It’s been a while since I’ve updated the progress of our Chain Reaction Film Club, but it is still chugging away. As Tim and I have been busier we’ve become more reliant on devoting a season to a specific actor. For the last few months that’s been Paul Newman – I’ve already posted about 9 Newman films we’ve watched, so rather than tackle each of these new ones individually I’ve rounded up the next 10 in one glorious batch!
The Long, Hot Summer (1958)
If it’s shirtless Newman you want (and let’s be honest: it is) then this is the film for you. He’s a bad boy, an accused barn-burner, drifting around Southern USA. Of course he starts getting involved with the local bigwig’s daughter, and when that local bigwig is Orson Welles trouble ain’t far behind… It was a good watch, but suffered slightly by comparison to the previous watch – Sweet Bird of Youth. In that film Newman plays a bad boy drifter in the Southern USA getting involved with the local bigwig’s daughter… And as legendary as Orson Welles is, Ed Begley’s performance in Sweet Bird of Youth is much more memorable (and Oscar-winning).
The Young Philadelphians (1959)
If it’s shirtless Newman you want… Ok, there’s going to be a theme here. This was my choice, as we’d had a few Newman-as-bad-boy films in a row and I fancied seeing scholarly lawyer Newman. This is an excellent example (as a few films are in this run) of seeing characters fall almost instantly in love, or lust, with Newman’s character, and it being completely believable purely on the strength of it being Paul frickin’ Newman. No extraneous acting required. He’s whip-smart in this as a young lawyer working his way up through society, and there’s a hoot of a scene between him and Billie ‘Glinda the Good Witch’ Burke.
The Verdict (1982)
Gosh, this one has really not stuck in the mind. From a pair of bad boy Newman films to a pair of lawyer Newman films. Only this time it’s 1982 Paul Newman, not 1959 Paul Newman. He’s a down-at-heel ambulance chasing lawyer who likes a drink and playing pinball in the local bar. A former colleague throws him an easy medical malpractice case, but rather than take a settlement Newman decides it’s time to salvage his career and self-respect. Or so says the IMDb blurb. There’s a not-great role for Charlotte Rampling as a sort-of love interest, and it’s always nice to see James Mason – here as the upmarket lawyer Newman is up against. A fine Newman performance perhaps, but this is not one for the ages.
Paris Blues (1961)
Where to go after bad boy Newman and lawyer Newman? Why it’s jazz trombonist Newman of course! Made in 1961 this film focuses on Newman’s trombonist (Ram Bowen, indeed!) and Sidney Poitier’s saxophonist living in Paris where there’s less racism than the US (and so jazz can flourish). This really does have a doozy of a reaction from Joanne Woodward at seeing Newman for the first time (in real life they were married by this point), though he’s more interested in courting Diahann Carroll at first. The progressive racial politics are toned down slightly from the book on which it’s based by all accounts, which is a shame. There’s still a lot to recommend though, including a great musical section where Louis Armstrong kicks off a jazz battle royale. There’s also a character called Mustachio being played by an actor called Moustache.
The Left Handed Gun (1958)
Oof. This casts Newman as Billy The Kid, but is pretty poor all round. They do a nice enough job of getting Newman to pose for one of the famous pictures of Billy, but really there’s not a lot of interest, and the performances are pretty shonky. There was, in the original stage version, apparently a hefty homosexual subtext, but that’s unsurprisingly been stripped from the film and leaves it all a bit limp and pointless.
We’re back on firmer territory here. Newman is a bad boy once again, an egotistical son of a hard-working rancher. He’s a bad influence on his dead brother’s son. The standout performance though is from Patricia Neal, who is sensational as the rancher’s hired help. Check out this scene for some pretty hefty sexual chemistry between her and Newman: https://youtu.be/HnGtIxzYNUY
The Hustler (1961)
Newman is ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson, pool hustler extraordinaire. Tired of conning small timers out of a few bucks, he takes on champion Minnesota Fats for a big payday… This is good, solid stuff. Newman playing an unlikeable jerk works so well because Newman himself is so likeable. George C Scott’s Bert Gordon is a supremely oily fixer. I’m not sure I see the need for a long-belated sequel, but we’ll get to The Color of Money at some point I’m sure, and as it netted Paul Newman his only best actor Oscar(!) I imagine it’s pretty plucky.
Slap Shot (1977)
Paul Newman starring in a George Roy Hill film? Oh yes please!
Oh. Wait. No. No thanks.
Newman plays the captain of an ice hockey team that can only find success by playing foul and beating up opponents. Some sports films work well even if you don’t care much for the sport involved (Rush is a recentish example), but I don’t think Slap Shot falls into that category. There are also a LOT of homophobic slurs which, to a degree, is a down to it being a product of its time and I guess reflecting the way people in the sport spoke at the time. But I found it quite unpleasant. In older films it’s often possible to overlook that kind of thing as we progress towards a more tolerant society (are we still progressing? It’s getting hard to tell, sadly). I found it harder to overlook it here for some reason.
The Drowning Pool (1975)
An absolute bog standard thriller. Newman returns as Lew Harper, who we previously saw in the utterly bog standard thriller ‘Harper’. Sadly this time around there’s no crazy 60s dancing, but there is a young Melanie Griffith. I saw this one relatively recently, but it’s already faded into ‘generic private eye thriller’. If that’s your kind of thing then it might be diverting, otherwise there are definitely better Newman films to be watched
The MacKintosh Man (1973)
An absolute bog standard thriller. Sound familiar? Only this time it’s a British thriller, rather than an American one so there’s a bit of difference. This would make a suitable sequel to The Ipcress File, and roughly matches the quality of that film’s sequels. Newman is a spy, tasked with getting himself arrested to infiltrate a group planning to bust a communist defector out of prison. Once again, it’s always nice to see James Mason make an appearance, but he really doesn’t have much to do here. The plot moves along, but the passage of time doesn’t really sink in as it could during the prison section – it feels like 15 minute shave passed when it’s actually 15 months. But again, if you like 70s thrillers this is a solid enough example .
Oh, and at some point I stopped counting, but trust me, Newman is shirtless at some point in every single one of these films, even if I couldn’t find an image to prove it in every case.
What next? Well there are plenty more interesting-sounding Paul Newman films, so I think we’re going to carry right on!