After playing cowboy on 'The Rifleman,' Chuck Connors became a string of sinister bad guys
From Lucas McCain to… blades for a hand?!
Image: The Everett Collection
When it came to role models in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were few better than Lucas McCain. The titular cowboy of The Rifleman was a caring single father, moral, just, tough and true. The actor who played him was just as honorable. Chuck Connors began his career as a professional athlete, and no ordinary one. The 6' 6" stud played in the NBA (for the Celtics) and the MLB (for the Cubs) — and was drafted into the NFL by the Bears. Later in life, Connors used his fame to raise money for disabled children through golf tournaments.
In other words, he seems like a pretty great guy.
But, oh, did he make for a devilish baddie in movies throughout the 1970s and 1980s. After hanging up his Winchester on The Rifleman, Connors took a hard turn and played against type. His height and square, iron jaw made him an imposing villain. He played bombers, assassins, brutish bodyguards, crooks and more. Heck, he even played a killer with garden shears for a left hand. On television, he played far against type as a slave owner in the miniseries Roots.
We're going to look at his film work. Here are a handful of our favorite twisted performances by Chuck Connors on the big screen.
1. Kill Them All and Come Back Alone
An Italian Spaghetti Western with a name like a Metallica album, Kill Them All sees Connors as a Confederate soldier out to heist a box of gold from the Union. He rounds up a crew of roughnecks. As the title implies, he plans to wax them all after the job and keep the money for himself. It's a wonderfully crafted shoot-'em-up with gorgeous music.
Richard Roundtree followed up his groundbreaking role of Shaft with this rugged spy thriller. A Russian seeks political asylum in a U.S. embassy. Connors is the assassin looking to snuff him out. A loaded cast including Max von Sydow and Broderick Crawford (Highway Patrol), and on-location shooting in Beirut give this action vehicle a little more flare.
3. The Police Connection
Originally titled The Mad Bomber, this sordid crime flick featured Connors as none other than the mad bomber. Sporting shaggy hair, a crumpled suit and wire-framed spectacles, Connors blows up criminals as a sort of eerie vigilante. The artfully shot exploitation film frankly features too much seedy stuff in its trailer even to post here, but Connors is great in it.
4. Soylent Green
"Soylent Green is people!" Sorry, spoiler alert, but the twist of this sci-fi classic is such a part of our pop culture lexicon. Charleton Heston stars in another dystopian future to rival Planet of the Apes. Only this time, we're feeding humans with humans. Connors plays a shady bodyguard to the rich elite. Heston and Connors trade blows in one of the manliest fights possible in early 1970s cinema.
5. 99 and 44/100% Dead!
"All around town, everybody's dying… to meet Harry Crown." Venerable British thespian Richard Harris plays a hit man in this snappy urban noir. We should probably explain the convoluted title. Crown weilds pistols with ivory grips, and Ivory soap promoted itself as "99 and 44/100% Pure," you see. Anyway, Connors here is a mob enforcer named Marvin "The Claw" Zuckerman, who is closer to a Bond villain. He can attach blades and machine guns to his arm. John Frankenheimer directed this thick slice of '70s fun.
6. Tourist Trap
The poster and trailer proclaimed, "Every year young people disappear," which is obviously true if a little vague. In this case, however, the culprit was Connors, who is the "Jason" of this teen slasher flick. He sports a variety of wigs (and shaved head), not to mention several creepy masks. Oh, and he's obsessed with mannequins and has some psychokinetic powers. While overlooked now, this cult horror film predated Friday the 13th by a year.
SEE MORE: 9 INSANELY TRUE FACTS ABOUT CHUCK CONNORS
Dig deeper into the life of this great actor. READ MORE