By Other Voices

AFI Movie Reviews

Paul Newman brought a new, casual intelligence to male stardom in the 1950s and ’60s, a sensitive tricksterism versus Brando’s and Dean’s wounded inarticulation; David Thomson wrote that Newman “seems to me an uneasy, self-regarding personality, as if handsomeness had left him guilty.” As Fast Eddie, the talented pool player who lacks the self-esteem, focus and drive to win, Newman’s performance in THE HUSTLER (1961) was his first major critical and popular breakthrough. (It was such an iconic role for the enduring star that he would win his first and only Best Actor Oscar for playing Eddie again in the film’s (AFI no no) 1986 sequel, THE COLOR OF MONEY.) Frequenting dimly lit New York pool halls, captured in moody black-and-white by European cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan (EYES WITHOUT A FACE) and rhythmically edited by Dede Allen (BONNIE AND CLYDE), the film is an absorbing psychological drama that effectively subordinates plot to character exploration. In addition to Newman, the film boasts several other remarkable performances, including the steely George C. Scott as a pitiless gambler and Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats, Eddie’s ultimate adversary; both actors were nominated for Oscars for their memorable contributions.

Fox has struck a new print of the film for this screening.

(USA, 1961, 134 mins)
Screenwriter(s) : Sydney Carroll, Robert Rossen
Directed By: Robert Rossen
Cast: Paul Newman, Jacki Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, Myron McCormick,
Murray Hamilton, Michael Constantine
Producer: Robert Rossen
Director of Photography: Eugen Schuftan
Editor: Dede Allen
Music: Kenyon Hopkins
Production Design: Harry Horner

Charlton Heston may be fondly remembered for his larger-than-life personifications of conquering heroes, but in a few striking examples, such as Sam Peckinpah’s MAJOR DUNDEE (1965) and Orson Welles’s TOUCH OF EVIL (1958)—both of which were severely edited against their directors’ wishes, defended by Heston and partially restored in recent years—he proved he was perfectly willing to tackle material that questioned the limits of power. After the wide acclaim of his second feature, RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (1962), Peckinpah envisioned MAJOR DUNDEE as an ambiguous morality play with equal parts John Ford and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962). A Union officer demoted as a prison warden in New Mexico rallies together Confederate prisoners to pursue a marauding Apache in Mexico. With its themes of loyalty, risk and obsession, it seems like a practice run for issues that would preoccupy the director of THE WILD BUNCH (1969) for years to come, and Heston’s iron screen persona deliciously intensifies the film’s ambiguities. After Peckinpah went over budget and was fired, producers cut 20 minutes from the film, and distributors cut another 14. This partial restoration includes 11 minutes unseen for decades and a new score by Christopher Caliendo that’s closer to the filmmaker’s intentions.

(USA, 1965, 134 mins) 35mm
Screenwriter(s) : Harry Julian Fink Jr., Sam Peckinpah, Oscar Saul
Directed By: Sam Peckinpah
Cast: Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, Jim Hutton, James Coburn, Michael Anderson Jr., Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens
Producer: Jerry Bresler
Director of Photography: Sam Leavitt
Editors: William A Lyon, Don Starling, Howard Kunin

Famously holding the record for the most number of Oscar nominations (nine) that didn’t include Best Picture, Sydney Pollack’s 1969 adaptation of a Depression-era Horace McCoy novel packs a timely punch today in the midst of the financial industry crisis. Jane Fonda plays Gloria, a bitter Dust Bowl evacuee and aspiring actress who enrolls in a Los Angeles dance marathon hoping for fame and fortune. Dance marathons began in the Roaring Twenties but by the time of the Depression attracted masses of unemployed workers and greedy promoters who capitalized on their contestants’ mental and physical exhaustion; marathons could last weeks or months, offering a kind of “reality entertainment” with strict rules that narrowed the survivors. Marathons were symbols of desperate times and a system that treated people like animals. “There can only be one winner, folks,” says one promoter. “But isn’t that the American way?” In films like TOOTSIE (1982) and OUT OF AFRICA (1985), Pollack established a reputation for romanticism, but this earlier effort offers a hard-edged allegory. He claustrophobically traps the viewer within the dance hall, achieving a heightened sense of terror with long tracking shots and handheld cameras.

(USA, 1969, 125 mins) 35mm
Screenwriter(s) : James Poe, Robert Thompson, Horace McCoy
Directed By: Sydney Pollack
Cast: Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, Susannah York, Gig Young, Red Buttons, Bruce Dern
Producers: Irwin Winkler, Robert Chartoff, Sydney Pollack, John Green
Executive Producer: Theodore B Sills
Director of Photography: Philip Lathrop
Editor: Frederic Steinkamp

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon