What makes an actor underrated? Well, basically the fact that he’s not as famous as he should be and deserves more recognition for his work. There are many actors I like whom I consider to be underrated, and I dedicate this post to two of them: Dick Powell and Joseph Cotten. Both long gone, but with a rich and interesting legacy for audiences around the world to enjoy.
Richard Ewing “Dick” Powell (November 14, 1904 – January 2, 1963) was an American singer, actor, producer, director and studio boss. In the 1930’s, Dick Powell was the juvenile lead in the Warner backstage musicals such as 42nd Street (1933), Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933) and Footlight Parade (1933), opposite such rising stars as Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell. After his career in musicals, he was successfully cast in private-eye roles in films like Murder, My Sweet (1944), Cornered (1945) and Pitfall (1948). In later years he became a producer and director for both TV and movies.
I discovered Powell only two days ago, when I watched the marvelous 42nd Street (1933). I had heard of him before, but I never paid any attention to him, I wasn’t even aware of how he looked like. Anyhow, it was love at first sight for me, it took only a few seconds and that was it. He had such a big amount of charm, he certainly was one of the most charming actors to ever grace the screen, his amiable smile and lovely voice were simply perfect for musicals and romantic comedies. Of course, Dick Powell was also one of the greatest film noir detectives, which shows how incredibly versatile he was. I like him more and more as days go by, and I highly recommend most of his films, they are all very entertaining.
“The best thing about switching from being an actor to being a director is that you don’t have to shave or hold your stomach in anymore.”
Dick Powell was married to Maude Maund (1925 – 1927), Joan Blondell (1936 – 1944) and eventually June Allyson (1945 – 1963) (his death). Sadly, he died of cancer of the lymph glands when he was 58 years old.
Joseph Cheshire Cotten (May 15, 1905 – February 6, 1994) was an American actor of stage and film. Cotten achieved prominence on Broadway, starring in the original productions of The Philadelphia Story and Sabrina Fair. He first gained worldwide fame after starring in the Orson Welles films Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Journey into Fear (1943), for which Cotten was also credited with the screenplay. He went on to star in such popular films as Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Gaslight (1944), Duel in the Sun (which remains one of the top 100 highest grossing films of all time when adjusted for inflation), Love Letters (1945), Portrait of Jennie (1948), and The Third Man (1949). During his last years he starred in horror films, war epics and television shows such as The Rockford Files.
Joseph Cotten is highly underrated, which is rather strange, since he worked with some of the most iconic directors, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, King Vidor and George Cukor. Again, like Powell, Joseph Cotten should be recognized for his huge versatility; he was able to play a cynic killer in 1943 and a kind detective in 1944 and make you believe the whole thing. Although I think he was better when it came to dark characters, he was also very good and quite believable as the hero. To me, his greatest performance was definitely Shadow Of A Doubt, in which he brings Uncle Charlie to life, probably one of the best villains Hitchcock ever had. Cotten was extremely charismatic, he was the ideal movie star of the 1940’s and it will always remain a mystery why he never became more well-known. He himself didn’t believe he was much of an actor, and I think it was a mistake not to give him an award, perhaps a Honorary Oscar.
“I was a so-called star because of my limitations and that was always the case. I couldn’t do any accents. So I had to pretend. Luckily I was tall, had curly hair and a good voice. I only had to stamp my foot and I’d play the lead — because I couldn’t play character parts.”
Joseph Cotten passed away in 1994, from pneumonia in his Westwood, California home.
(Dick Powell appears as a panelist on the show. What a coincidence!)