I had a really fun time over the Crime Scene weekend, but am pretty tired after a hectic schedule during this eclectic event. I thought I’d just jot a few notes about some of the fun. The weather was amazing with bright sunshine throughout the weekend, which soaked the Southbank in orange shadows, and made you sweat with its touch. The National Film Theatre screens NFT 1 – 3 were thankfully all air-conditioned, but it was the bar where most of us congregated between the sessions, which was not air-conditioned. Which meant copious cold beer was needed to maintain a stable body temperature.
The weekend started at Friday lunch time with The New Noir Panel featuring John Connolly, Carol Anne Davis, Paul Johnson, Mark Billingham and Martyn Waites as Moderator. A great panel: each giving their spin on ‘Noir’ which, despite being a French term in origin, somehow had become adopted as an American Crime style. It was also a very funny panel, with Carol talking in depth about necrophilia, and it was fun watching Mark Billingham (who sat next to her) turning a Kermit-shade of green. There was also a huge laugh as Martyn Waites quoted Nietzsche, and was forced to repeat the quote, which in a Geordie accent was quite an achievement. John Connolly spoke about American influences and the dawn of ‘noir’ while Paul Johnston gave his spin on a definition, and then altered it, and then returned to it. The session climaxed with the Q&A, kicked off by a rather eccentric gentleman ‘plugging’ aggressively his e-Book on a Sherlock Holmes precursor. The conclusion to this session was that ‘Noir’ as a definition or description was open to debate, and that it embraced many styles and even more writers than just US P.I. – Noir.
After that it was beer and sandwiches at the bar for me, where I joined up with Mike Stotter, and from RAM – Katarina from Sweden and Luke Croll from Spain. Thalia from Crime In Store joined us in the afternoon, and we had a laugh, talking about their recent move from Covent Garden to Store Street. We drank some beer and were joined by Mark Timlin, who is a great guy, both as a novelist (‘Nick Sharman’) as well as a strong shield-bearer for the genre, with his columns in Crimetime and The Independent. We had a good laugh talking about books, and how he spotted some glaring omissions in the recent ‘Crime Fiction Encyclopedia’. I have read the last two ‘Nick Sharman’ novels, but need now to hunt down the previous ones in second-hand stores, as sadly they have fallen out of print – and, as they say, that's a real crime!
The next panel I attended was How we Began with Caroline Carver, Paul Charles, Meg Gardiner, Alison Joseph and moderated by Cath Staincliffe. This was a fun panel that Mike and I attended. They discussed how they all started, and it was interesting listening to Alison Joseph talk about her crime-fighting nun. I left just before the end, as I needed to go to the toilet and have more beer. In that order – I hasten to add.
Meanwhile, backthe bar: I decided to photograph the feet of the various crime writers. This was all due to a throw-away comment Katarina had made at Mark Billingham’s Scaredy Cat launch earlier that week. Katarina had remarked how cool Mark’s shoes were and insisted that I photograph them, which I dutifully did. As I was pretty well in the swing of things, I decided to carry on and photograph as many ‘foot-shots’ as well as a matching ‘head-shot’ just to compare the footwear of the assembled writing pool. All the writers obliged over the course of the weekend, with some thinking that I was a ‘bit weird’, especially the female ones! This has led to Shots' competition: My Feet Are Killing Me.
