By 1966, the private eye had been regulated to television. Shows like 77 Sunset Strip, Peter Gunn, Hawaiian Eye, Honey West and Johnny Staccato are just a few of the better known shows that began in the late 1950’s and/or the early 1960’s. Part of the reason for the decline on the big screen had to do with the rise of James Bond and his fellow international spies. Foreign intrigue, fancy gadgets, sexy women and criminals with more on their mind than just robbery and mayhem superseded the bedroom antics of the lowly P.I. Continue reading
One of the most famous and most often misquoted lines in “Cool Hand Luke” happens when Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) is captured after one of his escape attempts. The Captain played by Strother Martin hits Luke severely on his back sending him tumbling down a small hill. The Captain stands high above over Luke and the rest of the prisoners down below the hill.
“What we got here…is failure to communicate”
Even the newspaper ads of the day got it wrong printing “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate”, they printed. Of course it is catchier saying it this way and it worked. The phrase has become part of our vocabulary, and as another well-known catchphrase states “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Continue reading
At one point, James Dean was the leading choice to play Rocky Graziano, but when he unexpectedly and violently died in a car crash on September 30, 1955 the part was given to Paul Newman. Still living in the shadows of Marlon Brando, and whose film debut in “The Silver Chalice” almost ruined his career before it even got off the ground, this role would erase the bad taste left by his failed attempt in the religious drama.
Based on an autobiography written by Rocky Graziano and journalist Rowland Barber, with a screenplay by Ernest Lehman, the film reflects a fairly accurate portrayal of Graziano’s life as a street punk with a bad attitude and a history of petty crimes. After spending time in a reform school, followed by some prison time, Rocky is released only to be drafted into the Army during World War II which results in a year in Leavenworth after he slugs an Officer and deserts. While on the run, Rocky changed his last name from Barbella to Graziano to avoid detection. Eventually caught he was dishonorably discharged. Finally, after a life of violent and anti-social behavior, Rocky finds his redemption in the ring.
We are first introduced to Rocky as a young kid sparring with his failed alcoholic father Nick (Harold J. Stone) for the entertainment of his dad’s friends. When one friend makes a comment about Nick being a loser, old pop slugs young Rocky in the jaw. We next see young Rocky, expressing his anti-social behavior by throwing a rock threw a store window displaying a sign about gifts for father’s day. Two Irish police officers grab the young kid but Rocky manages to escape running away. As the two police officers look on, one says, “Let him go, there goes another grease ball on his way. Ten years from now he’ll be in the chair at Sing Sing.” A quick cut to about 10 years or so later and Rocky (now Paul Newman) is still running from the law.
Hot headed, anti-social, quick with his fists (there are shades of DeNiro’s Jake LaMotta here), Rocky’s life leads him to a reformatory and eventually the federal prison. In Leavenworth, thanks to the Captain of the boxing team who sees potential in the street fighter, Rocky begins to channel his built-in hate to good use in the ring. After his release from Leavenworth, he reluctantly learns to box instead of just brawl. Romance enters with the introduction of Norma (Pier Angeli), a nice Jewish girl and a friend of Rocky’s sister. She is shy, attractive and sees something beneath Rocky’s uncouth exterior. He’s clumsy around girls but they fall in love and marry. Rocky’s career as a boxer shoots skyward, undefeated until he fights for the middleweight championship at Yankee Stadium and loses to Tony Zale. After the fight, Rocky’s past begins to catch up with him. Frankie Peppo (Robert Loggia), a small time hood he met in prison comes back into his life with a plan to blackmail Rocky, now a local hero, with his criminal past. Peppo’s plan is for Rocky to throw a fight, prior to his rematch with Tony Zale, the hood “promising” not to expose Rocky’s past history. Refusing to throw the fight, Rocky fakes a back injury to get out of the match but that results in him facing an investigation with the New York State Boxing Commission who decide to take away his license to box since he will not cooperate in naming the hoods who were blackmailing him. Without his license, the championship rematch with Zale is off and Rocky’s career, at least in New York is over. Despite Rocky’s attempt to ease out of his predicament, the hoods still release to the media news that Rocky was dishonorably discharged during the war. Deprived of his livelihood, publicly disgraced Rocky feels his life has spiraled out of control. However, Rocky’s manager (Everett Sloane) has arranged a championship fight against Zale in Chicago. At first uncomfortable with fighting outside of New York, he knows he will be booed, Rocky finds the courage, with the help of his wife, to take on Zale and win in Chicago.
