I don’t think there’s any better film in this category than To Kill a Mockingbird, which showcased not one, but three outstanding actors. Gregory Peck’s strength and vulnerability are palpable. Yet there are two other standout male performances notable for their very real vulnerability, that top even Gregory Peck.
Robert Duval, onscreen for seconds as Boo Radley at the movie’s end, might have the record for carrying this off in the shortest amount of time. The vulnerability is visceral, painful and it makes us rethink everything we saw and heard in the entire course of the film. It ends up being a tremendously effective plot twist.
And then there’s Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, who stands as my all-time top contender for believable vulnerability in male actors.
I remember seeing this movie on television when I was young and telling myself not to be upset because Gregory Peck and the others were actors playing a role, living in Hollywood. And I was fine, except for two characters: I couldn’t see Boo Radley or Tom Robinson as actors who left a movie set and went home at the end of the day. For me, Tom Robinson died in Alabama, and Boo Radley might yet have some small semblance of a life there.
Note: the child actor Philip Alford, who played Jem, also deserves mention here.