Paul Newman was born in 1925 near Cleveland, Ohio. He was an attendee of the world famous New York Actor’s Studio drama school in 1947. His first movie is included here, The Silver Chalice. The effort actually embarrassed him, and he took out an ad apologizing for the performance. It was looking like this young actor was going to disappear into obscurity in short order. Fortunately for moviegoers everywhere he decided to stick it out. He would deliver in the 1960’s and 1970’s some of the best movies ever made. His team ups with Robert Redford made for one of the best acting partnerships in film history. That’s what I’d like to see as a collection. Films like The Sting, All The President’s Men, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid would make the best collection
With the Acadamy Awards nearby, Warner Brothers decided to trot out a tribute to the recently deceased Paul Newman. Unfortunately they picked some of his worst, and certainly lesser known films to do the job. All of these films represent either an early point in Newman’s acting or directing career or as is the case with When Time Ran Out, a late career paycheck before Newman found out he could still do good films. None of these efforts represent his power films of the 1970’s.
Here’s a breakdown of the films in the collection:
When Time Ran Out:
This 1980 film was intended to take advantage of the disaster film trend of the 1970’s. It was a little too little a little too late. It was produced by the genre’s king, Irwin Allen, but it is one of his weakest films. The cast are on an island when a volcano blows. That’s about all there is to the story. You have only cliches remaining. Newman gets the hero role, and an attractive Jacqueline Bisset gets the role of the pretty girl in distress.
This is the odd film out in the collection. It wasn’t a starring vehicle for Newman. He directed and produced the film. The film did end up with four Academy Award nominations but didn’t end up with any statues. The film stared Joanne Woodward as the title character who is coming to a midlife crisis. She’s afraid of being a lonely spinster for the rest of her days. She has an encounter with childhood friend, James Olson, and not the photographer for The Daily Planet. A pregnancy scare is about as much excitement as this film delivers. It’s Newman’s first attempt from behind the camera and it is a slow and boring affair. What might have been an interesting character study turns into a tedious look at a woman’s rather dull life.
The Helen Morgan Story:
This film had the unenviable position of being released shortly after a television version of the story had just aired. This version of the film attempts to be all period piece and less about the title character. Period music performed by Gogi Grant might well be the best thing this film really has to offer. The story concerns an on again off again love affair Morgan has with a guy who’s pretty much a scumbag, played by Newman. Ann Blyth is often over the top in the role, and I was never sure if they were playing this for laughs or not.
The Silver Chalice:
I have found this to be an unfairly underrated Newman film. For some reason it has often been called one of his worst films, if not his outright worst. I disagree and was actually happy to see this one included in this tribute collection of Newman films. It’s a period piece about the Holy Grail, and early Christians’ attempts to protect it. Where the film loses itself for most is the unlikely Greeks vs. Romans mentality of the thing. Newman represents the Greeks, playing an artist who is creating the titular Silver Chalice to hold the Grail. Jack Palance is horribly miscast as the Roman sorcerer who believes that he can increase his own power through the destruction of the Grail.
To enjoy this film, as I have, you have to look at the subtleties of the performances. Newman pretty much makes his debut in the film, and it’s easy to see the talent that would reveal itself for the decades to come. For 1954 there are some nice sets, and there’s enough action to almost qualify the film among the trendy sand and sandals films of that time. It was also a marvelous example of early color, earning the film an Academy Award nomination for the production.
This film came through a long list of adaptations before director Martin Ritt got his hands on it. It was once a play called Rashomon by Michael and Fay Kanin. The original story was a little known Japanese film. The story remains pretty much the same in all of its incarnations. A notorious man kills one man and brutally rapes his wife. The film looks at this event through three very different perspectives. Paul Newman offers us the story from the eyes of his character, the killer himself.
This is one of those stories that goes a long way to make the point that everything is not always what it seems. While Newman’s character is certainly an incredibly vicious and evil man, we see how the couple’s treatment of him led him to his actions. The film never tries to justify the acts, merely explain them in a not altogether unsympathetic way. Newman’s accent is a bit over the top here and takes away from an otherwise compelling performance.
All of the films are presented in their original widescreen aspect ratios. For the most part colors are good, and the studio used relatively clean prints. Both The Outrage and The Helen Morgan Story are presented in their original black & white. The films are mostly alone on the discs so you won’t find any compression artifact to distract from the prints.
All except for The Silver Chalice are presented in Dolby Digital mono. Chalice is in Dolby Digital 5.1 which might as well have remained mono. The films are mostly dialog driven so that’s really all that is serviced here.
Rachel Rachel contains silent promo footage and a trailer.
We didn’t need a film collection to remember Paul Newman. His legacy is secure for generations to come. For the fans, it’s certainly nice to have copies of these seldom seen films. I’m not sure they are a good representation of his talent or abilities, but serve a purpose as a kind of historical perspective. These films are like a treasure to the fans, to be “Restored, but for years and for hundreds of years, it will lie in darkness”,