James Edwards had angry eyes at a time in Hollywood history when many black actors made their livings singing, dancing and making people laugh. When a black actor (Sidney Poitier) finally made it into the top 10 Box Office, his characters were practically saints: over qualified, over achieving, and always, always, controlling their anger.
James Edwards had the talent, drive and charisma to become a major movie star. Although he worked steadily as an actor for many years and every single one of his performances was raw, real and memorable, he mainly stole scenes in other people’s star vehicles.
One of the pleasures of reading Pamela S. Deane’s new McFarland book, “James Edwards African American Hollywood Icon” is learning about the work I haven’t previously seen: much of it on television. Take “The Sound Of Darkness”, which aired on “Mannix” the month before Edwards died in early 1970. His job is to teach a temporarily sightless Mannix how to protect himself from being killed. The job is life and death and Edwards plays it that way. By then, Edwards had plenty of practice. In 1949, he electrified audiences in “Home Of The Brave” as a member of a combat unit which included Lloyd Bridges, Steve Brodie, Jeff Corey and Frank Lovejoy. In the midst of all the brutality in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing”, James Edwards was the target of Timothy Carey’s ugly bigotry. Lulled into a false sense of security by a few smooth words, Edwards’ sharp realization of the truth is accompanied by horror and venom. Seven years later, Edwards played a boxer in “Decision In The Ring”, a “Fugitive” episode broadcast a month before JFK died. Torn between a career in medicine and sudden death as a prizefighter Edwards’ evolving choice is painful yet bracing to watch.
In fact, Pamela S. Deane’s biography succeeds in showing the mixed-up era in which Edwards lived and died, as well as the uncompromising, edgy style he chose to cope with it. Even when enduring fame went to others, James Edwards continued slugging in his own inimitable way. It’s what keeps his work fresh and undated to contemporary audiences. For more information, his biography (at mcfarlandpub.com) is highly recommended.
Movie Magazine International