Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman (1925-2008)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Paul Newman, one of the finest actors of his generation (and one of our most generous philanthropists), died today at the age of 83.

I cannot do justice to his film career. It spanned decades, from 1954 to just last year, and he was in some of the defining movies of that time, from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), which earned him his first Oscar nomination, starring opposite Elizabeth Taylor, to The Color of Money (1986), which won him his only Oscar, reprising the role of Fast Eddie Felson from The Hustler (1961) and starring opposite Tom Cruise.

It was a joy today, in a way, joy marked by sadness, to look back over Newman's long career and to remember the great roles and the great films. Here are my Top 5 Paul Newman movies:

1) Hud (1963)
2) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
3) The Sting (1973)
4) The Verdict (1982)
5) Cool Hand Luke (1967)

To me, Hud is one of the greatest American films of the '60s, a film that captured the rebellious '60s ethos long before the '60s had become the '60s. Where most of the definitive '60s films are rooted firmly in socio-political context -- the Vietnam War, civil rights, sexual liberation -- Hud was more existential, more universal. It isn't as famous, perhaps, as the other four movies on my list, nor as famous as The Color of Money, nor even as Slap Shot (the over-the-top hockey movie), but it is an incredible film with one of his very best performances.

Here's a clip from Hud. It includes one of the, if not the, greatest line in the movie: "Well, I always say the law was meant to be interpreted in a lenient manner. And that's what I try to do. Sometimes I lean to one side of it, sometimes I lean to the other."

Now that's the rebellious individualism of the '60s. And that's Paul Newman at his finest.

I think tomorrow, in his memory, I shall eat a hard-boiled egg -- just one or two, though, not fifty.

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