Many writers arrived and the bar was heaving with criminal conversations. I chatted to Leslie Forbes about Bombay Ice and her work on Radio 4, then Laura Wilson came over, and we talked about her latest book My Best Friend. Natasha Cooper was very funny when I asked to photograph her shoes, as she wanted to change into these pink ‘slipper’ types. Denise Danks came over and we talked about her techno-thrillers and her character, Georgina Powers. By this time the drink was flowing rather too well. Mike and I then headed off to the opening cocktail party at No.1 The Strand, where I had the pleasure of introducing myself to veteran actors, Richard Widmark and George Cole. I spent a great deal of time mingling, nibbling ‘finger & spoon food’ and snapping pictures of feet, much to the amusement of many, and I must report that Steve Saylor had superb shoes (even though I imagined him in sandals). Just before I left, I was accosted by a young filmmaker who was releasing a movie about foot-fetishes, and wondered if I were a foot-fetish enthusiast. I explained that I wasn’t really into feet, but was gloriously drunk, and needed a lawyer, which raised a smile. Dinner afterwards was a great laugh with Mike Carlson, Mike Stotter and a selection of fine Crime Writers at a super Indian restaurant. I enjoyed swilling back some Cobra and then it all started to get a little hazy. It was a very late night, and as I was staying in North London with my elderly Aunt & Uncle, I didn’t get to bed until 1 am, and the tube journey was somewhat haphazard from what I remember … I recall waking up on the tube train to be confronted by a huge poster advertising Scaredy Cat (which incidentally has entered the top ten in London) – Hurrah, Mr Billingham. Especially with a fab review in The Saturday Times. The following day, the SHOTS team were out in force, with Mike, Ayo and I mingling and drinking, with MrE of C-I-S making a late appearance with Katarina. Ayo asked me to photograph Gary Phillips for her – and by hellfire, does he have big feet, but a real gentleman. He remembered me from the previous night, and I wish I could.
The afternoon kicked off with The Sherlock Awards, with awards presented by Mike Ripley to Denise Danks for her character, Georgina Powers and John Connolly's ‘Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker’ (well done indeed!), as well as awards for films, etc including David Pirie. I met Roy Ward Baker, now in his late 70’s and veteran of the Hammer and Amicus Horror film studios, directing such movies as Asylum and The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. It was a real thrill to finally meet him. He is a real gentleman, and I told him how scary his movies were to me in my teenage years. I think he enjoyed hearing about how much I had enjoyed his films. We spoke about the late great ‘Robert Bloch’ a favourite writer of mine, and really now only remembered due to ‘Psycho’ but he wrote some memorable work, as well as film and TV scripts for Amicus, as well shows such as Star Trek – anyone recall Cats Paw?
‘Why we write crime’ was next on the agenda, featuring Steve Booth (as dapper and erudite as usual), Nicci Gerrard (50% of Nicci French), looking very glam, Rob Ryan and Bill James all controlled by funnyman, Mike Ripley. This was an interesting panel, especially as all the members being ex-journalists, and all sporting good footwear. I had a great chat with Steve Booth about how difficult it is with time pressure, and he was as funny and as gracious as ever. There was mention of Proust, but I thought someone was summing a priest, philistine that I am.
London Crime with Martina Cole and Mark Timlin interviewed by Maxim Jakubowski was a real hoot, as both Martina and Mark are such a ‘down to earth’ and made a funny duo. Mark hails from South London (pronounced Sarf-London) while Martina is a true East Ender They were both amazingly honest and Maxim had to reign them in, as they regaled about their writing careers and London life. A brilliant session and very, very funny. I had to run off quickly to catch the end of Beyond Crime Thrillers which was at the other side of the NFT. I was very interested to meet Michael Marshall Smith – a great SF/Horror/Speculative fiction writer who has released The Straw Men his first crime novel, published under the name Michael Marshall. I have been a long-term fan of Michael’s novels and short stories (Only Forward, Spares, etc). He was in conversation with Robert Wilson, and Peter Gutteridge acting as moderator.
