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Take Dean Martin, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Dick Van Dyke and Shirley MacLaine, put them all together in one film, and ask yourself what could possibly go wrong?  Answer: NOTHING!  Nothing is wrong with this film at all!

MacLaine is Louisa May Foster, a rich widow who is sent to see a psychiatrist after trying to give the IRS $200 million.  She tells him all about the four very different men she married (and the one she turned down), all of whom died and left her a fortune.  The stories of each of her marriages, to Edgar Hopper (Van Dyke), Larry Flint (Newman), Rod Anderson (Mitchum) and Pinky Benson (Kelly), as well as her first engagement to Leonard Crawley (Dean Martin), who she turns down in favour of Hopper, are told in flashback, with Louisa imagining each one as a film in a different genre.  Gradually each marriage turns from blissfully happy to sad – for Louisa anyway – as she encourages her husbands to chase their dreams, only to wish they hadn’t done so.

Despite the fact that the film describes four marriages gone wrong and four deaths, it is unquestionably a comedy, as it’s opening sequence makes perfectly clear, showing Louisa descending a pink staircase, wearing a pink dress, ahead of a pink coffin in an entirely pink house.

The story is light and fluffy, and my goodness, how lucky was Shirley MacLaine to be romanced by Martin, Newman, Mitchum and Kelly?!  I can only imagine that she was the envy of many viewers when this film came out!  She looks beautiful herself, and also does a rather lovely song and dance number with Gene Kelly, which was a joy to watch.

It looks sumptuous too, with MacLaine wearing a series of increasingly outlandish outfits, and lots of colour throughout.  There are lots of truly funny moments, and I burst out laughing several times, even having to rewind the film occasionally because my laughter made me miss a few lines.

Packed with gorgeous stars, and with a frothy, funny storyline, this film has shot straight into my list of top ten favourite movies, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good comedy.

Year of release: 1964

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Producer: Arthur P. Jacobs

Writers: Gwen Davis, Betty Comden, Adolph Green

Main cast: Shirley MacLaine, Dick Van Dyke, Dean Martin, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Robert Cummings

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A couple of years after making the hugely successful The Poseidon Adventure, producer Irwin Allen made The Towering Inferno, another disaster movie with a top-notch cast (Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Fred Astaire – in an Oscar nominated turn – Robert Wagner, Robert Vaughn, Richard Chamberlain, Faye Dunaway, Jennifer Jones; it’s practically a who’s who of Hollywood at the time.) Newman and McQueen share top billing (at McQueen’s insistence) as architect Doug Roberts and firefighter Chief Mike O’Halloran.  William Holden as James Duncan, is the head of the company who built the tower, and it turns out that his son-in-law Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) has cut corners and compromised safety in order to save money.  Astaire puts in a touching performance as con artist Harlee Claiborne, who falls for his intended con victim Lisolette (Jennifer Jones).

As the name of the film indicates, these characters and others besides all find themselves trapped at the top of a skyscraper designed by Roberts, when a fire breaks out and threatens to engulf them all.  The action scenes are genuinely edge-of-the-seat stuff, and there are some truly shocking moments, and lots of tension throughout.  Despite the impressive roll call of names on the cast list, the true star of the show, as Newman himself acknowledged, is the fire itself.

It isn’t a perfect film by any means – in fact some of the dialogue is downright hammy, and feels false.  I don’t feel that the cast are at fault for this (after all, you only have to look at their other films to know just how good most of these actors are), but it’s fair to say that there isn’t much character development.  For me, McQueen is the stand-out cast member, with the best performance of the lot (and I say this as a big fan of Newman, Holden and Astaire).  But despite its flaws, there is just SO much to enjoy about this film – it’s not often that a film with a running time of almost three hours, keeps me engaged from start to finish, but this one certainly did.  It might not be the best film of any of the cast members, but on a pure entertainment level, it’s a winner, and I would definitely recommend it.

(Incidentally, there is a lot of interesting trivia about this film.  McQueen was originally pegged for the role of Doug Roberts, but he lobbied to get the part of the heroic O’Halloran – not that Roberts isn’t also a hero.  He also insisted that he get equal billing with Newman, which is why in the opening titles, his name appears on the lower left hand side of the screen, while Newman’s appears on the top right.  That way, if you read from top to bottom, Newman comes first, and if you read from left to right, McQueen comes first.  He also insisted that he be given extra lines, in order that he and Newman – with whom he always had a professional rivalry – had the same amount of dialogue!  Nonetheless, he took Newman’s son Scott, who has a small role as a nervous firefighter, under his wing during the filming.)

