Sunday, July 23, 2006

Appreciating Jack Warden (1920-2006)

"I happen to love this country. You know, we're not a bunch of zanies trying to bring it down!" - Harry Rosenfeld (Jack Warner - ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN, 1976)

“Gruff but lovable” may be a cliched description befitting many a character actor but it seems today like it was coined solely for Jack Warden.

Warden, who died in a New York hospital a few days ago of heart and kidney failure at 85, leaves behind 50 years of TV and movie work including Oscar nominated turns in 2 of Warren Beatty’s seminal 70’s films – SHAMPOO and HEAVEN CAN WAIT, a gracefully befuddled President in BEING THERE, and acted as newspaper editor over not only reporters Woodward and Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN) but also performed the same task over reporters Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo (THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER). A former boxer, Warden epitomized the best friend/mentor role in many films. If a movie needed a rough on the outside – soft on the inside coach, agent, former army man, or any weathered wizened figure of authority he was the go-to guy. A few TV shows tried to bottle his charisma – he took Walter Matthau’s role on the short lived BAD NEWS BEARS TV show and had a 4 year run as a wacky detective on CRAZY LIKE A FOX but it is his film work that will be his true legacy. That is if we respectfully forget the dreck –like his appearances in all 3 PROBLEM CHILD movies for instance. In memory of one of the greatest character actors in film history here’s: 

5 Essential JACK WARDEN Roles

1. Mickey Morrissey (THE VERDICT Dir. Sydney Lumet 1982) The ultimate best friend/collegue part played to perfection. His raised voice advice to his tragically flawed lawyer friend Frank (Paul Newman) - "He's a good man? Heh, he's the Prince of fucking Darkness! He'll have people testifying they saw her waterskiing up in Marblehead last summer. Frank, don't fuck with this case!" 

2. Roy L. Fuchs/Luke Fuchs (USED CARS, Dir. Robert Zemeckis 1980) Sure this is a rude crude barely memorable Kurt Russell vehicle (didn't mean to make that pun) but Warden plays two roles - brothers. One good/one bad - the evil twin premise in early glory. 

3. Judge Francis Rayford (...AND JUSTICE FOR ALL, Dir. Norman Jewison, 1979) His crazy helicopter-piloting Judge character was an effortless yet edgy piece of work. Crusty insights abound as evidenced in this exchange with yet another disallusioned lawyer : Judge Rayford - "I found out what the meaning of life is." Arthur Kirkland (Al Pacino) - "What's that?" Judge Rayford - "It sucks." 

4. Julian Marx (BULLETS OVER BROADWAY Dir. Woody Allen, 1994) Warden did great work in 3 Woody Allen movies (the others being SEPTEMBER & MIGHTY APHRODITE) but his timing and presence as theater producer Julian Marx makes this list for ace delivery of lines like : "That dame doesn't have a nerve in her body. I don't think her spinal cord touches her brain." 

5. Harry Rosenfeld (ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN Dir. Alan J. Pakula 1976) Famous Washington Post editor Rosenfeld was a great fit for Warden's mentoring mania - admonishing Woodward (Robert Redford) - "Sit down. You know I'm glad you asked me that question. The reason I'm glad you asked me is because if you had asked Simons or Bradlee they woulda said, "You know we're gonna have to fire this schmuck at once because he's so dumb". 

His brisk appointing was classic Warden as well - "Woodward. Bernstein. You're both on the story. Now don't fuck it up!" 

R.I.P. JACK WARDEN 9/18/20 - 07/19/06 

More later...

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