SUtS: Woody Strode

Woody Strode, a statuesque African-American film actor whose career spanned the 1940s and lasted until his death in 1994, worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood during his fifty-odd years as a working actor. Yet he remains relatively unknown to the general public today. He never reached the level of leading-man status that allowed Sidney Poitier to break through racial barriers in the world of cinema, but his contributions were nonetheless just as important, as he built a solid career around strong supporting roles.

But I must admit, when I initially saw his name pop up on the Summer Under the Stars schedule, my first thought was, “Who the hell is Woody Strode?”

Then I looked up a picture, and I realized that this actor looks very familiar. So then I took a look at his filmography, and I realized that, despite not knowing his name, I have seen two of the films in his repertoire: 1956’s The Ten Commandments, which I had to sit through more times than I care to remember as a child (Strode, incidentally, played two roles: an Ethiopian king and a slave); and 1960’s epic Spartacus (Strode plays Draba, the gladiator who refuses to kill Spartacus after defeating him in battle, leading to his own death–this role led to Strode’s only acting award nomination, the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor).

Yay! I may not have known his name, but I’m not completely unfamiliar with this dude!

Still … what do you say about a man you’ve only barely ever watched on the screen? It throws the idea of “recommending” right out the window.

Well, in this case, we aren’t recommending these titles to you. We will be watching them right along with everyone else, and we’ll post our impressions at a later date.

And how did we choose these films, knowing almost nothing about them? Simple: we read the movie descriptions, we each latched onto a plot that sounded interesting, and we set our DVRs.

Now, it is somewhat painful (and a bit shameful) to admit our unfamiliarity with Woody Strode. But one of the main purposes of TCM, glory of glories, is to not only indulge us by showing us our favorite classics from yesteryear, but to also introduce to us figures from the film world with whom we might otherwise never be familiar. So tomorrow’s lineup will be a lesson for Carrie and me, as we formally acquaint ourselves with Mr. Strode.

Based solely on plot description, Brandie will be watching Two Rode Together (1961), which she is tackling mainly because it boasts Jimmy Stewart and Richard Widmark in the cast, so if the film is somewhat boring, she will have something pretty to look at. Yes, apparently she’s just that shallow.

Carrie will be watching Sergeant Rutledge (1960), which sounds like a precursor of sorts to one of our favorite films of all time, 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Tell us: did you know who Woody Strode was before TCM decided to give him the spotlight treatment today?

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