Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)

Chance Wayne never gets a break in Sweet Bird of Youth.

Wayne (Paul Newman) dreams of making it big in Hollywood. But sure things he's confident will lead, he thinks, to something big always fizzle out. He talks about scaling the wall into the moviemaking, castle. But there's no ladder to help him on the way up and over.

His latest meal ticket is washed up actress Alexandra Del Lago (Geraldine Page). While Chance dreams of stardom, Alexandra's days of glory are long past. "The camera doesn't know how to lie," Del Lago laments. She's a drunk and drug addict. With an oxygen bottle nearby, she also appears to be a hypochondriac.

But Del Lago is also the closest thing to a break Chance has. A prospect of a contract for a film role through Del Lago has Chance motivated. And desperate. "All my life I've been on the outside and time is running out," he notes. Del Lago is more interested in his good looks. "Let's comfort each other," she suggests.

With the former star crashed out in the back of his convertible, Chance heads home. He wants to reunite with Heavenly Finely (Shirley Knight). She's still sweet on him, even though Wayne has essentially worked as a male escort to survive.

His return doesn't sit well with local politician 'Boss' Finley (Ed Begley). He's your typical political heavy, using whatever tricks he can to get what he wants. Finley has long had a mistress, Miss Lucy (Madeleine Sherwood), who he puts up in a fine hotel suite.

Finely is prepared to use a little muscle to keep Wayne away from his little girl. That's where his son, and henchman, Thomas (Rip Torn) steps in.

Political opponents eager to take 'Boss' Finley down, an ultimatum for Wayne to clear out of town and the young hopeful's crumbling relationship with Del Lago all come to a boil at a political rally.

Sweet Bird of Youth earned three Oscar nominations, with Begley taking home an Academy Award as best supporting actor.

Newman's character here as a few things in common with Hud, reviewed on this site last week. Both have numerous female lovers, but neither is happy. Hud, drowning in drink, doesn't have the brains, or the wisdom, to manage a cattle spread like his dad can. Chance's window of opportunity to making his mark in Hollywood is over. His good looks won't help him with ladies who can support him much longer.

Sweet Bird of Youth boasts a fine cast with some nice support work from Canadian Sherwood as 'Boss' Finley's lover. Her showdown with him over public comments about his, uh, poll performance is a memorable one.

Paul Newman, you rock. Hud and The Hustler rock. The Color of Money, not so much. But a copy of The Verdict arrived in the mail. I haven't seen this 1982 drama from director Sidney Lumet since I saw it on the big screen 32 years ago. That review is coming up.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Richard Brooks, director of Sweet Bird of Youth, also directed Blackboard Jungle and In Cold Blood.

Geraldine Page was nominated for eight Oscars. She didn't win until that last nod, for The Trip to Bountiful.

Ed Begley was Juror No. 10 in 12 Angry Men.

Mildred Dunnock, the kindly Aunt Nonnie who supports Chance, starred in the stage and film versions of Death of a Salesman. Her last role was with Molly Ringwald and Robert Downey, Jr., in The Pick-up Artist.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Hud (1963)

The Bannons put the diss in dysfunctional.

Father Homer (Melvyn Douglas) and son Hud (Paul Newman) haven't seen eye-to-eye -- for decades.

Homer is an old-time cattle rancher. He believes a man should work to support himself. Homer's a man of integrity.

Hud drinks too much, has affairs with married women and connives or cheats his way to what he wants. Hud also drove drunk the night he was in a fatal collision, killing his brother, the father of his nephew, Lonnie (Brandon De Wilde) more than a decade ago.

Lonnie is keen to follow Hud around during his frequent forays into town. Homer fears the poor example Hud is setting for his grandson.

Homer and Hud snipe at each other regularly through director Martin Ritt's 1963 drama. There's some great dialogue here, examples I can't share with this post as I brought the wrong book with me to the library Internet station. My apologies.

Differences between father and son come to a head when a vet finds some of Homer's herd has foot and mouth disease. His cattle have to be quarantined while tests are done. Should they prove positive, they'll all have to be destroyed. Hud wants to pawn the cattle off on other ranchers. Homer is aghast at his son's idea - knowingly selling contaminated animals that could likely cause a national epidemic.

But Hud sets the rules as he sees fit. He'll sucker punch an opponent in a fight and grab hold of a pig another man caught to win a contest.

Tensions are further hiked up on the Bannon spread with Hud's interest in cook Alma Brown (Patricia Neal). She's divorced and wary of Hud's on-going advances. Lonnie is interested in Alma too.

Watch Hud for strong performances and a riveting story.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Wow. De Wilde was Joey Starrett in Shane. Sadly, he was killed in a motor-vehicle collision in 1972. He was 30.

Neat casting. Yvette Vickers, primarily known for starring in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman , appears briefly as a married woman Hud is fooling around with.

Douglas and Neal won best supporting Oscars for Hud. Newman was nominated, but didn't win. The film also snagged an Academy Award for cinematography.

Neal and Douglas appeared in his last film, Ghost Story.

Paul Newman worked as a cowhand on a ranch prior to filming Hud.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

The best thing about Cool Hand Luke (Deluxe Edition) is what audiences won't see on the screen.

There's a constant tension about what could happen in this prison work camp.

The surroundings seem peaceful enough. Blue skies. Lots of sun. Quiet country roads. But the baying of the bloodhounds and guards toting rifles are ever present. Step out of line and nasty repercussions are not far away.

Luke (Paul Newman) isn't much for rules. His choices are often not the best ones. Here's a guy who gets jail time for taking the tops off parking meters when he's drunk. He's stubborn too. Luke soon crosses paths with Dragline (George Kenney), the top dog in the prisoner barracks. Dragline beats the stuffing out of Luke during a boxing match. Luke won't stay down. He keeps getting up and pummeled some more.

Luke's the one who vows he can eat 58 eggs in an hour and cooks up a scheme to get road work done pronto so the inmates can get some down time.

He earns the respect of his fellow inmates. Some of the guards seem to take a shine to him too. But Luke goes off the rails after his mother dies. Arletta (Jo Van Fleet) visits him shortly before her demise. She still loves Luke, despite all the lousy choices he's made. She misses the girl Luke was seeing and who left him. Prison boss Captain (Strother Martin) has Luke dumped in 'the box' for a spell after his mother's death, expecting inmates in such a situation are a flight risk.

For me, Cool Hand Luke works really well up until this point. We see life on the road gang and the different ways inmates spend their time after hours. Gambling is big. Plenty of quick cuts add to the excitement of the egg eating contest. Luke's repeated attempts to bolt are short lived and stir up animosity among prison guards. If it's a game of wits, they have the numbers and the weapons. Luke is outgunned.

Newman is great as Luke. He's helped out by a stellar cast with a bevy of stars as fellow inmates including Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Donner and Wayne Rogers.

Funny how one of this film's four Oscar nominations is for best music. I found the score for Cool Hand Luke (Deluxe Edition) to be way over-the-top in several scenes and detracting from the action on the screen.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: George Kennedy won a best supporting Oscar. He's still working. The Gambler is in post-production as of this writing.

Strother Martin appeared in other films with Paul Newman including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Slap Shot.

Wow. Robert Donner as Exidor alongside Robin Williams in television's Mork and Mindy.

Joy Harmon is The Girl who catches the attention of inmates while she washes a car. She appeared in two episodes of The Monkees and made her debut with Gregory Peck in The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.

Wayne Rogers died in January 2016.