“I want to report a murder….. Mine.” Edmond O’Brien (1915 – 1985)

Posted in Rewind by - November 21, 2013
“I want to report a murder….. Mine.”    Edmond O’Brien (1915 – 1985)

“I want to report a murder……mine.” – Edmond O’Brien as Frank Bigelow in ‘D.O.A’ (1950)

Respected character actor Edmond O’Brien’s filmography is filled with cult favourites spanning nearly three decades. These include such diverse classics as the 1946 version of Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Killers’, Ida Lupino’s ‘The Hitch-Hiker’ (1953), the Jayne Mansfield starrer ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ (1956), and  sci-fi favourite ‘Fantastic Voyage’ (1966).

Born Redmond O’Brien on September 10th 1915 in New York, Edmond learned his theatrical craft at an early age, performing as a magician after lessons from none other than his neighbour Harry Houdini. At 21, O’Brien was acting on Broadway, most notably in an acclaimed production of ‘Hamlet’ by John Gielgud.

Edmond’s movie debut was in the immortal Charles Laughton picture ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ in 1939. After prominent early roles in Robert Siodmak’s ‘The Killers’ (1946) and the Ronald Colman starrer ‘A Double Life’ (1947), O’Brien had a rare lead role in the Noir classic ‘D.O.A’ in 1950. Now considered a classic of the genre, ‘D.O.A’ tells the simple tale of a man who has been poisoned, and sets about finding who is responsible, before his imminent death.

An excellent character actor, O’Brien won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1954, playing harassed publicist Oscar Muldoon in ‘The Barefoot Contessa’, opposite Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner. In 1956 he played Winston Smith in cinemas first interpretation of George Orwell’s classic story ‘1984’. The following few years gave Edmond few parts to relish, with only 1960’s disaster-at-sea flick ‘The Last Voyage’ standing out.  The next few years proved much kinder, with better opportunities for supporting performers like O’Brien. 1962 began with John Ford’s popular western ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’, then a bit in the all star cast war epic ‘The Longest Day’.

Around this time he was impressive in two Burt Lancaster/John Frankenheimer pictures. First was the Robert Stroud biopic ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’ (1962), as Stroud’s biographer Tom Gaddis, appearing in only the first and last scenes.  This was followed with a terrific turn as the sweaty southern Senator in the thriller ‘Seven Days in May’ (1964), which earned him a second Oscar nomination.

After smaller parts in the western ‘Rio Conchos’ (1964), and the Carroll Baker drama ‘Sylvia’ (1965), O’Brien co-starred in Richard Fleischer’s cult sci-fi favourite ‘Fantastic Voyage’ (1966). O’Brien was excellent and barely recognisable in Sam Peckinpah’s magnificent western ‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969), playing grizzled old-timer Freddy Sykes, an original member of the Bunch.

Edmond O’Brien’s final movie was as mob boss “Uncle Frank” Kelly in the 1974 crime pic ‘99 and 44/100% Dead’. This was his third and final collaboration with maverick director John Frankenheimer.

Married and divorced twice, O’Brien died of Alzheimer’s disease on May 9th 1985, aged 69. One of the most talented and admired supporting actors of his time, Edmond O’Brien left cinema some great performances and memorable characters.


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