Karl Malden (1912-2009) between scenes during LeRoy's "Gypsy" with Natalie Wood (1938-1981)The divine Karl Malden made 70 movies in 97 years.
Is it odd to call Malden "divine"? Well, he was. To me, at least. He elevated whatever movie in which he appeared, seemingly effortlessly.
Seventy movies - too many to recount here, but his wrenching performance as Archie Lee Meighan in Elia Kazan's "Baby Doll" (1956) serves as a textbook example of what it takes to be a great, seamless character actor. Then there's John Frankenheimer's "Birdman of Alcatraz," made the same year (1962) as Frankenheimer's "All Fall Down" and Mervyn LeRoy's "Gypsy," in which Rosalind Russell flirted with him in a way that suited Malden: "I'll be seeing ya, Herbie!"
Eli Wallach taunts Malden in Kazan's "Baby Doll"Film historian David Thomson perhaps put it best with his clever take on Malden in LeRoy's musical: "A standout as the agent/hustler in 'Gypsy' ('62, Mervyn LeRoy), cannily absorbing all Rosalind's Russell."
Then there's Robert Mulligan's "Fear Strikes Out" (1957), in which Malden - presciently? - plays a male variation on "Gypsy's" Momma Rose as John Piersall, a stage father who hounds his son Jimmy (poor Anthony Perkins) to be a star, baseball-division.
But my own idiosyncratic favorite is perhaps his least heralded performance - opposite Claudette Colbert in Delmer Daves' "Parrish" (1961), in which he tried to "man up" Colbert's pampered son, Troy Donahue.
Malden died Wednesday. Goodbye to a great actor, a truly decent man...
Note in Passing: The ever-reliable Turner Movie Classics, always on the ball, will pay tribute to Malden with a mini-festival on Friday, 10 July, with screenings of "A Streetcar Named Desire" (Malden's Oscar winner), "On the Waterfront" and the aforementioned "Birdman of Alcatraz." Savor him.