Year of release: 1974

Director: John Guillerman

Producers: Irwin Allen, Sidney Marshall

Writers: Richard Martin Stern (novel ‘The Tower’), Thomas N. Scortia (novel ‘The Glass Inferno’), Frank M. Robinson (novel ‘The Glass Inferno’), Stirling Silliphant

Main cast: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Faye Dunaway, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, Robert Vaughn

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Married couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward play opposite each other in this frothy comedy from the 1960s.  After watching it, I read a few reviews and was quite surprised to see some of the vitriol directed towards this film, with it being described in some places as Newman’s worst film.  I suspect there are a few reasons for such animosity; (1) Anyone who thinks this is Newman’s worst film has clearly not seen The Silver Chalice – which Newman himself was not a fan of! (2) Paul Newman was in some iconic and wonderful films, and any that fall somewhat short of those standards may receive short shrift, and (3) Admittedly, this film is not very Newman-esque.  Anyway….I liked it quite a lot more than I expected to.

Woodward plays Samantha (Sam) Blake, a buyer for a clothes store, who is constantly being mistaken for a man, due to her short haircut and masculine clothes.  She travels with Paris with her boss and colleague in order to look at the new fashions, so that her store can copy them.  Newman is Steve Sherman, a womanising sports journalist who disgraces himself with his boss’s wife, and gets sent to Paris, basically so that he is out of the boss’s way!  They meet each other, and there is an instant antagonism between them.  When Sam has a makeover, Steve fails to recognise her and mistakes her for a call girl, who he decides to interview in order to write a column about her profession.

It’s a nice little comedy, with both stars seeming to have a lot of fun with their roles.  The storyline is pretty bonkers, and not particularly credible, but I’m not sure that it’s supposed to be.  Actually the film reminded me a lot of some of the comedies from the 30s and 40s.  There were plenty of witty lines, and it was colourful and fun, and Thelma Ritter provided excellent support.  I did think that Woodward looked FAR more attractive before her makeover – and whatever the script said, she did not look like a man at all – but the story still kind of worked, because she could not have been mistaken for a call girl before the makeover.  I’m not sure what that says about makeovers – probably, just be careful where you go for one!

Strangely, there was not a whole lot of chemistry between Newman and Woodward, unlike in The Long Hot Summer, where their chemistry was positively sizzling.  However, this may have been because they were antagonistic and untruthful to each other for much of A New Kind of Love.  The ending was somewhat predictable, but no less fun for that.

Ultimately, it is a forgettable film, but it is fun and well worth watching.

Year of release: 1963

Director: Melville Shavelson

Producer: Melville Shavelson

Writer: Melville Shavelson

Main cast: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Thelma Ritter, Eva Gabor, George Tobias

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No…not the vampire love story with Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattinson. This film boasts an impressive cast – Paul Newman is the lead (and still looking great at 73), with Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon, James Garner, Liev Schreiber, Reese Witherspoon and Stockard Channing. Newman plays Harry Ross, a slightly down-at-heel retired private detective, who lives with his friends Jack and Catherine Ames (Hackman and Sarandon). When Jack, who is dying of cancer, asks Harry to do him a favour, Harry finds himself entering a murky world of betrayal and deceit, and uncovering some unsavory aspects of his friends’ past.

This film reminded me very much of the film noirs which were so popular during the 1940s and 1950s – in fact, I could almost imagine it in smoky black and white, with Humphrey Bogart starring! That is no criticism on my part; I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It has a mature (and I do mean mature, not old) cast, and a mature storyline. The acting is, as you would expect from such a stellar cast, impressive throughout, and Newman is perfect as the narrator and hero – of sorts – of the picture. He combines his natural charm, with world-weary emotion. You get the feeling that Ross is just plain tired of the world he inhabits, and he is just one of many characters in this film who are unsatisfied wtih their lives. Susan Sarandon has a timeless beauty, and looks stunning here, and Hackman….well, he’s just always terrific.

The plot has twists and turns, but it doesn’t get too complicated, which is a good thing. I like films that encourage the audience to think, but not films that are just too convoluted and end up being just plain confusing.

I would say that this is not the best film that any of the stars ever made, but if you are a fan of any of the cast, it is certainly worth a watch.

Year of release: 1998

Director: Robert Benton

Producers: Michael Hausman, Arlene Donovan, Scott Rudin, Scott Ferguson, David McGiffert

Writers: Robert Benton, Richard Russo

Main cast: Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon, Stockard Channing, Reese Witherspoon, James Garner

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In this Western, Paul Newman plays John Russell, a man raised by Native Americans. On a stagecoach journey, his fellow passengers shun him because of his life with the Native Americans, but when the stagecoach is robbed by a group of outlaws, the passengers realise that their only chance of survival lies with John…

I’m not really a fan of Westerns, and probably wouldn’t have watched this one, if it wasn’t for the fact that Paul Newman is in it, and also that it is considered one of his great films. Anyway, I’m glad I watched it (and would like the chance to watch it again in the future).