I then had to run back to the other end and catch the panel Crime : A British Specialty, featuring Mark Billingham, John Harvey, John Connolly and moderated by Russell James. This was a very thought-provoking panel discussing US/UK crime which became quite heated at times. All the running around was killing my feet, so I decided beer might be good for pain relief. Then back at the bar, I photographed more feet, interviewed Michael Marshal Smith, which was a treat. Then I had a great laugh with Val McDermid and Martina Cole. Val and I laughed about our motorway meeting, and I congratulated her on how well The Last Temptation has been greeted. She was very gracious, introducing me as ‘That Mad Crime Fan’. I thought Martina was a real sweetie, and I promised to read Faceless, which I thought sounded great vis-à-vis the acknowledgement she wrote. We discussed that - although her books appeared to be marketed toward a female audience, men were now becoming fans of her work. I took some great pictures and a fabulous one of Martina and Val. I chatted to another glam duo – Leslie Forbes ‘Bombay Ice’ and Laura Wilson again. Then Russell James and I discussed his lastest book, Pick any Title as well as the US Launch of one of his previous titles, and then we had a laugh with Mike Ripley who was enjoying a loud beer. John Connolly came over and the serious drinking started. I was pretty beat, so I made my apologies, and headed back to North London at about 8pm, as I couldn’t face another late night.
The Sunday was fun, especially watching the queue build for the arrival of Richard Widmark (read Bob Cornwall's report bleow). I however had a drink with the super-glamorous duo of Fidelis Morgan and Deryn Lake. After the usual niceties of foot-photography, we headed off to NFT2 where Fidelis was interviewing Steven Saylor. Well, I must say, I laughed so much that I thought my ribs would get damaged. Fidelis is a masterful interviewer, and I took some tips, for she lodged in some pretty ‘left of field’ questions, that took Steven by surprise, especially ‘What do you wear when you write?’ became a running gag, and Steven was very funny in his response. The chemistry between Fidelis and Steven was a pleasure to observe, very good to break the ice, as well as informative. Fidelis at the helm was a great idea. It was sad when the session finished, as it was so, so funny. I then chatted to Andrew Wotton of the NFT/BFI and Maxim of Murder One, erotic crime writer, literary editor et.al. and naturally photographed their shoes.
How to end a crime novel.. with a bang or whimper? was next for me, with Martin Edwards, Iain McDowall, Rebecca Tope, the masterful Andrew Taylor and all under reign with Maureen O’ Brien. A super panel for writers like myself, informative, especially when the discussion came to Patricia Highsmith, and her Ripley books.
So after a short sojourn in the bar with a big long table full of fun folk - writers as well as the RAM/C-I-S gang, including Katarina, MrE, Thalia and many many others. Fidelis told our fortunes, Thalia and I got the less than good info, while MrE and Katarina got cool news. Hey, at least it was a laugh. I was too tired to join Katarina, MrE and Thalia for dinner, so I headed back to North London. As I rejoined the ‘real world’ I still had the memory of a wonderful weekend, despite the hypnotic and memory-erasing effects of the beer. It had been made extra special by the Rogues and Vagabonds panel – what a hoot. And after all that running around London this weekend, my feet are killing me so I need a good chiropodist. Well they do say journalism is all about foot-work! The only downside over the weekend, was that many of the literary sessions clashed, with some overlaps, which forced me to dash between screens (camera in hand). The attendance was very good considering that the weather was such a scorcher, and many would have taken the opportunity to escape the city. I must also thank all at the NFT especially Ian Cuthbert, Adrian Wooton and Maxim for organising a super event, as well as the delegates for making it so much fun, and some of your shoes are pretty cool.
Ayo Onatade reporting from the aisle....
Crime Scene once again took place at the National Film Theatre. The spotlight this year was on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary detective, Sherlock Holmes, and the centrepiece was the NFT's Richard Widmark season. The interview with Richard Widmark took place on Sunday afternoon and I understand tickets for it were sold out as soon as they were advertised.
As much as I am a fan of the classic detective fiction, I was not too keen on attending any of the Sherlock Holmes events. I think that this was because I am now more interested in contemporary crime fiction.
Kicking off the opening night, on Thursday 11th July, I joined the throng in NFT 1 to see the new Morgan Freeman film ‘High Crimes’, which is based on the best selling novel by Joseph Finder. Directed by Carl Franklin and also starring Ashley Judd, this film certainly set the right tone for the start of the festival. Morgan Freeman is excellent as the eccentric, alcoholic, former military attorney, Charlie Grimes, who is persuaded by successful defense attorney, Claire, to help defend her husband against charges in a military court. For those who have not read the book or seen the film, the dénouement at the end will be well worth the wait.
