Elisha Cook, Jr. was usually cast as the as the weak, put down, neurotic, wanna be tough guy. Had his character a philosophical bent it would been along the line of Robert Browning’s quote, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp/Or what’s a heaven for?” Whether it was confronting Jack Palance, Lawrence Tierney or Humphrey Bogart or trying to make it with women like Ella Raines or Marie Windsor, his character never knew when he was out of his league. Often Cook had so little screen time his character was only given a nickname, ”Sweeper,” “Inky,” “Banjo,” “Shorty,” or he’d be referred to by the role he played like ‘piano player,’ ‘crazed drummer,’ or ‘taxi driver. His high water mark in screen credits was in Magnum P.I. (where he had twelve appearances) where not only was he given a first and last name but also a nick-name any tough guy would be proud to have: Francis(Ice-Pick)Hofstetler.
With over 215 screen credits it is tough to pin down his best performance. A lot of people remember him from, “Phantom Lady,” “House on Haunted Hill,” “Electraglide in Blue,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” ”A Kiss Before Dying,” and scores of television appearance. And of course there are, “The Maltese Falcon,” “Shane,” and “The Killing.”
Perhaps his most memorable role was as Wilmer the gunsel in The Maltese Falcon. Gunsel has two meanings, a small time hood carrying a gun and it is also a Yiddish slang for a young man kept by an older man. The relationship is evident in the film, and Elisha’s performance carries it to a higher level. He’s comes across as much a maladjusted kid trying to prove to his boss he’s more than a sexual distraction, as he does a killer. “I can always get another son,” the Fat Man says when choosing to give up Wilmer for the Bird.
The poor gunsel even has to wear an oversized overcoat with sleeves that reach down to his wrists! Don’t tell me wardrobe couldn’t find a better fitting coat if they tried. Makes you wonder if Wilmer was wearing the hand me down of a previous ‘son’ of the Fat Man. Cook brings a sensitivity to the role that almost makes us feel sorry for the guy. There’s a great scene where Bogart’s verbally chastising elicts tears from Wilmer. In a film replete with great performances, Cook’s is right up there with them.
My favorite film of his is, The Killing. He plays a race track clerk who is married to Marie Windsor the film’s femme fatale. It is their relationship that elevates a good movie about a heist job gone awry to a truly memorable film. It is Elisha Cook Jr, along with Marie Windsor that puts the film-noir into The Killing.
He’s the chump who will do anything for the femme fatale of his dreams, but he is no bigger a chump than Tom Neal in Detour, or Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity.
And give Elisha credit: he gets to passionately kiss Marie Windsor, watches her parade around their apartment in her slip, gets to kill those who wronged him, and despite his face being riddled with buck shot, drives to his apartment, confronts his wife and kills her before he dies.
This film, just like Night and the City, benefits greatly from a wonderfully scripted sub-plot, interwoven throughout the entire movie. It is the interplay between Cook and Windsor that make The Killing a film-noir classic.
Although he has a minor role in Shane, as Stonewall Torrey, an honest, hard working family man with a fierce duty to principle and a refusal to be bullied, Cook gives us one of the filmdom’s most memorable scenes. When accompanying another homesteader to the blacksmith he is accosted by Wilson(Jack Palance). We see the poor guy walking tentatively through the mud towards the saloon where Wilson is waiting. The poor guy almost slips in the mud at one time. There is no drama in this scene, we know what is going to happen and Cook does a great performance as a sheep being led to slaughter. Through a previous encounter Wilson knows how easily it is to rouse Stonewall’s temper and does it by insulting Torrey’s Southern heritage . Cook responds by calling him, “…a low down lying Yankee.” “Prove it,” Wilson says and pulls his gun before Torrey can barely get it out of his holster, then kills him. This scene is a precursor to to the film's finale; the shootout between Wilson and Shane.
This was a different role for Elisha Cook in that his character is accepted by his community and is respected, he a peer, not some joke, or loser, but an important part of the homesteading community. Joe Starret(Van Heflin)convinces a family not to leave until Torrey has had a decent Christian burial, and Shane, in his own way honors him, by calling out Wilson with the same words that Torrey used.,
It is no coincidence that the three films I’ve chosen are widely recognized as classics. And it’s no coincidence that Elisha Cook, Jr. had a part in them. Elisha Cook was a fine actor, not just a bit role player but a fine actor in his own right. And I want to give a shout out to the FBook group that prompted me to write this.
This is the 75th Anniversary of Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak, and while he is generally one of the top ballplayers of all time, is it possible to regard Joe DiMaggio, as underrated? It is possible, and it was a column by Phil Mushnick of the NYPost that re-posited this theme.
