Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Porter Hall

Porter Hall played a variety of villains, and pompous characters both in dramas and comedies. Some were quite small roles, such as Mr. Belknap in “Going My Way” (1945), whose irritation at having his window broken by kids playing ball brings him to a war of words, not to mention ideologies, with Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley, and announces angrily that he is an atheist when he spitefully chucks the baseball back at Father. To which Crosby replies, when his baseball is returned, “You throw like an atheist.”

Mr. Hall takes it on the chin figuratively and literally through a good part of his career playing unlikable characters, sometimes with an unaffected and natural quality, like his role as Mr. MacCaulay in “The Thin Man” (1934), his third film, and sometimes quite comically over the top, like his neurotic Mr. Sawyer, the Macy’s store psychologist in “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) who antagonizes Kris Kringle and gets smacked over the head with a cane for it.

His is identifiable in all his films, though in some you have to not blink or you’ll miss him, such as Senator Monroe in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939) or the reporter Murphy in “His Girl Friday” (1940), or Mr. Jackson in “Double Indemnity” (1946).

Mr. Hall acted on Broadway and in touring stock companies in the 1920s and early 1930s before he came to Hollywood. He was in his 40s by the time he appeared in his first film. This shifty, irritable villain, neurotic psychologist, and occasional atheist was a deacon in Hollywood’s First Presbyterian Church, and reportedly an engaging and well-liked man. Evidently, a very good actor.

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