The 10 Best Actors in Black and White (Part 2)

10 Best Actors, James Cagney

James Cagney and Ann Sheridan in Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

As promised, this is the second part of the post I did yesterday on the 10 best actors in black and white.

You may recognize some of them, and there are others you may not know at all.  Whatever the case might be, I feel they should be included on any top 10, top 20, or even top 50 of anyone’s list.  They were brilliant onscreen.

Are your favorites among them?

Best Actor #6:  James Cagney

Cagney is best-known for his wise-cracking gangster types in films such as The Roaring 20s (1939) and Angels with Dirty Faces (1938).  He had the look and the voice for the bad boy roles.

Some of you might also remember him for his portrayal of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), where he showed off his singing and dancing skills, but to me he will always be Rocky Sullivan (from Angels with Dirty Faces).

Best Actor #7:  James Finlayson

“Fin” is best known as the balding, squinty-eyed foil, and master of the double-take with a fake mustache (yes, that was a fake), in the long series of Laurel and Hardy films.  But he did not always play the foil.  In the Stan Laurel directed Yes, Yes, Nanette (1925), Fin plays Hillory, a poor sap who has a hard time impressing his new wife’s family.  He also has a hard time keeping his bad rug on….

Best Actor #8: Conrad Veidt

You didn’t think I would have a list like this and not include Connie, did you?  I mention him at least once in several posts on this blog.  Well, I did have the one guest post last month from Monique Classique at the Conrad Veidt blog.

He is best known to American audiences as playing Nazis.  And the other characters he’s played aren’t much more becoming.  He was cast as Satan, pimps, drug addicts, and other contemptuous types in his career.  Then there are the woebegone royals he played, such as Kaiser Heinrich IV in 1926′s Die Flucht in die Nacht.

In this clip (courtesy of Monique Classique) we see poor old Heinrich weeping over his own reflection, depressed that he has aged.

Best Actor #9: William Powell

During the silent era, Powell played several supporting roles and bit characters, such as George Wilson in the first screen adaption of The Great Gatsby (1926) and a film director named Leo in The Last Command (1928).  But his career didn’t really take off until sound took over the film industry.

He is best known these days for playing retired detective Nick Charles who goes around solving murder cases with his wife Nora (Myrna Loy) in The Thin Man series.  But one of his best roles is Godfrey, the forgotten man turned butler in the comedy My Man Godfrey (1936), which co-starred his ex-wife Carole Lombard.

Best Actor #10:  Peter Lorre

Pint-sized Peter (he was only 5’3″, which is still taller than I am, but still…) was a Austrian-Hungarian actor best known for his roles as psychopaths, such as the serial killer Hans Becker in the Fritz Lang thriller M (1931) and the Japanese secret agent Mr. Moto.

His soft-spoken voice made him all the more nefarious.  The way he tells Jane (Margaret Tallichet) “Come along, I’ll see that nothing happens to you…” in this scene from the film noir classic Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) makes you think he really means, “Come along, I’ll make sure no one finds your body after I hack you to pieces…”

And that, folks, completes my top 10 favorite actors in black and white.  Who are some of your favorites?  Is there anyone that you think I should have included?  Let me know who your top 10 are by leaving a comment below!

13 thoughts on “The 10 Best Actors in Black and White (Part 2)

  1. Claudia

    I smile in remembrance of Peter Lorre and William Powell. I’m glad to be introduced to Conrad Veidt! Thank you for this piece – presented in such a rich way with the videos!

  2. Jodene

    Awesome blog…I love this post. I like that you include clips with your description. I have only heard of a few and have never seen them in action. I have a lot of watching to do!
    I have to share this with my sister. She loves old Hollywood and has since we were young. I know she’ll love this site.
    Thank you for sharing
    ~ Jodene
    Jodene recently posted…Are You a Procrastinator? Or Know Someone Who Is?……My Profile

    1. Angie Schaffer Post author

      Thank you, Jodene! I always try to include clips when I talk about the old stars because I always assume that there might be some people out there unfamiliar with their work. So I have to provide proof of their genius in action. ;p Sometimes I just use screen captures, but I feel that clips always work best to introduce people to someone they hadn’t heard of before.
      Angie Schaffer recently posted…The 10 Best Actors in Black and White (Part 2)My Profile

  3. Pingback: Peter Lorre's Sympathetic Psychopath | The Little Jazz Baby

  4. Pingback: A Bit of Dwight Frye and Peter Lorre

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