I did some research on a group of power hitters and found that Mays+10, Aaron+15, F.Robinson+56, Banks+68, Harmon Killebrew+9, Jimmy Foxx +64(I did not separate between his years with the A’s and Red Sox)and Ruth who was +9 while playing for the Yankees, all had more home runs at home than on the road. Conversely, Ted Williams had 25, Mike Schmidt 18, Gehrig hit 55 more on the road, Berra had six more, Mantle four more away.) Roger Maris’ 61 homers in 1961 were evenly divided with 30 at home 31 on the road. From 1960 to 1964 it was 85 homers on the road, 97 on the road. That should put to rest the argument that the short right field porch was a bonanza to lefties.
Joe D’s home run total were severely effected by playing half of his games in the then cavernous Yankee Stadium’s ‘Death Valley.’ It was 404 feet to short left, 457 to left-center, and 461 to dead center. But, none were effected by the homefield disadvantage for home runs than Joe DiMaggio. Of his 361 home runs 218 were on the road, and only 148 were at home. A total of 64 more homers on the road. He had eight Series Homers and all were on the road. His career stats were 148 to 213.
That’s why I think hitting 46 Homers in 1937 was one of the greatest exhibitions of power hitting of all time. I think if someone had the time or inclination, information could be found how many fly boys were caught 425 feet from home, or 440 feet from home. Could he have lost fourteen homers to fly ball outs 425 feet from home? Perhaps Ruth’s record of 60 would have lasted only fourteen years. And this brings up another of his achievements.
Joe D had the twelfth highest slugging percentage in baseball history of. 97. He ended up with 361 home runs, had 881 extra base hits yet, struck out only 369 times. If you discount his last year, when he was much past his prime, his homer to strikeouts would be: 349 to 333. The only person close to him among the top 20 slugging percentages is Musial with 475 and 696, and if you count only his first thirteen years he still trails DiMaggio. Only Yogi Berra, another great contact hitter comes close after thirteen years 311 and 327.
DiMaggio was the consummate five tool player. He hit for power, for average, was as good a defensive center fielder as there was(it was said he never had to dive for a ball so great was his innate ability to get a jump on the ball)as he patrolled the largest outfield in the majors. covering the largest outfield in the Major Leagues. The age of steroids and cookie cutter band box ball parks(and I include Steinbrenner Park and Galleria) will give us more players with far greater home run totals., But he would be the center fielder I would choose for my team.
In a response to a blogger’s review of, “A Clockwork Orange,” I commented on Kubrick's use of Nadsat. The movie is more faithul to the book by Anthony Burgess, than Kubrick's
adaptation of Stephen King's "The Shinging" A reason, I surmised, could be the brevity of the book which was only 150 pages. It led me to think of other Kubrick films; , “Dr.Strangelove,” is also 150 pages, “Full-Metal Jacket,” 190 pages and, “2001-A Space Odyssey,” is based on, a short story by Anthony Clarke.
So it made me think that it is easier for the director to place his imprimatur on his film if the foundation;, the blue-print is fairly concise. What Kubrick did was not to reinvent the wheel but to use the original source as a as a foundation, to make it his own, different, but still recognizable. It may be a ‘duh’ factor but what I do care? It was one thought leading to another.
This in turn led me to think back to “The Menagerie,“ from the original “Star Trek." Captain Pike(Jeffrey Hunter) is Captain of the Enterprise. Spock disobeys star fleet orders and returns to Talos IV now placed off-limits, where years ago they investigated a distress signal. It turns out that a group of colonists had crash landed years prior and all perished but for the severely injured Vina. (Susan Oliver ). The Talosians put the girl ‘together’ but with no template, no blue-print other than the mangled bodies of the crash the result is that she is saved but misshapen. The power the Talosians have, is the ability to create illusions that eliminate any lines between what is real and not. They use that power to create a new reality for Vina. The years have not been good for Capt. Pike. He too is horribly disfigured, confined to a wheel-chair and unable to speak. His mind, however, is unimpaired. It is Spock’s goal to reunite the two.
The Talosians blue-prints were flawed, but their principle is the same as how a director takes a work and molds it to his own version. The better the blue print usually makes for the better film when done by a competent director. And that is how I got from, “The Shining,” to “The Menagerie.”
<I did my best to avoid any spoilers regarding "The Menagerie." >
Captain Pike, as was when first on Talos IV, and later when Spock disobeyed orders and returned him to be reunited with Vina.
Vina, as she appeared to Captain Pike when The Enterprise landed on Talos IV, and as she really looks.