The LA Film Critics Association has decided to give this year's Career Achievement Award to Richard Widmark, who, it turns out, is 90 and still very much alive. It's about time that Widmark got some recognition - he's a talented, surprisingly subtle actor who seems to have sort of disappeared from our radar. If anyone remembers him today, it's usually because of his manic work as Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death, in which he famously shoved a wheelchair-bound old lady down a flight of steps. While it was a pretty powerful debut, what's lost in that wild, reputation-making performance is Widmark's soul as an actor. His face is handsome but in an unsettling way, and there's something behind his eyes that suggests a degree of menace - but also something else. There's a weariness there, and a hint that he wants nothing more than to find someone to trust, and to let all the toughness and control fall away for just a moment.
While Widmark turned in many great (and almost always underrated) performances over the course of his career, his shining moment may have come in Sam Fuller's low-budget, red scare flick Pickup on South Street. In it Widmark plays a two-bit criminal lowlife who's interested in nothing but profit and women. Thelma Ritter plays Moe, a sort of mother to the criminals. She's been around the block (over and over and over again) and knows exactly how hopeless life really is. And there's a moment in the movie where she and Widmark sit in a diner together and talk about nothing that is one of the most magical scenes I've ever seen in a movie. Both of them just sit, but the power of the performances is incredible. Widmark is suddenly overwhelmingly tired of everything. Life. Crime. Himself, most of all. Where there had been nothing but confidence, his round face now wears doubt, sorrow, and a secret affection for the woman he can't stop hassling. It's one of those rare Widmark moments, when the shields are almost down.