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James J  Cremin Written by James J Cremin
Sep. 30, 2008 | 10:19 AM

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Paul Newman 1925-2008 A personal remembrence

Paul Newman always seemed to be the most sane movie actor when he was the most active.  I believe the first film I ever saw him was WHAT A WAY TO GO.  That 1964 movie was a Shirley MacLaine comedy where she marries and becomes a widow to many the the top stars in the day, including Dean Martin, Peter Sellers, Gene Kelly and Dick Van Dyke.  Newman played an artist whose invention of paintings painting themselves goes against him and has the strange death of being killed by paintbrushes.  A good straight face performance.

His most popular screen persona was playing the lovable heel.  Lovable because he did have those playful blue eyes and almost a humble grin that’s so disarming.  Being a child of the sixties, I didn’t see many of early successes until much later.  THE LONG HOT SUMMER, probably always mentioned becasue this is the movie where he would meet his wife is almost ironic when seeing the movie itself and attempting to divorce the actors from the characters they’re playing.  Woodward plays a high society girl who gets taken down a peg or two with this gigolo who at the end gets a conscious.  Great Southern atmosphere and Newman could have gone playing those types of roles as long as youth would have allowed him.  Though a little dated, this movie is not bad.

But THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS, he expanded his depth as an actor.  This was made in 1958 and yes, it does get turgid like so many fifties melodramas, it is one of those that help made the code obsolete.  Adam West’s character flaws couldn’t be discussed back then but Newman bravely forces with this defense.  His best lawyer role, THE VERDICT, was still ahead of him.  Barbara Rush gave him good support.

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF teamed him up with Elizabeth Taylor.  Again, 1958, again, Southern style drama.  The Tennesee Williams script was watered down that actually made Newman’s behaviors a bit confusing but enough liquor and mendacity can confuse anyone.  Burl Ives played Big Daddy, who almost takes the movie away from Taylor and Newman, but they knew, of course director Richard Brooks knew when to underplay and when to take the spotlight.  Outstanding drama with the underlying question everyone asks:  what to do when the parents go?

Otto Preminger’s EXODUS (1960) is a must see because the hot issue of Israel and the Middle East is being looked at in this time frame.  Newman plays a no nonsense leader though he does underplays through most of it.  His scenes with Eva Marie Saint barely had any excitement at all.  Epics are generally more plot driven and must be noted, Sal Mineo did give his best performance here.

Robert Rossen’s THE HUSTLER, just about my favorite Newman picture.  His Eddie Felson here is just amazing.  His scenes with Piper Laurie quite touching.  I think beautiful losers when they meet.  It’s a joy seeing George C Scott, though a bit one dimensional and Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats perfection.

Richard Brooks’s SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH again had Newman at his prime as the gigolo with alcoholic movie star Geraldine Page.  This Tennessee Williams play was cleaned up too and unfortuanately, this movie has an happy ending out of sych of what went on before.  Again, great Southern style drama, Rip Torn and Ed Begley, Sr. the “good old boys’ in force.

Martin Ritt’s HUD was a multi generational movie.  Newman co-stars with Mervyn Douglas and Brandon De Witt, father and son respectively, who’s not quite the hero his family would like him to be.  Patricia Neal also delivers the goods in this one, a fine actress.

Alfred Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN is strangely detached.  The Cold War tale pairs Newman with Julie Andrews who had just recently did her biggest success THE SOUND OF MUSIC.  Not that this movie didn’t have any gems.  At one point, Newman views a dancer who spins around and around and when she finished, it’s clear she recognizes him and will expose him.  A lesser film for all.

COOL HAND LUKE remains one of Newman’s most popular movies.  “What we have here is a failure to communicate”, comes from this.  A real pleasure to watch, start to finish.  Who doesn’t want to bust parking meters?  A nonconformist with other nonconformists, who thought an egg eating contest be so cinematic.  This prison gang movie ranks with the best and George Kennedy won an Oscar.  It still belonged completely to Newman.  LUKE is very clever and giving what Newman’s character was all about.  Guilty pleasure:  Beautiful woman washing a car, decades before Paris Hilton.

