Those of you too young to remember the actor, Jack Palance, missed a treat. 6’ 4”, until he got older and slouched to reach 6’ 3”, a former boxer and injured member of a WWII bomber crew whose face was “improved” with surgery, he “often played a film’s menacing villain with an imposing physique and authoritative voice.” In 1956, he played an over-the-hill, but loyal boxer in the TV drama from Rod Serling, “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” It won awards. He was Marlon Brando’s Broadway understudy in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” It, too, won awards. For much of his film career he played villains, quite well. For example, in 1953, he played opposite Alan Ladd in “Shane.” As the evil Jack Wilson, (see below)
Palance cemented his performance as film’s baddest guy opposite the buckskin-clad hero. He was nominated for an award, but won no Oscar …until 1991 when he was successful in 1991’s Billy Crystal’s “City Slickers” as an older, wiser, funnier cowboy. (see below)
When accepting his award, he said he he didn’t know what to do, so –on stage—he did some one-arm push-ups, as he did in military service. The audience loved it. Off screen, he was a writer, poet, rancher, and spoke 6 languages. In a film entitled “The Professionals,” he played a bad guy with a heart of gold who required Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode to be brought in –only to then be let go because the “bad guy” was the story’s good guy after all.
But my favorite piece of his work was from a television production, in 1968, of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Remember the story? A medical doctor, through his research, wants to set aside a man’s lesser qualities and emphasize only a man’s good intentions. He experiments on himself and, dang, doesn’t it turn out just the opposite. Under the spell of his magic potion, he became a gambler, womanizer, cruel type of guy. (Don’t you hate it when that happens?!) How bad was he? While dressed in fine clothes, tails and top hat, he carried a walking stick whose leaded handle doubled as a club and whose wooden shaft housed a small sword. (see below for a happy Mr. Hyde and contrasting Dr. Jekyll)
Of course, both weapons are used by Mr. Hyde to maximum ill effect, as he smiles throughout an evening of drinking, gambling, and female companionship. Just another night-on-the-town for the nasty star, but a thoroughly convincing performance. Too bad Denholm Elliott shoots him at the end of it.
Unfortunately, for Palance much of his work was done abroad and –how can I say this—on the cheap. But if you like an acting job well done, and portraying a convincing bad guy, keep Jack in mind. For TCM or late night TV. And don’t look for Frederick March or Spenser Tracy in the main role. Just remember Jack.