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Check out the best of Karl Malden on DVDUpdated | Comment | Recommend E-mail | Save | Print | EnlargeAPKarl Malden, right, and Michael Douglas starred in the 1970s ABC police drama The Streets of San Francisco.

It was one of many memorable roles in Malden's long career.By Mike Clark, USA TODAYBefitting his nice-guy status in real life, Karl Malden won an Oscar and was nominated for sympathetic roles in a pair of classics directed by Elia Kazan and headlined by Marlon Brando: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954).

No wonder he was the guy American Express trusted to hawk their plastic.

But occasionally, the actor with the singular nose that even Johnny Carson spoofed could play creeps and hardheads as well.

One-Eyed Jacks (1961) is the choice cut here, but think also of Carroll Baker's sexually unfulfilled husband in the Kazan-Tennessee Williams Baby Doll; Anthony Perkins' pathologically domineering father in the baseball drama Fear Strikes Out (1957); or Parisian mad scientist "Dr.

Marais" in the wacky Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954), Hollywood's only Edgar Allan Poe adaptation to feature Merv Griffin.OBITUARY: Karl Malden, 1912-2009A product of the New York stage, Malden is an easily spottable presence in a flurry of late-'40s/early '50s cop dramas predominantly at 20th Century Fox, where he also stood out as a sympathetic bartender in 1950's superb Gregory Peck psychological Western, The Gunfighter.If the screen Streetcar propelled him into another league, Malden's looks (the antithesis of matinee-idol material) typed him as a character actor from the get-go.

Milestone or stand-out performances, all available on DVD, would have to include:• A Streetcar Named Desire (1951, Warner, $27): As one of brutish Stanley Kowalski's poker-playing buddies in a New Orleans living room, Malden's Mitch character gets in over his head when he takes up with disturbed Blanche Dubois (Vivien Leigh).

Brando's Stanley was the only major actor here who didn't win an Oscar; Leigh, Malden and Kim Hunter all took awards.

•On the Waterfront (1954, Sony, $20): As the tough but spiritually reliable longshoreman's priest, Malden attempts to cleanse tough-guy souls — and suffers a cut forehead from a flying beer can for his efforts in one memorable scene.

He, Lee J.

Cobb and Rod Steiger were all up for supporting Oscars, splitting the vote so that none of them won.•Baby Doll (1956, Warner, $20): Malden is hilarious as the fidgety husband who has never consummated his marriage to shanty-tramp Baker.

This earthy comedy's censorship problems were exacerbated when Francis Cardinal Spellman damned it from the pulpit.•One-Eyed Jacks (1961, many public domain prints available for varied prices): Never better, Malden is the onetime bank-robbing partner and now a most deserving revenge target of Brando, who directed the movie and gave his most Elvis-like performance.

The scene where Malden gives his outlaw ex-buddy a public flogging is unforgettable.

•Gypsy (1962, Warner, $15): Karl Malden sings! The splashy, popular but comparably lesser movie of the stage sensation subbed Rosalind Russell for the original's Ethel Merman and Malden for Jack Klugman.

Two key Malden duets were cut after the film's release but appear (via an iffy 16mm print) on the DVD as bonus.

•The Cincinnati Kid (1965, Warner, $20): Once again cast as an older loser married to a much younger sex bomb, Malden juggles professional poker playing and domestic discord as wife Ann-Margret has "Kid" Steve McQueen on her mind.

•Patton (1970, Fox, $15 and $20 editions; Blu-ray, $30): The year's Oscar winner is, of course, owned by George C.

Scott for his flamboyant portrayal of the "brass" tinderbox of the title.

But as fellow Gen.

Omar Bradley, Malden is a leveling force and harmonious foil (something akin to the way he played off Brando's pyrotechnics in Streetcar).

•Streets of San Francisco (1972-77, Paramount): Malden is the seasoned cop veteran, and Michael Douglas (really young here and with only a handful of big-screen features under his belt) a mentored green rookie.

The series lasted five seasons, and so far Paramount has made the first two available in varied packagings and pricings.

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