Paul Newman, 1925–2008


Paul Newman often said that his best films began with the letter H, among them The Hustler (1961) and Hud (1963). Two of the H films were directed by Martin Ritt, including my favourite, Hombre (1967), a tough and unsentimental western based on a novel by the tough and unsentimental Elmore Leonard. Hombre is one of the few decent American westerns of the Sixties, with a great script and a first class cast. Newman plays John Russell, a white man raised by Apaches who has to save a group of stagecoach passengers from Richard Boone’s murderous bandits. His performance is a study in emotionless determination, the polar opposite of his far more popular roles as Butch Cassidy and Cool Hand Luke. One of many memorable lines of dialogue comes when Diane Cilento’s character asks Russell why they should trust him to lead them to safety. “’Cause I can cut it, lady,” he says. Paul Newman could always cut it.

9 thoughts on “Paul Newman, 1925–2008”

  1. This is too bad, we don’t have television where we live, so I never hear about interesting people passing away till a day or so afterward, who knows, maybe it just happened.

    I’ve always felt, contrary to all the old men in my town, that the best westerns of the sixties were to found amongst the Italian spaghettis. Plenty of them, especially Leone’s, included American actors. I wonder what Newman could have done with one of them. I am always doing that, asking what if with the past, kind of useless thing to do.

  2. It is such a great loss !!
    A few days ago we saw at home “sweet bird of youth” … the truth, we comment his inimitable and perfect beauty and his wondefull career and life… We need more men as him, it does not seem to you?

  3. Pe-jota: There was hardly anyone like him then, never mind now. Marlon Brando comes closest until he lost his looks and got lazy with his talent. The only person I can think of today who started out as a pretty face and has managed to develop while remaining a star is Johnny Depp. It’s unfair to compare the two but anyone who thinks Depp can’t act properly should watch The Libertine.

    Wiley: Hombre is the closest you’ll get to seeing Paul Newman do the minimal say-little-but-act-with-authority thing that Clint Eastwood was doing. I love Sergio Leone’s westerns, they often work better than the American films of the period because Hollywood had turned a historical genre into a tired formula. And if you think the films were bad, the TV shows were far worse. Leone did try to get other American actors for the Dollars films but they wanted too much money. Clint came cheap!

    Hombre is great for its acting and script but the music is awful and many of the sets are as dull as other westerns of the period, although not as overlit, which makes a change. The good Hollywood ones were all trying something different: Hombre turns around the traditional theme of the outsider protecting the community; Ulzana’s Raid (very harsh and violent Robert Aldrich movie) shows just how bad the Apaches could be and also acts as a comment on the Vietnam war; The Wild Bunch is totally out there, one of the most nihilistic films ever made and probably far closer to the brutal reality of that time than the cliches we’re used to.

  4. Hello John,

    I think this signals the last of the last of the great men: actors who weren’t afraid of anyone or anything. Men who carried authority in whatever they did. Lee Marvin. Bob Mitchum. William Holden. Robert Ryan. Perhaps Stanley Baker in this country. I agree about Mr Depp, however. Beyond the grandstanding he’s proved himself several times over (Dead Man, in particular).

    And Hombre IS a great, peculiar film. One where magic seems to occur in retrospect, like the brilliant and overlooked The Beguiled.



  5. Hi Martin. Tony Curtis was also born in 1925 and he’s still around, just about. Not as great an actor by any means but he had his moments. Both he and PN started out in swashbuckling nonsense.

    The Beguiled is a great piece of Southern Gothic, for sure. In fact Eastwood and Newman have in common their being smart enough to be producers of their own films. Eastwood obviously directed too, but fairly early on Paul Newman was responsible exec-producing his stuff, something that’s a lot more common for actors today.

  6. Hey John:

    I’ve never thought much of Paul Newman as an actor, but I did like very much your favorite of his films (HOMBRE) and BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID. Well, and COOL HAND LUKE and one or another wich title I can’t recall right now.
    anyway, I’m sorry for his passing away.
    R.I.P. Mr. Newman.

  7. John: as for your Newman/Brando comments, after seeing his interpretation of the Joker and what little I’ve glimpsed regarding his fractured role on this next Gilliam film, I believe that, had the talented bastard lived, Heath Ledger could have carried a torch for this fading tradition. Hell, even more so than Depp, man did he prove he could act.

  8. I’ve only seen Heath in Brokeback Mountain (of course) and thought he was really great in that. In fact I was shocked when I realised how I’d dismissed him for earlier roles I’d forgotten about. So yeah, he would have grown and his loss was a significant one.

  9. it’s hard not to admire Paul Newman for putting his money to work in such productive ways, such as his Newman’s Own line–high quality stuff and the proceeds go to good causes… very smart.

Comments are closed.