Essentially, there's been an argument made that Hollywood has historically exercised very little caution in selecting persons of a certain -- erm -- "type" to cast as the villain. While some critics have diagnosed an undercurrent of racism in these casting decisions, I've often seen these choices as employing a certain mystique that, quite frankly, may not emanate from talent of certain backgrounds and ethnicity. Yes, yes, yes: I realize at one level that might just be the point these academics are getting to, but I'm only trying to suggest -- as politely as I can -- that certain features lend themselves to perceived villainy. It has nothing directly to do with skin color so much as it does the cut of a man's jaw, the intensity of the actor's glare, and the construction of his potential look on camera. Again -- categorically -- it has nothing (for me, at least) to do with skin color; some faces just happen to 'snarl' better than others.
While this might make me unpopular with some folks, I think there was a time in Tinseltown that Henry Silva captured that look. Yes, yes, and yes: I've seen his work in some softer roles. He was quite good -- proving that the man could easily transcend any studio's tendency to showcase him only in certain roles -- but he always retained a toughness in everything I remember him starring in. He wasn't any pushover. He wasn't any lackey. If and when the story needed something done, then movers and shakers like Silva were perfectly cast.
Naturally, I understand and appreciate the position of those who claim he was a talent shoehorned into specific roles. I'm not arguing otherwise ... but I'm also man enough to point out that whenever given the chance Silva was damn good at playing the villain. While he could impose a measure of menace whenever called upon, I'd also suggest those eyes could convey more than just conventional evil. There was always something going on in those eyes. His wheels were always turning. While he could chew scenery with the best of them, he'd also elevate the heavy to the point of being dimensional ... and that's not something every actor could achieve.
While some might argue his genre credentials were light ... well, I'm just getting started.
1962's The Manchurian Candidate isn't a what I'd suggest is renowned as a Science Fiction project, and yet there's no mistaking the fact that the premise of both hypnosis and mind control fall smack dap into the middle of such favored territory. For folks who might not have seen it, please do yourself a favor. It's a masterful film directed by John Frankenheimer -- one I discovered way back in my college days -- and it's the kind of thing I'll watch whenever I find it on the TV dial. It offers great performances across the board -- some of them might be a bit simply by today's standards -- and Silva has a fabulous presence in it, even with his slim screen time.
Of course, that isn't his only contribution.
He made two appearances to television's The Outer Limits -- one in 1963 and again in 1964 in different roles -- and paid a visit to the popular Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, a franchise that hosted guest roles to many of the man's contemporaries. He also stopped by for a guest role in 1966's Tarzan TV serial. In 1969, he even enjoyed a guest stint on Mission: Impossible. It wasn't until 1978 that he truly found Science Fiction with a visit to the SciFi/Comedy series Quark.
Perhaps his biggest contribution in all of SciFi, however, was and will remain his work as the infamous 'Killer Kane,' advisor to none other than the villainous 'Princess Ardala' aboard the motion picture and series pilot for Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. Honestly, I've never read why he didn't reprise the role on the show -- Kane did come back for a few episodes; at this point, I can only imagine that he wanted to focus on his film work and opted for meatier prospects.
Still, I'd be remiss in my duties if I failed to mention that he voiced the character of 'Bane' for a few incarnations of Batman cartoons. I've been a fan of the Batworld for all of my life, and I can't imagine anyone other than Henry Silva having the gumption to play a seminal creation that -- in the comic books, at least -- is the villain who finally broke The Bat. How fitting.
There were a few more genre projects that followed, but it appears he retired from the business in 2001.
Alas, word reached my desk this morning that he's left us for other celestial pursuits.
Thoughts and prayers are extended to the friends, family, and fans of Mr. Silva.