May 23, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 09 October 2008 13:22
He was, perhaps, the biggest movie star of his time, articulating the rage and hopes of a generation with a compelling sincerity and a wicked sense of humor. Along the way he created a collection of film portrayals as rich as any actor in memory. And, never satisfied that his chosen craft was enough, he ventured with great success into directing as well as the philanthropic work that has made a difference to millions.
At his core, Paul Newman was a brilliant actor, equally at home on stage and screen, and his work will always live. Here are a few of my favorite Newman moments:
Hud. No matter that this classic drama from 1963 is filmed in black-and-white; Newman’s blue eyes seem to pop off the screen. He is at his most engaging and tragic as the selfish son of a Texas rancher who can’t seem to stop using people. The actor beautifully conveys a deep anger that drives a man to hurt those closest to him with only a hint of remorse.
Cool Hand Luke. While the rage is intact, what distinguishes this fine portrayal from 1967 is Newman’s ability to inject a captivating irony into his work as a convict on a chain gang. Whether teasing prison officials, or trying to set a new record for eating hard-boiled eggs, Luke is an engaging man anyone who want to call a friend, despite his weaknesses.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. In these delightful comedies, from 1969 and 1973, Newman displays a fabulous sense of comedy in strikingly different characterizations. His Butch is somewhat scattered, always hopeful, rarely successful, while his skilled con man in the second film is endearingly focused and driven. In both movies, Newman is intensely likable, warm and unforgettable.
Absence of Malice. After a quiet period in his career, Newman returns to top form in 1981 in this excellent Sydney Pollack drama about a man pursued by an aggressive journalist. Suddenly Newman’s vulnerability is center stage in a compelling portrayal of a man who knows right and wrong but can’t seem to escape the aftermath of guilt by association.
The Verdict. A year later, in 1982, Newman offers what many consider his finest work as a highly vulnerable attorney who valiantly tries for one more successful moment in court. But his demons get the best of him and, in a daring revelation of the scars that can undermine a career, Newman teaches us all what can happen when ambition is controlled by addiction.
Nobody’s Fool. Few who followed Newman’s early career in films — and his excellent work in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Hustler — were prepared for him to accomplish so much later in his career. This captivating character study from director Robert Benton shows why we like this actor so much. His work as a lovable failure is filled with so much nuance that it takes repeated viewings to absorb everything he does.
Road to Perdition. In his farewell to feature films, Newman turns in one his best performances in a frightening portrayal of a man who celebrates evil. Those blue eyes, now projected on the color screen, are intensely mean in a multi-layered characterization of someone who will hurt anyone to protect himself.
There are so many Newman moments to savor, from film and from real life. In 1977, a young college student was talking on a pay telephone in the lower lobby of a Broadway theater just before curtain time. Entering the lobby was none other than Paul Newman who, in the days before cell phones, needed to make a call. He walked up to me, and asked, “Can I borrow the phone?” I smiled, quickly ended my call, and responded, “You are Paul Newman.” He winked, and smiled, and said to me, “Yes, I am.” And, thanks to the wonders of film, he will always be.
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