Top Ten Hollywood Actor You May Have Never Heard of - Paul Muni
Top Ten Actors All Time in My Humble Opinion
(In no necessary order and not necessarily my top ten favorite actors. Just like you have top ten movies all time and top ten favorite movies. There is a difference.)
Paul Muni was born in Austria on September 22, 1895 and was educated in New York and Cleveland public schools. He would receive an Oscar nomination in his very first film and in his final film, a feat only accomplished by Muni and James Dean.
Paul was nominated six times for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role beginning in 1930 for The Valiant and receiving his final nomination in 1960 for The Last Angry Man. He would win the Oscar in 1937 for his performance as Louis Pasteur in The Story of Louis Pasteur. This is the type of role that gave him the title of "The New Lon Chaney" at the start of his film career. He would make several films in which he would transform himself like Chaney did into the roles he played by changing his voice, or, changing his appearance. He would take on roles of famous men throughout history such as Pasteur, Al Capone, Emile Zola, Benito Juarez and Professor Joseph Elsner.
His performances were total characterizations of the men he portrayed. He brought you onto the screen with him. It was as though you were involved in every scene. Portraying a gangster based upon Al Capone in the film Scarface, he was a dynamic tough guy that Big Al himself would have been proud of.
As Eddie Kagle in Angel On My Shoulder in 1946, a gangster brought back by an angel to take over the body of a respectable judge, he brought humor to the screen with his rough around the edges vocabulary of a tough east side Bowery boy while engaging in conversation as the honorable judge with his constituents. One of my favorite films of Muni's.
As a poor Mexican immigrant wanting to be a lawyer in Bordertown with Bette Davis he was magnificent as a man trying to shed his past to fit in with the likes of Davis and the men in his profession that thought of him as an outsider. I loved this film.
Playing a young man in China in The Good Earth in 1937 trying simply to exist and raise his family and tend to his farm he just had you believing he was Chinese.
And, then there were the roles of Louis Pasteur, Benito Juarez and Emile Zola which would define his brilliant career. These were the roles that would show the soft side of Muni, but, with the passion of the men he portrayed. He would receive Oscar nominations for his portrayals of Zola and Pasteur with a win for Pasteur.
Paul Muni passed away on August 25, 1967 with a heart condition.
I know. Most of you are saying, "I never heard of him?" That is okay. Just go to the video store and check him out. See what you have been missing. He is right up there in the gangster roles he played with Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. A real joy to watch.