One of the qualms many people have with the Academy Awards is that they aren’t awarded for the right things. What happens is that there’s an upset one year where someone gets an Oscar even though someone else had the better performance. As a result, to reward the previous performance, another upset must occur. This vicious cycle continues on and on with no end and is why some people don’t receive an Oscar for a role where they really deserved it and instead win for a much lesser role later. Paul Newman is just such an actor. For many years, he was snubbed by the Academy until he finally won for his role in 1986’s The Color of Money, which was a reprise of a role he should have won the Oscar for back when he was in The Hustler (1961). This week’s two films look at some great Paul Newman roles.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours
It’s quite surprising that Paul Newman wasn’t even nominated for his work on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, considering that he was one of the title characters and that it’s seen as a classic film (AFI #50/#73). This was one of his defining roles, followed four years later with another film where he was again paired with Robert Redford and Director George Roy Hill: The Sting. Once more, he wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar here, even though Robert Redford was. Paul Newman’s career started way back in the mid-1950’s, so by this point in his career, he had already been nominated for an acting Oscar four times. In fact, it was his cool, tough-guy (but still friendly) persona which helped him to carry his career past the 50’s and onward until his death in 2008. His role as the titular Butch Cassidy was no exception to this rule.
As the leader of the notorious Hole-in-the-Wall gang, Butch Cassidy does whatever he wants, which includes long stints away from the gang hideout. This results in him having to win in a knife fight (in which there are no rules) in order to keep his authority over the group. Having shown his dominance, he proceeds to lead the gang in a two-part train robbery. Since the train company wouldn’t ever expect that the same train would be hit by the same people again, after their first successful robbery he ends up being surprised on their second robbery by a near impenetrable safe. And yet, that’s nothing a little dynamite can’t fix. Of course, with such a flashy robbery, the railroad company has put the best lawmen on Butch and Sundance’s tails. The duo continues to run away, forcing them to flee the country. Unfortunately, it’s not long before they’re in trouble with the law again.
Cool Hand Luke
Length: 126 minutes / 2.1 hours
Of the multiple nominations Paul Newman received for his acting, Cool Hand Luke was his fourth nomination for Best Actor. This came six years after the role which would eventually earn him that coveted statuette, even if that “eventually” would be 20 years later. As was the case in the aforementioned Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Newman plays a character with no regard for the law, instead relying on luck and his never-give-up attitude to get by. Of course, this film has many iconic sequences, including the famous “failure to communicate” line as well as the eponymous Luke eating 50 hardboiled eggs in an hour. When it comes down to it, the real charm of Cool Hand Luke comes with the title character’s ability to work the prison system to his advantage, while also being the underdog wanting to escape.
Luke doesn’t have his nickname because his hands are cold, but rather that he exhibits exceptional skill at poker: always managing to draw a “cool hand”. This skill at poker comes in handy when he finds himself in prison for decapitating parking meters. As part of a chain gang, he rapidly gets into trouble when he opposes the leader of the prisoners: Dragline (George Kennedy in an Oscar winning performance). After beating Dragline in a boxing match, the rest of the prisoners start to respect and idolize Luke. Even though he pulls off a few stunts to inspire the other prisoners, after a few severe punishments for trying to escape, Luke finds that the system is harder to break than he thought. On the spur of the moment, Luke escapes one last time but finds himself cornered in a church, leading to his eventual sainthood in the eyes of the remaining prisoners.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 of Newman’s Own
Bacon #: 2 (Mr. & Mrs. Bridge / Kyra Sedgwick -> Lemon Sky / Kevin Bacon)