The Scariest Men in Film Noir: Part 2
So many scary dudes . . . so little space.
- Charlie Oakley: Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt (1943). A self-described “promoter [who has] done a little bit of everything,” Oakley was one of the smoothest killers around. Along with his devoted namesake niece, Charlie (Teresa Wright), we experience growing horror as we realize that this affable visiting relative is really a woman-hating serial killer. Hide the jewels!
- Jim McLeod: Kirk Douglas in Detective Story (1951). Inflexible and highly principled, police detective Jim McLeod was at his most scary if you were on the wrong side of the law. Also if you were his wife.
- Jack Early: Howard Duff in Shakedown (1950). Newspaper photographer Jack Early is one of the few entries in this series who wasn’t frightening because of his prowess with a pistol or his love for larceny. Early was scary because he would do anything – literally – to get the picture, including instructing an accident victim to stick his head out of the window of a sinking car so that Early could shoot his photo. He gets his comeuppance in the end when he’s gunned down by a gangster he’s been blackmailing – but true to form, he manages to snap a photo of his killer before he dies!
- Sol Caspar: Ted deCorsia in Slightly Scarlet (1956). Caspar, a powerful crime boss, was described by one character as “a low-grade moron with delusions of grandeur.” This label aside, Caspar was one fella you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley – or, for that matter, in a swanky beach house, which was the setting when he savagely riddled the body of one of his underlings, Ben Grace (John Payne), with bullets.
- Slim Dundee: Dan Duryea in Criss Cross (1949). From his first appearance on screen, you knew that Slim Dundee was not a guy you should mess with. He may have been a hood, but he was no dummy – which he proved, without question, to his wife and her lover, in the film’s heart-stopping final scene.
- Kaspar Gutman: Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon (1941). The “Fat Man” of Falcon fame undoubtedly had some of the greatest lines in the film – but his smiling, congenial manner only barely masked the ruthlessness underneath. In his quest to get his hands on the elusive bejeweled bird of the film’s title, Gutman was hardhearted and uncompromising, even going so far as to hand over his “like a son” gunman (Elisha Cook, Jr.) to the authorities to save his own skin. To his credit, though, he did it with a smile.
- J.J. Hunsecker: Burt Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Broadway columnist Hunsecker was scarier with a pen than most hoodlums with a gun. In fact, according to one character, he possessed “the scruples of a guinea pig and the morals of a gangster.” (No offense to guinea pigs.)
- Ballin Mundson: George Macready in Gilda (1946). Mundson wore many hats. Friend to the friendless. Buenos Aires casino owner. Head of a Nazi-controlled cartel. Sadistic and vengeful husband. Busy fellow.
- Gus Slavin: Charles McGraw in Loophole (1954). Talk about relentless. As a private detective for bonding company, Slavin was so obsessed with proving a bank teller’s guilt of a $50,000 theft that he caused him to lose four jobs, his home, and almost his life. State Farm would love this guy.
- Lester Blane: Jack Palance in Sudden Fear (1952). A thoroughly reprehensible chap, stage actor Blane woos and weds wealthy playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) to further his career, leaps into a torrid affair with an ex-lover and then, as if this weren’t bad enough, schemes with said ex-lover to kill his wife – and all without ever dropping his façade of the devoted husband. I guess he was a pretty good actor, after all.