The Inscrutable Screen Immortality of Joe Turkel — 1924-2022

Joseph “Joe” Turkel of Brooklyn, New York, made well over 100 appearances on film and TV, more if you add in video games.

He died last week at the ripe old age of 94, a character actor who appeared in six decades of films, only five of TV, and that’s only because when Joe Turkel started out, there was no television — none to speak of anyway.

I stop short whenever I channel surf by old TV shows and suddenly, there he is — a German officer in “The Rat Patrol,” a GI in “Combat!,” a gangster on “The Untouchables,” “Bonanza.” Hell, there he is on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

But he owes his screen immortality to four films — two of them, really — and the deep-dive enthusiasm of film buffs. We know he was a favorite of his fellow Brooklynite Stanley Kubrick, and that Ridley Scott cast him because Stanley had. We’re the reason he ended up at fan conventions and film festivals, a coveted interview subject, right to the end.

He was unforgettable as the inscrutably menacing bartender Lloyd in “The Shining,” drink-mixer and confessor to Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance.

Kubrick completists recognized Turkel from a chewy supporting role as a soldier doomed to be arbitrarily executed in “Paths of Glory.” And every time we’d watch “The Killing” after that, we’d see him. He was hard to miss, even in a bit part in that earlier Kubrick outing.

“Blade Runner” was the sci-f magnum opus TV commercial director-turned-filmmaker Ridley Scott made with his “Alien” clout. What better way to underscore his change in status than adding a Kubrick mascot to his epic? Turkel plays the mysterious oligarch behind everything that’s going wrong with replicants in the hellscape LA of the future.

Turkel’s vulpine look conveyed menace and untroubled wisdom in his two biggest films. It’s always startling to see him in another guise, showing off real range as an actor beyond the iconic roles we remember him for.

Memorize that face. Keep an eye out for it every time you channel surf. He never had a headliner, above-the-title career. But for a character actor, Joe Turkel’s brand of screen immortality is the gold standard.

Ask Joey Pants, Buscemi, Tim Blake Nelson, Giancarlo Esposito or Jeffrey Wright. They know.

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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