A Two-Decade Paul Newman Retrospective...
Reviewed in the United States on 1 December 2007
Paul Newman may be the quintessential film star of the past half century; his career mirrors both the highs and lows of the industry, from the end of the 'studio' system to the 'artist'-driven era that continues, to some extent, to this day, and "The Paul Newman Collection", while lacking legendary titles like "Cool Hand Luke" or "Hud", does include some VERY credible performances!
"Somebody Up There Likes Me" (1956), the earliest of the collection, is also one of the best. After the fiasco of Newman's film debut, "The Silver Chalice", he left Hollywood for Broadway, but when James Dean died prior to production of this film, Newman was tapped to play Rocky Graziano, and with first-class talent on both sides of the camera (Robert Wise directed), a warm, funny, and ultimately inspiring boxing classic was created. Note Pier Angeli's excellent portrayal as Rocky's wife (certainly an inspiration for 'Adrian' in Stallone's "Rocky"), watch for Steve McQueen's unbilled appearance as a young hood, and try to ignore the sappy theme song, and you'll love this film! (5 stars out of 5)
"The Left-Handed Gun" (1958), Arthur Penn's film directorial debut, is a retelling of the 'Billy the Kid' legend, with the 33-year old Newman a bit 'long in the tooth' as the teen-aged gunfighter. The approach is original, suggesting Billy was more a confused, isolated kid searching for meaning and older authority figures he could believe in, and ultimately becoming a victim of circumstance and his own reputation. Low-budget, but effective, Penn lingers on brooding shots of Newman, and you may see why so many early critics compared him, physically, to Marlon Brando. (3 1/2 stars)
"The Young Philadelphians" (1959), Newman's last film under his initial Warner Brothers contract, offers one of his best early performances. A slickly entertaining drama of a rising young lawyer with a society 'name' and a family secret, director Vincent Sherman plays up the 'white collar/blue collar' conflict in his life, while introducing a top-notch supporting cast, including Brian Keith, Barbara Rush, Alexis Smith, and Oscar-nominated Robert Vaughn. Long, but NEVER dull! (4 1/2 stars)
"Harper" (1966), offers Newman at the top of his form, in this entertaining update of the 'Film Noir' detective film. Down on his luck, but still a man of ethics, Newman tackles a simple case that turns complex, with an A-list group of suspects, including Lauren Bacall, Shelley Winters, Julie Harris, Robert Wagner, and Arthur Hill. Watch for a wonderful turn by Janet Leigh as his soon-to-be-ex-wife, and savor director Jack Smight's colorful homage to classics like "The Big Sleep". (5 stars)
"Pocket Money" (1972), is more a testament to the confusion both Newman and the studios felt over the era's changing public tastes, than a great piece of filmmaking. An off-beat comedy about dim-bulb cowboy Newman and seedy promoter Lee Marvin buying cattle in Mexico, the pace is so laid-back that the story seems to drift, unsure of which direction to take. There are some funny moments, but you may end up scratching your head by the end. (2 stars)
"The MacKintosh Man" (1973), directed by John Huston, is certainly a lesser effort by both director and star, but still quite watchable. A gritty spy drama of agent Newman investigating a 'leak' in British Intelligence, Huston plays up locales in Monte Carlo and his adopted home of Ireland, offers warmly engaging James Mason and Ian Bannen as suspects, and gives audiences a chance to hear Newman attempt an Australian accent! Forget Dominique Sanda's inept performance as spy chief Harry Andrews' daughter, and you might enjoy it! (3 stars)
"The Drowning Pool" (1975), Newman's reprise of his "Harper" character, is a far less successful film than the original; New Orleans doesn't 'suit' Newman's detective persona as well as L.A., and the characters, while off-beat, lack charm. There are 'pluses', however; Joanne Woodward is always watchable, especially playing with her real-life husband, and Melanie Griffith, in the 'nymphet' stage of her career, has some sexy moments. The finale is tense and claustrophobic, and makes up for some of the earlier lack of suspense, but, all in all, the film is routine, at best. (2 1/2 stars)
A mixed bag, to be sure, but Paul Newman is always worth watching!