Sydney Greenstreet


Sydney Hughes Greenstreet (December 27, 1879 – January 18, 1954) was a British-American actor. His stage debut was as a murderer in a 1902 production of a Sherlock Holmes story at the Marina Theatre, Ramsgate, Kent. He toured Britain with Ben Greet’s Shakespearean company, and in 1905, he made his New York City debut in Everyman. Thereafter, he appeared in such plays as a revival of As You Like It (1914). He appeared in numerous plays in Britain and America, working through most of the 1930s with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne at the Theatre Guild. He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1925. Throughout his stage career, his parts ranged from musical comedy to Shakespeare, and years of such versatile acting on two continents led to many offers to appear in films. He refused until he was 61.

In 1941, Greenstreet began working for Warner Bros. His debut film role was as Kasper Gutman (“The Fat Man”) co-starring with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor in John Huston‘s The Maltese Falcon, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The film also featured Peter Lorre, as the twitchy Joel Cairo, a pairing that would prove durable.
The two men appeared in some nine films altogether, including Michael Curtiz‘s Casablanca (1942), with Greenstreet as crooked club owner Signor Ferrari (for which he received a salary of $3,750 per week for seven weeks), as well as Raoul Walsh’s Background to Danger (1943, with George Raft), Passage to Marseille (1944), reteaming him with Casablanca stars Bogart, Lorre, and Claude Rains, The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), The Conspirators (1944), with Hedy Lamarr and Paul Henreid, Delmar Daves’s Hollywood Canteen (1944), Jean Negulesco’s Three Strangers (1946), with Geraldine Fitzgerald and Lorre; and Don Siegel‘s The Verdict (1946).
Greenstreet played roles both in dramatic films, such as William Makepeace Thackeray in Curtis Bernhardt’s Devotion (1946), with Ida Lupino and Olivia de Havilland; and witty performances in screwball comedies, for instance Alexander Yardley in Peter Godfrey’s Christmas in Connecticut (1944), with Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan. Near the end of his film career, Greenstreet played opposite Joan Crawford in Flamingo Road (1949).

After little more than eight years, Greenstreet’s film career ended with Richard Thorpe’s Malaya (also 1949), in which he was billed third, after Spencer Tracy and James Stewart. In those years, he worked with stars ranging from Clark Gable to Ava Gardner to Joan Crawford. Author Tennessee Williams wrote his one-act play The Last of My Solid Gold Watches with Greenstreet in mind, and dedicated it to him. During 1950–51, Greenstreet played Nero Wolfe on the NBC radio program, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, based loosely on the rotund detective genius created by Rex Stout.

Each review will be linked to the title below.

(*seen originally in theaters)

(**seen rereleased in theaters)

  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)**
  • They Died with Their Boots On (1941)
  • Across the Pacific (1942)
  • Casablanca (1942)**
  • Background to Danger (1943)
  • Passage to Marseille (1944)
  • Between Two Worlds (1944)
  • The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
  • Hollywood Canteen (1944) – cameo as himself
  • Pillow to Post (1945)
  • Conflict (1945)
  • Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
  • Three Strangers (1946)
  • Devotion (1946)
  • The Verdict (1946)
  • That Way with Women (1947)
  • The Hucksters (1947)
  • Ruthless (1948)
  • The Woman in White (1948)
  • The Velvet Touch (1948)
  • Flamingo Road (1949)
  • It’s a Great Feeling (1949) – uncredited cameo as himself
  • Malaya (1949)