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.”
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.
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.
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.