Rounders Hero Professor Martin Landau Dies Age 892 years ago
The prolific and all-purpose big screen performer passed away on Saturday of "unexpected complications" after a brief stay at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
His acting resume stretched over seven decades and included classics such as Hitchcock’s ‘North-by-Northwest’ in 1959, Woody Allen’s ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’ (1989) and his Oscar-winning role in Tim Burton’s Bela Lugosi biopic, ‘Ed Wood’ in 1994.
For poker players, it was his depiction of Matt Damon’s law professor, Abe Petrovsky, in the 1998 movie ‘Rounders’ which will be remembered for a long time, Landau displaying the acting talents which would see him coaching the likes of fellow screen great Jack Nicholson among many others.
As the kind-hearted and generous Petrovsky, he first encounters Matt Damon's character Mike McDermott’s poker skills during a home game with fellow legal eagles and judges, stunned by Damon’s reading and bluffing of his companions…
McDermott, torn between his love of poker, loyalty to his degenerate friend ‘Worm’ (Edward Norton) and his fellow law student and girlfriend Jo (Gretchen Mol) as well as his own studies, meets up with Petrovsky in a scene which has gained legendary status, with the classic line:
“What choice? We can’t run from who we are… our destiny chooses us.”
In a curious parallel to his own life, Landau explained several years ago:
“To become an actor was a dream I must’ve had so deeply and so strongly because I left a lucrative, well-paying job that I could do well to become an unemployed actor. It’s crazy if you think about it. To this day, I can still hear my mother’s voice saying, ‘You did what?!’”
As the film progresses and McDermott gets in deeper and deeper trouble, he turns to Petrovsky as his last hope of raising money to pay off notorious poker-playing gangster Teddy KGB (John Malkovich) to whom he had already lost his entire bankroll at the beginning of the movie.
Landau, the unsung hero of the movie in a cast of stars and stars-in-the making, sees how desperate the bruised and battered McDermott is, and agrees to help him, saying:
“When my mother let me leave the yeshiva it nearly broke her. But she knew... she knew the life I had to lead. To do that for another is a mitzvah. And for that, I owe. So you take this money... and you get yourself out of this trouble.”
It is a classic movie, and without Landau it would have been so much less so – as many have stated of the talented actor’s roles over the decades.
This year saw him in another poker-related movie, again playing a character named Abe. ‘The Last Poker Game', a comedy which premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, follows Landau’s character Dr. Abe Mandelbaum who forms ‘an unlikely friendship with a womanizing gambler’ (played by Paul Sorvino). According to IMDB, their relationship is tested when they each try to convince a mysterious nurse that they are her long-lost father.
A documentary about his life, An Actor's Actor: The Life of Martin Landau, is also in the works, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Martin Landau R.I.P. (June 20, 1928 – July 15, 2017)
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