Jack Warden (left, with his 12 Angry Men costar Lee J. Cobb) was born to play guys named Max or Harry. A king among character actors, Warden (who died last week at 85) was best known for the roles he took in his 50s, 60s, and 70s, often as the gruff old guy with a bulldog face, a streetwise attitude, and deep reservoirs of soul. He seemed to pop up everywhere during his 50-year career, though he’s probably best remembered for his three movies with Warren Beatty (Shampoo and Heaven Can Wait, both of which earned him Oscar nominations, and Bulworth) and his ’80s TV sleuth series Crazy Like a Fox. It was always a treat to see him in a movie; his presence guaranteed at least a few moments of warmth and authenticity. And sometimes more, as in the memorable Jack Warden performances listed below:
12 Angry Men (1957): Warden is Juror #7, a salesman who just wants to return a quick guilty verdict so he can go home. In his breakthrough role, Warden holds his own alongside such heavyweights as Henry Fonda and Cobb.
Brian’s Song (1971): Someone’s gotta be tough in this male weepie; as legendary Chicago Bears coach George Halas, Warden is more than up to the task. The role won him an Emmy.
Used Cars (1980): In this underrated farce, Warden shines in dual roles, playing two brothers who own rival car dealerships, One is so slovenly, the other so sleazy, you almost can’t tell they’re both Warden.
The Verdict (1982): Warden plays the lawyer who tries to save alcoholic fellow attorney Paul Newman from himself. There’s a moment late in the film where Warden must tell Newman a devastating secret; Sidney Lumet films it in long shot so that you can’t hear them speak, but their body language tells you everything.
While You Were Sleeping (1995): Sandra Bullock is this comedy’s adorably flustered romantic heroine, but Warden is its soul. As an old friend of the family, Warden dispenses plenty of advice, but it’s clear from his face that he knows much more than he wants to say about unrequited love.
addCredit(“Twelve Angry Men: Everett Collection”)