The Late Earl Boen Played One Of Cinema's Greatest Weasels In The Terminator Films

One of the most underrated masterstrokes of James Cameron's "The Terminator," and this is a film stuffed with masterstrokes, was his decision to have Dr. Peter Silberman exit that Los Angeles police station prior to the title cyborg's murderous rampage. It's not that we wanted the high-handed criminal psychologist — who wrongfully shrugs off Kyle Reese's (Michael Biehn) claim that he was sent back in time from a post-apocalyptic future to protect Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) from a robotic assassin — to survive the carnage. We just didn't know at the time that he would wind up being one of the series' most delectably despicable characters.

Silberman was portrayed by the incredibly prolific character actor Earl Boen, who passed away yesterday from lung cancer at the age of 81. He was very much a "that guy," i.e. an unforgettable face who turned up in countless films and television shows, often as a sneer-worthy jerk. Look at the man's filmography, and you might flash on some of his recurring characters from old sitcoms. I distinctly remember him playing Dr. Kramer on Chris Elliott's criminally short-lived '90s sitcom "Get a Life."

But he was unforgettable as Dr. Silberman, a man who had two cracks at staving off nuclear armageddon, and, despite remarkable evidence to support Connor's claims, used her to advance his own career.

Good morning, Dr. Silberman. How's the knee?

In Silberman's meager defense, he would've been perforated by bullets with the rest of the cops in that squad house had he ministered to the distraught Connor. And yet, the fact that he thought little of that wanton massacre, turning the legitimately alarmed Connor into a case study instead of buying her side of the story, did as much to hasten the finale of "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" than perhaps any other action throughout the first three movies.

I probably wouldn't be writing this appreciation of Boen's portrayal of Silberman without his slithery turn in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." That's where we learned to despise this craven agent of medical bureaucracy. He was hobbled by Conner in the past (via his own pen), and nearly gets a syringe full of drain cleaner injected into his neck. Then he bears witness to one of the pivotal moments in the "Terminator" series — and filmmaking itself. Robert Patrick's liquid-metal T-1000 passes through a solid steel cell door. This scene has since been immortalized by a silly dog meme, but in 1991, Boen's slack-jawed awe spoke for us all. We'd never seen anything like this before.

We all want to believe we would've implicitly trusted Sarah Connor, but put yourself in Silberman's shoes and ask yourself if you would've risked your professional reputation on her version of events. Cast, say, Joe Morton as Silberman, and this plays differently. He projects intelligence. Boen, on the other hand, emitted smarm. We hate smarm. But we loved hating Boen as a man who had good reason to doubt his patient's seeming delusion.

Boen had a front-row seat to the future of cinema, and he reacted accordingly. Godspeed, sir.