Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman, 1925-2008

Paul Newman, one of the last of the old-school movie stars, has died of cancer.

The thing that always interested me about Newman was how he essentially had two careers: everything before "Slap Shot," and everything after. The pre-"Slap Shot" Newman was, for the most part, stoic, cool and (as even Newman would later admit) content to get by on his chiseled features and those legendary baby blues. But by the time he starred in "Slap Shot," a shockingly profane, hilarious comedy about a minor league hockey team that succeeds through goonery, he was already into his 50s. And though he always looked good enough to play 10-15 years younger, he didn't want to coast on his looks anymore. If anything, his career of the last 30 years was built on anti-vanity, allowing Newman to look as bad and crass and un-star-like as possible. This was a much more relaxed Newman, and a much more compelling one.

"Slap Shot" is an all-timer, and "The Color of Money" got him an overdue Oscar, but for me the peak of this later period was 1994's "Nobody's Fool," with Newman as an aging construction worker named Sully who had spent his entire life running from responsibility, but being too lazy to run very far. It's a small movie (very little happens in it), but a very funny and, at times, moving one. And by then, Newman's talent and charisma were so powerful that he was able to elevate the work of everyone around him. Bruce Willis (who took an uncredited supporting role just to work with the old man) has rarely been better; Melanie Griffith has certainly never been better. (It's a movie that makes you think she could act.)

So whether you grew up with Newman movies or simply know him as the guy with the popcorn and salad dressing business, you will get an awful lot of entertainment out of seeing either of those films -- or "The Verdict," or "Cool Hand Luke," or "The Hustler," or "Twilight," or "Blaze," or...

42 comments:

dave s said...

or The Sting or Butch Cassidy or...

We'll miss you, Mr. Newman.

Kari said...

"Nobody's Fool," yes, yes, yes.

Anonymous said...

As much as I like "Cool Hand Luke" and "The Verdict", I don't think I've ever been as moved by a Newman performance as I was with his work in "Road To Perdition".

LA said...

He was great in Nobody's Fool, and surprisingly, it seems like not that many people have seen it.

I loved him in The Sting, of course, and I just put Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in my Netflix queue.

For me, the greatest things about Paul Newman were his humility and philanthropy. May this wonderful man rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

Nobody's Fool is a very good movie. My wife really loves it, so I tried to find it for her on DVD 6 or 7 years ago. I was surprised to find that it wasn't out on DVD at the time even though it was 7 or 8 years old.

I also loved Newman in Absence of Malice.

Karen said...

A one-man argument for class and social justice in Hollywood. Not to mention monogamy.

It's always interesting to me to see what movies people cite when they talk about Newman. I don't know that I would completely break his career into pre- and post-"Slap Shot," though. Yes, he coasted through clinkers like Rally Round the Flag, Boys! and silly-but-stupid flings like What a Way to Go! and general wastes of his and the audiences' time like Torn Curtain.

But a lot of those early films couldn't hide his actual talent underneath all that beauty. The potboiler From the Terrace comes alive with the performances of Newman and Woodward. And Hud and Cool Hand Luke and Sweet Bird of Youth (the last of which gives the more superficial among us the gift of a shirtless Newman doing crunches on an incline board) are list from within with his skill and emotional truth. Neither stoci nor cool in most of these, he BURNED.

I would also hate to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting relegated to some less important segment of his career.

An extraordinary man, with a life well-lived. We should all be so lucky, no matter what our jobs or appearance may be.

Bobman said...

One of my all-time favorites, both because of his acting and because he was obviously such a good person and did so much for the world, never content to just sit on his laurels with his success.

A model of what a man should be. RIP Mr Newman.

Eric said...

Perhaps not one of his best roles, but I just want to put in a mention of his final role, Doc Hudson in Cars. Since I've seen it oh, 30 times in the past couple of years, and his voice is spot on.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Since I've seen it oh, 30 times in the past couple of years

I'm guessing you have small children at home, right?

Joe R said...

Thanks for mentioning Nobody's Fool. Mr. Newman was perfect as Sully in a great movie of a great book.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I would also hate to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting relegated to some less important segment of his career.

It's not a less important segment, just a different one. "Cool Hand Luke" is pretty amazing. Ditto "The Hustler" and a bunch of other movies from his younger period.

Anonymous said...

Hud, Hustler, Cool Hand Luke...I don't care how "pretty" the guy was, those are all-time classics. Great actor and, as you wrote, movie star, who will be missed...

Andrew said...

As much as I love "Slap Shot", I'm more inclined to credit The Verdict as the film that separated his early period and later period. While he was in his 50s during "Slap Shot", he didn't really seem to be playing that age, and he certainly didn't look that old. "The Verdict", is for me, the first film where he seemed to acknowledge his age in a noticeable way.

