Larger than life character actor Sydney Greenstreet didn’t make his screen debut until he was 61 and although his film career wasn’t long it was certainly electric. For a few years in the early forties he appeared in a string of Warner Bros classics, usually alongside Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre. Greenstreet made his last film in 1950 died in 1954 but in a short career enlivened every movie he appeared in. Here is our pick of five of his best movies.
Across the Pacific (1942)
After being given a phony dishonorable discharge, Army officer Richard Leland (Humphrey Bogart) offers his services to Chiang Kai-Shek and the Chinese. On his journey through the Panama Canal, he comes across Dr. Lorenz (Greenstreet), a spy determined to blow up the Canal. It should be noted that the characters in the movie never reach the Pacific or cross it for that matter. Huston ultimately left production literally mid-scene to join the armed forces, leaving command of the movie in the hands of young director Vincent Sherman. “Pacific” reunites most of the cast from “The Maltese Falcon” and Sherman later worked on such TV shows as 77 Sunset Strip, The Waltons and Baretta.
Director: John Huston, Vincent Sherman
Cast: Mary Astor, Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, Richard Loo, Keye Luke, Victor Sen Yung
Background to Danger (1943)
Nazis, Soviets, and American agent George Raft are all after a cache of secret documents in the mysterious back alleys of WWII Turkey. A great, fast-moving spy tale handled expertly by Walsh. Based on Eric Ambler’s “Uncommon Danger.”
Director: Raoul Walsh
Cast: Turhan Bey, Sydney Greenstreet, Kurt Katch, Peter Lorre, Brenda Marshall, Osa Massen, George Raft
Perennially at the top of every all-time-greats list, and indisputably one of the landmarks of the American cinema. Bogart is an American expatriate and war profiteer in WWII Morocco, content to merely run the Café Americain until love (in the form of a luminous Bergman) returns to his life and inspires him to stand up for the French Resistance. An accidental Hollywood masterpiece, it just gets better as time goes by. Whilst Greenstreet’s role here is one of many fine supporting performances he enlivens the screen whenever he appears. Academy Award Nominations: 8, including Best Actor: Humphrey Bogart; Best Supporting Actor: Claude Rains; Best Cinematography.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, S.Z. Sakall, Conrad Veidt
Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
In an intriguing, exotic noir spy tale, Peter Lorre is a mystery writer vacationing in Istanbul who becomes fascinated by the life of Dimitrios, a violent master criminal (Zachary Scott) who had been mixed up with the Bulgarian patriotic front. With his steps dogged by Greenstreet, a former associate of Dimitrios, the writer tracks the story of the enigmatic criminal whose body had washed up on the Turkish coast. After Sydney Greenstreet comes clean about his interest in the case, Lorre gets an up-close look at his subject when it turns out Dimitrios is not quite as dead as everyone thought. Co-star Faye Emerson was much in the news at the time of the film’s release because of her recent marriage to Elliott Roosevelt, the president’s son. The couple divorced in 1950.
Director: Jean Negulesco
Cast: Faye Emerson, Victor Francen, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Zachary Scott
Passage to Marseilles (1944)
Michael Curtiz rounds up the male leads from “Casablanca” for another gripping, atmospheric wartime tale. The story centers on Humphrey Bogart, a bombardier on a Free France bomber who drops letters to his wife and son trapped in occupied France. Through flashbacks we see the story of his prewar romance, resistance to fascism, his arrest, and eventual escape from a penal colony. Though Bogie never makes it back alive, Rains ensures his last letter will be delivered. Stirring and action-packed.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Victor Francen, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, George Tobias
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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