Noirvember Day 2: Dark Corner Performers — Harold Vermilyea

He’s one of those film noir actors whose face you’ve seen, but whose name you may never have heard. He’s a dark corner performer.

Grey-haired and chubby-cheeked, with an unassuming air, Harold Vermilyea was a late arrival to the screen scene, and didn’t stay long – after making his Hollywood film debut at the age of 57, the stocky performer appeared in a total of just 15 features. Among these films, though, were such classics as Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) and Miracle of the Bells (1948). In addition, Vermilyea possesses a unique distinction in film noir – a full third of his movies were during this shadowy era: Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), The Big Clock (1948), Manhandled (1949), Chicago Deadline (1949), and Edge of Doom (1950).

The actor who was frequently compared to character actor Gene Lockhart was born in New York City on October 10, 1889, the son of a building contractor and his former Broadway actress wife. Although he was interested in acting from an early age, Vermilyea was discouraged by his father from entering the profession. Instead, after attending school in New York and England, he studied stenography and typing. His clerical proficiency earned him a job as secretary to U.S. Senator Robert Owen from Oklahoma and later to playwright Augustus Thomas. Vermilyea’s association with Thomas rekindled his interest in acting and the playwright assisted him in landing a job with a stock company at New York’s Wadsworth Theater. A short time later, in 1914, he made his Broadway debut in The Lion and the Mouse.

The Big Clock (1948)

Following his service in World War I, Vermilyea returned to the stage, becoming a household name on Broadway with appearances in nearly 30 productions over the next two decades, including A Man with Red Hair, which featured a young Edward G. Robinson, and Bad Manners, whose cast included Margaret Sullavan. During these years, Vermilyea also made his big screen debut, playing a bit part in the Fredric March starrer Night Angel (1931), filmed at Paramount’s Astoria, New York studio. After working in radio for several years, and in two Broadway productions directed by Elia Kazan, Vermilyea finally made his way to Hollywood to appear in O.S.S. (1946), a wartime drama starring Alan Ladd. (“I like the idea of going to Hollywood,” he said. “Salary is nice, too.”) A few years later, Vermilyea entered the realm of film noir, appearing in the following five features:

The Big Clock (1948)

The complex plot of this film centers on a media mogul who commits a murder and then assigns the staff of his crime magazine to unearth the killer. Vermilyea played an art critic who uncovers a pivotal clue in the mystery.

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

Barbara Stanwyck stars as Leona Stephenson, a self-absorbed, domineering, and bedridden heiress who overhears a murder plot via her telephone. As Waldo Evans, Vermilyea was a chemist who teams with Leona’s unhappy husband to steal drugs from the pharmaceutical company where they work.

Manhandled (1949)

Vermilyea played his first and only true noir heavy in this feature, a mercenary psychiatrist who becomes involved in jewel theft and, ultimately, murder.

Chicago Deadline (1949)

In this feature, Alan Ladd stars as Ed Adams. a reporter determined to uncover the circumstances that led to a young woman’s death. Vermilyea played a frustrated cop who is always one step behind Adams.

Edge of Doom (1950)

Here, Vermilyea played the small but pivotal role as a rather callous priest who gets more than he bargained for when he crosses a young parishioner played by Farley Granger.

Manhandled (1949)

Vermilyea’s final two films were a pair of Universal comedies, which he followed up with appearances on the small screen in such programs as Lux Video Theatre, Studio One, and Philco Television Playhouse. On January 8, 1958, Vermilyea died of a heart attack at his New York home. He was 68 years old. Once described as possessing “a mobile face which can be either cherubic or sinister,” Vermilyea played a diverse series of screen roles during his all-too-brief period on the big screen, from frightened chemist to steely murder, earning a well-deserved place in the Hollywood history books.

Join me tomorrow for Day 3 of Noirvember . . .

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 2, 2022.

4 Responses to “Noirvember Day 2: Dark Corner Performers — Harold Vermilyea”

  1. Man, they really had faces then, didn’t they?!
    He looks like he was genetically engineered for film noir. Of the four films mentioned, I’ve only seen Sorry, Wrong Number (loved it!), but I’m adding the other three to my list.

    • I’m not a huge fan of Manhandled (although I’m going to give it another chance one of these days), but The Big Clock is definitely worth your time. Edge of Doom is pretty good, too — and it’s on YouTube!

  2. Thanks for the scoop on Edge of Doom!
    YouTube is such a gift to old movie fans. I just wish they wouldn’t keep taking down all those wonderful A&E biographies. I dearly miss the Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, Jane Russell, and Clara Bow episodes…

    • (I just know I responded to this earlier, but it seems to have vanished into the Internet ether. Ugh.) I used to love Biography and tape the shows all the time. In fact, I started watching one on YouTube (on Audie Murphy) just the other day.

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