Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1958 Based on Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-Winning play. Directed by Nicholas Roeg. The family Pollitt has gathered at Big Daddy’s and Big Moma’s (Burl Ives and Judith Anderson) Mississippi mansion to celebrate his birthday. Son Brick (Paul Newman), a depressive alcoholic, has arrived with a leg broken trying to relive football glory days. Relations with his wife Maggie/“the cat” (Elizabeth Taylor) have long been inexplicably distanced. Where, his parents want to know, is an heir?
Brick’s irritating brother Gooper (Jack Carson) and his cloying wife Mae (Madeleine Sherwood), having birthed a pack of rowdy kids, pursue future inheritance with single-mindedness. Big Daddy, however, only has eyes for Maggie. The family patriarch is told he’s cancer free. In fact, the old man has about a year to live. Maggie wants her husband to reconcile with his disapproving father. Confrontations abound, secrets are revealed, some rapprochement takes place. Sizzles.
Burl Ives and Madeline Sherwood were both in the original Broadway production. Ben Gazzara, who played Brick on stage, rejected the film role. Tennessee Williams was unhappy with the screenplay, which, as per the Hays Code, removed almost all homosexual themes and revised the third act. Paul Newman also stated his disappointment with the adaptation. Most critics praised what we do see. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Young Philadelphians 1959 Based on the 1956 novel The Philadelphian, by Richard P. Powell. Directed by Vincent Sherman. Tony (Paul Newman) works in construction to pay his way through law school. He accidentally meets and falls in love with socialite heiress Joan Dickinson (Barbara Rush), normally outside his social strata. Joan is expected to marry millionaire Carter Henry (Anthony Eisley). Her father Gilbert (John Williams) convinces Tony to postpone the wedding in exchange for career help. Assuming he was bought, his girl marries Carter.
Tony purposefully steps on the opportunity of a friend. Through luck, talent, and charm, he then rises, somehow evading several predatory women, gets involved with a high profile tax case (his area of expertise), and then, unwittingly, a murder. Despite blackmail, integrity wins. Also with Alexis Smith, Brian Keith, Billie Burke, Robert Vaughn. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Hustler 1961 Based on the novel by Walter Tevis. Directed by Robert Rossen. Terrific film. Small-time pool hustler “Fast” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) travels the country with companion Charlie (Myron McCormick) determined to break into the “major leagues.” Arriving at the great Minnesota Fats’ home pool hall (Jackie Gleason – terrific), he challenges the legend, declaring he’ll win $10,000 that night. The talented newcomer gets ahead $11,000 and Charlie tries to convince him to quit, but Eddie insists the game will end only when Fats says it is over. Things don’t turn out well.
Eddie stays in town, finds a girl (Piper Laurie) and meets shark Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) who agrees to stake him for an exorbitant 75%. Small games, broken thumbs, failures and a rape lead up to the rematch with Fats. Totally compelling. Early shooting put more focus on the pool playing, but during production Rossen made the decision to place more emphasis on the love story. “The Hustler is fundamentally a story of what it means to be a human being, couched within the context of winning and losing.” (Roger Ebert) Rent on Amazon Prime.
Sweet Bird of Youth 1962 Based on the play by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Richard Brooks. St. Cloud, Mississippi. “Boss” Finley (Ed Begley- Academy Award Best Actor in a Supporting Role) convinced handsome Chance Wayne (Paul Newman) to try his luck in Hollywood in order to keep him away from Finley’s daughter, Heavenly (Shirley Knight). The naïve young man failed. We meet him driving back into town at the wheel of a Cadillac that belongs to alcoholic, has-been actress Alexandra Del Lago (Geraldine Page) who he services in every way hoping she’ll help get him into film.
Alexandra grows jealous of Heavenly, Chance tries blackmail, Finley’s tactics are dangerous, the boss’s mistress Lucy (Madeleine Sherwood) turns on him, Hollywood calls. Also featuring Rip Torn as Finley’s son, Tom Jr. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Color of Money 1986 Directed by Martin Scorsese. This continues the story of pool hustler Edward “Fast Eddie” Felson from Tevis’ first novel, The Hustler. Newman reprises his role from the 1961 film adaptation. Former hustler “Fast” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) still stakes others but is himself, now a liquor salesman. One evening he watches newbe Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) best a really good player. He offers to stake the young man to six weeks on the road culminating in a nine-ball tournament in Atlantic City.
Girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) convinces him to accept and the three set out, but Vincent can’t contain his ego, showboats, and is volatile. Eddie leaves. Eventually, frustrated, he picks up his own cue again. They meet as opponents. Well written and acted. Scorsese delivers an opening uncredited voice-over describing the game of nine-ball. Cruise performed most of his own shots. Free with Amazon Prime.
Hud 1963 Based on Larry McMurtry’s novel, Horseman, Pass By. Directed by Martin Ritt. Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Black and White Cinematography Academy Awards.
