Burgess Meredith was an accomplished actor, filmmaker, and American heroT. Meredith served in the United States Army Air Forces in World War II and was honored with an American Campaign Medal and a World War II Victory Medal. A veteran of war and entertainment, Meredith’s acting career spanned theater, radio, television, and film.
Meredith began his professional acting career in 1929 and stayed active until his death on September 9, 1997, at 89. With his almost seven-decade acting career, Meredith starred in over 100 productions. In honor of his work and contribution to stage, film, and television, these are Burgess Meredith’s 10 best films.
1. Winterset (1936)
Winterset (1936) was Burgess Meredith’s first credited production in film. Meredith played the lead role as the avenging son, Mio Romagna. Winterset is a film adaptation of Maxwell Anderson‘s 1935 play of the same name, in which Meredith also performed. While the screenplay is closely related to the play, the film significantly changed the story’s ending.
Rather than have Mio Romagna and Miriamne Esdras (Margo) die a lover’s death by being shot to death by the gangsters, Mio alerts the police, and the lovers are arrested. Assumably, away from the threat of death by the gangsters. Winterset received two Academy Awards nominations.
2. Of Mice and Men (1939)
Burgess Meredith was cast in a lead role as George Milton, alongside veteran actor Lon Chaney Jr. as Lennie Small. Of Mice and Men tells the story of George and his intellectually disabled friend, Lennie, and their dream of owning a farm. However, Lennie’s desire for stroking and caressing things always puts them in trouble. After Lennie accidentally kills Mae (Betty Field) while stroking her hair, George is forced to give him a mercy death before the angry mob lynches him. Of Mice and Men (1939) has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer from 14 critic reviews. The movie received four Academy Awards nominations.
3. The Story of G.I. Joe (1945)
Burgess Meredith delivers another masterpiece with his portrayal of Ernie Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist and war correspondent. The Story of G.I. Joe is a war film based on Ernie Pyle’s books, Here Is Your War (1943) and Brave Men (1944). It tells the story of World War II’s American Ground Infantrymen (G.I. Joe). As a war correspondent, Pyle follows C Company, 18th Infantry, of the U.S. Army into battle to document their experience on the front lines.
Pyle is drawn to Lt. Bill Walker (Robert Mitchum) and his men, who, despite their combat inexperience, survive the Battle of Kasserine Pass. While Pyle went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his journalism, his next encounter with C Company is interrupted by a mule convoy of dead soldiers. Pyle soon discovers the last mule carries the body of Lt. Bill Walker. Not only did The Story of G.I. Joe (1945) receive four Academy Awards nominations, it was selected by the Library of Congress, in 2009, for preservation in the National Film Registry.
4. The Day of the Locust (1975)
The Day of the Locust (1975) is a satirical historical drama about Hollywood before World War II. Burgess Meredith joined the star-studded ensemble cast, playing Harry Greener. His character, an ex-vaudevillian, plays a supporting role as the father of Faye Greener (Karen Black). The movie was based on Nathanael West‘s 1939 The Day of the Locust novel. Burgess Meredith was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role at the Academy Awards, Best Supporting Actor at the British Academy Film Awards, and Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes Awards.
5. Rocky Film Series
Burgess Meredith was a key character in the Sylvester Stallone-led Rocky film series. Meredith played Michael “Mickey” Goldmill. Even in pop culture, Mickey’s character became known for his gravelly voice, catchphrases, and demeanor. Mickey was a former bantamweight fighter and owner of the local gym, who approached Rocky Balboa to be his trainer. Rocky (1976) was a critical and commercial success, grossing $225 million on a $960,000 budget. Of its 10 Academy Awards nominations, it won three.
Meredith reprised his role as Mickey in the sequel, Rocky II (1979). With an extended production budget of $7 million, Rocky II earned $200.1 million at the Box Office. He reprises the role in the third installment, Rocky III (1982). However, the character dies in the movie. Rocky III was also successful, grossing $270 million on a $170 million budget. Meredith’s appearances in subsequent sequels, Rocky IV (1985), Rocky V (1990), Rocky Balboa (2006), and 40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic (2020), were either archival footage or minor flashback scenes.
6. Foul Play (1978)
Foul Play (1978) is a romantic neo-noir comedy thriller directed by Colin Higgins. Burgess Meredith, cast in a supporting role, plays Mr. Hennessey. The character is the old landlord and neighbor of Gloria Mundy (Goldie Hawn). The movie revolves around Gloria Mundy, who is dragged into a conspiracy to kill the Pope. Unsuspectingly handed a roll of undeveloped film in the cigarette pack, Gloria’s life is threatened when assassins chase after her for the film. The movie received seven Golden Globes Awards nominations and an Academy nomination.
7. Clash of the Titans (1981)
A 73-year-old Burgess Meredith is cast as Ammon in Clash of the Titans (1981). The fantasy adventure movie tells the Greek mythology story of Perseus, the demi-god. Meredith brings in a wealth of acting experience, even in supporting roles. Clash of the Titans was a commercial success, earning $70 million on a $9–15 million budget.
8. True Confessions (1981)
True Confessions is a 1981 neo-noir crime drama that revolves around a murder, the Catholic church, secrets, and a relenting homicide detective. Burgess is cast as Monsignor Seamus Fargo and shares the screen with Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall. The movie was based on John Gregory Dunne‘s 1977 noir novel.
9. Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
Towards the end of his career, Burgess Meredith was cast in roles with far lesser screen time than he enjoyed when he was much younger. In this 1985 Christmas film, Santa Claus: The Movie, Meredith is cast as the Ancient Elf. Santa Claus: The Movie tells the origin story of Santa Claus in the Middle Ages. By the late 20th century New York City, Santa Claus rushes to save one of his elves, the children of the world, and Christmas, from the greedy, evil toy company executive, B.Z. (John Lithgow).
10. Grumpy Old Men (1993)
Grumpy Old Men is an early 90s romantic comedy classic for old lovers. The movie starred Burgess Meredith as Grandpa Gustafson, the father of John Gustafson Jr. (Jack Lemmon). Although Meredith plays a minor role, the movie’s sequel, Grumpier Old Men (1995), became his last role in film before his death. At the time of filming Grumpier Old Men, Meredith was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He had to be coached to reprise his role. Sadly, Burgess Meredith died in September 1997 from complications from Alzheimer’s disease and melanoma.