The Weenie Tribute to the 50-Year Plus Six Pack.
I remember several young lads from my high school days, most of them on the wrestling team, who sported fairly impressive six-packs. I also recall very clearly how those ripped abdominal muscles quickly metamorphosed into beer bellies by their second year of college (if they chose to pursue higher education). So perhaps that's why I've always been impressed that Paul Newman had as toned a stomach as you can get from the mid-1950s, possibly earlier, and still pretty much had one in 1994's The Hudsucker Proxy. One suspects he had a genetic predisposition to it, as well as healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle, but perhaps the media personality who gets the honor of interviewing Joanne Woodward in the coming days should ask her how many sit-ups Paul did during the half century she was acquainted with him, because I would wager it was a staggering number.
Promoting six-packs and straw hats since 1982.
What I've always found very interesting about Paul's career is that his big break pretty much came at the expense of Marlon Brando, who was offered the role of Rocky Graziano in "Somebody Up There Likes Me" after James Dean's corpse wasn't really up to the task, and he declined it because he didn't want to go through the arduous process of getting into boxing shape. Some actors can clearly let themselves go and still maintain very successful careers (see manboobs, Jack Nicholson), but Marlon's decline seemed to be directly aligned with his pudge and unwillingness to tackle it full-on. While I enjoy Paul Newman immensely, it's very difficult not to compare the last 30 years of his career with that of Marlon, who for all intents and purposes bought AT&T and phoned in his performances to maintain his Tahitian paradise. Paul Newman rocks hardcore, and Weenie Enema has several recommendations for the loyal reader base to take home and peruse at their leisure.
He has looked like that for decades.
When I heard that Paul Newman was dying several months ago, I made it my mission to see every Newman film before he died. I DID make some considerable progress, but fell far short of my goal. I made it to 1969's Winning (possibly the worst Newman movie I've ever seen, and he has a lot of crappola on his resume), and Netflix didn't have most of his cinematic efforts from the 1950s, so there are gaping holes of Newman knowledge in my noggin. That said, I have hand-selected two movies from each decade that are either hardcore badass, or are simply overlooked in the face of Butch Cassidy and Luke.
1. The Long, Hot Summer.
In my mind, the best Newman/Woodward movie by a long shot, and in many ways better than the more highly acclaimed Southern family drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Although a morbidly obese Orson Wells looks purple and is supposed to be plausibly diddling Angela Lansbury (and not Winston Churchill-lookalike Angela of present day), Paul spends most of the time wandering around the sweltering fields shirtless or close to it, and Joanne is deliciously frigid. This observation will come up later as well, but Paul Newman has to be the only person in Hollywood history who plays gigolos and general skeeze, and comes off looking classy. That cannot be an easy task.
England called. They want their war-time Prime Minister back.
2. The Left-Handed Gun.
Full disclosure - I hate this movie. I thought it sucked beyond all reasonable expectations, but it has been included because in many respects, I found it to be one of the most engaging and interesting Newman performances. His hotness factor is through the roof. I feel the movie-going public has been really shortchanged by his closely cropped hair in most of his films, because when he lets it go for a few months, it's deliciously hunky and curly and makes him look more sleazy. But in a non-STD kind of way. In terms of characterization, Paul's playing an incredibly immature, impulsive man-child, who can immediately transform into a hardened killer with colder eyes than Keifer Sutherland in The Lost Boys. If you can zone out the rest of the inept movie, dot dot dot.
Spurned of a nomination? You decide.
This isn't exactly an unknown product, but Hud to me is the best Paul Newman movie ever, surpassing Cool Hand Luke, The Hustler, The Sting and every other heralded classic that comes to mind. I know that many people, especially in my own demographic, have never even heard of this movie, and I suspect that's partly because a) it was shut out of most Oscar categories and Paul was outshone by Sidney Poitier's history-making win, and b) Paul's eponymous character does not inspire the legions of hero-worshipers that an outsider like Cool Hand Luke does with his repeated jail escapes, or Fast Eddie Felson does with his cue stick - he's so hideously unlikeable that the genius of the character isn't received as such on the scale of some of his other portrayals.
