Henry Silva, one of Hollywood's most well-known character actors, passed away last week. "He was one of the nicest, kindest, and most talented guys Ive ever known," actor Dean Martin's daughter said in a tweet shortly after his passing. Silva was also known for resurrecting a lizard-like figure in a 1950s lounge scene.
A Unique Look and an Undeniable Talent
Silva was able to excel at acting both classically and frighteningly in his New York upbringing. He had those "street smarts" that enabled him to excel at bad guy roles as well as he could easily take on comic roles.
A Bad Guy and a Comic
Silva's first big screen appearance was as Roger Corneal, one of the notorious heist financiers who plotted to rob a Las Vegas casino before becoming a film star. Yet, in this silly film, Silva stood out as Corneal, revealing a few things about him. Again, it was that characteristic physique, paired with the ability to inhabit a character as if he knew them, that attracted audiences.
A Frightening Manchurian Candidate Character
Silva reprised his role as Chunjin, a Korean spy who helps unwitting Laurence Harvey become a political assassin. While Silva played Chunjin, audiences could almost sense the extent of Chinjun's insubordination.
From Cool Cat to South of the Border Outlaw
Silva slugged his way into the lead role in the noir thriller Johnny Cool, borrowing from his Italian roots. Johnny is part Roger Corneal in Ocean's 11, while part Maximilian in Cinderfella, both imposing and evil, yet charming and devastating.
Silva played a Mexican henchman in Dino DeLaurentiis' 1966 spaghetti western The Hills Run Red. Silva was evil personified, dressed head to toe in black with those unmistakable darting eyes and a sinister laugh that sends chills down the spine. Silva's was the inspiration for Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1986 western comedy Lust in the Dust, featuring the legendary Divine.
A 'Dick Tracy' Rogue and an Aging Mob Boss
Warren Beatty must have known that Silva's unmistakable face would be the perfect canvas for the character of Influence, one of the many miscreants in the stable of Big Boy Caprice, played by Al Pacino in 1990's Lust in the Dust. Silva delights in the weirdness of it all and devours the scenery in every scene.
Silva portrayed an aging Mafioso trying to understand his modern world throughout the 1990s, before finishing his monologue with the sound of a mooing cow. It may be one of his finest film performances.
Henry Silva made a splash in film history with his astonishing ability to evolve into whatever role was desired. Thankfully, his performances in some of Hollywood's most famous films will live on, and future film-going audiences will be able to say, "Oh, yeah! That guy! He is one cool cat! "