The legendary Karl Malden died today at age 97. We should all be around so long and look back on such a full and accomplished life. Malden was a solid and believable presence in 70 films on top of his run in that 1970s TV cop series, called Streets of San Francisco. But he earned major artistic esteem in only seven films, three of them with Marlon Brando and spanning an 11 year period, from 1951 to ’62.
Malden’s first blue-ribbon, brass-ring film was A Streetcar Named Desire (’51), in which he played the beefy momma’s boy Mitch, the best friend of Brando’s Stanley Kowalski. The next Brando pairing came with On The Waterfront (’54), in which Malden played Father Barry. His third and final Brando collaboration was in One-Eyed Jacks (’61), in which he played the cowardly and sadistic Dad Longworth, under Brando’s direction.
Malden was also excellent as the chief detective in Alfred Hitchcock‘s I Confess (’53); as the obsessive high-strung father of Jimmy Piersall (Tony Perkins) in Fear Strikes Out (’57); opposite Burt Lancaster in Birdman of Alcatraz (’62), in which he played Alcatraz warden Harvey Shoemaker; and as Warren Beatty‘s dad in John Frankenheimer‘s All Fall Down (’62).
Okay, I’ll throw in his role as Gen. Omar Bradley in Patton (’70) and make it eight. But he only had one or two decent scenes in that Franklin Schaffner film, which George C. Scott owned top to bottom.
With Marlon Brando in On The Watrerfront.
I love Malden’s third-act Waterfront moment with Brando in the Hoboken bar when he snaps at the bartender, “Gimme a beer!” And his line to Eva Marie Saint in the beginning: “You think I’m just a gravy-train rider with a turned-around collar…don’t you? Don’t you? (Pause) I see the sisters taught you not to lie.”
In Streetcar Malden says to Vivien Leigh, “I was fool enough to believe you were straight.” And she answers “Straight? What’s ‘straight’? A line can be straight, or a street. But the heart of a human being?”
I love the One-Eyed Jacks moment when the hog-tied Brando spits in Malden’s face just before being bull-whipped on Main Street; ditto Brando’s faking Malden out in the final shoot out, running and diving into the dust and shooting Malden in the back three times.