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




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.


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). 

Author Biography

John Thomas McGuire, Lecturer in History Siena College

Lecturer, History


Collins, J. (1998) “Faces Without Names,” in Gary A. Yoggy, ed., Back in the Saddle: Essays on Western Film and Television Actors. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. 147-149.

Hand, R. J. (2017). Captured ghosts: horror acting in the 1970s British television drama. Christine Cornea ed. In Genre and performance. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Macksoud, M., Craig R. Smith, and Jackie Lohrke (2003) Arthur Kennedy: Man of Characters. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland.

McConachie, B. (2000). Method acting and the Cold War. Theatre Survey, 41(1), 47-68.

Monash, B (2003). Screen World Presents The Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors From the Silent Era to 1965. New York: Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.

Skal, D.J. and Jessica Rains (2008) An Actor’s Voice: Claude Rains. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press.

Thomson, T (2004). “The Lives of Supporting Players,” in Pamela Robertson Wojcik, ed., Movie Acting: The Film Reader. New York: Routledge. 208-209.

Van Gilder, L. (1996) “Martin Balsam Is Dead at 76; Ubiquitous Character Actor,” New York Times (14 February), Accessed March 27, 2014, .m/

Williams, G. (1971). "Medium Cool" Star Meets Students. Journal of the University Film Association, 23(3), 88-91. Retrieved March 4, 2020, from




How to Cite

McGuire, J. T. (2020). Man In A Hat: Martin Balsam And The Refining Of Male Character Acting In American Films, 1957-1976. CINEJ Cinema Journal, 8(1), 30–59.