This June, the IFI is celebrating the award-winning work of Paul Newman, providing an opportunity to see 12 of his films on the big screen that is not to be missed.
The Paul Newman: American Icon Season will commence on June 3rd with the 1956 film Somebody Up There Likes Me and run until June 28th with The Color of Money (1986) which saw Paul Newman star alongside Tom Cruise. Other screenings include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Towering Inferno among more from Newman’s acclaimed film career.
Paul Newman (1925-2008), Oscar-winning actor, Palme d’Or-nominated director, noted philanthropist, and prize-winning auto racing competitor, represents the classic Hollywood movie star. After serving in WWII, Newman moved to New York to join Lee Strasberg’s legendary Actors Studio. While making his Broadway debut in 1953, he met Joanne Woodward, with their subsequent marriage lasting until his death. Part of a generation that included James Dean and Marlon Brando, Newman’s career also exploded thanks to a Tennessee Williams adaption, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958), which saw him receive the first of nine Oscar nominations for acting.
The 1960s saw Newman appear in numerous iconic roles in films including The Hustler (Robert Rossen, 1961), Hud (Martin Ritt, 1963), Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg, 1967), and, in 1969, George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. The phenomenal reaction to his pairing with Robert Redford saw the two reunite with Hill for The Sting (1973).
From the mid-1970s, Newman’s stature allowed him to perform as he pleased, working with the likes of Sidney Lumet and Sydney Pollack as well as more idiosyncratic talents such as Robert Altman, before finally winning his Oscar with Martin Scorsese in 1986’s The Color Of Money. The 1990s saw Newman take fewer roles, though there remained highlights such as Nobody’s Fool (Robert Benton, 1994) and Road To Perdition (Sam Mendes, 2002), his final live action appearance. Newman’s body of work is indicative of a restless talent, an actor who prized originality and challenging roles above all else.
The Paul Newman: American Icon Season will include:
SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (ROBERT WISE)
Saturday, June 3rd (16.00)
Following his poorly received film debut in The Silver Chalice (Victor Saville, 1954), a film the actor himself called “the worst motion picture produced during the 1950s”, Newman was given an opportunity to redeem himself with the lead role in this biopic of boxing legend Rocky Graziano. The part became available after the tragic death of James Dean, for whom it was originally intended. Somebody Up There Likes Me follows Graziano’s trajectory from a troubled childhood that led to reform school (where he met Jake LaMotta) to a stint in the army, from which he deserted, to the discovery of an aptitude for boxing that saw him become World Middleweight champion. Newman’s commanding performance put his career back on track.
113 mins, USA, 1956, Black & White, 35mm
THE LONG, HOT SUMMER (MARTIN RITT)
Sunday, June 4th (16.00)
Newman’s personal politics may have played a part in his decision to appear in formerly-blacklisted director Martin Ritt’s literary film, an amalgamation of William Faulkner’s settings and Tennessee Williams’s tone. More likely is that his interest came from the opportunity to work for the first time on film with Joanne Woodward, whom he was able to marry in 1958 following his divorce from Jackie Witte. For whatever reason, his choice was rewarded with the Best Actor award at 1958’s Cannes Film Festival. He plays Ben Quick, a drifter and suspected barn-burner who, after arriving in a small Southern town, quickly ingratiates himself with Will Varner (Orson Welles), the town’s real authority, bringing disruption to the lives of the younger family members.
117 mins, USA, 1958, 4K Digital
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (RICHARD BROOKS)
Wednesday, June 7th (18.20)
Although Newman reportedly shared author Tennessee Williams’s disappointment with changes made to the original script that removed any implication of its central character’s homosexuality, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof saw him become a bona fide movie star, and earned him his first Oscar nomination. Brick Pollitt (Newman), a star athlete in his younger days, has found himself in a childless, tempestuous marriage to Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) and still in the shadow of his father, Big Daddy (Burl Ives). As a result of his unhappiness, Brick is slowly but surely becoming an alcoholic (a problem Newman himself shared for many years). Over the course of Big Daddy’s 65th birthday celebrations, secrets are revealed and relationships redefined in this powerfully performed piece.
108 minutes. USA, 1958. Digital
THE HUSTLER (ROBERT ROSSEN)
Saturday, June 10th (15.45)
Newman stars as ‘Fast Eddie’ Felson, a small-time pool hustler travelling across the country with his partner Charlie (Myron McCormick) in an effort to make a real name for himself on the circuit. A disastrous and costly encounter with the legendary Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) sees him retreat to lick his wounds while he plans his comeback. Chasing his elusive dream, he forms an ill-starred alliance with professional gambler Bert (George C. Scott) and a romantic attachment to alcoholic Sarah (Piper Laurie), whose honest, uncomplicated love he finds difficult to reciprocate. One of American cinema’s great character studies, clear-eyed and brutal in facing up to reality instead of wasting time dreaming, it became one of Newman’s touchstone roles.
134 mins, USA, 1961, Black & White, Digital
SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH (RICHARD BROOKS)
Sunday, June 11th (16.00)
Newman stars as aspiring actor Chance Wayne, who takes a break from his pursuit of fame to return to his hometown in the company of Alexandra del Lago (Geraldine Page), an older, once successful actress whose star is now on the wane. Wayne had initially left to seek his fortune at the encouragement of ‘Boss‘ Finley (Ed Begley), whose motivation lay not in his belief in the boy’s talents, but in his desire to separate him from his daughter, Heavenly (Shirley Knight). It is she for whom Wayne has really returned, regardless of the risk and cost. This adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s play suffered a similar fate to earlier adaptations of his work in having elements of its plot sanitised.
