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Martin Landau: Three Solid Scenes

Martin Landau (left) with Johnny Depp in ‘Ed Wood.’

Actor Martin Landau has died at the grand age of 89. He was, remarkably, a professional cartoonist for The New York Daily News before chucking it all to become an actor at age 22. His long career didn’t reach a crescendo until 1994, when he won an Oscar for his portrayal of an unhinged Bela Lugosi in the film Ed Wood.

Let’s take a peek at three of his landmark roles. First, his wonderful supporting turn in Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1959 thriller North By Northwest. Here’s the nearly wordless climax, with a cruel and menacing Landau meeting his doom.

Mind you, Martin Landau had only been acting for a few years when he took this role — alongside James Mason, Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, etc, etc. Impressive work.

Now here’s Landau playing weak (for a change) in an episode of his 1960s hit Mission: Impossible:

He certainly has that furtive look down. But Landau is only playing weak, here, surely. Per the tropes of Mission: Impossible, he’s undoubtedly setting the bait for some elaborate long con in progress.

And third: his Oscar-winning turn as Bela Lugosi in the 1994 film Ed Wood.

“Puppy-dog tails and biiiiig fat snails.” Heh!

That’s a (very) young Johnny Depp as too-enthusiastic director Ed Wood. You can’t really begrudge Landau his Oscar for such a chew-the-scenery role, because he had such a great time with it. Landau had some touching things to say about how he came to relate to Lugosi:

“I began to respect this guy and pity him. I saw the humor in him. This for me became a love letter to him, and almost an homage to him, because he never got a chance to get out of that,” Landau said. “I got a chance to make a comeback in my career. And I’m giving him one. I’m giving him the last role he never got.”

Good for him, and watta career. Good night, Mr. Landau, wherever you are.

See our full Martin Landau biography »

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