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The Reelist: Paul Newman, 1925 - 2008

We remember Paul Newman and his blue, blue eyes with a smattering of flicks that reveal his multi-faceted talents.

He was an icon of the movies, a humanist in his personal life, and he will be dearly missed. We remember Paul Newman and his blue, blue eyes with a smattering of flicks that reveal his multi-faceted talents.


The Long Hot Summer

Dir. Martin Ritt (1958)

Ah, Newman in his ingenue years, where he easily took the title of most beautiful man in film (which he continued to be, in some form, for the next fifty years). In Summer, based on William Faulkner's work, but with the air of a Tennessee Williams adaptation (perhaps due to coming a year after Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Newman is a mysterious stranger who explodes into town and disrupts a family that includes patriarch Orson Welles and daughter Joanne Woodward. It's a sweaty, sexy film, and the start of Newman and Woodward's relationship in cinema, one that would last through Empire Falls.


Sometimes a Great Notion

Dir. Paul Newman (1971)

Though Newman is known as an actor, a philanthropist, a race car driver, and a family man, most forget about Paul Newman, the director. Based on Ken Kesey's nuanced novel about the history of unions in the Oregon logging trade, the film was also a heated family drama. Trivia buffs remember that Sometimes a Great Notion was the first feature shown on HBO when it debuted in 1972. Other examples of Newman at the helm include Rachel, Rachel (nominated for Best Picture), The Glass Menagerie, Harry & Son, and a TV adaptation of The Shadow Box


Pocket Money

Dir. Stuart Rosenberg (1972)

Pocket Money is an interesting curio in Newman's career. Made several years after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, this film is also a buddy comedy, but one featuring two bumbling, stupid cowboys (Newman and Lee Marvin) in the West as scripted by a young Terrence Malick. Eccentricity abounds and Newman proves that he can play dumb as well as he can play a cocky, sexy-as-hell s.o.b.—always with a core of affable, witty likability.


Slap Shot

Dir. George Roy Hill (1977)

In one of his favorite roles, Newman shows off his leadership skills as Reg Dunlop, the aging player-turned-coach of a minor league hockey team on the brink. In a desperate attempt to draw crowds—and thus bloody up the game—the Chiefs' general manager Strother Martin has a three-word plan: The Hanson Brothers. The principled Dunlop is appalled by the Hansons' goonish tactics, but his hands are tied. Violence sells, and unbridled vulgarity and mayhem ensue, leading to Slap Shot's reputation as the "Best Guy* Movie Of All Time," according to Maxim. (*Oscar-winning screenwriter Nancy Dowd—decidedly not a guy—wrote the film.)


Mr. & Mrs. Bridge

Dir. James Ivory (1990)

50 years is an accomplishment in any marriage, but in notoriously catty Hollywood, it's nigh-to-a-miracle. Newman's lifelong connection with Joanne Woodward (about whom he famously quipped, "Why go out for hamburger when you have steak at home?") was certainly a match to admire and emulate; whether it was how Newman directed Woodward to Oscar nominations and critical acclaim in Rachel, Rachel and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, or how they acted wonderfully together (both receiving Oscar noms) in James Ivory's adaptation of Evan S. Connell novels about an upper crust family in 1930s Kansas City.


Nobody's Fool

Nobody's Fool

Dir. Robert Benton (1995)

As "Sully" Sullivan in this adaptation of Richard Russo's gem of a novel (Benton was Oscar-nommed for his adapted screenplay), Newman handily makes even this crotchety old coot sexy. Surrounded by an all-star cast—Bruce Willis, Jessica Tandy, Philip Seymour Hoffman in an early role—the rascal Sully sparkles with dry wit and Yankee small-town pragmatism. He's randy, too, making a play for his daughter-in-law, a still-sexy Melanie Griffith. The film marks Newman's last nomination for Best Actor (his nom for Road to Perdition was as Supporting Actor).

In this case, we'll leave the last words to Roger Ebert, who, in his 1995 review of Fool, described Newman's appeal thusly: "I have been watching Paul Newman in movies all of my life. He is so much a part of the landscape of modern American film that sometimes he is almost invisible: He does what he does with simplicity, grace and a minimum of fuss, and so I wonder if people even realize what a fine actor he is. We remember the characters instead..."


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