Friday, December 4, 2020

What a Character! blogathon: Harry Cording

It is the time of year we all look forward to when Paula's Cinema ClubOnce Upon a Screen, and Outspoken and Freckled host their "What a Character!" Blogathon. This year, December 5th is the big day. Click on the highlighted blogs to access the articles.

Harry Cording

Above is Harry Cording as he was mostly seen throughout his 278 film Hollywood career, uncredited or a name grabbing ahold of the end of the credits. He could be counted on to bring the menace or to let the hero show how brave he is by defeating Harry's strong man. Here Harry is a warder confronting prisoner Randolph Scott in Captain Kidd, 1945.

Hector William Cording was born on April 26, 1891, in Bengal, India. His father was a soldier in the 1st Rifle Brigade hence the family traveled. The family settled in Portsmouth, England in Harry's childhood. Harry joined the Army at the age of 16 and his years of Service include 1910 to 1919. During the Great War, he was an artillery gunner.

Post-war, Harry was a steward on transatlantic steamers for two years. He applied for American naturalization papers in 1922 and by 1925 was in Hollywood. The Knockout, 1925 gives Harry a decent-sized role for director Lambert Hillyer. It is supposed that Harry entered the picture business as a stunt man and this lost movie features a boxing storyline. 

Even the casual fan of 1930s films will be familiar with Harry's face in many classics and B movies of the day, Marie Antoinette (executioner), Treasure Island (pirate), The Last of the Mohicans (trapper), Charlie Chan in Paris (gendarme), The Count of Monte Cristo (jailer), Roman Scandals (soldier), and much more. (Remember: 278 movies!)

Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Harry Cording
The Black Cat

An outstanding role during this period is in Edgar Ulmer's The Black Cat, 1934 for Universal. The creepy and influential horror picture starred Boris Karloff as Hjalmar Poelzig and Bela Lugosi as Dr. Vitus Werdergast. In the battle between these sworn enemies, Werdergast has the help of his mute assistant Thalmal, whose loyalty is unquestioned and his strength admired.

Harry took on the pivotal role of Dickon Malbete in The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938 for William Keighley and Michael Curtiz. Dickon is visible throughout as one of the nobles at the side of Guy of Gisborne and is a convenient assassin when it is learned that King Richard has returned to England.

Claude Rains, Harry Cording, Basil Rathbone
The Adventures of Robin Hood

Gisborne: "Dickon was a knight before your brother hacked off his spurs for some little mischance. There's nothing he wouldn't do for a king who would restore him to rank."
Prince John: "You don't love my brother I hear."
Dickon: "I have little reason to, Your Highness."

Dickon will be restored to full rank with the title and lands of Robin of Locksley upon the murder of Richard. Little Much played by Herbert Mundin will have something to say about that in an exciting sequence.

Harry Cording, Glenn Strange
Stage to Chino
Henchmen as ever were!

Harry can be spotted as a western henchman as early as To the Last Man, 1933 for Henry Hathaway. During the late 1930s and into the 1940s Harry really racked 'em up at RKO with some decent roles in Stage to Chino, The Marshal of Mesa City, Law and Order, and later in well-remembered movies such as The Big Trees, Al Jennings of Oklahoma, Santa Fe Trail, and The Spoilers.

Harry was a member in good standing of the Sherlock Holmes unit at Universal Studios, appearing in seven of the 12 films in the series. Director Roy William Neill considered Harry something of a good luck charm, coming in behind Mary Gordon's eight appearances as Mrs. Hudson.

Harry Cording, Basil Rathbone

Harry's best role in the series, and certainly my favourite is as Captain John Simpson in The House of Fear, 1945 fashioned from Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips.

Drearcliffe House in Scotland is where seven members of a group calling themselves The Good Comrades are residing. The "good comrades" are being murdered one at a time following the receipt of a letter containing a number of orange pips which corresponds to the number of companions. Such an occurrence is catnip to Sherlock Holmes.

Harry Cording - You've got mail!

Simpson: "What are you going to do about this, Inspector? What are you going to do? Holmes tried to protect Cosgrave and now he's dead!"
Lestrade: "Scotland Yard is in charge now."

Harry Cording's character is a sea-faring fellow with a lot of bluster. His smelly tobacco and his tattoos are a boon for anyone searching for clues. His temper brings some character to the staid dinners at Drearcliffe House. 

Along with the mystery and the cast filled with familiar character actors, Roy William Neill and cinematographer Virgil Miller give us a delightful highlight with Nigel Bruce's Watson alone in the spooky old house during a storm. 

Harry's roles in other films in the Holmes series.

Sherlock Holmes and The Voice of Terror, 1942

Camberwell is on the wrong side of the law but the right side of fighting Nazis

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, 1943

Be wary, Holmes! Jack Brady works for Professor Moriarty. 

The Spider Woman, 1943

Fred Garvin, a henchman for master criminal Adrea Spedding played by Gale Sondergaard is in a rooftop gun battle with Sherlock Holmes. 