Newman plays the moody, broody and reticent John Russell perfectly; I think he was made for this kind of part. Not only is he alienated by other people, but he also seems to want to alienate himself from them. He is not necessarily a nasty man, but he is certainly not your typical hero, and the question remains over whether he will risk his own neck to help others save theirs.

The supporting cast are all excellent too, particularly Richard Boone, who plays the ringleader of the outlaws, and Frederic March, who plays one of the stagecoach passengers.

The film is beautifully photographed, showing off the beautiful but unforgiving land where the passengers find themselves at the mercy of the elements, as well as the band of criminals who are determined to stop at nothing to get their hands on the money which they know is in the coach.

As someone who would never list Westerns as a favourite genre, this film was a pleasant surprise, and one I would definitely recommend.

Year of release: 1967

Director: Martin Ritt

Producers: Irving Ravetch, Martin Ritt

Writers: Elmore Leonard (novel), Harriet Frank Jr., Irving Ravetch, Diane Cilento, Barbard Rush, Martin Balsam

Main cast: Paul Newman, Frederic March, Richard Boone,

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Paul Newman was mainly known to the world as a movie star – an icon, really – with a beautiful face, mesmerising blue eyes, and a air of rascality about him.  His long marriage to Joanne Woodward was revered in a profession where marriages often seem to break up almost as soon as the vows are read.  This book is a journey through Newman’s life, from his happy childhood as the son of the owner of a successful sporting goods business, to the start of his acting career, and of course, his Hollywood stardom.  However, just as interesting are the details of Paul’s passion for motor racing, his political activism, and his philanthropy.  The book also covers darker periods of his life, such as the tragic death of his son Scott, and a period when he and Joanne  briefly separated. 

The book was written in a respectful, but not fawning fashion, and painted a picture of a man who was sometimes uncomfortable with his stardom, who was almost obsessive about details regarding his characters and the settings of films, and whose greatest love in life was his wife.  Shawn Levy has taken a huge number of interviews that Paul Newman gave, and put them into chronological order; in this way, although Newman did not participate in any way with the writing of this book, we are still able to see his thoughts on certain times in his life, certain films that he made, etc.  The book does not portray Newman as a saint, but he is treated with the warmth and respect that such a man would deserve.

One of the most fascinating parts of the book for me was when Newman set up the Hole In The Wall camps – places where sick children could go to simply have fun, play games, forget about their illnesses for a while.  Newman was determined that no child’s family should have to pay for their child to go to the camp, and importantly, as well as giving his money to the project, he also gave his time – he would often pop into the camps on spec, and play games or chat with the children.  I knew that Newman was a generous man, but I was surprised to learn of some of the things that he did, at no benfit to himself.

The book is very readable, and not at all dry – it’s a fascinating read from start to finish.  I actually found myself with a lump in my throat at the end, when reading about the death of this mercurial, precise, rogueish, handsome, kind, intelligent and funny man.  I would urge fans of Paul Newman to read this book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This film is rightly regarded as a classic in the comedy/crime genre. It stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford in their second pairing (the first being Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), as grifters Henry Gondorff and Johnny Hooker. When their friend Luther (Robert Earl Jones) is murdered, they seek revenge upon the man responsible by setting up a plan to con him out of a huge amount of money…

I really enjoyed the film. It is full of good humour, courtesy of the wise-cracking stars (and ladies, it should be noted that there is ALL KINDS of hotness going on in this picture, with Newman and Redford arguably at their best!). The off-screen friendship of the two stars really comes through on-screen, and is no doubt part of the reason for the huge success of both of the films in which they co-star. As well as lots of laughs, there is also plenty of tension, and as a viewer, you are never sure who exactly you can trust.

Robert Shaw is perfect as Doyle Lonnegan – the object of Gondorff and Hooker’s sting – bringing a great amount of menace to his role, and I also particularly liked Harold Gould’s role as another member of the grifters’ team, named Kid Twist (yes really).

The influence of this film can be seen in more modern films and programmes (‘Hustle’ was certainly influenced by this movie), and I hope that it’s appeal continues to endure for many many more years to come. Overall, a very enjoyable film indeed.

Year of release: 1973

Director: George Roy Hill

Producers: Tony Bill, Robert Crawford Jr., Julia Phillips, Michael Phillips, David Brown, Richard D. Zanuck

Writer: David S. Ward

Main cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw

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