The following day, on the Friday, there were a number of events that I was interested in but since most of them were on at the same time I had to bite the bullet and decide which one I really wanted to attend. I ended up going to see The Unusual Suspects ‘Pushing the Envelope’ which was the first event that officially started off the festival. There were between 40 and 50 people in the audience who listened to Natasha Cooper, Leslie Forbes, Andrew Taylor, Laura Wilson, Michelle Spring and Manda Scott (who acted as moderator) discuss the ways and means of expanding beyond the limits of the crime genre. Those of you who have never heard The Unusual Suspects give a talk you really should do so. The interplay between all of the authors is excellent and because they have been doing this for quite some time they quickly got into the swing of it.
My second event was ‘Four Tough Guys and an even Tougher Woman’. The panel was billed as Ken Bruen, Pat O'Keefe, Mike Phillips, Gary Phillips and Val McDermid but we were informed that regrettably Val wasn't feeling very well and wouldn’t be attending. Part of me regretted going to this panel. The plus part was getting to hear the extremely sexy voice of Gary Phillips, the author of one of my all time favourite P.I series set in Los Angeles after the riot. (If you haven't read any of the Ivan Monk series, then please do. They are very true to life and spot on and it is such a shame that he hasn't received the recognition here that he should.) However, the panel was to a certain extent a let down because it had been billed as ‘crime writers of the hardboiled variety on engaging reality and society’ and while they did talk about the topic, it could have been much more interesting. As it was, I got the impression that the only panellists that had bothered to do any work prior to the start of the panel had been Ken Bruen, Pat O'Keefe, and Gary Phillips. I was also disappointed by the way in which Mike Philips monopolised it; I am sure that if Val McDermid had been present she would have shaken it up a bit.
On Friday evening in NFT1 I attended the TV preview of Val McDermid's ‘Mermaids Singing’. This has been a long time coming and many of her numerous fans have been wondering whether or not the book would ever be made into a feature film. I have got to admit that it was well worth the wait. Robson Green was excellent and if I didn't know any better I would not have recognised him - he certainly had to use more than just his boyish charm this time around. They had managed to incorporate all the tenseness that is found in the book and even though I have read it more than once, some of it still came as a bit of a shock. Watching ‘Mermaids Singing’ was for me one of the highlights of the weekend. Luckily for all of us present (and as far as I am aware the event was sold out) Val had managed to make it to the preview. After the showing of the film Val, along with Robson Green and other members of the production team, were on hand to answer questions from the audience. It was a good feature film and I plan to watch it again when it is shown on television.
On Sunday I had decided to go and listen to Steven Saylor (who is one of my top three historical crime writers) being interviewed by the entertaining Fidelis Morgan. Softly spoken Steven Saylor is well known for his Sub Roma series and Fidelis Morgan certainly did the interview justice. The questions asked ranged from the serious to the sublime: she had the audience in fits when she asked Steven whether or not he wore much while he wrote and his response was most amusing. Steven also told a delighted audience about how he started writing and his interest in Rome which led him to start writing the series featuring Gordianus the finder. The interview was one of the best that took place during Crime Scene and it benefited from the fact that it was apparent that the members of the audience were fans of the genre.
To me the atmosphere at Crime Scene this year appeared to be a bit subdued than in previous years. It would be nice if they could have a few more American authors to complement the homegrown authors. Now that they have done Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, I wonder whom they will choose for next year?
My only regret? The fact that I didn't manage to get to see Rogues and Vagabonds I hear it was a hoot!
