Scott in Patton, Burt Lancaster in Birdman of Alcatraz, Warren Beatty in All Fall Down, Rosalind Russell in Gypsy, and Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid; wonderful opposite Eli Wallach and Carroll Baker in Baby Doll (my favorite of his roles); and easily fit into quirkier pictures, such as the Matt Helm spy goof Murderers' Row, Ken Russell's Billion Dollar Brain with Michael Caine, and Dario Argento's Cat o'Nine Tails. A "regular guy" with a truly above-average resume, he, like Michael Jackson, was raised in Gary, IN.

Also gone: Harve Presnell, the musicals star who graduated to gruff, chrome-domed character parts in Fargo and Saving Private Ryan, and Jan Rubes, co-star of Witness and Dead of Winter. A rough patch.

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