A charismatic, compact Broadway actor whose early roles in features were often as tough guys or heavies, Richard Widmark earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and instant stardom for his electrifying 1947 screen debut in the gangster saga “Kiss of Death” as a giggling psychopathic killer, he pushed a crippled old lady down a flight of stairs.
He followed up with another villainous role in the fine film noir “Road House” (1948), but successfully worked to avoid typecasting soon thereafter. Widmark later played the disinterested hero of Sam Fuller’s striking, ambiguous Cold War thriller, “Pickup on South Street” (1953), and was superb in the title role of Don Siegel’s New York cop tale “Madigan” (1968).
Blond, maturely handsome and athletic, Widmark displayed an early nervous quality that smoothed down somewhat to a flinty, sturdily heroic appearance evidenced as early as “Down to the Sea in Ships” (1949) and “Panic in the Streets” (1950).
It also suited him well for his many westerns, including two of John Ford’s later efforts, “Two Rode Together” (1961) and “Cheyenne Autumn” (1964).
He also played tough yet articulate leading roles in the well-received films “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961) and “The Bedford Incident” (1965), and was especially expert at showing the nastiness and neurotic cracks which sometimes surface in authority figures. Beginning with the worthy courtroom drama “Time Limit” (1957), Widmark began producing occasional films under the banner of his own Heath Productions, including the spy thriller “The Secret Ways” (1961), scripted by wife Jean Hazelwood.
Widmark’s stardom began to ebb in the early 70s, but he still kept busy with prominent screen roles in all-star fare including “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974) and “Rollercoaster” (1977) and with parts in “Coma” (1978) and “Against All Odds” (1984).
Widmark also moved more into the realm of TV-movies (“Mr. Horn” 1979, “Blackout” 1985) and miniseries (“The Rebel” 1975). In 1989 he garnered considerable acclaim for his quiet, perceptive work opposite Faye Dunaway in the made-for-TNT saga “Cold Sassy Tree” as a man who marries a much younger woman.
Carrying with him the aura of one of the screen’s durable elder statesman, Widmark also returned to the big screen to play a senator in “True Colors” (1991).
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Filed Under: Actor Profile