As Rocky, Paul Newman, is all mumbles, hunched shoulders and dragging feet, at times funny and at times explosively violent, a man who does not give much thought to his actions. Fresh from the Actors Studio, Newman hung out with Graziano for weeks to pick up his traits, mannerisms and speech pattern. It is a controlled performance and was partially responsible for accusations by the news media that Newman was just a carbon copy of Brando. This irked Newman to no end. Compounding the situation was that Brando had previously studied Graziano’s mannerisms when he was preparing for the role of Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and used some of those same characteristics for Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront.” According to author Shawn Levy when Graziano saw the play he said, “Hey that’s me!”
After retiring from boxing Graziano found a second career as an actor and comedic Palooka appearing in shows with Dean Martin, Merv Griffin and on “The Tonight Show.” He films include “Tony Rome” and “Teenage Millionaire.” TV series included “Naked City”, “The Mod Squad” and “Car 54, Where Are You?”
To learn how to box, Newman worked out at the famed Stillman’s Gym in New York where Rocky trained. Newman apparently became a fairly decent boxer and sparred with the real Tony Zale at one point. Author Shawn Levy states that Newman became a little cocky and began to hit Zale a little harder than needed, at least Zale thought so and slugged Newman just to let him know who was in charge. Zale was going to play himself in the movie but after hitting Newman, he lost that opportunity and Court Shepard was hired.
The film’s direction and editing is crisp, thanks I am sure to director and former editor Robert Wise who previously directed another boxing themed film, one of the best, “The Setup.” While mainly made in Hollywood, there were a few location scenes in and around Manhattan; the Lower East Side, Stillman’s Gym, and in Brooklyn that contribute to the fine atmosphere of the film. The early Lower East Side scene with the crowded streets, carts selling fish, fruit and vegetables, the sounds of Italian being spoken are authentically reproduced and are reminiscent of similar scenes from earlier Warner Brother gangster films like “Angels with Dirty Faces.” During this scene among the working lower class immigrants, there is one sharply dressed man who stands out. He is most likely a local Don, and as Rocky passes by he comments, “who house are you going to rob today, Rocky?”
The scenes of Rocky’s early youth also give us a preview of two sixties superstars together for the first time on film. Newman and a then unknown Steve McQueen have a few scenes together. We first see McQueen in a pool hall shooting pool with his back to the camera. When Rocky tugs at his pool stick, he quickly swings around, a switchblade swiftly popping open in his hand. The quick editing and the medium shot of McQueen as he turns to face the camera make for a magnificent introduction to one of the great future superstars of the sixties. As Fidel, one of Rocky’s gang members, this was only McQueen’s second appearance in a film. Also in the gang is Sal Mineo fresh from films like “Crime in the Streets” and “Rebel without a Cause.” Other future well-known actors making their screen debuts include, Robert Loggia (Frankie Peppo), Dean Jones, Joseph Campanella and Angela Cartwright. Harold J. Stone plays Rocky’s alcoholic father, a boxer, who stopped his own career killing his dream of a being a champ with his marriage to his wife played by Eileen Heckart, who despite being only six years older that Newman portrays convincingly his mother.
If there is one thing detrimental to the picture it is the over blown sappy title song sung by Perry Como. The hot air blows and you just cannot wait for it to end. The song just runs in an opposite direction to the rest of the film.
The film was greeted with good reviews, praised for it realistic New York scenes. Newman was still being accused of imitating Brando with his method style acting. Still, the film recouped Newman’s good graces in the film community after the debacle of “The Silver Chalice.” The film won deservingly two Oscars, one for best Art Direction/Set Direction/Black and White and for Best Cinematography (Joseph Ruttenberg). It was also nominated for Best Editing (Albert Akst).
