Wednesday, July 01, 2009
The War On Celebrities Continues: Karl Malden Is Dead
Here's the obituary of Karl Malden, dead at age 97. Maybe someone will prove that there was a period in the past where more celebrities died, but until then, I'm going to assume that, as Jon Stewart put it, "there's a serial killer who only kills celebrities with pre-existing medical conditions."
Anyway, Malden was a very fine actor who did a lot of good work in his long life and career, in good films and bad. He was particularly good at bringing a bit of weakness to characters who might otherwise have been too boring: the priest in On the Waterfront is someone who, as played by Malden, is someone who doesn't seem completely sure of his own rightness, and thereby avoids being a platitude machine. And of course he was very good at playing characters who were just plain weak, portraying the weakness without making them seem like complete milquetoasts (his famously strange looks helped; a tall, weird-looking man looks like someone who isn't naturally easy to dominate). A lot of his most famous roles are weak men in doomed relationships with strong, bad women: Mitch in Streetcar Named Desire, Herbie in the movie version of Gypsy, Archie in Baby Doll and Shooter in The Cincinnati Kid.
He became the kind of guy audiences just seemed to like (which perhaps interfered with his ability to play villains; he didn't always seem very threatening). Eventually he became so beloved by audiences that we could believe him when he told us of the terrifying hell that awaits anyone who carries cash.