Thursday, August 1, 2019

Where Have I Seen That Face Before? Sterling Hayden: Actor, Author, Sailor

Jack Hayden, 1953 publicity shot.
This past month when I read Mario Puzo's The Godfather for the first time in 50 years it quite naturally stirred in me a desire to re-visit the blockbuster film that followed, especially since it's considered one of the greatest films of all time. Like all great films with memorable lines, this one itself has become a classic, "We'll make an offer he can't refuse."

Marlon Brando's performance as Don Vito Corleone is perfection. Brando so embodies the essence of the Don, and steals every scene just by his being there in character.

But there are also many other memorable scenes. Of those that come to mind the first is that little surprise that Director Jack Woltz finds in his bed the day after he refuses to accept Don Corleone's proposal.

Another, and the one that triggered this blog post, was the scene in which Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) goes to meet with a man named Sollozzo, head of another mob family, and Captain McCluskey, the crooked Irish cop who previously damaged the side of Michael's face with a knuckle sandwich.

For some reason this Captain McCluskey is familiar to me, but I can't immediately place him. A line
from "Lily, Rosemarie and the Jack of Hearts" comes to mind. “I know I've seen that face somewhere,” Big Jim was thinking to himself. And I just couldn't let it go.

This is where the is so useful. You can find and scroll through resumes of every actor, director and screenwriter, and even the minor players. McCluskey, though, is a major.

Bingo! Sterling Hayden was the gangster Johnny Clay in Stanley Kubrick's early career breakout film The Killing. Hayden played leading roles in a number of 50s films in the western and film noir categories. But his most memorable, I have to believe, was in another Kubrick cult classic: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

Have you zeroed in? Hayden was General Jack Ripper. The interplay between Ripper and Peter Sellers as Group Captain Lionel Mandrake is simply too much fun. (Sellers plays three distinct roles in this film and is equally golden. And what a performance by George C. Scott.) Here's a scene that typifies the whole. Note Kubrick's camerawork.

New Jersey-born in 1916, Sterling Hayden grew up in the Northeast. At age 16 or 17 he ran away from home and went to sea, working his way up to and eventually becoming the captain of a schooner, sailing around the world several times before landing in Hollywood in 1938.

In The Killing, Hayden plays a smart criminal who has just been released from five years in prison where he's spent all this time planning the perfect crime. It's a robbery at a racehorse track. Kubrick's innovative method of telling the story would be picked up decades later by Quentin Tarantino in his film Reservoir Dogs.

Sterling Hayden's three most memorable roles for me personally:
Captain McCluskey, The Godfather
General Jack Ripper, Dr. Strangelove
Johnny Clay, The Killing

If you've not seen these films, I give all three my strongest recommendation. 

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