The notable deaths in 2008 seem merciless. Young, middle age and old, death took no prisoners. Here are six passings that affected me deeply
The world is going to be a different place without George Carlin explaining the quirks in our language and how we go about our life and yes, those seven words you can never say of television (unless its HBO). The music will not be the same without Jerry Wexler, who along with Ahmet Ertegun was responsible for producing some of the finest soul music ever recorded on the great Atlantic Records label. Artists included Aretha Franklin, Wilson “Wickett” Pickett, Ray Charles,The Drifters and in 1968, Wexler signed Led Zeppelin to the Atlantic label. Sunday mornings will shine less bright without Tim Russert on “Meet the Press.” Russert pulled no punches and asked the hard questions no matter what side of the political fence his guest sat on. Director Jules Dassin whose films “Brute Force”, “The Naked City”, “Night and the City” and “Thieves Highway” are treasures for film noir lovers. Actor Richard Widmark whose career-making role as Johnny Udo, the crazed psychotic killer in the 1947 film “Kiss of Death” is a landmark in crime movies. The famous scene where he pushes the old lady down a flight of stairs is still shocking fifty years later. Last but far from least, I am going to miss Paul Newman, the last great superstar of the last century. Starting out as an imitation Marlon Brando and James Dean, Newman’s career reached levels that neither of his counterparts ever did. Goodbye Fast Eddie.
Arthur Penn’s “The Left Handed Gun” is a James Dean film without James Dean. The angst, tormented, misunderstood youth Dean portrayed in “Rebel without a Cause” and “East of Eden” is all here. This role was originally scheduled for James Dean who died in the well-documented car crash on September 11, 1955. Paul Newman who at this point in his career was looked at as a Marlon Brando/James Dean wanna be was selected to replace Dean as his previously did in “Somebody up There Likes Me”. Based on a television play by Gore Vidal, Newman play’s Billy the Kid as a tormented misunderstood, inarticulate, hot headed, and resentful youth whose one father figure, the English cattleman John Tunstall, was gun-down in cold blood by a crooked sheriff and his deputies. This was the start of the famed Lincoln County war. While based on fact this is a highly fictionalized version of the conflict, one example is Tunstall who is portrayed as an older man so he could represent a father figure to Billy was less than a month shy of twenty-five when he was killed.
Billy is hell bent on revenge, one by one taking the life of each of the four men who killed John Tunstall in cold blood. Along the way, he meets Pat Garrett (John Dehner) who befriends Billy but warns him against seeking revenge against the killers especially after an amnesty was issued by the governor for all the killing during the Lincoln County War. However, Billy has a narrow vision and even after promising Pat Garrett that he would not cause any trouble on his Wedding day, guns down the last of Tunstall’s killers.
Penn already displays some of the themes that would be prevalent in his later work, the outlaw as a sympathetic anti-authority figure, the breakdown of myths and sudden unexpected violence breaking out causing pandemonium. Also, notable is the use of actor Denver Pyle who portrayed Texas Ranger Frank Hamer in “Bonnie & Clyde” and here plays a deputy sheriff, who kills one of Billy’s gang (James Best) before being shot gunned to death himself by Billy. Penn loves outsiders and continued to portray them throughout his career in films like “Bonnie and Clyde“, “Alice’s Restaurant” and “Little Big Man .” He has also taken film genres and given them a revisionist look , The P.I. in “Night Moves”, the gangster film in “Bonnie and Clyde” and of course the western in “Little Big Man”, “The Missouri Breaks” and “The Left Handed Gun.”
Paul Newman’s portrays Billy as inarticulate, uneducated with a boyish charm (Newman charm to be more accurate). He is sometime over the top and actually gave a better performance as the inarticulate, uneducated with boyish charm, Rocky Graziano in the 1956 film “Somebody up There Likes Me.” Newman was just becoming a major star at this time and would go on to become an even bigger star and a better actor as his career progressed. John Dehner is okay as Pat Garrett, though I did find both James Best and James Congdon as Billy’s two gang members unconvincing.
“The Left Handed Gun” is a flawed film that is more interesting than most successful works, unique in its vision in a decade known for its bland conformity.
This is a tough one.
I grew up watching Paul Newman, he was one of my earliest heroes Paul Newman was cool when cool meant something. The last survivor in a series of anti-hero, “rebels without a cause” actors who rose to fame out of the Actors Studio in the 1950’s. There was Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, James Dean and Newman. Newman liked to portray the underdog, Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler, Luke in Cool Hand Luke, Billy the Kid in The Left Handed Gun. In real life, Newman was the same favoring the underdog. He raised million of dollars for his “Hole in the Wall” camp for severely sick children and donated millions via his Newman’s Own Food Company. Politically a liberal, he fought in favor of civil rights, marched against the Vietnam War, and was proud to have made President Nixon’s enemies list.
