Erich Kuersten’s Xmas homage to The Bad Seed reminds me of one of my favorite character actors, the utterly unique Henry Jones (1912-1999) who made his film debut playing the retarded-but-cunning (?!?) janitor Leroy in that film, a role that he had created on stage. Jones’s Leroy (above) is the only character in The Bad Seed who sees through sociopathic little Rhoda (the great Patty McCormack), perhaps because he is a bit of a sociopath himself. Figuring – correctly as it turns out – that Rhoda has murdered one of her little playmates, Leroy torments Rhoda with tales of the “stick bloodhounds” the police will use to capture the murderess. Rhoda gets even by burning him alive. What a sweet film! (Coincidentally, Leroy shares his name with the director of the film, Mervyn LeRoy.)
The mark of a great character actor is that he or she creates unforgettable characters. Leroy is only one of such characters on Jones’s resumé. He was equally unforgettable as the Judge in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (below), a typically Hitchcockian superego figure who, with withering contempt in his voice, condemns Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) for the death of Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak), while at the same time finding him technically innocent.
“The law has little to say on things left undone,” he reminds the jury, and says regarding Scottie’s testimony, “You can accept that … or not,” clearly implying the latter. It’s enough to drive poor Scottie to a nervous breakdown. The scene is virtually a monologue for Jones, one that Cahiers du Cinema honored as among the greatest supporting film turns of all time.Jones could play sympathetic characters and did. In Frank Tashlin’s comic masterpiece, The Girl Can’t Help It (below), Jones played Mousie, the personal assistant to mobster Fats Murdock (Edmond O’Brien). It is Mousie who acts as peacemaker and intermediary between hot-headed Fats, Fats’ mistress played by pneumatic Jayne Mansfield, and the press agent played by Tom Ewell who is hired to promote her as a rock ‘n roll artiste. Again, Jones’s singular voice and delivery turns what could have been a routine character into something memorable.
Jones was a familiar face to television viewers in the late ’50s and early ’60s, appearing frequently on anthology series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents (5 episodes!), Thriller, and The Twilight Zone, among many others. His last significant appearance was in Stephen Frears’ The Grifters (1990) as a smarmy hotel desk clerk, the one who says of John Cusack’s character, “That fella could be a Congressman!”