Tuesday, November 14, 2006
We'll miss you Jack
Sometimes people die, who you have never met, and quite unexpectedly you realise that they represented something important to you, and their passing means that a little of yourself has also gone. The world is a little less innocent, as a part of the security of your own past is buried with them.
So I was surprisingly moved to hear that Jack Palance had died. Partly of course I am mourning the character of Jack Wilson. Never has murder seemed so glamorous. In Shane, perhaps the greatest example of Hollywood film making, Palance plays a dandy gunslinger, a hired gun for the cattle barons. But you know that Alan Ladd’s Shane character has been no better than him in the past, and Wilson is an externalisation of the dangerous edge in Shane that Jean Arthur’s character is drawn to in preference to the dull farmer Van Heflin. Perhaps the most subtle and poignant portrayal in film of a shared love that can never be.
In one of the most gripping moments in the film Palance mercilessly guns down small farmer, Frank Torrey, played by Elisha Cook Jnr. It is a cathartic moment, as Torrey is an archetype of the 1950s western, the decent, nostalgic former confederate soldier (so often cropping up in John Ford westerns). Palance mocks “Robert E Lee and his rebel trash” and then shoots Torrey down like a dog. I cheer every time! This machine kills fascists!
Palance also starred in Attack in 1953. The full impact of this movie is hard to appreciate in these more cynical days, but it was political dynamite when it was made, while the corpses of WW2 were still warm in the memory. The first ever film to show political and financial corruption, and class conflict in the US military. A curiously European type of war movie, that ends not in patriotic catharsis and validation like so many American war films, but in betrayal, futility and anonymous carnage in a pointless and god-forsaken backwater of France. This was one of Palance’s most electric performances, and it is a must see film.
Palance also played Castro in the film, Che, but I have never seen it Perhaps it is best that way!