The American actor Charles Durning, who has died aged 89, first grabbed audience attention as the crooked Lieutenant Snyder in The Sting (1973). He makes an explosive appearance, tearing down an alley after the slick grifter played by Robert Redford, and repeatedly lurches out of the shadows throughout the rest of the film. Durning had only a handful of scenes, and over the next 40 years would seldom be granted more screen time in 200-odd film and TV roles. Nevertheless, his jowly face, with its boxer's nose and sly eyes, grew increasingly familiar, and his name in the opening titles usually promised good things ahead. His heavyset frame meant he was often cast as tough guys, but he later assumed more jovial roles, portraying Father Christmas several times.
His first Oscar nomination came for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), an ebullient musical about the southern hospitality offered at a brothel called the Chicken Ranch. Durning plays the slippery Texan governor who must decide whether to close down the establishment. His evasive nature is captured in a magical song-and-dance routine: "I love to dance a little sidestep," he sings. "Now they see me, now they don't …"
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