2. Sweet Bird of Youth.
Apparently the original play involved venereal diseases and castration, and the film version suffers for their glaring absences. Instead we're treated to an abortion on the down low and a black eye. Not as fun as the clap, but it WAS 1962. Like the other Tennessee Williams/Paul Newman collaboration, there's an unevenness that puts it at odds with the Broadway original. It seems too easy to simply say that Newman was miscast, though a fresh-faced debonair creature doesn't seem like the optimal person to be playing a washed up male ho. Watch out for a young, non-pedophile looking Rip Torn!
Perhaps someone ELSE should have played the gigolo.
Largely considered the weakest period of Paul Newman's career, the decade highlight is unquestionably 1973 Best Picture winner The Sting, though Slapshot has gained a loyal following over the years, as has the more suspect Towering Inferno. Since I only made it to 1969 during my mission and have only seen one movie from the 1970s, I feel it would be disingenuous of me to wax eloquent on the subject. Though I have heard that Pocket Money is really underappreciated. Take that for what you will.
I seriously wonder if this movie was pulled from television broadcasts in the weeks following 9/11. Since it apparently sucks, it might not have even had to come up.
1. Absence of Malice.
Also known as The Last Movie Where Paul Newman Was Insanely Hunky, Absence of Malice isn't exactly a tour de force of film-making, but it was enough of a parallel to Newman's publicized battles with the press, namely my BFF The NY Post, that he signed on and ended up with what is probably his least-known Oscar nomination. While the entire movie is extremely irritating, namely because Sally Fields is playing the kind of journalist that in real life would end up fired after about two days of employment, and is instead lauded for her tenacity and ability to seduce a 56-year-old Newman, who looks more like MAYBE 40, in his second-weakest decade, it's sadly a highlight of sorts.
Keep fighting the good fight.
I'm not selecting a second movie, because, like the previous decade, my choices are limited, and his most heralded roles are in two movies that don't deserve any sort of recognition - The Verdict and The Color of Money. Newman's Oscar win for The Color of Money is exactly why so many people hate on the Oscars for their politically motivated decisions, and The Verdict is a lame two-star movie that's constantly being labeled a classic for no good reason. I've heard Blaze is interesting, but again - I haven't even gotten into the nitty gritty of the 70s.
I am ashamed that such a noble creature was forced to share screen time with that L. Ron freak of nature.
1. Nobody's Fool.
To me, this otherwise nothing special, mediocre movie is worth watching because it serves as an affirmation for how great Paul Newman can be. It's rather sad that he has such a mediocre cast to work with, the exception being Jessica Tandy in her last film role, but I daresay only a noble creature not of this earth could make Melanie Griffith watchable. I've heard rather nasty shizzle uttered about how the Academy was simply nominating Paul for previous contributions, much like his 1986 win, but I don't buy it. I have a co-worker who remains utterly convinced that Jack Nicholson hasn't deserved any of his Oscar nominations since the early 1980s, and I feel a legit case can be made for that argument, but this is a subtly brilliant performance, and even Mr. Die Hard himself should feel honored for being allowed to participate in the production.
Wouldn't it have been amazing if Paul Newman was in a Die Hard movie? Heart.
2. The Hudsucker Proxy.
Um, you should just watch it to see a 70-year-old six pack that isn't Jack LaLanne's. One of the earliest Coen Brothers' pictures, and very ambitious in scope, it falls short of expectations, but is just gorgeous to look at, with the exception of perennial gawkyness Tim Robbins, leagues away from his badass Shawshank performance. In another highlight, Jennifer Jason Leigh isn't being raped or abused in some way, which is about as rare as Charlize getting through a film in one piece.
We are ALL on to you.
The 2000s are also a sparse cinematic wilderness, and the only project worth viewing is probably Road to Perdition. Empire Falls, a star-studded miniseries that won a whole bunch of Emmys, is kind of lame, but I'm a bit biased, since my primary gripe was how nasty Ed Harris' hair looked. It was mangy.