Richard Widmark gained fame as one of film noir's great degenerates, but he also starred in many classic Westerns, where his tough features looked equally at home beneath the brim of a cowboy's hat. His notoriety as a memorable villain began with his very first screen appearance in "Kiss of Death" (1947), but Widmark didn't always play heavies, and in real life he was a sensitive family man who abhorred violence and actively supported tougher gun control legislation. Born in Minnesota in 1914, Widmark earned his only Oscar nomination for his debut performance in "Kiss of Death," but his movie career continued for more than forty years. Widmark died in 2008 at the age of 93, but in the following ten movies you can see some of the roles that have made his legacy unforgettable.
1) "Kiss of Death" (1947) - In this noir classic, Widmark makes a big impression as the giggling killer, Tommy Udo, who famously murders an old lady by pushing her down a flight of stairs. The other stars of the picture include Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, and Colleen Gray, and Karl Malden also plays a supporting role.
2) "Road House" (1948) - Jean Negulesco directs this noir drama, in which Widmark stars with Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, and Celeste Holm. As the jealous Jefty, Widmark once again proves his ability to play unhinged bad guys.
3) "Night and the City" (1950) - Widmark plays a desperate loser in this noir gem from director Jules Dassin, which features Gene Tierney as Widmark's long-suffering girlfriend. The supporting cast includes Googie Withers, Herbert Lom, and Mike Mazurki, but Widmark owns the picture as a small-time crook whose plan to make it big as a promoter goes horribly awry.
4) "No Way Out" (1950) - Widmark shares the screen with the great Sidney Poitier in this racial drama directed by Joseph L. Manckiewicz. As a racist inmate who reacts violently to the idea being treated by a black doctor, Widmark once again plays a dangerous and unsympathetic character.
5) "Don't Bother to Knock" (1952) - This tense thriller casts Widmark against type as a regular guy who gets in over his head when he dallies with an unstable hotel babysitter. Directed by Roy Ward Baker, the movie features Marilyn Monroe in an important early role that shows her ability to play more than just dumb blondes; Anne Bancroft, Jeanne Cagney, Jim Backus, and Elisha Cook, Jr. also make memorable appearances.
6) "Pickup on South Street" (1953) - Back in film noir form, Widmark stars in this Samuel Fuller picture as Skip, a pickpocket who unwittingly acquires some top-secret film when he pilfers the purse of an attractive subway passenger. Jean Peters costars as Candy, the film's courier, but Thelma Ritter steals her scenes as the sympathetic old stool pigeon, Moe.
7) "The Alamo" (1960) - John Wayne directs and stars as Davy Crockett in this star-studded version of the historical standoff, which features Widmark as Crockett's friend, Jim Bowie. The rest of the cast includes Western regulars like Patrick Wayne, Chill Wills, Ken Curtis, and Denver Pyle.
8) "Judgment at Nuremberg" (1961) - With 11 Oscar nominations and two wins, this post-war courtroom drama from director Stanley Kramer boasts an impressive resume and an outstanding cast of stars. Widmark plays Colonel Tad Lawson, while Spencer Tracy gets top billing as Chief Judge Dan Haywood. Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Maximilian Schnell, Montgomery Clift, and William Shatner also star.
9) "Cheyenne Autumn" (1964) - This late Western from director John Ford stars Widmark as Captain Thomas Archer, who comes to respect the Cheyenne Indians he has been sent to retrieve after they leave their reservation to find food. The supporting cast includes Carroll Baker, Karl Malden, Sal Mineo, Dolores Del Dio, and a host of other familiar stars.
10) "To the Devil a Daughter" (1976) - Widmark moves into some very different territory as the hero of this Hammer horror picture, which also stars Christopher Lee, Denholm Elliott, Honor Blackman, and Nastassja Kinski. Widmark plays an American occult novelist drawn into a gruesome satanic plot, while Lee appears as the disgraced Catholic priest who leads the dangerous cult.
For even more movies starring Richard Widmark, try "Yellow Sky" (1948), "Panic in the Streets" (1950), "Warlock" (1959), and "Two Rode Together" (1961). You can learn more about the star's career by watching the video at the top of this article.
Jennifer Garlen writes as the Huntsville and National Classic Movies Examiner. Her book, "Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching," is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.