Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Top Ten Paul Newman Anti Heroes

Paul Newman was truly one of the greats. Although gifted with classic wholesome good looks and his famous blue eyes, he didn't settle for classic parts, instead choosing challenging roles of conflicted characters, at odds with themselves. If anti hero films were a genre of their own, Newman would be one it's patron saints. He preferred films and characters with a message, or sometimes just a question. Few actors have had the staying power of Newman, whose career lasted from 1952 to 2006. His consistency is well demonstrated by his 1986 return to the Fast Eddie character, he had created in 1961, finally winning a long deserved Oscar. In all that time, his acting never lost it's power and his presence could make even a bad movie watchable. In movies like the Road to Perdition, his relatively small part made a good movie great. This list has many omissions as I could choose ten and keep it a top ten list. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments, as I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Outside of the movies, he seemed a much nicer person than his characters, becoming as well known for as philanthropy as he ever was for his acting. Who knows, maybe all those parts taught him something. But we'll certainly never see another like him. Rest in Piece Paul Newman, "The King of Cool."

10)Brick Pollitt, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Brick Pollitt loves his alcohol, but has no physical interest in his lovely and desiring wife. He's the golden boy of his family, for his skill at high school football and certainly favored by his father "Big Daddy" over his brother Gooper, who has lived his life by the book, getting a good job and raising a family. They all gather for Big Daddy's birthday and attempt to hide a terminal diagnosis recently given by Big Daddy's doctor. The tension of everyone being together is heightened by concern over inheritance. Brick however, doesn't care about much except trying to drink his demons away, most of them concerning the loss of his best friend, a guy named Skipper, who was likely more a lover than a friend, and whose death Brick feels guilty for. Everyone knows that Brick isn't sleeping with Maggie, and the gathering is a perfect chance to pry. Once they set him off, he also reveals the truth about Skipper, and the truth about Big Daddy's condition, leaving everyone with pieces to pick up.

9)Ben Quick, The Long Hot Summer

Powerful town figure Will Varner (Orson Welles) has a problem, he'd like to have a grandchild before he dies. Not thrilled with the prospect of either of his not very masculine son's producing offspring, he decides to pair up his daughter Clara (Joanne Woodward) with the shady, driven and hyper masculine Ben Quick, a natural con man and suspected criminal, just drifting through, who sees the well off Will Varner as a great profit opportunity, taking a job under Will with the intention of turning it into more. Will quickly sees Ben as more capable of handling the family business than his own sons, which sets up some serious conflict. Clara doesn't like being thought of as property, which sets up a different kind of conflict as Ben is determined to get what he wants. His only real obstacle is that Clara is a lot stronger than he anticipates, and to get what he wants he ends up giving up a little more than he thought he would.

8)Lew Harper, Harper

Lew Harper is a PI out of the Sam Spade school with some contemporary touches. Hired to find Mrs. Sampson's (Lauren Bacall) missing husband, he has to fight and quip his way through a practical carnival of characters, including an armed lawyer, a fading entertainer, a jazz singer, a guru scam artist, and all sorts of thugs, finding more mysteries than he started with. Harper doesn't trust anyone and isn't hung up on pride or principles. he just wants to make a buck. He's not above fishing coffee grounds from the trash to make his morning coffee or making prank calls to amuse himself. He devastates everyone he runs into verbally, while snapping chewing gum. The real question we arrive at is does he care about solving the case more than making a buck, believing as he does that  "The bottom is loaded with nice people, Albert. Only cream and bastards rise." You can bet that Harper doesn't plan to hang out on the bottom for too long.

7)The Sting, Henry Gondorff

When Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and his associates con a bagman out of the money he's carrying, the man's boss wants revenge, killing one of them and sending Hooker on the run. Luckily the dead man's old friend, Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) is willing to help settle the score with a con game of a much larger scale. Gondorff has all the angles covered, and it's nothing but fun watching Newman and Redford working together. Full of twists and turns, this one will keep you riveted until the end, hoping they can pull it off.

6)Michael Gallagher, Absence of Malice

Michael Gallagher (Paul Newman) is a businessman whose father was a powerful crime figure. When a prosecutor can't make any headway on a certain murder case, he figures that "leaking" information that Gallagher is suspected of involvement will flush out some information. This is only possible with the cooperation of ambitious young reporter, Megan Carter (Sally Field) The story has serious consequences for Gallagher, even costing him the life someone he loves. Megan's story, although false is protected due to "Absence of Malice" Rather than assist in the investigation, Gallagher sets out to even the score in his own way, which is made easier by everyone underestimating his intelligence. A brilliant performance that makes you reevaluate who the good guys are sometimes.