Newman worked with some of the greatest filmmakers of his time. Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Robert Altman, Otto Preminger, Martin Scorsese, Arthur Penn, Richard Brooks and the Coen Brothers. Co-stars included Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Andrews, Sidney Poitier, Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott, Tom Cruise, Steve McQueen and of course, his most famous co-star Robert Redford. They made two films together, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. He also co-starred with his talented and beautiful wife Joanne Woodward, in The Long Hot Summer, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, Winning, Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys, From the Terrace and the underrated and little seen Paris Blues.
For me this is truly a sad day. His films have been like family. While I never met him, my wife and I did have accidental sighting. It was not too long after he won the Best Actor award for The Color of Money. We were living in New York City at the time and on this particular Saturday night we were walking down the street on our way to dinner on the upper east side and there is this photographer standing outside a restaurant yelling toward a limo that was parked right in front. “Come on just let me get one shot.” My wife and I looked at each other not sure what was going on when suddenly out of the car comes Paul Newman rushing passed the photographer, passed us and right into the restaurant. It was quick, sudden and awesome! I never forgot it.
Somebody Up There Likes Me
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The Long Hot Summer
Sweet Bird of Youth
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
The Drowning Pool
Absence of Malice
The Color of Money
The Hudsucker Proxy
Road to Perdition
Read my more in depth tribute from the Halo-17 website:
The first link is pretty cool. The second is from one of my favorites.
Felson is a cocky pool hustler convinced that he’s the best player there is. He comes to New York to challenge Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) and in their first marathon session lasting something like 36 hours he starts out winning but as the hours go by he becomes more arrogant, cocky and uncontrollable. He’s now drinking and as time goes on Felson loaded with alcohol and arrogance eventually loses to Fats. After the match he meets Sarah Packard, an alcoholic with a lame leg. Broke, he moves in with her and Eddie begins a series of small time hustlers in dumpy pool halls. He eventually comes across the wrong victim and is beat up by four thugs who break his thumbs. After recuperating, he agrees to let crooked gambler Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) manage him, that is, for 70% of the profits. Eddie, with Sarah, travel the country playing pool, hustling big time, Gordon arranging the matches with well off willing suckers. While Eddie is winning things are not well for Sarah who is continually harassed by Gordon who demands all of Eddie’s time. Sarah alcoholic and emotionally defeated commits suicide. Devastated at what happened realizing how much he loved Sarah and how much his self-centeredness has cost him, Eddie quits Gordon, goes back to New York to challenge Fats again.
You can easily see what attracted Martin Scorsese to do the sequel 25 years later. Sin and redemption are common themes in Scorsese’s work as they are here in Rossen’s original. In the end Felson rids himself of Bert Gordon and plays Fats but in doing so loses the chance to ever play for the big bucks again. This ending of course is what sets us up The Color of Money.
Paul Newman gives the performance of a lifetime as Fast Eddie Felson, his moves, his talk, his complete actions are at a perfect pitch. The way he chalks the stick and the way he moves around the table are right on. He is Fast Eddie Felson. Newman who has said he never picked up a pool stick before filming The Hustler, was trained by the great Willie Mosconi who was the technical advisor on the film, and who can also be seen in the movie. Jackie Gleason plays Minnesota Fats as a man who does not show the sweat. Cool, dressed in a suit with a flower in his lapel. He’s a man who knows he’s the best and does not have to prove it. In the first pool session between Fats and Eddie there’s one scene where after 24 hours of playing, Eddie’s up eleven thousand dollars, but he’s tired and drunk. His manager is telling him to quit, he’s winning, but Eddie knows he can’t quit unless Fats calls it quits. While his manager is telling the tired Eddie to quit, Fats is seen in the background washing his hands, powdering them up and putting on his suit jacket. Dressed like he’s about to get married Fats, all refreshed, announces “Eddie, let’s play pool!” Twelve hours later, Felson is broke and Fats the winner. George C. Scott also gives an intense strong performance as the slimy Bert Gordon. Piper Laurie is also wonderful as the doomed Sarah. All four leads were nominated for Oscars.
Credit must also be given to cinematographer Eugene Schufftan whose claustrophobic black and white photography (he won an Oscar for best cinematography) contributed immensely to the atmosphere, as did the location shooting in real pool halls in New York giving it a realistic feel. Rossen was also nominated for Best Director and screenwriting (along with co-writer Sidney Carroll). The film was also nominated for Best Picture.