For a while it seemed that whenever Humphrey Bogart appeared on screen, a character played by Peter Lorre would follow. Starting with The Maltese Falcon, Lorre would show up so Bogie could get the best of him. Albert Popwell, though not as well known, supported Clint Eastwood the same way.
The pair starred in five films together; the same number Lorre did with Bogart. Popwell first appears in Coogan’s Bluff
but their partnership really took off when Eastwood became Dirty Harry.
Every tough guy needs someone to push around, someone to help justify
his renegade actions and even sometimes to help show his softer side.
It’s not that Popwell looks or acts like Lorre did — he certainly does
not. And while Lorre is easily recognizable no matter what role he’s
playing, many don’t realize that the bank robber in Dirty Harry, the pimp in Magnum Force, Mustapha in The Enforcer and Harry’s friend Horace in Sudden Impact are all played by Popwell. What both character actors do is help Bogart and Eastwood, two of the ultimate tough guys, look cool.
Take Bogie’s character Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon.
He’s an awful lot like Inspector Callahan. Spade helps the police — in
fact, they’d probably never solve a case without him — but he works
outside the law. When he meets Joel Cairo (Lorre) and the treasure
hunter pulls a gun on him, Spade knocks the gun away and knocks Cairo
out. Thus, looking cool.
So it goes…When Harry catches
Popwell robbing a bank, not only does he stop him, he gets to say one
of the most memorable movie lines of all time: “You’ve got to ask
yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” (What does
Bogie tell Lorre? “When you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it.”) If
you think Lorre was undervalued, Popwell definitely doesn’t get the
credit he deserves. In a recent review of the Dirty Harry DVD box set, Grady Hendrix says, “He’s twice the actor Mr. Eastwood is in the series.”
See him get his butt kicked in Dirty Harry on AMC. For a complete schedule, click here.