My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.
We watched a LOT of Paul Newman films. The last one was The MacKintosh Man, a solid, relatively forgettable, thriller
We may be over 20 films into Paul Newman’s filmography at this point, but there are still some choice morsels to try. I’ve decided to cover two together here, so it’ll be a little more in depth than the 10-film binge in the last post. MacKintosh Man was my choice, so Tim stuck true to form with a Western and I followed it up in petulant form with a rom-com. There’s a reason I’ve lumped these two together, which may become apparent…
Hombre and A New Kind of Love and me
I hadn’t heard of either of these before thoroughly searching through Paul Newman’s filmography. Westerns are very much more Tim’s bag than mine, so I wasn’t holding out great hopes for Hombre. I was looking forward to the change of pace of A New Kind of Love though – perhaps it would be that great kind of CRFC film that we would ordinarily have overlooked, but turns out to be amazing – like Muriel’s Wedding. Even just a stylistic breath of fresh air would be something to admire.
Hombre (1967) – John Russell, disdained by his “respectable” fellow stagecoach passengers because he was raised by Indians, becomes their only hope for survival when they are set upon by outlaws. 7.4 stars.
A New Kind of Love (1963) – The fashion industry and Paris provide the setting for a comedy surrounding the mistaken impression that Joanne Woodward is a high-priced call girl. Paul Newman is the journalist interviewing her for insights on her profession. 5.9 stars.
Hombre did not start well, though possibly that was down to my own confusion so much as anything else. As the IMDb blurb says, Paul Newman’s character has been raised by Native Americans, and when we first meet him it very much looks like he’s wearing ‘redface’. For the first twenty minutes or so I thought the character was meant to be Native American, rather than a white boy who’d been adopted and assimilated.
As the film wore on*, and Newman’s John Russell comes back to white society his skin tone lightens a little. Now, everyone in the film is various shades of tanned and sunburnt, so I’m not sure how much that played a part in things. And I’m really not clear on whether the implication is meant to be that John Russell darkened his skin himself in an attempt to fit in better.
Either way it was an uncomfortable distraction.
That aside, Hombre had a pretty good setup. Rather than being a sprawling western it’s a fairly tightly focused piece. After all the intros a small group set off on a stage coach, are attacked and then have to try to make their way back to civilisation while the attackers pursue them. I wasn’t hugely swayed by it, but it’s head and shoulders above The Left-Handed Gun, the other Newman Western we’ve tried recently.
A New Kind of Love didn’t fare quite so well. Although the film was made in 1963, the script had been doing the rounds since the 50s – apparently Billy Wilder was trying to get a version off the ground starring Yul Brynner. It shows. The film feels very dated from the off, not helped by a setup that’s pretty reminiscent of Designing Woman (that we saw back in Gregory Peck season). Would that it had an ounce of the wit of that film (which admittedly was sparse enough). It is aching to be a 40s screwball comedy.
Paul Newman’s sports journalist is a womanising boor. Joanne Woodward’s boyish fashion designer has sworn off men.
By the middle she’s changed her mind. He hasn’t. By the end she’s still changed her mind. He… kind of hasn’t. Initially I thought that this was to do with being a product of its time – meaning the 50s rather than when it was actually made in the 60s. I mean, it came out the same year as Hud which deals with an unlikeable Newman main character in a far better way. But then I thought about screwball comedies like His Girl Friday, made 23 years earlier, which had a more progressive outlook and decided that no, it’s just a very bad film. The fact that it was written, produced and directed by the same person should have been a warning. It doesn’t descend to the depths of McLintock! at least, but it’s a hearty avoid.
There are several flights of directorial fancy that I’m sure would have been nixxed had the director not also been the writer and producer. Woodward visiting a fashion show is intercut with Newman visiting a strip club. The models/strippers are shown side by side in similarish outfits. The first time it’s a ‘huh’ reaction. The second less so. The third fourth and fifth become a bit wearing. Then Maurice Chevalier sings for some reason, Woodward has a vision of a saint, and we are treated to a series of fantasy sequences of Newman and Woodward sparring n love as sportspeople. All the while I was wondering… why?
It’s a shame, as part of the fun of Newman season has been finding out about his relationship with Joanne Woodward and seeing how often they worked together. We’ve seen her previously in Paris Blues, The Long, Hot Summer and The Drowning Pool, and there are plenty more they were both in.
So why have I lumped these two together? Paul Newman was politically very progressive. He was listed as one of Nixon’s leading enemies, was heavily involved in Democratic fundraising and philanthropy. He was, in fact, the leading philanthropist in the US in the 20th century in terms of amount given compared to amount earned. His line of salad dressings donate all proceeds to his summer camps for disadvantaged children. He was an all-round decent sort. And yet both of these films gave me the heebie-jeebies by current political sensibilities. Sometimes films are time capsules and can attitudes can be easily viewed as of their time. Somehow with these two it was less easy to do that.
This New Kind of Love doesn’t seem destined to catch on, hombre.
We’re still Newman agogo. Perhaps we’re starting to wilt a little, but there are plenty more films which are at least a little interesting… Fat Man and Little Boy, Absence of Malice, The Color of Money, Somebody Up There Likes me, Hudsucker Proxy (always worth a rewatch). Will we get to all of them? We’ll see…
If there are any Newman films we’ve not covered yet that you’d strongly recommend, do please let me know!
*The quote about this phrase from Harvey just popped into my head. “The evening wore on. What a wonderful phrase. The evening wore on.” I bloody love Jimmy Stewart.