We are not worthy. Jack Palance remembered.

Jack Palance, actor. Lifetime: Feb. 18, 1919–Nov 10, 2006. Celebrated for many roles and very physical stunt acting. He usually played a villain. I just watched his second movie, the film noir classic, Panic in the Streets. Palance plays “Blackie,” a New Orleans crime don who kills a man carrying pneumonic plague. The coroner recognizes there is something wrong with the corpse (aside from two bullet holes in his chest), and decides to call in a civil service doctor to contain the disease. All men in contact with the foreigner will need to be vaccinated, or face death within 4 days. The only man (or men) left uninoculated, will be the killer(s), but the killers, in turn, if unfound, could infect the city (and the nation–and the world!).

The film smacks of early metaphorical red-scare Hollywood. The rampant spread of disease by as few as one individual stands as symbol for the “threat” of communism and the domino effect that ensues in neighboring countries once one nation succumbs to communist thought (a claim now long proven incorrect). A similar, though anachronistic, parallel could be made with our current (and equally erroneous–as time shall tell) executive branch claims about “terror,” but this is not the time or place for that discussion.

Anyway, the film, though stilted as many 1950’s films are, is really quite good. And Palance portrays Blackie well, first in the sadistic personality his character harbors–threatening a croney one minute, praising and caressing him the next; and second because of his stunt acting as he tries to evade apprehension. Don’t expect Tony Jaa type stunts–this was Hollywood 57 years ago. But Palance did his part in making stunt acting what it is today. (Rant alert: Don’t even talk to me about stunts in “wire-fu” or The Matrix movies; these are magician-like fake stunts (in the case of the former), and computer generated stunts without real actors (like video games, in the case of the latter). When you see Palance at work, it is clear that he is really playing to character, and he does not need wires or a computer to do the work for him.

 Palance never received any oscar recognition for his many great roles, but the academy did throw him a token, guilt-laden, Oscar in 1992, as a supporting actor, for his role in the crappy film City Slickers. Palance was shocked to have won, and confessed that he had been at home earlier that evening, doing one armed pushups, wondering whether he should even attend the incestuous academy circle-jerk (not his words). When eyebrows of doubt raised over his one armed pushup claims, he left the dias, got on the floor, and did some right there!

Click here for the video of Jack Palance doing one armed pushups at age 73.

**Fast forward to about 3:45. Apologies for the clip being dubbed in Spanish.


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