Joseph Wiseman, the very fine Montreal-born character actor who played the first cinematic James Bond supervillain, Dr. Julius No, has passed on at the age of 91. A highly accomplished stage performer, he apparently had little idea he was going to be involved in the launch of a major global phenomenon and didn’t have a huge amount of respect for the property at first, but he certainly carried off the role with aplomb.
Alongside his stage work he had a strangely coincidental 91 film and TV acting credits including Elia Kazan’s “Viva Zapata!” and William Wyler’s “Detective Story.” Still, the role that makes an actor just a little bit more immortal than others isn’t always the one he might expect.
Below, as beautiful Honey Rider (legendary Bond-girl #1, Ursula Andress) looks on, we have the first of many strangely civilized social encounters between Bond (Sean Connery, who else?) and an ultra-evil would-be world dominator. It begins at about 5:05.
Two good directors are not necessarily better than one. This 1957 fact-inspired noirish black and white melodrama about union-busting gangsters in the clothing business was written by producer and veteran scribe Harry Kleiner and credited to classic-era directing mainstay Vincent Sherman, but the initial helmer was one of the most interesting younger mainstream filmmakers of his generation, Robert Aldrich — already a major talent, and with such classics as “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” and “The Dirty Dozen” still in his future. Apparently, Aldrich clashed with the film’s biggest name, Lee J. Cobb (“On the Waterfront”). Those on-set clashes might well explain the erratic quality of the acting from the usually outstanding Cobb as the driven head of a garment firm being undermined by Richard Boone (“Have Gun – Will Travel”) as his mobbed-up underling, while second-string swashbuckler Kerwin Matthews – just a year away from his career zenith in “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” – is actually better than usual in modern garb as Cobb’s idealistic son…while future “Dr. No” Joseph Wiseman gets to do a bit of overacting as a guilt-stricken worker, and a young Robert Loggia (Tom Hanks’ dance partner from “Big”) steals the movie as an idealistic union organizer…and Gia Scala (“The Guns of Navarone”) elicits sympathy and looks beautiful as Loggia’s tragedy-stricken wife. The only problem is, all my run-on fanboyish links of “The Garment Jungle” to far better known films turns out to be somewhat more interesting than this rather overblown, preachy, bit of pro-union agitprop — heavy on speeches (even if I happen to agree with them) and long on hard to swallow deus ex machina plot points.