Obituary: Dan Seymour

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The Independent Online
Dan Seymour, actor: born 22 February 1915; died Santa Monica, California 25 May 1993.

DAN SEYMOUR arrived in movies just as they needed a new sort of heavy. Menace in the 1930s meant masculinity - Lloyd Nolan, George Bancroft, Barton MacLane - but John Huston changed that in 1941 in faithfully adapting Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon for the screen: there was something sexually ambiguous in the characters confronting Humphrey Bogart and played by Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook Jnr. Screen villainy had a new patina, and the people at Warner Bros knew exactly how to exploit this: the devious Greenstreet and Lorre danced around Bogart again in Casablanca (1942), and the studio's experienced Claude Rains had a new edge and oiliness.

Seymour, coming to the screen from burlesque and night-clubs, had a small role as a local, Abdul, but he didn't come into his own until Howard Hawk's To Have and Have Not (1944), by far the most successful of Warner's attempts to duplicate the success of Casablanca. Bogey was again a neutral observer between the Free French and the Vichy French - the latter represented by Seymour as the police inspector, blubbery-fat, not in uniform but a white linen suit and bereted, a poised cigarette-holder indicating an effete personality. This was a role Seymour played again when the Marx Brothers spoofed this sub-genre in A Night In Casablanca (1946), and around the same time Seymour was wielding his cigarette- holder again in The Searching Wind as a bearded Italian tycoon who had financed Mussolini.

Greenstreet and Lorre had become stars: so at Fox had Laird Cregar, whose deep voice was accompanied by a certain delicacy of manner. Stardom eluded Seymour, who decorated several more of Warner's melodramas but had only one other prime part, in Huston's Key Largo (1948). Here was Bogart (and Bacall) again as the beleaguered protagonist, trapped in a large house on one of the Florida keys with Edward G. Robinson and his gang of bullies - the deceptively friendly Thomas Gomez, babyish Harry Lewis, capable of torture which hints at castration, and Seymour, moon-faced and silent behind the inevitable cigarette-holder.

He had played an Italian resistance worker for Fritz Lang in Cloak and Dagger (1946), and Lang sent for him again to play a member of Mel Ferrer's deadly gang in Rancho Notorious (1952), which starred Marlene Dietrich. Lang used him again in The Big Heat (1953) as a junkyard boss who blankly refuses to squeal on corrupt town officials, and three more of his last four films in the US, including his Gothic Moonfleet (1955), in which Seymour was one of the pirate gang.

Seymour continued to make the occasional movie, but was active in television from the mid-Fifties, in such series as Perry Mason, 77 Sunset Strip, The Untouchables, Hawaiian Eye and Kojak. But in that medium, too, he seldom got to be a good guy.