Charles McGraw: Biography Of A Film Noir Tough Guy - Book Report

By Monica Sullivan

I can think of few movie gangsters I admired as much as Charles McGraw.  He was the real deal.  Larger than life, riddled with conflict, blessed with a sandpaper voice and a face to match, McGraw was born to play film noir.

“Charles McGraw: Biography Of A Film Noir Tough Guy” by Alan K Rode reveals the difficult personal life of McGraw as a backdrop to his long successful career.  McGraw’s vulnerability was alcohol.  It led to his accidental death in 1980 after 77 movies during a 35 year film career.  Marie Windsor told me in an interview conducted during the 1990’s: “I loved working with Charlie McGraw on ‘The Narrow Margin’ and no, he wasn’t drinking.  I want you to know that.”  Anyone who watches Charles McGraw’s carefully shaded performance as Walter Brown will see a character bursting with resentment at his job and grief over the violent death of his partner.

Being a hard-drinking tough guy on screen was one thing, playing one off-screen was a long, slow, painful ride to the summer of 1980 and his bloody demise in his own bathtub.  It was called an accident, but it was so clearly one that was waiting to happen.  McGraw was convinced that he could, with effort, control his drinking, as he controlled his harsh, realistic, performances over the years.  McGraw believed he could accomplish this on his own, but the women who loved him knew better.  Alcoholics Anonymous was in the year of its infancy when Charles McGraw turned 21, and it would be many years before its educational materials were widely distributed.  Hard drinkers like Charles McGraw and his cronies, used to doing things their own way, might not have been receptive to outside help in any event.  This is the sad, dark and relentless side of Charles McGraw’s life and that of his family.  His finely etched performances on film will live long after him, of course, and Alan K. Rode does a thorough job with his biography of a film noir tough guy, now available from 
© 2012 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 02/22/12
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