Before his death on Christmas Eve 2012 at the age of 90, Jack Klugman was widely known for his work on television. He starred on the anthology series The Twilight Zone and was already an Emmy winner (for The Defenders) before landing his first major series role as Oscar Madison on the TV version of The Odd Couple. Klugman also headlined a medical drama, when he starred on the popular NBC drama Quincy, M.E. Yet even with his best-known TV output, Klugman did have a few notable film roles along the way.
In 1957, Klugman’s first significant movie role came in Sidney Lumet’s landmark adaptation of the Reginald Rose TV drama 12 Angry Men. The film focused on the trial of a young man accused of murder, seen from the perspective of the 12 jurors who must decide his fate. Henry Fonda (who co-produced the film) led the cast as the one juror who sees reasonable doubt in the case, which also featured character actors Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, E.G. Marshall and Oscar winner Martin Balsam. Klugman played Juror 5, whose significant moment in the film deals with how a switchblade would be handled by a street kid when they defended themselves. Klugman had a notable side note connected to this film – he was the longest surviving cast member, even outliving its director 55 years after its release.
The 1950s and 1960s would see Klugman in other notable films – including the 1958 James Mason-Rod Steiger thriller Cry Terror!, starring opposite Judy Garland in the 1963 vehicle I Could Go On Singing, and as an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor who tries to assist an alcoholic PR executive (Jack Lemmon) in Blake Edwards’ 1962 Oscar-winning drama Days of Wine and Roses.
Yet with his success in television, Klugman’s appearances on films became few throughout the decades after the 1960s. Notable roles during that time included co-starring with Frank Sinatra in the 1968 thriller The Detective, the 1969 dramedy Goodbye, Columbus (whose leading character’s last name was Klugman), the 1976 suspense thriller Two-Minute Warning, and the 1996 Garry Marshall comedy Dear God. Klugman’s final notable film role was in the 2010 film Camera Obscura.
Even though he was widely regarded for his television output, Jack Klugman also achieved some great film work during his distinguished career. While his work on the big screen was small compared to his small screen efforts, he delivered great performances alongside some of the greatest actors of the industry. Even at the cinemas, Klugman’s presence provided a worldly gravitas and influence that proved influential – especially to some of the best-known and most appreciated films of the 1950s and 1960s.