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Iconic Movie Roles - The Men of Film

Updated on March 11, 2013

They are the men who created, perfected, and filled a role in a movie that will forever be associated with them, and them alone. Others may try, but they shouldn't; they will never fill the role the other person made their own. See how many of these you recognise as being the best they could be, and you cannot imagine any other actor portraying these characters. Then let me know if you agree, or disagree with these choices.


First up, The Duke. He had many, many roles that I feel no one else should ever try to take away from him. McClintock, The Cowboys, Sands of Iwo Jima, The Shootist to name a few of his wonderful roles, but the one I identify him with the most is Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. I understand Hollywood saw differently and remade the film with Jeff Bridges as the lead, but in my estimation, he just wasn't up to the task. I understand many people disagree with me, but I cannot take Bridges seriously here. He looks like a man playing a role; Duke WAS the man. Big difference to me.

Shane! Come back Shane! What a movie, and what a charactor. Alan Ladd made this movie what it was, and his fight with Jack Palance (was there ever a better bad guy!?) kept me glued to the screen. Now, can you imagine anyone else as Shane? I certainly can't. This is one of the classic Westerns, and Ladd's performance is wonderful.

Yul Brynner was a masterful actor, and had a number of great roles from this magnificent role, to The King and I to Westworld; but to me, I see him as Ramses, and I cannot imagine any other actor in that role, past present, or future. He IS Ramses, in all his arrogance, power, and glory as thought of in the Egypt of that time. His statement, "So let it be written, so let it be done." carries on even today. His bearing in every scene of this movie is as regal and powerful as I imagine Ramses actually was. Charleton Heston is wonderful as Moses, but Ramses carries this movie; both in his dominance when he casts Moses out, to his downfall, when he realizes "his God IS God."

Humphrey Bogart. Bogie. When one thinks of an iconic actor, one must think of him. Casablanca and Rick. The African Queen and Charlie; Key Largo and Frank; The Caine Mutiny and Queeg are as memorable now as then. Rick Blaine is a hard bitten man who despises everything in the world, including himself. But we find that he is not quite as hard as he lets on, and Bogart plays this part masterfully. Nobody need ever play this part after his ownership of it. I have heard that Hollywood is considering making a sequel. Don't, please; let this great movie stand alone, as it should.

On a side note, if you are interested in the further story of Rick, author Michael Walsh wrote a book titled As Time Goes By. I own it, and it is a very good read. Check it out.

Captain Rhett Butler. Can you even begin to imagine anyone other than Clark Gable playing this part? That first moment we see him at Twelve Oaks, we understand who he is, and Gable makes that possible with an ease that is not often seen in film. "Sir, you are no gentleman." Scarlett says to him, and while we agree, we also understand that he is a gentleman, just a different type than she had previously known.

Gable's portrayal of Butler is a complicated one. While he loves the South, he understands it is doomed to fall. He maintains an upbeat, almost positive behavior in the face of certain defeat, yet when he is pressed, the thin veneer slides away and he shows the hardness lying beneath that covering. He slides back and forth between the two sides as easily as we walk and talk.Gable is perfect in this role, and we believe, no we know he is Margeret Mitchell's ideal Rhett Butler.

We are left hanging at the end, wondering what Scarlett will do? I like to think that somewhere down the road Rhett finds her and realizes she is the only woman who can stand up to him, yet draws him to her like no other. They may not live happily ever after, but they will make Tara almost as good as it was before the war.

If I asked you to name three Christmas movies, they might be Miracle on 34th Street, or perhaps White Christmas, or maybe even this little movie. It's A Wonderful Life starring the immortal Jimmy Stewart. Rear Window, Winchester 73, The Philadelphia Story, Flight of the Phoenix, Vertigo: how many movies did he star in; how many were made better by the presence of an actor of his caliber? George Bailey touches every single person in this world with his performance, his fears, his feeling of not being worthy. Who among us has not had this feeling at one point or another? Who could possibly carry this off the way Jimmy Stewart does? Who should even try in today's actor market?

When I say Henry Fonda, what do you think of? Is it Tom Joad of The Grapes of Wrath; or perhaps Frank James opposite Tyrone Power in Jesse James; or was it Mister Roberts, or Juror # 8 in 12 Angry Men? How about The Cheyenne Social Club (with Jimmy Stewart)? Once Upon A Time In The West? Spencer's Mountain? Or How The West Was Won? All great movies, starring a truly great actor. My personal favorite of Fonda's, and my point as him being an icon in a role is his emotionally distant father in On Golden Pond. With Katherine Hepburn as his wife, and his daughter Jane Fonda playing his daughter on the silver screen, Fonda gave his greatest performance. Because he was exactly the person regarding his daughter as he portrayed on the screen, this movie became his saving grace for his daughter and himself, as well as his swan song to the art. How many knew this role brought him back together with Jane, and allowed them to recocile? Of all of the roles played by all of the actors over the years, none can replace this role by this actor at this time. Henry Fonda became an icon, and this part is unplayable by any other actor for all time.

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    • Mr Archer profile imageAUTHOR

      Mr Archer 

      5 years ago from Missouri

      Thank you! There have been some truly incredible male leads over time, but I feel these are the cream of the crop, and these roles stand out as being their best. I appreciate the stop and comment. Have a great day!

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      5 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Excellent and very interesting on some of my favorite leading men. Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable and john Wayne are just some of my favorites. I never knew that every set John Wayne worked, they made the doors smaller to make him appear bigger.

      Any Henry Fonda - they just don't make them like that anymore.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You are sure right on these iconic actors. You know how to pick 'em!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great article my friend. Seen them all and I agree with your assessment....the roles seemed to perfectly fit the actors who played them. Now I think I need to go watch one of these movies. :)

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