Friday, December 12

Newman in the Sixties

It would be a daunting task to write about Paul Newman's 80+ films, all of which I have seen and a great many of which I regard as some of America's finest films.  Along with William Holden, Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, I consider Newman one of my favorite actors and like the others, one of this country's best.  But writing about all of his work is simply not possible in this format so we need to break it down.  We'll do it by decade... and yes, we'll do "Newman in the...whatever" as we skip along.  The 60s, however, produced an amazing amount of brilliant work, 19 films in all, along with a number of duds.  This decade offers four (of the 10) films in which he costarred with his wife, Joanne Woodward.

From the Terrace (1960) was a superior soap opera about an eager young lawyer in a marriage to a social climber.  Woodward was his wife, Ina Balin his girlfriend and Myrna Loy his mother.  We won't delve into it again because I wrote about it in a previous posting.

Exodus (1960), based on Leon Uris' best-selling novel, took Newman to Israel, the land of his ancestors.  He would play a heroic character based on a composite of several commandos who fought the Arabs and British to hold on to Palestine.  He had a good time with the cast, particularly Eva Marie Saint and Sal Mineo, but  fought with tyrannical director Otto Preminger.  It was not one of his favorite shoots.  With his acting rather rigid and flat, I thought it was also not one of his better roles.

The Hustler (1961) brought Newman world-wide fame.  This film excited him; he couldn't wait to dive into Fast Eddie, an up and coming pool player out to dethrone the king, Minnesota Fats, in a big game.  Newman was electric as the cocky, self-destructive and rather foolish Eddie.  His costars, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie and George C. Scott, were no less impressive.  This would be the first of Newman's famous "H" films of the 60s.

Paris Blues (1961) took Mr. and Mrs. Newman to France to film a fine story about two American musicians, Newman and Sidney Poitier, living the bohemian life in Paris.  They are shaken up by the appearance of two American visitors, Woodward and Diahann Carroll (enjoying a real-life romance with Poitier).  The foursome, with their instinctive acting, turned an ordinary story into something more.  Newman and Poitier also became good friends, frequently being a part of civil rights actions.

Sweet Bird of Youth (1961) is based on a renowned Tennessee Williams' play which Newman, Geraldine Page and Rip Torn performed on Broadway before signing for the film.  It was rumored for a while that Ava Gardner would assume Page's role (I think she would have been quite exciting) and Newman was glad that Page would be his costar.  The story of a boytoy to a fading actress was a perfect Newman role as he brought all the cynicism and raw sexuality that he could muster... and he could muster.

Adventures of a Young Man (1962) was based on a Hemingway tale whose title character roams the world trying to find himself.  Along the way he runs into characters that help or hinder him, and Newman, nearly unrecognizable, is one of those, a former boxer.  It was not a successful film nor will Newman be particularly remembered for it.

The Prize (1963) would be considered by serious Newmanophiles as one of his lesser pics and while that is certainly true, I quite liked it.  As a fan of mysteries and thrillers, it was fun with its murder and mayhem at the Stockholm Nobel Prize ceremonies.  Newman could have phoned in the role but was nonetheless appealing along with Edward G. Robinson, Elke Sommer and Diane Baker.

Hud (1963) was a sexed-up, messed-up Texas farmer and one of the top two or three performances Paul Newman ever gave us.  But since I wrote fully about it a while back, we won't go there again now. 

After the glowing success of Hud, Newman made five of the worst films he would make in the 60s, if not his entire career.  What's most interesting is the fact that it would appear as a simple blip rather than end his career as it would have most others.  The public by now was clamoring for more and more Paul Newman and he worked like a dog. 

A New Kind of Love (1963) was a film Joanne Woodward wanted to do and she wanted her husband to join her.  They both should have said no.  They did get to return to Paris but the comedic story of a fashion maven and a reporter (done much better by Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall in 1957s Designing Woman) was stale and the Newmans didn't always do comedy so well.  Thelma Ritter was the only bright spot... as she always was.