5)John Russell, Hombre

John Russell was raised by the Apache, and considers himself one of them. When his stepfather dies and leaves him a boarding house, he decides to sell it and head to Arizona. This puts the boarding house manager, Jessie, (Diane Cilento) out of work, leading John and Jessie to take the same stage coach. They're joined by Alex and Audra Favor, a well to do couple who profit from shorting the Apache's food shipments, and Cicero (Richard Boone) a thug who forces his way onto the stagecoach in order to set up a robbery. Hearing of Russell's Apache ties, Audra asks that Russell ride on top of the coach rather than share their space. She is taken by the band of robbers afterwards although Russell holds off the robbers enough to keep the money and water, which the robbers become desperate for, intertwining the two groups. Russell has no love for any of them, seeing the affair as a coldly practical matter of survival. He ends up their only chance at survival and luckily for them, he's willing to save them even if they don't deserve it.

4)Butch Cassidy, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford) are great friends a partners in robbery. Set in the Wild West, the two live by their wits, Butch being the brains, Sundance, the sharpshooter. After a train robbery goes wrong, they're pursued by a relentless posse, and they decide to head to Bolivia. This doesn't stop their robbing habits however (after a brief attempt at going straight.) They soon end up pursued by not only the Bolivian police but the military as well. Based on actual events, it's an interesting film in that the ending is grimmer than the actual story, which leaves open the possibility that Butch and SUndance got away and lived in hiding for many years. While, it's a fun and solid story, it's the chemistry and energy between Newman and Redford (and Katherine Ross, playing Sundance's girlfriend Etta Place) that make this movie brilliant.

3)Fast Eddie Felson, The Hustler

Fast Eddie is a very skilled poo hustler, who makes his living taking money from unsuspecting pool players. Those stakes aren't enough for him and he works his way up to playing with big time hustlers, the best of them is Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) who of course becomes Eddie's target. Eddie is ruthless, ambitious and quite self destructive and he finds a kindred spirit in Sarah (Piper Laurie) who becomes very important to him when his thumbs are broken. That isn't the end of the journey however, but certainly informs it as he approaches Fats again, changed by his experiences, although it's still quite possible that he can win and lose at the same time. Watching Newman's Fast Eddie is interesting in that this is not a character you cheer for as much as a train wreck that you hope comes off with as little damage as possible.

2)Hud Bannon, HUD

Hud Bannon is the surviving son of Homer Bannon, (Melvyn Douglas) an old school rancher, who values family and morals, far more than profit. Hud is Homer's opposite, thumbing his nose at conventional morality, by habitually sleeping with married women, and urging Homer to look out for himself, when an epidemic hits their cattle. Hud is also looked up to by his nephew Lon, (Brandon De Wilde)  a wet behind the ears young man who hs been raised by Homer. Lon finds Hud's selfish, thrill seeking lifestyle intriguing, but he also feels loyalty to Homer's homespun values, although Homer has his own flaws. Despite his seemingly simple amorality, Hud is a complex character, with deep motivations, guilt and disappointments. Despite his charm, he doesn't always get what he wants either, thanks to Alma (Patricia Neal) the Bannon's housekeeper, and eventually "the one who got away." A deep and beautiful movie about Lon's choice, and the changing of patriarchs to match the times.

1)Luke, Cool Hand Luke

Luke is the ultimate non conformist and a man with no goals other than to not buy what society sells him just because it's offered. Sent to a prison work camp for the bizarre offense of beheading parking meters, he finds himself up against unrelenting authority in the form of the ruthless Captain (Strother Martin) and the sinister Man in the sunglasses. His fellow inmates don't appreciate Luke's antics at first, things coming to a head when Dragline (George Kennedy) calls him out to a fight. Luke can't land a good head, but refuses to back down despite the sound beating, winning the respect of all the prisoners who grow to idolize Luke. Luke however, is no match for the brutality of the authority. Although he escapes, he's caught and violently broken, which his admirers can't understand as it shatters their vicarious hopes. In the end, Luke just wants to be left alone, and comes to realize that this will have the heaviest of consequences. Whether he wins or loses is an existential question, but Dragline's account (falsified) of his last stand tells the real story "He was smiling... That's right. You know, that, that Luke smile of his. He had it on his face right to the very end. Hell, if they didn't know it 'fore, they could tell right then that they weren't a-gonna beat him. That old Luke smile. Oh, Luke. He was some boy. Cool Hand Luke. Hell, he's a natural-born world-shaker." In my opinion, Paul Newman's best, and beyond that one of the best performances in the movies.


Dave said...

Brilliant list. I would have slapped you silly if you didn't list Cool Hand Luke as number one. :-)

I miss this guy, man.

INDBrent said...

Lol. Thanks Dave. If I hadn't listed luke as number one, I'd gladly take a beating Luke style. Yeah. I know. He was really something else!

BRENT said...