With that out of the way, when something like this happens, I always look for a film to praise that many others probably dislike. So I feel compelled to highlight a couple of underappreciated high profile Western collaborations he did in the 70s, "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" with John Huston and "Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson" with Robert Altman, both very fine films.

Jim said...

The Verdict is my favorite Newman performance. I've never seen Nobody's Fool, but I'll check it out. It's a Richard Russo story, isn't it? I really like Newman in Empire Falls, too

Alan Sepinwall said...

While he was in his 50s during "Slap Shot", he didn't really seem to be playing that age, and he certainly didn't look that old.

He may not have looked that old, but he didn't look young, either, and he sure didn't look as movie-star handsome. I always think of that long sequence where Reg can't take a nap because people keep calling him. It's a good five minutes of Paul Newman pacing around in boxers, black socks and an undershirt. As Roger Ebert liked to say when comparing Newman to Marlon Brando, both were famous for looking great in an undershirt, but here he just looked scrawny and tired and past his prime, and it's to Newman's credit that he let himself be seen that way, I think.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It's a Richard Russo story, isn't it? I really like Newman in Empire Falls, too

Yes, based on a Russo book, and it's quite a bit better than the HBO version of Empire Falls (though Empire Falls is a better book than Nobody's Fool). Russo essentially writes variations on the same story over and over, so think of Max Roby from Empire Falls as an older, (slightly) shadier version of Sully from Nobody's Fool.

Andrew said...

One more thing, since it's inevitable that you have to address a legend's final performance, Empire Falls now carries that distinction. It's an imperfect miniseries that probably doesn't justify its length. Newman's role is mostly comedic, which he does quite easily, but there is a single line that he plays dead seriously that really does pack a wallup.

cgeye said...

Now, I understand the need to put his body of work in context, but dissing What a Way to Go!, well, diss that and you stand on the fightin' side of me.

I *love* that movie, and Somebody Up There Likes Me, and Exodus, and the big cheesy flicks he made credible because he knew to bring the humor, and not strain too hard. The Verdict was the beginning of his later period for me -- it's one thing to make your fans go 'ooh, he's now got a potty mouth', and another to make them cry because you bring them as low, and has high, as your character goes.

Hitting Charlotte Rampling.
And letting us know what that cost him. That's proof enough for me, folks.

As for the lifetime achievement/humanitarian Oscar that people usually grasp whilst a toe knuckle's in the grave, Newman, cause of his massive coolness and compassion, earned that in *1972*. Clooney, Pitt, Damon, DiCaprio: Try living nearly 40 years of your life after you've cemented your life as an actor and humanitarian, wondering how you'll top it.

Newman didn't have to wonder; he did it, and with style.

God be with you, sir.

cgeye said...

My bad -- Newman won it in 1993/4.

But still.

cgeye said...

And Karen, monogamy, not so much, if only one marriage is the measure of it, which it probably isn't in these serial monogamatic times.

Lane said...

anyone else beside me like "The Hudsucker Proxy"?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Newman's TV career

mjryan said...

I watched Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin roof about two months ago. Wow. Not only are he and Elizabeth Taylor possibly the two most beautiful people ever photographed in Technicolor, his performance is amazing. I also enjoyed him in Hitchcock's Torn Curtain. The scene where he kills a man with his bare hands was visceral and disturbing. I know that TCM will have a retrospective of his movies - they always do when a star dies - I just hope they're able to secure rights to a broad range of his movies.

Stef said...

I just added several more of his classics to my queue. He will be missed, both for his talent and his admirable philanthropy.

David J. Loehr said...

There are a lot of Newman films to choose from on my shelf tonight--and a fair number of food products in the kitchen--but I think I'm going to settle in with the PBS dvd of Our Town, recorded from the Broadway run of the Westport County Playhouse production. Seems like a fitting elegy to me.

Maura said...

And Karen, monogamy, not so much, if only one marriage is the measure of it, which it probably isn't in these serial monogamatic times.

Semantics. He was married to Joanne Woodward for 50 years.

I had heard recently that he was close to dying. It didn't make it any less shocking when I heard the news.

He was the best.

M.Chavez said...

I'm sorry, but I consider it a crime that one of his movies, "Sometimes a Great Notion" is rarely if ever discussed anymore. It is just a perfect 70's film - adapted from Ken Kesey's book. Not only did he star in it with Henry Fonda, Lee Remick, Richard Jaekel and others, but he directed as well. For whatever contractual reason, rights to this film are f'ed up enough that you can only get it as poor vhs tape dubs to dvd.

It is one of those movies that leaves scenes burned into your brain. Any of you that have watched know what I'm talking about.

imdb

one of those scenes

Alan I would love it if you ever get a chance to watch the movie in full to one day comment on it.

