Monday, 17 January 2011
Top Ten Western Actors No 4 - Henry Fonda
Fonda was indeed a rare actor - it is difficult to think of any other mainstream actor who could have played his part in Once Upon a Time in the West (generally considered Sergio Leone's best western, though in my humble opinion it comes second to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly). That character is just dripping with evil and even kills a child.
Fonda had a quiet authority that allowed him to play Presidents, simpletons and killers with equal conviction. His first western was 1939's Jesse James in which he played Jesse's brother, Frank. A role he later reprised in Fritz Lang's The Return of Frank James, but it wasn't until 1943's The Ox-Bow Incident that he made his first truly exceptional western - there were many more to follow.
After this Fonda took a break from westerns and didn't return until the 1950's and appeared in a string of genre classics - he was excellent in the exceptional, Warlock and just as good in The Tin Star. He also gave good value in two comedy westerns - The Rounders and Big Hand For The Little Lady. He then played the bad guy up against James Stewart in Firecreek and then went onto create his best bad guy role of all in Once Upon a Time in the West. And there were more westerns to come but none could match the quality of his earlier work. And maybe only My Name is Nobody shines out amongst the post Once Upon a Time in the West genre work.
Fonda was never typecast in the way other western icons like John Wayne were and as such he could more convincingly portray differing characters from the good to the downright sadistic and everything else in between.
Henry Fonda - another legend.