THE SECRET WAR OF HARRY FRIGG somehow doesn’t get mentioned much.  Yes, there’s stereotypes of Germans and Italians and even the Americans get treated as fools, but this was a comedy, right?  I laughed through most of it.  Escape from the SS in less than five hours was terrifically done.

BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID.  The planets were aligned with the making of this one.  The Bert Bachurach score, the use of old photographs, actually new but made to look old, the immediate chemistry of Newman and Redford and this movie did make them icons.  George Roy Hill solidly directed.  My favorite Western and yes I know THE SEARCHERS, HIGH NOON, FORT APACHE, (Well, actually that’s a favorite too).  But why compare movies?  This one delivers and is a masterpiece.

Paul Newman’s SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION, based on a book by Ken Kesey and co-starred the iconic Henry Fonda, does have one of the most depressing scenes i’ve ever seen.  It’s the scene where his brother, played by Richard Jaeckel, is trapped by a tree and is underwater.  Newman tries to save to save and all he can do is watch his brother drown.  Lee Remick is also in this in.  It’s a good film but tough.

John Huston’s THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN and THE MACINTOSH MAN.  Strangely, Huston and Newman came up with confused efforts, the first of Western where Newman kills an awful lot in the beginning and the second a cold war thriller with one of the most abrupt murder endings in history.  There is some off beat humor in both, but still what were they thinking?  Huston would get back on track shortly thereafter with THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING.

George Roy Hill’s THE STING.  This period revenge drama swept the Oscars in 1973.  Newman and Redford teamed up for the second and last time.  The marker was Robert Shaw.  Excellent minor character and great plot.  The team played off well with each other. Redford’s career at this stage actually eclipse Newman’s for awhile but they did remain friends.  This movie reintroduced the haunting piano compositions of Scott Joplin.

THE TOWERING INFERNO.  This all star 1974 epic adventure teamed up Newman with Steve McQueen and yes, this is the one where O.J. Simpson saves a kitty.  One best enjoyed if not taken too seriously.

THE DROWNING POOL.  Though a bit routine, this was a popular whodunit Southern style that co-starred his wife Joanne Woodward.  Newman as Lew Harper, why ask for more?

Mel Brooks’s SILENT MONEY Newman does a nice camero in a wheel chair.

George Roy Hill’s SLAP SHOT.  Newman in a very funny hockey movie.

Sidney Pollack’s ABSENCE OF MALICE This one co-stars Sally Field in a strong drama how wrong headed journalism can destroy somebody’s life.

Sidney Lumet’s THE VERDICT.  One of Newman’s very best, superlative legal drame.  Strong support by James Mason and Charlotte Rampling.

Paul Newman’s HARRY & SON.  I consider this as one of Newman’s best efforts as a director.  His son was played by Robert Benton.

Martin Scorsese’s THE COLOR OF MONEY He’s Fast Eddie Falcon again and this time was a protege by the name of Tom Cruise.  There’s always discussion where he should have won an Oscar, but he’s excellent here in his only movie with Scorsese.

Joel Coen’s THE HUDSUCKER PROXY.  This 1994 Coen Brothers effort has Newman supporting Tim Robbins and Jennifer Jason Leigh.pays reference to screwball directors such as Capra, Sturges and even throws a little Spielberg (E.T. style).  Very funny and over the top.  Robbins invents the hula loop and the infomercial among other things.  Newman is his antagonist in one of his funniest roles.

Sam Mendes’ THE ROAD TO PERDITION.  Newman as aging Irish Mafia boss.  I believe him.  He stole every scene he was in with Tom Hanks.

There are many films I left out as I haven’t seen them all. I have seen others but enough’s enough. I loved his creating NEWMAN’S OWN salad dressing and popcorn and his OUT OF THE WALL GANG.  He not only talked the talk; he walked the walk in providing free camps to disadvantaged youth.  Perhaps this is what Paul really should be remembered for.

American culture lost a true hero but at least he left plenty for us to enjoy.  What a way to go!!!!!!




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