Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On Overcoming Stereotypes: A Tale of Two Movies

One nice thing about belonging to NetFlix is unearthing films which one has missed out on the first or second time around. Two such films surfaced recently. I had completely overlooked the 1976 film "The Shootist", but became aware of it recently through a trivia question posed on

"The Shootist" has an amazing set of famous stars for a supporting cast. It is said that many stars begged to be included after John Wayne committed to the project, with some even offering to work for free. Lauren Bacall, Jimmy Stewart, Ron Howard, Harry Morgan, Richard Boone, the list just goes on and on. I never cared much for John Wayne, but here he plays a sympathetic character, a famous gunfighter dying of cancer. He comes to the town seeking confirmation of his illness from a doctor he knows and trusts, played by Jimmy Stewart. Stewart tells him about a boarding house run by a widow, played by Bacall. He stays there while waiting to die. Highly recommended.

Then there is a movie starring one of my favorite actors, Paul Newman. It is the 1966 film "Harper". Newman plays, or rather, attempts to play, a hard-boiled detective in the tradition of Bogart in "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Big Sleep". I love these film noirs, so I figured I'd like this one. Was I ever disappointed! Newman just does not work in this role. He chews gum constantly, which is a distraction and adds nothing. He just doesn't have the persona to pull off the role, as Bogart did, and Mitchum did in "Farewell, My Lovely", and Nicholson in "Chinatown" and its surprisingly good sequel, "The Two Jakes". The plot of "Harper" is silly and rather hard to follow, and I definitely do *not* recommend this film.

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