Have you ever stopped to wonder just how many times the prolific character actor, Charles Durning, was enlisted as a member of the police force in both theatrical and television movies? Not to mention series TV. We’re going to attempt to find out.
What prompted this focus was both my sincere appreciation of this fine actor and taking a flyer on a movie titled Justice (1999) also known by the title Backlash which is what it’s called on the DVD I picked up. I purchased it mainly because it had both Durning and the legendary Henry Silva in one of his final roles before retiring from the screen following a brief cameo in the 2001 Ocean’s Eleven remake.
I’ve got some favorites when it comes to Mr. Durning carrying a badge and before we get started on compiling a list, I’d like to point out his superb performance as the President of the United States in the 1977 nuclear thriller, Twilight’s Last Gleaming.
One thing I won’t be counting is just how many times Durning blows a gasket forcing you to wonder if his heart might explode under the force of extra pressure his temper has placed upon it. We all know he’s capable of some apocalyptic blow ups on camera.
If you know of a title I’ve somehow missed featuring out actor in the spotlight as a member of the police force, let me know and I’ll make the addition.
Stiletto (1969) – Durning is billed as Cop in this early film appearance that one can also spot a young Roy Scheider appearing in.
I Walk the Line (1970) Here working alongside Gregory Peck with Johnny Cash singing the famous title tune.
Dealing : Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues (1972) A dirty cop? Say it ain’t so.
Sisters (1972) Here he carries a P.I’s credentials in the cult hit from Brian De Palma starring Margot Kidder
All In the Family (1973) episode Gloria The Victim sees Durning guest on the iconic show as “Detective.”
The Sting (1973) Hitting a homerun alongside Newman and Redford as the Lt. caught up in the scheme to take down Robert Shaw’s Doyle Lonnegan.
Switch (1975) Series pilot sees Lt. Durning supporting series stars Eddie Albert and Robert Wagner.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) Signing on to play opposite Pacino in the famous 70’s film.
The Cop and the Kid (1976) Just 13 episodes, guess which title role Durning played in this short lived series that I have no recollection of from my childhood years.
The Choirboys (1977) Popular title from director Robert Aldrich with Durning fronting a first rate cast of up’n comers like Burt, Young, Randy Quaid, Perry King and Lou Gossett.
When a Stranger Calls (1979) Another popular entry with genre fans. ” Lets get something straight here, Doctor. I’ve been 33 years in the business of tracking people down and putting them away… spent almost a year alone on the case of Curt Duncan with the trial and the testimonies and the background investigations. Now, I didn’t come here today to look in your God damn folders, in fact I probably wouldn’t be here at all if you had done your job right.”
Sharky’s Machine (1981) A favorite of mine and one of many films that Durning played opposite pal, Burt Reynolds. This time out he’s giving plenty of grief to Burt and his crew for bending the laws of justice to suit their own needs.
The Man With One Red Shoe (1985) A C.I.A. Director? Close enough in this Tom Hanks comedy.
Tough Guys (1986) Another favorite of mine sees Durning as the aging cop whose claim to fame was arresting Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas 30 years ago. Now that they’re out of the pen, he intends to push them just enough to take up their old ways. “What is this, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral?!!!”
Cop (1988) Love this one with Durning as the aging partner of James Woods. Durning has plenty of memorable scenes loosing his temper against the equally volatile Woods in this violent cop thriller I saw at the theater on it’s initial release.
Case Closed (1988) He may be retired in this TV Movie but he’s still working a case.
Prime Target (1989) Angie Dickinson, no stranger to a badge herself, returns to the force in this telefilm with During playing her father, a retired cop.
Dick Tracy (1990) As the Police Chief in Warren Beatty’s memorable star studded pet project.
V.I. Warshawski (1991) Donning the badge once again to lend support to Kathleen Turner’s title character.
When a Stranger Calls Back (1993) belated sequel to the 1979 thriller.
Shelter (1998) Something about U.S. treasury agents and I’m assuming with a character name Capt. Robert Landis, that our beloved character actor is once again carrying a badge.
Homicide : Life on the Street (1998) Another retired homicide detective has been assigned to Durning in an episode of this TV series titled Finnegan’s Wake directed by another popular character actor, Steve Buscemi.
Hard Time (1998 ) Hard Time : The Premonition (1999), Hard Time : Hostage Hotel (1999) A trio of TV Movies where Durning is once again playing a Detective opposite buddy Burt Reynolds.
Justice (1999) Aging detective Durning has sworn to protect his dead partner’s little girl, now grown up as played by Tracey Needham who has joined the force and is taking on the mob, Henry Silva, maybe even James Belushi. As this is the film that inspired a look at Durning carrying a badge on camera and may have been his final go around, I will say that he was a tough S.O.B. in this one and let the led fly when the chips were down in the final reel doing what needed to be done. Quietly and off the record.
Was this the end of Charles Durning’s policing days? I haven’t seen too many of the films he made between 2000 and his death in 2012 but I don’t think it’s a secret that he was a little old and dare I say heavy to be playing cops and robbers by this point.
Another title I’d like to give a shout out to and recommend is Stand Alone. Not quite Death Wish but in this 1985 film, Durning, costarring with Pam Grier, has had enough and turns the tables on local criminals that the cops can’t seem to put away.
Of the 26 credits above with Durning enlisted to serve and protect I’ve now seen 13 with the addition of Justice. How about you?
Surely you have a favorite film of this Oscar nominated actor who was a WW2 veteran. Perhaps Tootsie or The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas? Maybe an unknown gem awaiting to be discovered. Drop me a line and don’t forget to update me if I’ve missed a film or TV appearance where our featured performer carried a badge.
Wow, I never realized Charles Durning played so many cops. For years I knew him mainly as the Chief of Police in Dick Tracy, the crooked Sgt. in The Sting, and as Pappy O. Daniel in O Brother Where Art Thou?, but wow, that’s a lot of ‘boys in blue’ to play. Quite a versatile character actor indeed.
Where Art Thou probably one if his most notable latter roles. For me he just seemed to continue turning up with a badge over the years kind of going against the look and delivery of the Eastwood’s and tough guy leading men we’re so used to.
Apart from DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975), I would say my favourite Charles Durning film is THE FINAL COUNTDOWN, (1980) which sits proudly in my home DVD library.
I love the premise of Countdown and who doesn’t love a good time travel movie not to mention Kirk Douglas. saw it at the theater when it first came out.
Technically, he wasn’t a real police detective in “The Sting”. That whole plot line of the FBI about to nab Henry (Newman) Gondorff was a ruse by Gondorff himself to keep Hooker (Redford) in line until the Sting could be played out. Durning was just another con man playing a bit. The beauty of this film is how there are “stings” within the big Sting and nothing can be taken at face value.
Been years since I’ve seen The Sting and keep meaning to go back for a rewatch. I just always remember him as a detective of some sort roughing up Redford who gets used in The Sting.
Ah, Charlie. I still see him in disguise as a telephone repair guy up on a tall phone pole waiting for someone to pick up that couch with the corpse inside at the end of SISTERS.
Yes indeed. I generally picture him as a rather tubby suit and tie detective with the quick temper. Really appreciated him turning up in Tough Guys opposite Burt and Kirk as just that, aging old timer looking to take the duo down one more time.