Richard Widmark - Report by Bob Cornwell
In spite of 74 films in 48 years, an unknown number of theatrical performances, and a multitude of TV appearances, I was not expecting the heartfelt standing ovation as Richard Widmark entered the battered main auditorium of London’s National Film Theatre, the undoubted highlight of Crime Scene 2002. But there is something moving about old movie stars, and my wife and I are on our feet with the rest of the audience as this icon of 50s noir and gangster pictures (and much else besides) is ushered on stage by NFT supremo Adrian Wootton. Widmark, not far off 88 years old, is still a commanding presence. He’s wearing a light-coloured, well-tailored suit and tie, his hair silver, a little thinner now but brushed back in the familiar style. Visibly delighted by the reception (the audience includes old friends Christopher Lee, George Cole and director Roy Ward Baker), he bows and applauds Mao-style in acknowledgment. This auditorium has, of course, seen its share of movie icons. Appearances here by Charlton Heston, James Stewart, Judy Garland even, and on one special occasion Sam Peckinpah, all rank high in my personal experience. Later in the week, there’s another memorable occasion. It’s a late addition to the NFT programme, 92 year-old Jules Dassin, the director of Widmark’s sixth film, Night and the City (1950), a new print of which will be shown immediately after Widmark’s appearance.
Peckinpah and Widmark never worked together, it’s the question I never get to ask, but the over-riding impression of this session is that this modest, unassuming, now ever so slightly frail man, would do his day’s work to the best of his considerable ability, then slip on home to actress and screenwriter Jean Hazlewood, his late wife of 55 years. As he disarmingly explains (in another context), to the "chocolate malts’ he prefers, rather than to the alcoholic roistering that would be de rigueur on a Peckinpah shoot.
That was not the first surprise of the evening. One of the three film clips shown at the outset of the interview, of course, was his debut film performance as psycho punk Tommy Udo in Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death (1947), replete with maniacal snigger, stinging one-liners ("I wouldn’t give you the skin off a grape") and famously pushing a wheel-chaired Mildred Dunnock down a flight of stairs. It’s a performance that makes clear, according to contemporary critic James Agee, "that murder is one of the kindest things he is capable of."
What a contrast therefore, even for this son of Sunrise, Minnesota, to learn of his ranch in Connecticut, and his fondness for the English countryside, renting cottages in places across Sussex, Kent and Hertfordshire when filming here. Not to mention his admiration for As Time Goes By, Bob Larbey’s cult sitcom with Geoffrey Palmer and Dame Judy Dench!
But it’s his professionalism and his cool intensity that is the reason why directors as different as Elia Kazan, John Ford and Don (Dirty Harry) Siegel have found pleasure in working with him. "One of filmdom’s greatest actors" said Siegel in his memoirs A Siegel Film.
Wootton’s initial questioning explores his early years. Sidetracked into drama at college, he graduated in that subject and, after two years teaching drama, he moved to New York in 1938, where he worked in radio and later on Broadway. He moved to Hollywood in 1947 where he landed the role of Tommy Udo.
David Thomson (in his invaluable Biographical Dictionary of Cinema) says, "the glee in this performance may even have shocked Widmark himself." Later in the proceedings Widmark admits that if he had to do it over again, he’d tone it down by quite a few notches.
Neither did director Henry Hathaway want Widmark in the film. "In the worst way, he didn’t" emphasises Widmark. "He wanted a guy called Harry the Hipster." (Can this be Harry "the Hipster" Gibson, 40s New York pianist and vocalist – and author of "Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs.Murphy’s Ovaltine"? But that’s another question I never get to ask.) The famously intransigent Hathaway gave Widmark "a terrible time" and Widmark walked off the set, determined never to return. But Hathaway sent an assistant after him with an invitation to lunch. Hathaway and Widmark later became great friends, working together on six films. When Hathaway died, Widmark was a pallbearer at the funeral.
That film of course launched his career. Going to a party soon after the film’s release he was greeted by John Wayne calling out "Here comes that laughing son of a bitch." Later he would work with Wayne on The Alamo (1960), amicably and well, he claims, but we sense that the two had little in common.