120 mins, USA, 1962, Digital
HUD (MARTIN RITT)
Wednesday, June 14th (18.15)
Martin Ritt’s revisionist Western is set on a typical Texan cattle ranch. It’s owned and run by Homer Bannon (Melvin Douglas), who lives there with son Hud (Newman), his orphaned grandson Lonnie (Brandon deWilde), and attractive housekeeper Alma (Patricia Neal). An outbreak of disease among the herd brings father and son into conflict, with the younger man’s shady suggestions of how best to proceed in sharp contrast to his father’s morals and ethics. As Hud begins to exert more influence on Lonnie and plots to usurp Homer, matters come to a grim and tragic end. Both Douglas and Neal won Oscars for their roles, as did James Wong Howe for his stunning black-and-white cinematography, though Newman was left empty-handed for the third time.
112 mins, USA, 1963, Black & White, Digital
COOL HAND LUKE (STUART ROSENBERG)
Saturday, June 17th (15.50)
The success of Cool Hand Luke and its status in Newman’s career is owed at least in part to the timing of its release, coming as it did at the height of the counter-cultural movement, when audiences were primed for a charismatic character taking a stand against authority figures (much as they were following the release of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Miloš Forman, 1975), a film with many similarities). Sentenced to two years on a chain gang following a drunken act of vandalism, Luke (Newman) becomes a hero to his fellow inmates and a thorn in the side of prison authorities through his egg-eating exploits and efforts to escape, until the management decides to make an example of him.
126 mins, USA, 1967, 4K Digital
BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (GEORGE ROY HILL)
Sunday, June 18th (16.00)
Although Paul Newman and Robert Redford are frequently hailed as one of Hollywood’s greatest and most iconic duos, the pair in fact only worked together twice. This first occasion, from an Oscar-winning screenplay by William Goldman, saw them take on the roles of legendary outlaws Butch (Newman) and Sundance (Redford), leaders of the infamous Hole-In-The-Wall Gang. As the law doggedly tracks the gang down following a daring train robbery, the two flee to Bolivia, accompanied by Sundance’s schoolteacher lover Etta (Katharine Ross). Once there, the pair are torn between continuing their life of crime and going straight, with neither option proving particularly lucrative. Hill’s film is hugely entertaining, filled with warmth and humour, and featuring a wonderful Burt Bacharach score.
113 mins, USA-Mexico, 1969, Digital
THE STING (GEORGE ROY HILL)
Tuesday, June 20th (18.10)
Following the massive success of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, audiences (and Hollywood accountants) were eager to see Newman and Redford reprise their buddy act. Coming off the back of a series of poorly performing films, Newman was also in need of a hit. The Sting, again directed by George Roy Hill, was an even bigger success than its predecessor, propelling Newman back to major star status. He plays Henry Gondorff, a legendary Depression-era con-man in hiding who is enlisted by fellow grifter Johnny Hooker (Redford) to take on revenge-seeking gangster Doyle Lonnegan, who Hooker had unknowingly ripped off. The convoluted way in which their plan unfolds, filled with sleight of hand and double-crosses, is an absolute treat to behold.
129 mins, USA, 1973, Digital
PAUL NEWMAN: THE TOWERING INFERNO (JOHN GUILLERMIN)
Saturday, June 24th (15.15)
For a brief period in the 1970s, audiences were subject to a spate of disaster films featuring casts of stars. George Seaton’s Airport was followed by The Poseidon Adventure (Ronald Neame, 1972) and Earthquake (Mark Robson, 1974), and others, all huge box office hits. Arguably the best was The Towering Inferno, featuring a cast led by Newman and Steve McQueen, whose first appearance on film had been in Somebody Up There Likes Me. Newman plays architect Doug Roberts, creator of the 138-storey Glass Tower, while McQueen is fire chief Michael O’Halloran, called in to rescue guests trapped when faulty wiring causes catastrophe. The supporting cast of this quintessential weekend matinee includes the likes of Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, and Robert Wagner.
165 mins, USA, 1974, Digital
THE VERDICT (SIDNEY LUMET)
Sunday, June 25th (15.50)
Through the tail end of the 1970s, Newman became more selective in his roles, and appeared to care less about box office success, choosing instead to work with idiosyncratic talents such as John Huston in sports comedy Slap Shot (1977) and Robert Altman in Western Buffalo Bill And The Indians, Or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976) and sci-fi Quintet (1979). However, in the early 1980s, his choices struck a better balance between critical and commercial success, such as Sydney Pollack’s Absence Of Malice (1981) and Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict, written by David Mamet. Newman excels as the washed-up lawyer who, to the surprise of everyone, not least himself, refuses to take the easy way out for once, and instead fights tenaciously for his client.
129 minutes. USA, 1982. 4K Digital
THE COLOR OF MONEY (MARTIN SCORSESE)
Wednesday, June 28th (18.15)
Martin Scorsese’s sequel to The Hustler sees the passing of the torch from one generation of Hollywood star to another, from Newman to Tom Cruise, with the former beginning to embrace his status as an elder statesman of American cinema. As if to emphasise the point, his reprise of the role of ‘Fast Eddie’ Felson also saw him win (and earn) the previously elusive Oscar for Best Actor. When Eddie spots talented young player Vincent (Cruise), he takes him on as a protégé, but the younger man’s cockiness leaves each determined to prove their superior skills. While advancing age and other interests would subsequently lead Newman away from the screen, The Color Of Money shows an actor still at the height of his powers.
120 mins, USA, 1986, Blu-ray
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