The Pearl of Death, 1944

George Gelder is a sculptor. How did his work become involved in murder and theft?

Terror by Night, 1946

Harry is Mock, a carpenter. He fashions a most extraordinary coffin for this client played by Renee Godfrey.

Dressed to Kill, 1945

Hamid is a driver who tackles other jobs when required by his criminal bosses Patricia Morison and Frederick Worlock. They are a team.

Harry Cording, Byron Palmer
Detective Sgt. Bates observes Inspector Paul Warwick
Man in the Attic

Harry married Margaret Fiero in 1938 and their family came to include four children. Harry Cording passed away in 1954 at the age of 63. Up to the end, he was doing his job providing interesting movie characters for sharp-eyed fans to spot in such titles as Man in the Attic (a remake of The Lodger), Down Three Dark Streets, The Black Shield of Falworth, and East of Eden.

Best Picture nominees featuring Harry Cording: The Patriot, 1928, The House of Rothschild, 1934, Viva Villa!, 1934, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, 1935, Naughty Marietta, 1935, Les Miserables, 1935, Mutiny on the Bounty, 1935 (winner), Captain Blood, 1935, The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938, The Grapes of Wrath, 1940, and For Whom the Bells Tolled, 1943.

Edgar G. Ulmer gives direction on The Black Cat to an attentive Bela Lugosi and Julie Bishop, and the relaxed Harry Cording.

Biographical source:
Sherlock Holmes and the Fabulous Faces
by Michael A. Hoey - Bear Manor Media, 2011


  1. Wonderful tribute to a very fine actor, Paddy. Harry is always a welcome sight for me in any film. I didn't know that much about him off screen, so many thanks for sharing details. Sounds like he led quite a life.

    1. Thank you, Maddy. I have the feeling that if you ran into Harry at the pub, he would have lots of interesting stories to share.

  2. Thanks for putting a name to the face. Funny how so many screen actors, stars also, but mostly character actors -- lived such knockabout lives until they stumbled their way into films. They weren't trained, like stage actors; they just had a remarkable ability to catch on to screen acting and possibly their life experiences helped to delineate their characters with what little screen time they had in each film.

    1. The instinct of some to adapt to such a strange job, and to bring just the right amount of characterization necessary to do that strange job impresses me.

  3. GLENN STRANGE! He played SAM NOONAN, the bartender on GUNSMOKE. Do you recall the ep UNCLE FINNEY which was one with MERRY FLORENE(LANE BRADBURY)? Uncle Finney was played by one of my favorite character actors BURT MUSTIN. He guest starred on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and ALL IN THE FAMILY.

  4. BURT MUSTIN did four eps of BONANZA. THE MANY FACES OF GIDEON FLINCH guest-starred IAN WOLFE in the title role. I'm sure you recall Ian from his role as the preacher in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS. He was also in the movie POLLYANNA(60). Both Burt and Ian had long marriages. Burt and his wife FRANCES were married from 1915 until her death in 1969. 54 years! (Burt died in 1977.) Ian and his wife ELIZABETH were married from 1924 until his death in 1992. 68 years!

    1. My earliest Burt Mustin sighting was in Detective Story, 1951. He was sweeping up the precinct.

  5. Wow, what a terrific post! I confess, the name Harry Cording didn't register till I read your article - I definitely remember him from The Black Cat and Robin Hood as Sir Dickon, though I never connected these characters with the same actor. And now I'll look out for him when I (re)watch all those other films. What a versatile performer and what a remarkable career!

    1. Thank you so very much.

      Leading men come and go, but Harry lasts forever!

      It is funny how once you've registered an actor, they start popping up in everything you watch.

  6. Not heard of this actor, but seen some of his movies - will be looking out for him now thanks to your lovely tribute.

    1. Make a game of it. Get yourself a treat every time you spot Harry Cording!

  7. It sounds clichéd to say someone could "do it all", but I think Harry Cording truly could. I loved the images you posted, which proves he had an incredible range as an actor.

    1. Perhaps if bigger roles had come his way (and he proved he could handle them), he wouldn't have had the longevity of career.

  8. Another great supporting player who was seemingly omnipresent but with no risk of overexposure. A very fine tribute to the face behind the name Harry Cording.

    1. Thank you. I love the way you put it, "omnipresent but with no risk of overexposure." You certainly have a way with words.

  9. I especially enjoyed this as we had the opportunity to visit Cording's final resting place in Sylmar, CA, this past summer. Loved learning more about him and all the pics you found!

    Best wishes,

    1. It is funny how our movie world comes together at certain times.

  10. Always good to spot Harry Cording in a movie...I have just noticed him in "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde"... one of his last films. He makes a great heavy and is kind of comforting to see him from a nostalgic point of view.

    1. "Comforting" is a lovely way to describe Harry's presence. I feel the same way.



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