Before there was a Bruce Dern, there was Dan Duryea. The leering snakes that Dern played in the 60’s and 70’s owe a great debt to the roles played by Duryea in the 40’s and 50’s.
Duryea was one of the main reasons that the cold, sneering psychopath came into the film lexicon, and it was his good fortune that his rise coincided with the rise of Film Noir. His debut was in the The Little Foxes in 1941, and he very quickly settled into the parts that he would ultimately become famous for. He was a heavy in his second outing, the Howard Hawks/Gary Cooper/Barbara Stanwyck comedy Ball of Fire, and then played a nasty reporter in Pride of the Yankees.
His most notable work, however was during the heart of the Noir era. There are three landmark films with Fritz Lang – Scarlet Street, The Woman in the Window, and Ministry of Fear, and the great Robert Siodmak noir Criss Cross. This last one gets my vote as my favorite Duryea role.
Other notable Duryea roles – Winchester ’73, Black Angel, and The Great Flamarion.