Unsung Hero

Today we celebrate Walter Brennan, one of the greatest “character actors” ever.

I don’t understand the distinction made between “character” actors and…what? “Real” actors? “Regular” actors? Aren’t ALL actors supposed to act out characters? Denoting someone as a “character” actor makes them sound lesser, when the reality is, they are generally far superior to every “Regular” actor around them. That’s even more true in the case of Walter. This guy did amazing work, all the time. Walter was like the guy they brought in to prop up the big “movie stars.” He carried all of the acting work in the movie on his capable shoulders, freeing up the star to do their “movie star” thing.

As I’ve watched more and more old movies, I’m amazed how many Walter turns up in. He was a true workhorse, and obviously his talent was in great demand. Unlike most “character actors”, he was appreciated in his day, winning 3 Oscars! I don’t think people know him these days, though (gawds, these days people don’t even know who Clark Gable is, let alone Walter Brennan!) hence this post.

Walter could play anything, but he most often played the “little guy.” The hobo, the ranch hand, the yokel, the person down-on-his-luck. The Regular Human foil to the Movie Star hero. He was often paired up with Gary Cooper, and they had a wonderful on-screen rapport. He appeared with Gary in Pride of the Yankees, Meet John Doe, and The Westerner. Of these, The Westerner is my favorite performance by BOTH Walter and Coop. It was the world’s first character-driven Western; long on talk, short on horse chases. Walter plays a corrupt judge, Coop plays a cowboy out to break the judge’s grip on the town. Despite their antagonism, the two have a grudging like for each other, and Coop and Walter play out the complex relationship beautifully. Dammit, I wish Westerner was out on DVD! :( But it runs on TCM quite a bit, so look for it there.

Anyway, I know that I usually salute the big Movie Stars, but today is all about The Little Guy. Without them, those big stars wouldn’t seem half as talented. Thank you, Walter!

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