05 Marlon Brando’s impact is sometimes hard to understand now, but his mumbling, naturalistic performances (and his attitude) were a revelation in the early fifties. He very soon became fat and very self-important, and his film choices became strange and self-serving, which makes for fascinating viewing.
04 Little, angsty, pain in the 'ass' (well, it is American Month, after all) Dustin Hoffman was, for me, perhaps the greatest American actor of the late sixties and early seventies, a ball of neuroses. He was also extremely funny, and very easy to like even when being unsympathetic. He needs to be in better films now, he’s earned it.
03 Montgomery Clift’s career is defined, like his life, by two distinct phases: before and after the terrible car accident he had in 1956 that smashed his beautiful face up. Pre-crash he was a superb leading man, handsome, sensitive, principled, driven; afterwards he was seemingly much older and full of confusion and sadness. Despite his problems, he was good up until his death in 1966, but weird-good, if you know what I mean.
02 Robert Ryan made a superlative villain but could also be a sympathetic hero. He seems to constantly be riven by dozens of contrary emotions: love, hate, tenderness, revulsion, anger, forgiveness - all of which swirl around inside him, occasionally erupting to the surface and causing mayhem. He’s one of the few leading actors happy to essay roles which the audience are appalled and disgusted by, hence his CV of hateful characters.
01 James Cagney could act, he could sing, he could dance, he could do comedy and tragedy and, in his early gangster roles, he played sociopathic killers like he was born to it. His early roles explode from the screen in a frenzy of energy – he may not be particularly tall, but he’s almost too big for the screen, too big for the world. He was a helluva guy.