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Actor Jack Palance, who played football at Carolina, appeared in many Westerns, often as the villian.

Mr. Movie: Jack Palance

Jack Palance, who died at 87, was so good in a couple of movies that we have to overlook the dozens of Italian potboilers and 50-plus American dogs. 


He deservedly won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in City Slickers (1991). Billy Crystal and two friends try to get their lives back on track by going on a cattle drive. Palance is the hard-bitten trail boss, Curly. There's lots of funny stuff with an overlay of purpose that doesn’t hurt a thing. Ignore the terrible sequel foisted in 1994. 


And when you talk about Western bad guys, forget Jack Elam, Roy Barcroft, Eli Wallach, et al. Nothing will ever measure up to the menacing hired gun Jack Wilson, played to absolute perfection by Palance in the wonderful Shane (1953). I watched Shane again not long ago, and boy is it still good! Alan Ladd underplays the heroic Shane so well, and there is that delicious undercurrent of forbidden romance between him and settler-wife Jean Arthur, plus the hero-worshipping kid, Brandon DeWilde. Your American education is not complete without a viewing of Shane. 


In Monte Walsh (1970), Palance is believable, playing way out of type, as a good guy. This is one of the better the-old-west-is-dying-ain’t-it-a-shame movies. Lee Marvin is the main guy, and the main girl is: Jeanne Moreau! (The French hottie with the bee-stung lips.)


In Sudden Fear (1952), Palance is once again in his comfortable niche as a classical meanie. He is an actor who is hired by his ex-wife Joan Crawford. She finds out he plans to kill her. Talk about bad hires! She tries to foil his satanic plans by her writing skill. Many twists and turns, and I will not give away what finally happens. 


The Halls of Montezuma (1950) is so old that Palance is billed as Walter Jack Palance, but it’s still a darn good WWII flick. The Marines are about to invade a Pacific Island (you pick!). There are flashbacks to the civilian lives of the participants, including Mr. Palance, Richard Widmark, Karl Malden, Robert Wagner and Richard Boone. 


All of the films in this column are available on DVD. All are fine for 10 and up.