The conversation switches to directors. Elia Kazan, an old friend from Widmark’s brief Broadway career, later of course most associated with Brando and James Dean, directed Widmark in Panic in the Streets (1950). "The best director of actors ever" declares Widmark. Mention of his performances for Sam Fuller (in 1953’s great crime film, Pickup On South Street, 1954's submarine picture Hell and High Water) brings forth a mention of Fuller’s well-known habit of calling for order on the set by firing a gun into the air: "I said, whoa there Sammy..." And the practice ceased, for that picture at least. But Widmark agrees with most critical opinion that Fuller is one of cinema’s great primitives, and recalls his direction as "lean and to the point."
He reserves his greatest affection for John Ford for whom he made Two Rode Together (1961) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). "Jack was a real film-maker," says Widmark, emphasising the "maker." As he puts it in an earlier Daily Telegraph interview, in the context of the modern films that (mainly) he cannot bring himself to watch, "Ford didn’t move the camera, he moved the people. I think they’ve forgotten how to do that."
Pickup on South Street (also to be shown in a new print in the NFT season that accompanies this appearance) was, in fact written (by Sam Fuller himself) for Marilyn Monroe, but delays on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes meant that Jean Peters got the role. Widmark however would later work with Monroe, to his frustration, on Don’t Bother to Knock (directed by Brit, Roy Ward Baker in 1952 during his brief Hollywood career). Marilyn would work up to her performance in take after take; Widmark was at his best in the early ones! "A sweet kid" Widmark remembers "but damaged."
Amongst actors, there is only one for Widmark – Spencer Tracy. A keen film fan from his childhood, Widmark followed the Tracy career until the end, appearing with him in two films – Broken Lance (1954) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). Like Laurence Olivier, he learned more from watching Tracy than from any acting school.
Later Widmark reminisces about his time spent shooting films in England, notably Night and the City. The film is an adaptation by Jo Eisinger of Gerald Kersh’s 1938 novel of the same name, moving Kersh’s story of hustler Harry Fabian, played by Widmark, from the thirties to post-war London and memorably shot by photographer Max Greene. The film may not, as Kersh’s biographer Paul Duncan points out, be a faithful version of the novel (Kersh later claimed his payment of $40,000 was $10,000 for each word of the title!) but it is damned fine film noir, pursuing Widmark through a bomb-torn London to his final destruction.
"All my life I’ve been running," says Widmark in the film and it’s the running that Widmark remembers, up and down Soho alleys and across bombsites. "It was exhausting, and I lost several pounds in weight" he admits. But he also remembers the fine performance from actress (and friend) Googie Withers, superb as the night club manager who backs Widmark in his new career as a wrestling promoter.
It’s Percy Hoskins of Scotland Yard that, later that week, Jules Dassin remembers, not to mention one-time world champion wrestler Stanislaus Zbysko.
Dassin was himself on the run – black-listed by HUAC (the House UnAmerican Activities Committee run by Senator Joe McCarthy), the group investigating the many Communists and ex-Communists allegedly poisoning the Hollywood film industry in the post-war period. Dassin was noted for his film the 1947 The Naked City (forerunner of the famous TV series) and Thieves Highway (1948), both heavily influenced by post-war Italian directors like Roberto Rossellini. Keen to lend the documentary realism of his previous films to Night and the City, Dassin was lead by Hoskins around the London underworld. The chosen locations lent an unmistakable, almost Dickensian (and historically valuable) flavour to the film.
Dassin was also delighted to discover that Zbysko, a hero of Dassin’s childhood as one of the eight children of a Russian immigrant living in New York, was still alive. Moreover Zbysko was willing to play Gregorius, a wrestling promoter working with Widmark and in rivalry with his son, played by Herbert Lom.
The film will be shown in two versions: tonight the 95 minute American print with an over-insistent score by Franz Waxman. At his later interview Dassin is amazed to discover that the 101 minute British version, to be shown later in the month, has a different score specially written for the UK release by Benjamin Frankel, of which Dassin was previously unaware!
