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Remembering Richard Widmark

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Kiss_l

Kiss_lOne psychopath who surely deserved a spot in EW.com’s current gallery of our favorite movie villains is Tommy Udo, the unforgettable thug played by Richard Widmark (pictured, center, with Victor Mature) in his 1947 film debut, Kiss of Death. With his high-pitched giggle and inventive cruelty (notoriously, he ties up an old woman in a wheelchair and pushes her down the stairs to her death), the indelible Tommy Udo immediately typed Widmark as a premier screen villain, an image he spent the next five decades trying to shake — indeed, that Oscar-nominated performance is the first role that comes to mind when I think of Widmark, who died Monday at 93. With his skull-like visage and perma-scowl, Widmark did indeed seem born to play the heavy, as he did so memorably in such films as Yellow Sky, No Way Out, The Cobweb, The Bedford Incident, and Coma. But even when he played heroes or authority figures (doctors, cops, generals, politicians), he always displayed a dark, desperate edge.

Besides Kiss of Death, Widmark’s essential films included 1950’s Night and the City (Jules Dassin’s noir classic, which stars Widmark as a small-time fight promoter who overreaches), 1953’s Pickup on South Street (a taut, grimy thriller from Sam Fuller, in which Widmark plays a pickpocket who finds himself caught up in a web of Cold War spy intrigue), 1961’s Judgment at Nuremberg (where Widmark, as a war crimes prosecutor, is the standout among the all-star cast), 1964’s Cheyenne Autumn (a John Ford western based on research Widmark had done at Yale; Widmark plays a military captain who risks his career to help the Indians), 1968’s Madigan (a cop thriller from Don Siegel, sort of a dress rehearsal for Siegel’s Dirty Harry: Widmark parlayed the loner sleuth of the title into his own TV series), and 1972’s When the Legends Die (he’s an aging rodeo cowboy, alternately generous and backstabbing, who mentors young rider Frederic Forrest).

Widmark always eschewed Hollywood, choosing to live in Connecticut,and he avoided the talk shows, preferring to let his work speak foritself. So it should be enough for me just to recommend the aforementioned movies. Watch Widmark in them, and you’re sure to feel a chill. In a good way.

addCredit(“Kiss of Death: Everett Collection”)