My favourite character actor, Arthur Kennedy would have been 105 today and, for the occasion, I’m hosting the Arthur Kennedy’s Conquest of the Screen Blogathon. I was initially supposed to write about an episode from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in which Kennedy starred but, instead, I’ve decided to pay my tribute to him. Don’t get me wrong, this episode is excellent and I highly recommend it! It’s entitled “Change of Address”.
Arthur Kennedy is an actor whom I noticed immediately in films like Lawrence of Arabia, The Desperate Hours, and Elmer Gantry. I admire his natural acting and his strong on-screen presence, as well as his undeniable charisma. However, I really started to develop an obsession for him when I decided to explore more of his work for the What A Character! Blogathon. Honestly, I don’t think I could have made a better choice for a subject. He inspired me so much and, each day, I was waiting impatiently for this moment when I would watch one of his films in preparation for my article.
The thing is, I feel a special connection with Arthur Kennedy that I don’t feel with some other actors. There are many I admire and I’m obsessed with as well but, with Kennedy it’s different. I don’t know how to explain really. Well, I think he basically embodies my ideal in terms of acting style. The top of the top. Consequently, yes, Arthur Kennedy is mainly known as a character and, therefore, a supporter actor, but he could play the leads very well and be an A-Class actor like he proved us in films like Bright Victory or Rancho Notorious. His versatility surely helped for that, as well as his ability for not overacting as I’ve mentioned before. Look at Peyton Place and Champion for example. Arthur plays very different roles in them and received Oscar nominations for both of these roles. He could really did it all.
Following that, I think one of the most fascinating things about Arthur Kennedy is to see his evolution as an actor. Well, can we really talk about evolution? He wasn’t one of those actors who started poorly and improved with time. No, he proved to be a brilliant actor from the starting point. His first film was City for Conquest in which he plays a passionate music composer and James Cagney’s young brother. And he’s incredible. He was devoted 100% to his character and gave everything he had to give a more than convincing performance. As a matter of fact, if Kennedy started his acting career on the Broadway stage, he was discovered by James Cagney and that’s how he got the role in the film. Thanks, James! The two form one of my most favourite on-screen sibling pairs. They have an incredible chemistry and their characters complete each other perfectly. And, 20 years later, in Elmer Gantry he hadn’t lost his touch. I’ve talked about his good chemistry with James Cagney in City for Conquest but he had excellent ones with practically all the actors and actresses he worked with: Jean Simmons in Elmer Gantry, James Stewart in the Anthony Mann’s films, Peggy Dow in Bright Victory, etc.
I think that, even if a film isn’t very good, if Arthur Kennedy’s plays in it, it can be worth seeing for this aspect only, because I’ve never seen him deliver a bad performance. The other day, I watched Bend of the River and I was looking forward to it as it stars my favourite actor, James Stewart and, of course, Kennedy. I had already seen their team work in The Man from Laramie, which I fairly enjoyed, so I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I didn’t like Bend of the River so much. However, Arthur Kennedy was perhaps the best thing about the film and, thanks to him, I didn’t completely lose the focus during my viewing. He and James Stewart worked well together and I especially enjoyed the scene where the two meets (after Stewart saves Kennedy from being lynched). But the rest really wasn’t of great interest for me.
Another thing I love about Arthur Kennedy was his smile and his laugh, I think those gave him even more self-assurance than he already had. That laugh was unforgettable and very much his signature. He also had that unique voice and those unique facial expressions that made him one of a kind.
In 2017, I read the only existing biography on the actor, Arthur Kennedy: Man of Characters by Meredith C. Macksoud. It was an enjoyable read despite the lack of in-depth information. I won’t do a complete review of the biography as this has already been done (you can read it here), but there’s one aspect I have to put the emphasis on Arthur Kennedy’s on-stage career. I think the book’s major quality (aside from being highly respectful toward Mr. Kennedy) is the information it gives us about his career on Broadway. It’s complete, informative and highly interesting. It makes us understand how much it was an important part of his life. This is something people, unfortunately, have the tendency to sometime forget which is kind of normal because, if the films are still here to be seen, some actor, unfortunately, aren’t here anymore to perform on-stage. Kennedy’s perhaps most praised on-stage work was the original production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman which was staged by Elia Kazan. He played the role of Biff Loman, one of Willy Loman’s sons (who was originally played by Lee J. Cobb). Praised for his performance, he was awarded a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor. On-stage acting and on-screen acting require different skills and Kennedy excelled in both spheres.
Despite his impressive career, Arthur Kennedy remains a very underrated actor. He was nominated for no less than five Academy Awards (Champion, Bright Victory, Trial, Peyton Place, and Some Came Running) but failed to win any of them. Unfortunately, he also has the tendency to be a bit forgotten nowadays, like it is often the case with character actors. But, luckily, bloggers like us are ready to keep his memory alive!
So far, I’ve seen a total of 19 of his films. I need to see more but, really, one is enough to realize what a great actor he was. 😉 Anyway, I’d like to present you a top 15 of my most favourite films of his before concluding all this. 🙂
1- The Desperate Hours (William Wyler, 1955)
2- Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)
3- Bright Victory (Mark Robson, 1951)
4- City for Conquest (Anatole Litvak, 1940)
5- Elmer Gantry (Richard Brooks, 1960)
6- Boomerang! (Elia Kazan)
7- The Glass Menagerie
8- Champion (Mark Robson)
9- The Window
10 – Crashout
11- Murder, She Said
12- Too Late for Tears
13- Peyton Place
14- The Man from Laramie (Anthony Mann)
15- High Sierra (Raoul Walsh)
And the next one I’ll watch is Air Force because MovieRob highly convinced me to see it and I borrowed it at the library Friday! I’m also looking forward to see Trial. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any way to watch it…
As I’ve often said, Arthur Kennedy changed my life and I hope he will continue to be honoured for many years to come!
To read the other articles, please click here.