Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Happy birthday, Henry Brandon!

Character actor Henry Brandon was born on this date ninety-eight years ago in 1912, and like most of the character greats his face is probably familiar even if his name isn’t. Billed as Henry Kleinbach, he played the villainous Silas Barnaby in the 1934 Laurel & Hardy feature Babes in Toyland (a role he later reprised in a 1937 Our Gang short, Our Gang Follies of 1938) and made numerous appearances in movies as varied as The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), Black Legion (1937), Beau Geste (1939), The Son of Monte Cristo (1940), Canon City (1948), Joan of Arc (1948), The Fighting O'Flynn (1949), Scared Stiff (1953), Pony Express (1953) and Vera Cruz (1954). Outside of Toyland, Brandon’s other famous film role is probably that of the Indian chief Cicatriz (also known as Scar) in the John Ford/John Wayne classic The Searchers (1956).

Brandon worked a good deal on the small screen as well, with guest roles in such television series as Broken Arrow, The Restless Gun, Have Gun—Will Travel, The Texan, The Deputy, The Rebel, Lawman, Shotgun Slade, Bronco, Maverick, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, The Virginian—just about any oater you can name, and he was on it in some capacity. But he could also be spotted in episodes of M Squad, 77 Sunset Strip, Mister Ed, The Outer Limits, Honey West, Combat!, Get Smart, Mission: Impossible and Night Gallery, to list only a few of the many. He was one of the definitive working actors, employed nearly up until the time of his death in 1990 (his last television job was on a 1987 episode of Murder, She Wrote—his last movie being Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II [1989]).

Follies of 1938 and Toyland were probably the first films I saw Brandon in but over the years I’ve come to associate him with roles in many of moviedom’s classic serials—playing the bad guy in Universal outings like Jungle Jim (1937) and Secret Agent X-9 (1937). But for me, Brandon’s claim to movie immortality will always be his titular turn in the 1940 Republic serial Drums of Fu Manchu (pictured above)—a chapter-play that, sadly, exists only in a serviceable 16mm version that was released to DVD by VCI Entertainment in 2003. Even with this less-than-stellar-quality print, Brandon creates one of the most memorable villains in the history of cliffhangers…and so we here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear wish him the happiest of natal anniversaries today.

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2 comments:

Jeff Overturf said...

When character actors seemed to be born for the parts they played.

Scott said...

Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans will remember Brandon as the villanious star pirate "Rinkman" in the Rocky Jones, Space Ranger episode "Pirates of Prah." Like a number of RJ shows, it was re-edited into a (semi) feature length film, and released as Manhunt in Space. Joel and the bots riffed it in Season 4.