Friday 27 December 2013

A Late Starter

The actor Sydney Greenstreet was born on this day in 1879 - and if that seems a surprisingly long time ago, that's perhaps because of Greenstreet's unusual career path. He set out originally to be a tea planter in Ceylon, leaving home at 18 and setting up in business, only to lose it all in a drought. Returning to England, he took up managing a brewery, but found it such tedious work that he took up acting to alleviate the boredom. He swiftly became an extremely successful stage actor, on both sides of the Atlantic, and in the natural course of things he was frequently offered film parts - but he turned them all down until, already in his 60s, he said yes to one: The Maltese Falcon. As 'the Fat Man', Greenstreet made an instant, unforgettable impact, and his scenes with Peter Lorre were simply electric. (Incidentally, the 'Fat Man' atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki was named after Greenstreet.)
  Sydney Greenstreet was only in movies for eight years, yet in the first four of those he made (in addition to The Maltese Falcon) They Died With Their Boots On, Across the Pacific, Casablanca, Background to Danger, Passage to Marseille, Between Two Worlds, The Mask of Dimitrios, The Conspirators - and Hollywood Canteen. This last was a wartime morale-booster featuring cameo performances by just about every star in Hollywood. Including the great double act of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. Enjoy them in action here, rescuing Patty Andrews (of the Andrews Sisters) from the clutches of an over-exuberant Marine. Watch and wonder...

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