Mr. Newman, RIP. You will be missed.

Karen said...

cgeye, no need to stand on fightin' sides. I confess my silly-but-enjoyable/stupid-but-enjoyable came out inwittingly as silly-but-stupid. I LOVE What a Way to Go!, believe me, and have seen it more times than I can say. I have even made others watch it.

That being said, I don't think it can really stand up, performance intensity-wise, to films like Cool Hand Luke, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, etc. I mean, seriously. Much as I love the Sirk-tastic episode with Robert Mitchum, especially it's more fun than, um, significant.

No?

Masters of Humility said...

Thanks for the shout-out to NOBODY'S FOOL, a great movie with a great performance. With Newman giving perhaps one on the funniest reaction shots in the history of film after getting flashed by Melanie Griffith.

--Andy
MastersofHumility.com

Jennifer J. said...

I took my father to see Nobody's Fool in the theater; we both loved it. Thank you for mentioning it. It's such a small film and so often overlooked. Everyone should see it.

I just put a bunch of movies in my Netflix some to watch for the first time, others to watch again. We just finished watching Slap Shot on the DVR. That was a blast of a movie. Have Cars and can watch that, too. Waiting to see what TCM will have to offer and when.

My heart really goes out to his family and closest friends. I felt much the same way when I heard about Newman as I did for Hume Cronyn when I heard of Jessica Tandy's passing.

Toby said...

M.Chavez, not to ruin it for anyone else, but I'm sure you're talking about a scene with Newman and Richard Jaeckyl (sic?) as his brother? If so, that's been one of those scenes that have stayed with me for about thirty years.....

I was surprised to find that "Sometimes A Great Notion" wasn't mentioned in any of the other tributes I've been reading online.

Toby said...

And after posting the above, THEN I clicked on your link to "one of those scenes". Yeah, that's the one I was talking about...... wow.

M.Chavez said...

yeah, I know. I couldn't even finish watching it this last time.

gina said...

Just another "Hell yeah!" for Nobody's Fool. I think I fell in love with him when I saw that movie. Really.

Karen said...

Sorry, Alan. I was merely responding to this statement in your post:

The pre-"Slap Shot" Newman was, for the most part, stoic, cool and (as even Newman would later admit) content to get by on his chiseled features and those legendary baby blues.

Perhaps saying that that means you were referring to it as "less important" wasn't as accurate as it could have been, but it certainly sounded, to me at least, as dismissive of the very real, very passionate characters in a lot of those early films, especially in the 1960s.

Anonymous said...

I swear, I am so glad I am not the only fan of Nobody's Fool. Not one of my friends have seen it, no matter how much I praised it.

What a man, what a man. I'm reminded of what Alan said about Kevin Mckidd in Grey's Anatomy about "masculine energy", and that is what Paul Newman had in spades, whatever his role was.

I'm 47, probably a bit older than most of your readers, but I think we can all agree that Paul Newman appealed to all ages.

It really does feel like the end of an era to me, and my thoughts go out to his wife, 50 years of marriage in Hollywood? Amazing.

shara says said...

The ultimate Paul Newman movie for me will always be Nobody's Fool. Its one of my favorite movies ever, it never gets hold no matter how many times I see it. It really holds up well over time, and Paul Newman has never been better. My dad and I watch it together every Thanksgiving.

RIP Paul Newman. He was a gift to the world, we were all lucky that we got to watch his work for so many years. He was a gorgeous human being, a wonderful actor, and an admirable humanitarian. My mom likes to say that when a great tree falls in the forest, it leaves a gaping hole against the sky where it used to be. That's the best description I can imagine for a world without Paul Newman.

Dave said...

I am on the Nobody's Fool bandwagon...definitely a must-see for newbies and a must-own for the fans.

I'm surprised no one mentioned "The Young Philadelphians", one of his earlier worked. Tremendously emotional and entertaining.

Bow said...

cat on a hot tin roof!

Anonymous said...

I've been reading this blog for a while, but never post; mentioning Richard Russo is a sure way to get me to chime in. Alan, I usually agree with most of what you say, but Empire Falls is no way better than Nobody's Fool. Nobody's Fool is Russo at the height of his talents. A great book, a great movie. Paul Newman was a perfect Sully.

Hutch said...

"Nobody's Fool" is also one my favorites. I happened to buy it on DVD a few weeks ago, and sat down to watch it after learning of his passing. I'm from the 'real' Empire Falls (Waterville, Maine). When he was up here, everybody that met him, loved him. He donated to some local charities while he was here. He will be sadly missed. Great actor, better man.

joelkirstein said...

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on Linkedin.com - A Tribute To All Things Slap Shot! I'm inviting all Slap Shot fans to join us and put on the foil and none of that stinkin' root beer!
http://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=1203807&trk=anet_ug_hm