Cool Hand Luke 1967 ****


Adapted from a novel by Donn Pearce, Stuart Rosenberg’s 1967 film is a decidedly cool proposition; the title character, Luke Jackson, played by Paul Newman, is sent to suffer on a Southern chain gang, but no matter what they authorities throw at him to try and break his spirit, he always bounces back.. The feeling is late sixties, even if the setting is 1949; Jackson stands for the masses in the face of officialdom, and the Christ allegory is handled with irreverence, not only in the famous egg-eating scene, but in Newman’s stirring performance of the folk-song Plastic Jesus; one big raspberry in the face of his captors. George Kennedy and Dennis Hopper contribute notable bits, but its Newman’s film all the way.

Exodus 1960 ***


Like much of Otto Preminger’s work, his 1960 epic of Jewish empowerment, Exodus, has largely been consigned to the sidelines of cinematic history; long and serious, it’s a high-minded blockbuster that deals with the founding of the state of Israel. Paul Newman is agent Ari Ben Cannan, who steps up to the plate to take charge when a boatload of Jewish people is refused port by British authorities. Dalton Trumbo adapts Leon Uris’s book at a hefty 208 minute length, and although momentum is lost when the ship is parked around the halfway mark, it’s easy to see why Exodus is a key film in Jewish and Israeli culture; despite a hackneyed romantic subplot, there’s an underlying excitement about the political opportunities of a new state, and Preminger’s film is required viewing for anyone interested in exploring the various sides of the on-going conflict.

The Hustler 1961 ****


It’s hard to credit that the Walter Tevis whose novel was adapted by Robert Rossen for this classic slice of pool-hall drama is the same author responsible for The Man Who Fell To Earth. Then again, the story of a Californian shark making it in New York city certainly plays like a story of an alien fighting for survival in a strange environment, Paul Newman is at his charismatic best as Fast Eddie Felson, who takes on reigning champion Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) in this downbeat but absorbing character study. Piper Laurie makes an unusual love-interest as Sarah, and Rossen makes great use of his own experiences as a poll-hall hustler; his movie positively reeks of authenticity.

Quintet 1979 ***


Paul Newman and Robert Altman are hardly the first names that come up in discussions of science-fiction, but 1979 oddity Quintet sees them sparking a pre-Hunger Games vision of a dystopian society. Newman plays Essex, a loner who stumbles into a snow-white netherworld where a living board game called Quintet is being played out, with Vittorio Gassman, Fernando Rey and Bibi Andersson amongst the players. Essex agrees to play, with a pregnant wife to support, but the game itself proves to be as inhospitable as the nuclear winter everyone appears to be living through. Quintet is a bizarre entry in Altman and Newman’s careers, but not an unrewarding one, with echoes of Tarkovsky’s austere sci-fi popping up in a chillingly oblique drama.

Slap Shot 1977 ****


Sport comedies are usually sentimental affairs; George Roy Hill’s reteaming with Paul Newman after the period charms Burch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting was anything but, shocking fans of both the star and director with its foul-mouthed account of ice hockey rivalry. Originally planned as a documentary by writer Nancy Dowd, Roy Hill dallied with Al Pacino and Nick Nolte before casting Newman as Reggie Dunlop, an aging ice-hockey star whose prepared to use every dirty trick in the book to keep his flagging career from ending. The skating action is fluid, with many real players on the ice, and Newman is as convincing in is gentler romantic scenes as in the ferocious brawls.

The Verdict 1981 ****


Sticking closely to the plot of Barry Reed’s novel, although with an amped-up ending, Sydney Lumet’s return to the courtroom circuit of Twelve Angry men is one of the best legal thrillers, distinguished by a wintry tone and Paul Newman’s stern turn as washed-up attorney Frank Galvin. Galvin takes on a seemingly unwinnable medical malpractice case, only to find the “prince of darkness’ in the form of James Mason, blocking his route to justice. An early David Mamet script creates just the right salty edge, and Mamet’s soon-to-be-wife Lindsay Crouse appears alongside Charlotte Rampling, Milo O’Shea and Jack Warden in an accomplished supporting cast.

Fort Apache: The Bronx 1981 ***


The title makes the analogy clear; early eighties New York was pretty much the wild west, at least according to the direction of TV veteran Daniel Petrie. Paul Newman plays Officer Murphy, who has worked his South Bronx detail for nearly two decades. Now president of the screen actors Guild, Edward Asner plays a fellow cop with none of the sweetness of his later turn in Pixar’s up, but it’s Pam Grier (Tarantino’s Jackie Brown ) who steals the show as a razor-blade wielding prostitute. Written By Heywood Gould, and based on the real-life experiences of NYPD cops Thomas Mulhearn and Pete Tessitore, Fort Apache is tough, abrasive and the definition of a city suburb going to hell-in-a-handbasket.