Man In A Hat: Martin Balsam And The Refining Of Male Character Acting In American Films, 1957-1976

John Thomas McGuire


This article attempts a definition at what constitutes “character acting” in mainstream cinema in the United States and argues that throughout the peak of his film career—roughly, 1957 through 1976--Martin Balsam refined the definition of male character acting in American film, a parameter previously established by such skilled practitioners as Eugene Pallette and Claude Rains.  Balsam did this through his ability to portray what can be termed “a man in a hat” portrayals: tartly humorous, reliable, and sometimes authoritative supporting characters, usually wearing a chapeau.  This is clearly seen in such performances as the private investigator in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and most interestingly, a partner in an unusual subway hijacking in Joseph Sargent’s The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three (1974). 


Character acting, male, in film, United States; Martin Balsam; Academy Award for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor; Claude Rains; Alfred Hitchcock; 20th Century film acting.

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