Arrogant, volatile, misogynist Hud Bannon (Paul Newman) and his principled father Homer (Melvyn Douglas – terrific) face an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease on their ranch due to Homer’s purchase of cheap Mexican cattle. Homer wants to tell the authorities. Aware that government agents will kill their stock, his son does not. Acrimony between the two, rooted in Homer’s rough, supposedly character-building treatment, was cemented with the death of other son Norman for which he blames Hud.
Also on the scene are Hud’s nephew Lonnie (Brandon deWilde) who idolizes him, even covering for an illicit affair, and housekeeper Alma (Patrica Neal- wonderful) who’s tempted by Hud’s advances, but knows better. Confrontations are ugly and telling. Comeuppance arrives. Like most of McMurtry’s heros, these are men’s men in the old west sense of the term. Strong characterizations.
Hud Bannon, a minor character in the original screenplay, was reworked as the antihero protagonist. Ritt asked that the housekeeper (originally Halmea, a black woman) be renamed Alma and played by a white actress because he thought a relationship between Hud and a black woman would not work at the time. To prepare for the role, Newman worked for ten days on a Texas ranch, sleeping in a bunkhouse. His Texas accent was coached by Bob Hinkle, who coached James Dean for his role as Jett Rink in Giant. Free with Amazon Prime.
Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid 1969 Directed by George Roy Hill. Loosely based on fact, the film tells the story of Wild West outlaws Robert LeRoy Parker, known as Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman), his partner Harry Longabaugh, aka The Sundance Kid (Robert Redford), and Sundance’s lover, Etta Parker (Katharine Ross). After committing a string of successful train robberies, law enforcement was getting too close and the three took flight to Bolivia where…Terrific fun despite the subject matter.
William Goldman first came across the story of Butch Cassidy in the late 1950s. He researched intermittently for eight years before choosing to write it as a screenplay because he didn’t want to do the research to make it as authentic as a novel. According to Goldman, only one studio wanted to buy the script—and that was with the proviso that the two lead characters did not flee to South America. When Goldman protested that that was what had happened, the studio head responded, “I don’t give a shit. All I know is John Wayne don’t run away.” Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Sting 1973 Inspired by real-life cons perpetrated by brothers Fred and Charley Gondorff documented by David Maurer in his book The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man. Directed by George Roy Hill. A delightfully complicated plot revolving around grifters Henry “Shaw” Gondorff (Paul Newman) and Johnny “Kelly” Hooker (Robert Redford) getting the best of mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). Seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. With wonderful small turns by Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, and Harold Gould. Even more fun than the last pairing of Newman and Redford.
The title refers to the moment when a con artist finishes the “play” and takes the money. If a con is successful, the mark doesn’t realize he’s been cheated until the con men are long gone, if at all. The script was found in a slush pile by a reader for then agent, later studio executive Mike Medaovy who said that he would try to sell it on his employee’s high recommendation, threatening to fire him if unsuccessful. The rest is history. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Absence of Malice 1981 Directed by Sydney Pollack and The Verdict 1982 Adapted from a novel by Barry Reed. Directed by Sidney Lumet. Similar in tone.
In the first, Newman plays Michael Gallagher, son of a deceased criminal, who’s suddenly the subject of a front-page newspaper story indicating he’s being investigated in the disappearance and presumed murder of a local longshoreman’s union official. The article wrecks his life and business. Gallagher and journalist Megan Carter (Sally Field) uncover the truth and begin an ultimately unresolved relationship, but lives and livelihoods are lost. Variety called it a “disturbing look at the power of sloppy reporting to inflict harm on the innocent.” Affecting. Rent on Amazon Prime.
In the second, down-on-his-luck alcoholic lawyer Frank Galvin (Paul Newman), who lost his career when framed for jury tampering, accepts a medical malpractice case assured the defense will settle. Without consulting the family, Frank declines the offer and takes the case to trial. Money rules, professionals lie, further corruption compromises court proceedings. The hero manages against all odds. With Charlotte Rampling as the client, Jack Warden, Milo O’Shea, James Mason, Lindsay Crouse. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Nobody’s Fool 1995 Based on the Richard Russo novel. Directed by Robert Benton. A loose knit, community of townspeople. Newman plays Donald “Sully” Sullivan who freelances construction but has laconically made little of his life.
Excellent character turns by Jessica Tandy who plays Newman’s landlady, Bruce Willis (local contractor Carl Roebuck – there’s a running joke with a snowblower), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Sully’s slow best friend, Rub), Melanie Griffith (Carl’s wife,Toby), Gene Saks (Sully’s lawyer), Dylan Walsh (Sully’s son, Peter), Philip Seymour Hoffman (in the role of the cop who persecutes him), and Philip Bosco (Judge Flatt). In the course of the film, Sully is persecuted by police officer Raymer, reunited with his estranged son Peter, jailed; Carl’s wife propositions him, a winning race ticket comes in, but… Solid acting. Very real. Free with Amazon Prime.
Top photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.