Friday, November 10, 2006

 

Jack Palance (1919-2006)


The man who began his career as Walter Jack Palance but later dropped the Walter and went on to score three Oscar nominations and a win was a unique screen presence almost from the moment he stepped onto it. Sudden Fear opposite Joan Crawford was just his third feature film when he received his first Oscar nomination for supporting actor in 1952 as the young cad out to scam the lonely older woman. He repeated the feat the following year with a role that couldn't have been more different but which really cemented the Palance image we know today in Shane. His Oscar-winning turn decades later in the comedy City Slickers couldn't have existed if he hadn't left an indelible impression as Jack Wilson back in 1953 first. Yet Palance, even if his style in his later years could somewhat lend itself to parody was much more multi-faceted than that, whether it be as a struggling actor in Robert Aldrich's 1955 potboiler The Big Knife or his work for Aldrich the following year in Attack, which Wagstaff recently wrote about during the Aldrich Blog-a-Thon, "Jack Palance’s performance in Attack is a revelation. What kid scared out of his wits by Palance’s portrait of an evil killer in Shane would ever guess that the actor could show the kind of tenderness and anguished vulnerability that he does here. Outside, Jack Palance looks like the perfect dogface grunt — his face and large presence look like they were carved from a block of granite by blasting it with dynamite — but inside, a sensitive soul that the heart aches for shines through." His great work wasn't limited to features either, as anyone who has had the chance to see his touching portrayal of an addled boxer in Rod Serling's television version of Requiem for a Heavyweight will tell you. For me, not the biggest fan of Jean-Luc Godard's work, Palance was the best thing about Godard's movie about movies, 1963's Contempt. He even brought grace to a miscast role as a Mexican bandit in Richard Brooks' The Professionals.

For many younger moviegoers out there, Palance will be best remembered for his work as a crime boss opposite another legendary screen Jack in 1989's Batman and for his Oscar-winning turn in 1991's City Slickers and its ill-advised sequel. I hope no one remembers him for missteps like the Chevy Chase misfire Cops and Robbersons and surely no one out there knows him solely as the host of TV's Ripley's Believe It or Not. He deserves much better remembrance than that — though, if only for a smile, it's worth remembering him for his one-armed pushups following his Oscar win and the comic goldmine they gave to Billy Crystal for the 1992 Oscarcast.

RIP Jack Palance.


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Comments:
He was funny; capable of frightening menace and great pathos. I shouldn't be by now, but every time I see him I'm surprised at how good he is.
 
Palance's versatilty as an actor was underrated - early in his career, he was often typecast as a heavy. If his Oscar for City Slickers seemed somewhat generous at the time, I'm glad the Academy honored him for a performance that embraced the kind of stoic, rugged roles on which he made his name, while at the same time allowing him to reveal to a previously unsuspected talent for comedy.
 
Jack Palance was unique, His most memorable ('evil') role was that of the dark and deadly gunfighter Wilson in 'Shane'.

Cheerio, Hartmut
 
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