Star of the Month: Movie Roberts
Instead of covering just one performer, the TCM Star of the Month honor for May is devoted to a host of stars: “Movie Roberts.” Throughout the month, actors with the first name Robert will be saluted with a notable film or two from their list of credits. It’s the 20th time that we have chosen multiple honorees as “Star of the Month,” and the first time since 2017.
The name Robert is derived from the Germanic Hrodebert, meaning “bright fame” – an attribute shared by our cinematic Roberts. According to historian Ernst Förstemann, the name was consistently popular among English names from the 13th through 20th century and was the most commonly used among all names for newborn males between 1924 and 1939, and again in 1953.
Suitably enough, our rundown of Roberts begins with TCM’s own Robert Osborne, the subject of a “Private Screenings” special from 2014 in which Alec Baldwin turned the tables on our charming and knowledgeable late host by interviewing him. Osborne (1932-2017) was the face of TCM from our earliest days until shortly before his passing. The special airs on May 3, his birthday.
The movie with the most star power emerging from actors named Robert is undoubtedly the film noir Crossfire (1947), starring the Roberts Young, Mitchum and Ryan. This hard-hitting study of anti-Semitism brought Ryan an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor. Mitchum returns with one of his most powerful performances, playing the psychotic preacher of The Night of the Hunter (1955). Young also has an encore, playing the title role in H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941), based on the novel by John P. Marquand.
Robert Donat, an Oscar-winner for Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), stars in the taut Alfred Hitchcock espionage thriller The 39 Steps (1935). Robert Walker also performed for Hitchcock, playing the baby-faced killer of Strangers on a Train (1951).
Continuing the tradition of handsome young villains are Robert Montgomery, Oscar-nominated as the murderous bellhop in Night Must Fall (1937), and Robert Wagner as the scheming college student of A Kiss Before Dying (1956).
Robert Taylor’s good looks makes him a suitable romantic interest to the equally striking Vivien Leigh in the touching wartime romance Waterloo Bridge (1940). Taylor also appears in the Western Cattle King (1963). Robert Redford, a perfect blend of serious actor and matinee idol, served as executive producer of the political drama The Candidate (1972), in which he plays a contender for the U.S. Senate from California.
Robert Shaw was Oscar-nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his commanding performance as King Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons (1966). Robert Morse repeated his Broadway triumph in the Frank Loesser musical comedy How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967), playing go-getter J. Pierrepoint Finch.
Robert Downey Jr. delivered perhaps the most ambitious performance of his career in Chaplin (1992), presented in its TCM premiere. For this film biography of the celebrated British comedian, Downey won universal critical praise.
Two dramatic heavyweights are each represented by one hard-hitting film of the 1970s: Robert Duvall was Oscar-nominated for The Great Santini (1979), in which he plays a strict Marine with family problems and a young Robert De Niro enjoyed a breakthrough performance as a small-time thief in Mean Streets (1973). While, In Cold Blood (1967), the film version of Truman Capote’s fact-based novel about the murder of a Kansas family in 1959, afforded Robert Blake the opportunity for a memorably sensitive performance as one of the killers.
Other actors and films in our salute include: Robert Armstrong in King Kong (1933), Robert Morley in Marie Antoinette (1938), Robert Cummings in Princess O’Rourke (1943), Robert Benchley and Robert Greig in I Married a Witch (1942) and Robert Culp in Sunday in New York (1963), Robert Vaughn in Bullitt (1968), Robert Townsend in Hollywood Shuffle (1987), Robert Stack in The Last Voyage (1960), Robert Forster in Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) and Robert Cornthwaite in The Thing from Another World (1961).