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Originally coming from Zanesville, Ohio, Richard Basehart spent years on the
big and small screen, usually playing a tough guy of some sort or another,
until his death in 1984 from a series of strokes.
When people today think of
cinema bad ass types they would probably list Stallone, Banderas
or someone of that line, but in his day, Basehart was the baddest
ass of all. Usually seen in military roles, he played a wide variety of
characters as well, in different walks of life, though he did not always
receive the acclaim due to him for these parts. He had his share of horror and
drama movies as well.
Basehart might best be remembered for a quasi-military role as Admiral Nelson
in Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea, the television eries from the 1960s which
saw The Seaview, the most unfortunate submarine around, serving as the host
for a variety of supernatural encounters, including a werewolf. It was more or
less the Night Stalker series, but under water.
Though some of the plots might seem tacky in retrospect, they were fun back
then and still fun to see now. A cast of supporting stars took the scripts
seriously, no matter how silly they may have seemed, including Terry Becker
and several other noted character actors. This made the series work,
regardless of how far fetched the action became.
Basehart, however, played more diverse roles than this. He was Hitler for a
change in pace, in a 1962 film of the same name. He was Ishmael in the classic
Moby Dick (1956) He was George Headly in the 1950 era version of Titanic
One of his most unsettling roles, ever, however, is seldom mentioned, from an
obscure tv movie in the 1970s called Sole Survivor (1970). In this, a navigator who
bailed out on a crashing war plane, leaving the rest of the crew to perish,
claimed the wreck took place over water, to hide his act of cowardice. When
years later, the plane's wreckage is discovered in the desert, an
investigation takes place, with the culprit forced to return to the scene of
his disgrace. When seeing the ghosts if the dead crew staring at him from the
window, he is finally forced to come clean with his guilt.
The movie comes in two parts, one showing the investigation unfold and seen
through the eyes of those involved in the mystery, the other through the eyes
of disgruntled ghosts, the aforenoted dead crew, who wait for the whole mess
to be corrected.
It gets really creepy when these ghosts start to disappear, as each of their
bodies is discovered and bagged. Only one poor son of a bitch is left alone at
the end, for his body lies under the tail of the old B-52, where it is
overlooked by the investigators..
He stands alone, hits a baseball into the sand and realizes he may never
escape his fate. A sad ending.
Basehart makes this movie though, but it remains one of his less famous roles.
Likewise, in the horror realm, Basehart played a doctor/scientist in the Satan
Bug (1965), about germ warfare and a virus being unleashed on the world. Shades of
Stephen King and The Stand.
Another of Basehart's creepiest roles, in which he plays an outright villain,
may be discovered in He Walked by Night (1948). In this, a cop killer goes on
a rampage to avoid disgrace, killing more and more as he goes along, his
madnes expanding all the while. The trackdown and final confrontation remains
highly effective. Most people will be whispering "Get that bastard"
to themselves if they watch this.
In this movie, Basehart showed just how well he could do as a maniac. He was
no rambling fool like some of the mindless clods in the slasher flicks that
would come later or an intelligent, but obviously looney freak like the Jigsaw
Man in Saw. He was cold and calculating, brutal and warped. Obviously, there
was something wrong with him, a short circuit in the soul or frazzled wires in
his head, yet he showed the ability to masquerade as normal when the need
arise. This talent to blend in with respectable people, when he was indeed
mentally way off center, made him an even more frightening character to deal
with. He was not the routine or stereotyped madman in this vehicle.
There are many articles and some tribute websites on the web devoted to this
fine actor that are easy to find in search mode. Unlike some lesser
knowns who have faded from view, there is still a good deal of data
available on this man, for those who find him interesting. This short piece
only touches the top of the iceberg.