Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman = Good.

I really don't know what else to say. I never met anyone who didn't like Paul Newman.

Looking at his filmography, I get the odd impression that he was one of those stars who did his best work for directors who weren't quite in the first rank. (Robert Rossen may be an exception, though he made so few films that it's hard to say where he ranks.) His collaborations with superstar directors -- Hitchcock, Scorsese, Altman, Huston -- were rarely his or their best, even if he did win an Oscar for the Scorsese picture. But with solid middle-of-the-pack, non-superstar directors like Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke) or George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy, The Sting, Slap Shot) or Martin Ritt (who made a lot of successful movies but was never really a star director) he made his best-loved movies. I think he may have been most comfortable with a director who was his equal, not his boss, on a project that was his as much as the director's. An exception: he should have worked less often with Jack Smight, whose hackiness made the fine script and cast of Harper count for surprisingly little.

7 comments:

Thad said...

He nailed it as the pitiful, but somewhat likable alcoholic Brick in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF too.

This is not a good year for entertainment.

Anonymous said...

Damn, the Enquirer was right again. This bodes ill for Sarah Palin's ongoing denial of her alleged affair.

Griff said...

I firmly agree with you about Paul Newman -- you put it very well.

You may not be overly fond of HARPER, but it's a fairly good movie, adequately directed by Jack Smight. And, yes, it was likely a mistake for Newman to re-team with Smight for the amiable but disappointing THE SECRET WAR OF HARRY FRIGG -- this probably played better on paper than on film, and needed a slyer, wittier directorial hand to pull it off. But Smight only made two pictures with Newman.

After Stuart Rosenberg made COOL HAND LUKE with Newman, the pair re-teamed disastrously for three more films. While watching the muddled, pretentious WUSA during its 1970 theatrical release, I found myself wondering whether the director had something on the actor -- it was one of Newman's personal productions, and he must have noticed early on that it wasn't working. Then, in 1972, POCKET MONEY. I'm not sure precisely how Terrence Malick's off-beat, unusual script should have been brought to the screen, but it wasn't through Rosenberg's clueless, tone-deaf direction. [WUSA may have been simultaneously dull and overdramatized, but it was less painful to watch than this one.] Finally, in 1975, THE DROWNING POOL. [If HARPER annoys you, tell me about this thing.] By then I was sorry that Stuart Rosenberg and Newman had ever met. I wondered whether COOL HAND LUKE, despite its considerable virtues, had been worth the subsequent damage. I still wonder this.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Oh, I totally agree that Harper is entertaining and The Drowning Pool is not. But I just feel like Harper is just that close to being a better movie than it is, and I (perhaps unfairly) put the blame on Jack Smight because he's always struck me as the epitome of the transplanted TV director who turned out efficiently-made, stodgy features in the '60s, and also because Pauline Kael once wondered in print, reviewing Harry Frigg, why Newman kept working with directors like Smight.

But your point about Stuart Rosenberg is well taken; film for film he did way more damage.

Edward Hegstrom said...

I'd rank George Roy Hill much higher than Rosenberg or Ritt, but otherwise, a good point.

I admired Newman as much as everyone else, but oh, it's maddening to me how he spent the sixties and seventies churning out so much commercial hack work. HARRY FRIGG is bad, but WHEN TIME RAN OUT is inexcusable.

Anonymous said...

Whatever else he did, George Roy Hill is the sole director to do Kurt Vonnegut filmic justice. Hill's "Slaughterhouse Five" is leagues better than the Bruce Willis "Breakfast of Champions" disaster.

patrick said...

it's hard not to admire Paul Newman for putting his money to work in such productive ways, such as his Newman's Own line--high quality stuff and the proceeds go to good causes... very smart.