Donald Buka

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A brief look at Buka’s life and noir movies.

The stage actor from Ohio kicked off his career in grand style with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in The Taming of the Shrew and kept on doing Shakespeare and other productions, until he shifted to TV and movies. His first big screen impression was made as Bette Davis’ son in Watch on the Rhine. Buka was dark, charming, handsome in a boyish way, but as he appeared in more villain roles he proved he could also be unstable, seething, forceful and intense (he always reminds me of a Ray Liotta type as a bad guy).

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Buka can be seen as a henchman named “Shivvy” in The Street With No Name, a movie based on FBI files, Mark Stevens goes undercover to join and take apart the gang led by the gleefully evil, outrageously paranoiac, and asthmatically OCD Richard Widmark.

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Buka’s next noir entry was with Street costar Mark Stevens and Edmond O’Brien, a film that started production under the name Prowl Car, but was released as Between Midnight and Dawn. Buka is a sadistically nasty and vengeful Teflon-slick gangster who abuses his nightclub singer girlfriend. He’s tough to capture, breaks out of jail, and manages to do a lot of damage on the lead characters. And that’s just the first half of the movie! For the climax he holds a little girl out a high floor window and threatens to drop her to her death during the police standoff preceding his appropriately flashy and literal fall. As “Ritchie,” Buka got a whole landscape of grade A scenery to chew and did it with style, truly more in the style of a hot tempered narcissistic movie gangster of the 1930’s obsessed with avenging attacks on his reputation than the cold icy psychos that were by the 1950s becoming more common in noirs.

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The next thing Buka did that might be of interest to noirheads was Vendetta with Faith Domergue, the movie that Howard Hughes burned through another near half-dozen directors to make. (you can read my post on Faith and more about the making of Vendetta here). Though set in mid 19th century Spain, Vendetta plays and feels like a modern crime film, and little wonder since it was adapted for the screen by W.R. Burnett, who gave us the source material for Little Caesar, High Sierra and Asphalt Jungle.

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Next in the crime genre for Buka came Stolen Identity and a rare lead role as a good guy, a crafty cab driver who uses the murder of one of his fares to assume a new American identity and escape Vienna. His first of many obstacles is presented by the dead man’s girlfriend, who now needs to escape the irate husband who murdered her lover.

Like many actors, Buka shifted to doing more TV, shows Like Perry Mason and Dragnet, many anthology and playhouse type programs, and continued with stage work. As he got older Buka also taught acting classes, and died at age 88 in 2009. He was married three times.

a version of this article previously appeared in The Dark Pages noir mag
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4 thoughts on “Donald Buka”

  1. Thanks. Had almost forgotten him! Lovely bio feature well illustrated. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox. I’ll be returning to your blog.

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