"A shameful period" declares Widmark, a life-long liberal, of the HUAC "witch-hunts" as they became known. Dassin, later that week, is still clearly upset by the betrayals of the time. But it is an era with some unlikely ‘heroes’. One such, lauded by both men, was the legendarily belligerent Darryl Zanuck ("For God’s sake don’t say yes until I’ve finished talking!"), production head at Twentieth Century Fox. Widmark remembers him as an excellent producer who put the emphasis on getting the best writers. Dassin remembers him as the sympathetic producer who packed him off to London with instructions to shoot all "the most expensive scenes" of Night and the City, so that the studio could not shut down the film when the HUAC subpoena was served on its director.
It would be five years before Dassin, pursued across Europe by the US government, can make another film. It will be the excellent French crime film Rififi, a huge European success, its completely silent robbery sequence rarely bettered. It won him the Best Director prize at the 1955 Cannes Festival, but received only limited release in the USA. Several films in theWidmark career have black-list connections. Widmark does not mention the politics of Elia Kazan, his director on Panic in the Streets, but Kazan, a hero of the American Left, would later become a notorious "friendly" witness to HUAC. His testimony would be amongst the bitterest blows to his old friend Jules Dassin. Dassin has not spoken to Kazan since.
Widmark would also work three times (Broken Lance, 1959’s Warlock – also in the season, and Alvarez Kelly from 1966) with director Edward Dmytryk, one of only two directors in the Hollywood Ten, the first group to be subpoenaed by HUAC. And Don Siegel’s 1968 film Madigan (with Widmark as policeman Dan Madigan) scheduled later that night, has a co-script credit to Abraham Polonsky, writer of Body and Soul (1947) and writer-director of Force of Evil (1948), perhaps the greatest creative casualty of the black-list. Madigan was his first movie credit for seventeen years.
By now the Widmark questioning has been thrown open to the audience. There are questions about those of his films that he likes (he is particularly proud of Stanley Kramer’s 1961 Judgment at Nuremberg), those that he hates (1978’s The Swarm gets pride of place, along with the Dennis Wheatley adaptation To the Devil a Daughter from 1975). Widmark is asked a question about the on-set tension between director Joe Mankiewicz and actress Linda Darrell whilst they shot No Way Out, another of Widmark’s four films in 1950, as a racist criminal receiving treatment from prison doctor Sidney Poitier. "What on-set tension?" he replies. "All I can recall is that when we looked around for Joe or Linda at lunchtime, they were nowhere to be seen." He pauses. "Hanky panky..." he adds and gives us a characteristic Widmark grin.But many of the questions are of the "what was it like to work with..." variety, and Widmark is clearly not prone to dish the dirt. A question about his favourite actresses brings forth a list that starts with Linda Darnell and Googie Withers and will clearly go on as long as his memory holds out.
It’s a faintly disappointing end to a memorable event. Widmark stands, bowing graciously and makes his way off the stage. Another standing ovation takes place. We are left with the image of his middle-aged cavalry Captain in Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn, shyly in love with and concerned for the safety of Carroll Baker. Later my wife and I see him leaving the NFT, escorted by a burly set of security men, and a huge cohort of fans.
The films, of course, remain. Madigan, for instance. Under-rated by some (see Mike Ashley’s new Encyclopedia of Modern Crime Fiction, for example), it’s an intelligently written police thriller with the emphasis as much on the changing moralities of the time as on the action. It’s a splendidly laconic, seemingly effortless but entirely convincing performance from Widmark’s later years. In the 73-shot finale, Widmark dies, sacrificing himself whilst ensuring that the psycho killer who ran off with his gun also meets his maker. Four years later Universal will resurrect Madigan for an (unsuccessful) six episode TV series.
There IS something moving about old movie stars. It’s about as close as you and I get to immortality.