Paul Newman is a great actor–or perhaps it’s just enough to say that he is an actor. He’s got range, and it covers roles from the despicably compelling Hud to the sharply comedic like, ok, I’ll say it, Reggie Dunlap in Slap Shot. Beyond that, he’s just likable. He doesn’t have any “Bosom Buddies” skeletons in his closets. He races cars! (Whom among us does not enjoy Nascar?) So I would have been surprised to say that he had any real stinker roles. But, oh boy!
Everyone knows that I’m a great apologist for the 70s. Especially in music and film (with quick caveats, of course, for Spielberg and Lucas), if not so much in tweed jackets and platform shoes. But even in the glory days of 70s cinema***, for every Alice doesn’t live here anymore, there were ten Xanadus. (Just kidding, that was 1980.)
OK, you don’t see where I’m going, so I will spill the beans. It’s disaster movies, folks. And we’ve been doing a mini festival here at the 59th St Cinema. It started with the giant all-star cast in Airport. The unintentionally funny scenes are all the more hilarious when you realize how many of them were lifted verbatim in Airport! Just think, Dean Martin as a jumbo jet pilot! That’s funny enough in itself to carry a movie. This opening salvo in the airplane disaster onslaught is quite entertaining. By Airport ’75 (released in ’74), the humorous impact has been “somewhat dissipated.” So, we took a break and turned to the not-unintentionally not-hilarious …TOWERING INFERNO…. Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Wagner, the Juice. What’s not to like? Well, not only is the movie beyond stupid (again, in a very not-funny way), Newman actually stinks! It’s shocking to watch, and maybe throwing the performance was his form of protest. But, wow!
1947’s Crossfire surprised me for its subject matter, anti-Semitism. The movie seemed ahead of its time; although to be honest anti-Semitism is used more as a plot device than explored in its own right. A recently discharged soldier murders a man simply because he is a Jew. A manhunt ensues. Another soldier, Robert Mitchum, and detective “Father Knows Best” Robert Young unwrap the details of the ugly hate crime. It’s an interesting treatment. The McCarthy hearings were still a few years away, but the movie seems brave. That is, until you find out that Richard Brooks’ novel, “The Brick Foxhole” was about homophobia instead.
***Here’s the 1974 Oscar list for best director:
Ingmar Bergman, Cries and Whispers
Bernardo Bertolucci, Last Tango in Paris
William Friedkin, The Exorcist
George Roy Hill, The Sting
George Lucas, American Graffiti
Maybe I was on to something.