Making a list of the great films in which he appeared would be pointless. It would go on too long and you know them all anyway.
He was a small, mousy little fellow with pinched features beneath a high forehead, wide, watery eyes, a mouth that could not smile and a voice pitched slightly too high. He was factory-made to play nebbishes, henpecked husbands, elevator operators, front desk clerks, twitchy sidekicks, newsboys, the unjustly accused, informers, and the doomed would-be tough. Even as he aged, he was like a puny kid who always wanted to be bigger so he could show all those other kids. He was the Eternal Small-Timer. In short, he was Everyman, and a character actor’s character actor.
Born Today, December 26, in 1903, Character Actor Elisha Cook Jr…
“Keep on riding me and they’re gonna be picking iron out of your liver.” - Elisha Cook Jr as Wilmer Cook in The Maltese Falcon
Over 215 film and television roles; lots of villains and neurotics; The Maltese Falcon, Shane, The Big Sleep, House on Haunted Hill, Born to Kill, The Killing, Rosemary’s Baby…
Last night I watched a favorite film Noir: BORN TO KILL (1947) starring Lawrence Tierney and the remarkable Claire Trevor. Directed by Robert Wise and featuring Elisha Cook Jr, Walter Slezak and a wonderful/boozy character actress named Esther Howard, it concerns a woman (Trevor) who is sexually attracted to a man (Tierney) because she knows he’s a sociopath. Tierney is coldly malevolent and Trevor is ruthless and fascinating. A kinky movie for the time it was made and well worth checking out.
Happy birthday to character actor Elisha Cook Jr (26 December 1903–18 May 1995), who usually played neurotics or losers or thugs, always to great effect. Above, his memorable (and memorably creepy) drum solo from 1944’s “Phantom Lady."
Cook could play comedy, too, but he was a lot more frequently some kind of crook. Cook was one of those actors who always added flavor to a film.