The Man Who Wasn’t There: Wendell Corey, Actor

Event has passed (Fri Sep 6, 2013 - Sat Oct 5, 2013)
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)
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Not every film needs a high-spirited, GQ-perfected, self-assured leading man. Sometimes a soft-shouldered, sorry-eyed fella is just what the role requires. Wendell Corey (1914–1968) was just such an actor, a frumpy figure who could linger lukewarm, exit with grace, and, when needed, raise an unexpected chill. His first film, 1947’s Desert Fury, finds him instigating violence from the folds of a fitted suit; later, in The Furies, only he could withstand the wiles of furious femme Barbara Stanwyck. Rarely a lead, Corey could hold back, serving as a retiring everyman whose reserve bolstered the stars around him. To this end, he was a foil to Burt Lancaster in The Rainmaker, vying for Katharine Hepburn’s affection, and played the downtrodden hubby to Joan Crawford’s hygienic harpy in Harriet Craig. In the rarely screened noir Hell’s Half Acre, Corey has an equally rare role in the fore. Here, a former gangster reveals a softer, self-sacrificing side quite different from his resentful racist in the agrarian drama My Man and I. Strong subordinate roles in Sorry, Wrong Number, The Big Knife, and The Killer Is Loose bring out the best and worst in him, from overly cloying Dr. Alexander, through conniving front man Smiley Coy, to the stalking sociopath Foggy Poole. But nowhere is his low-density disposition more apparent than in Loving You, where he spars with Elvis for Lizabeth Scott’s attention. Wendell Corey may have been the man who wasn’t there, but there was plenty of there there, nonetheless.