Ah!!..such a great list! There are several I haven't seen, but your opening line to the post sums up Newman perfectly. He was one of the greats and it is a constant wonder that he was awaded only one Oscar and that late in his career and for one of his lesser roles. It felt like a sop to me. you know, 'sorry Paul it has taken so long, but here you are.
It is interesting to compare the recent death of Liz Taylor is Newman's. Taylor went off the boil as an actor years ago and couldn't stay out of the tabloids, whereas New was great right up until his deatha nd was agreat guy out of movies. He for me is by far the greater loss of the two.
And you are absolutely right, we will never see another like him.

INDBrent said...

Thanks Brent! Yeah, he had many Oscar worthy performances, I think his win for the Color of Money, was more like "He's not going to go away until he gets one." And yes, Newman continued acting for a long time, so he left a lot to make us miss him!

BRENT said...

Ha ha ha!! I suppose that is one way to look at it. Newman getting the Oscar for Money reminds me of Bogart getting his for African Queen .It was late in his career and I'm not conviced it was his best role.
And look who he was up against! Marlon Brando in Steertcar Named Desire. I mean was there ever an actor who was robbed of an Oscar? I love Bogie but I'm afraid Brando eats him as an actor as does Newman. I just think at times actors get Oscars that aren't for their best performances which is one of the flaws of awards.
But at he end of the day at least Newman did get finally acknowledged as he deserved at least on or two more!!

INDBrent said...

good points. I think in the end the real prize is the fact that so many people still know and love the movies. It's great when they get the Oscars, but that's only partly about the quality of the work. you can't cancel out the influences of the day.

BRENT said...

What a pity more people haven't left comments. I was hoping some good stuff would crop concerning Newman. Oh well...
Just wanted to ask since this is a Newman post if you have seen him in Exodus? Is it any good? I have read the book three times since I was seventeen and it remains a firm favorite. I didn't realise it had been made into a film even less that Newman starred. Just want someone's take on it. Ambitious book to make a film from.
Do you like Newman in
left Handed Gun?? I watched it before Hombre and liked it. I was impressed with Hombre even more because of Gun. Both were made almost ten years apart and it is plain to see how far Newman had deveploped as an actor. Experience is everything and it showed in Hombre.

INDBrent said...

Hi Brent,

Exodus is a good watch although it is very dated mostly due to it's subject matter. Newman is certainly good in it. The Left Handed gun is fun too, I'll watch any Billy the Kid movie though! I see what you mean about the experience showing, he definitely added to his skills pretty quickly.

BRENT said...

Thanks for that! The book hasn't dated even though it was written in1958. I think cinema dates quicker than the written word because it is visual. Look at the horrors of twenty years ago that scared you silly and now look pathetic! Problem now is that I'm reaching the stage where if I want to see a particular film I have to buy it and the funds just don't stretch that far!
Will just have to win the lottery! If I did it would be a huge TV and surround sound for this Kiwi!!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the clips. Newman was one of the best actors ever and I'm always blown away by his performances.

INDBrent said...

Thanks Melissa! I quite agree!

Anonymous said...

There are so many great Paul Newman anti hero performances it must have been difficult to narrow your list down to 10 Brent.
I'm not going to argue with Cool Hand Luke as number one though, definitely one of my all-time favourites.

FilmMattic said...

Paul Newman is easily one of my favorite actors and this awesome friggen list illustrates just why.

Oh by the way, I LOVE the video you used for The Sting. When I first watched Newman in that scene, I was enthralled by his subtle facial maneuvers and decisions. It was at that precise point that I realized this guy's talent was of another world entirely!

INDBrent said...

Thanks Matthew! I was pleased with that video too. I was just reading an interview with Sidney Lumet, who was saying that Newman was so great in his early leading man roles, that they only ever used about a quarter of his talent and he blew everybody away.

Mandy said...

If anti hero films were a genre of their own, Newman would be one it's patron saints. <-- I love that quote!

What an awesome post! I just know I have seen most of these films over the years but I think the time has come to specifically revisit each one of them!

INDBrent said...

Thanks Emm! That's the thing about Newman, his performances were timeless and solid enough that no matter how many times you watch they don't fade!

BRENT said...

I watched The Hustler for the very first time two nights. Brilliant stuff!! Newman is just electric as Felso. The scene between him and Fats is superb.
Just an outstanding film in every way, and believe me it was a very fresh breath of fresh air considering some of the atrocities I've watched recently. People can't elieve how much I hate Super 8. It is pure garbage.
The Hustler is brilliant and you are right Felso isn't a character you can cheer for but you find yourself on his side all the same. A truley great Newman performance.

Anonymous said...

"The Verdict," the antithesis of selflessness.

Anonymous said...

C'est moi (anonymous), MAEM

INDBrent said...

Hi M.! Nice to see you here and thanks for commenting. I completely agree with you. The Verdict is really one of the most powerful films there is. Newman was brilliant, as was Lumet. Truly a great match and one for the ages. I'd certainly include it in Newman's top ten roles, but didn't think it fit in with this group quite as well.