What a Way to Go! (1964) was horrible and all copies should be burned.  Another comedy but a lame-brained one that I missed on its initial release but sadly caught years later on the tube.  Shirley MacLaine married five husbands who had an early demise.  Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin, Dick Van Dyke and Gene Kelly joined Newman in this embarrassment.

The Outrage (1964) was a western with Newman as a Mexican bandit (don't remember what they did, if anything, about those blue eyes) who kidnaps a man and his wife.  For me it did not hurt that Newman costarred with another of my favorites, Laurence Harvey.  Claire Bloom was the wife.  Based on the Japanese film, Rashomon, its fame comes from the fact three versions of the story are told from different points of view.  I liked it but it sank  quickly.

Lady L (1966) is a completely forgettable sex comedy in which a mustachioed Newman played a foreigner, a Frenchman, a serious mistake since he is so identifiably an American.  Another problem is that this is first and foremost a Sophia Loren film (she had top billing) and others usually fared less well in Loren films.  He had come very close to costarring with Loren at least once before.  They and everyone thought they would be a dynamic screen team but box office sales would say otherwise.

Torn Curtain (1966) certainly should have been the raging success everyone thought it would be.  Julie Andrews, hot off the planetary success of The Sound of Music, was Newman's love interest and Alfred Hitchcock was directing.  So what went wrong?   It's an espionage thriller with surprisingly few thrills that bogs down three-quarters of the way through with giving too much importance to a secondary character.  It certainly also didn't help that Andrews had little sex appeal. 

Harper (1966) ended the bad spell for Newman, by bringing him his third "H" film and a superior private eye tale.  Cynicism always was Newman's middle name but this time he dusted it with impatience and coarseness and the black eyes of a shark.  As Lew Harper he's out to discover the whereabouts of a missing millionaire in a sometimes-improbable rendering but with an homage to film noir.  Of course I liked it.  It didn't hurt that Newman was joined by Janet Leigh, Julie Harris, Lauren Bacall, Robert Wagner, Pamela Tiffin, Arthur Hill, Robert Webber and Shelley Winters.

Hombre (1967) was an interesting western to me because it so resembled 1939s John Wayne-John Ford classic Stagecoach.  Here Newman portrays a white man captured years earlier by Indians who dresses and looks like an Indian.  He is cold, steely and stony as a stagecoach passenger, with a money inheritance on his person, who, along with other passengers, is harrassed by outlaws.  Richard Boone, Fredric March and Diane Cilento turn in excellent performances along with Newman.  The "H" quartet has been completed.

Cool Hand Luke (1967) is certainly one of Newman's most cherished films and another iconic role.  He was so positive of its value as a film that he did something he almost never did... committed to it without seeing a finished script.  The role of an incorrigible bad boy arrested for some dumbass crime and now doing time in a southern hellhole of a prison had Newman's name written all over it.  Full of iconic lines, it was a thrilling piece from start to finish.

The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1969) should have been included in that group of five turkeys.  Newman always said what he signed up for is not what was released.  It was a war-comedy about a private with a penchant for going AWOL.  No one laughed.  A few sexy scene with Italian actress Sylva Koscina did nothing to improve the film's chances.

Winning (1969) may be Paul Newman's personal favorite film of alltime.  It was little more than a run-of-the-mill racing car melodrama but we know how much Newman loved racing cars.  And he loved making movies.  If he could have added his spaghetti sauce to the proceedings, he'd have been happier than a pig in... in... a pig in... a mudhole.  He also added Woodward to the proceedings and the actor I suspect who always wanted to be him, Robert Wagner.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) was his third film in the year and arguably the most famous and successful film the actor ever made.  Teamed with one of the two only true screen rivals he ever had, Robert Redford (the other, Steve McQueen, oddly enough, was the first choice to play Sundance), they went on to make one of the most charming buddy movies ever made.  Though fictionalized the story of the two western outlaws resonated with folks across the globe.  Coins kept falling on Newman's head... the film made him a very, very rich man.

Thanks to Butch and most of the other films of this decade, Newman would become the biggest movie star in the world.  It was an honor well-deserved.

Notable 60s Film

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