Paul Newman may be a beloved movie icon to those of us older than, say, 40. But many of the nation's younger moviegoers may have seen only one Newman movie in their lives: "Cars," in which he provides the voice to the old racer Doc Hudson.
They don't know what they're missing. Let's tell them. Newman has more than 80 roles in his filmography, but these 15 best define his unforgettable charisma. All are on DVD and available on Netflix.
Somebody Up There Likes Me
In Newman's second film, a drama by Robert Wise based on the autobiography of boxer Rocky Graziano, he gave a powerful performance as Rocky, who discovers pugilism to escape an aimless life. After 1956, Newman was no longer a TV star, but solidly a movie star.
The Long, Hot Summer
Martin Ritt's 1958 melodrama, based on stories by William Faulkner, paired Newman and Joanne Woodward in a movie for the first time. Their ease with each other is the best thing about the film, in which Newman plays a drifter with a fiery past who blows into a small Southern town and, in more ways than one, changes the destiny of a troubled family.
The Left-Handed Gun
Newman's turn to play Billy the Kid. (Newman had played The Kid before, on an episode of "Philco Television Playhouse.") The 1958 film was based on a play by Gore Vidal and directed by Arthur Penn, who liked taking famous outlaws and making them pop-culture heroes. Once you get past the silly theme song, Newman owns the movie as a man who turns to revenge after his mentor is killed.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The first filmed adaptation of Tennessee Williams' classic play, directed by Richard Brooks, stars Newman as Brick. His wife ( Elizabeth Taylor) can't understand why Brick doesn't love her, and his father is demanding a grandchild. Newman earned his first of 10 Oscar nominations, even though Williams hated the film because all references to homosexuality were excised. It was, after all, 1959.
In 1961, Newman had his greatest performance up to that time, and arguably of his entire career. Robert Rossen's gritty drama centers of Fast Eddie Felson (Newman), a pool shark so full of himself he challenges the greatest of them all, Minnesota Fats ( Jackie Gleason). Eddie comes to regret his bravado. Newman with a pool cue at the ready is as iconic as film images come. Not to be missed.
Sweet Bird of Youth
In 1962, Newman reprised the role he played on Broadway, as a self-absorbed man who goes back to his Southern hometown, bringing along a movie star, whom he uses in an attempt to gain fame. Richard Brooks again adapted Tennessee Williams and again cut out the most graphic stuff, but the acting is wonderful. In addition to Newman, Ed Begley, Geraldine Page and Shirley Knight stand out.
Newman played a bastard, very charismatically, in Martin Ritt's 1963 adaptation of a story by Larry McMurtry about the changing of the old West to the less-savory new West. Melvyn Douglas, Brandon De Wilde and especially Patricia Neal are excellent as the people who warily share their world with the bitter Hud. Newman looks gorgeous playing, ironically, a man you really wouldn't want to know.
Cool Hand Luke
The sweatiest movie ever made, with loads of 'tude. Stuart Rosenberg's 1967 crime drama stars Newman as a man jailed for a misdemeanor, who defies the rules any way he can. He becomes a hero to his fellow members of the chain gang, but a thorn in the side of The Man. One of the greatest lines in movie history — "What we got here is ... failure to communicate" — comes from this film.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Newman went into charm overload with Robert Redford at his side in this legendary 1969 Western by George Roy Hill. They portray Old West outlaws who are overwhelmed by modern advancements in law-enforcement techniques. Butch and Sundance remain friends until the end. Other buddy movies have tried, and failed, to measure up.
Newman and Redford, and George Roy Hill, reunited in the 1973 Best Picture Oscar winner, about two grifters in the '30s setting up an elaborate revenge against an old enemy. Newman and Redford have a great time reviving their old rascally camaraderie, and Newman's appeal is at its peak during the famous poker game against Robert Shaw.
Beloved by diehard sports fans, George Roy Hill's 1977 comedy has Newman playing Reg, the coach of a bad minor-league hockey team in a depressed town, who stumbles on a way to make his team popular again: on-ice brutality. It's Newman's favorite of his films, because of the fun he had making it.
In Sidney Lumet's 1982 courtroom drama, Newman portrays Frank Galvin, a washed-up, alcoholic lawyer in Boston. He is hired by the family of a comatose woman to sue the Catholic Church, which owns the hospital where she was poorly treated. Galvin is weary and defeated, with just a tiny spark left of self-respect, which grows as the story grows. It was the finest performance in the latter period of his career.
The Color of Money
Newman finally won the best-actor Oscar he'd deserved since "The Hustler" by reprising the role of Fast Eddie Felson for Martin Scorsese. Felson is now older and jaded, and is pestered by a young doppelganger of his former self, played by Tom Cruise. It's not as good as "The Hustler," but that would have been almost impossible. It's still a well-made, entertaining story.
Mr. and Mrs. Bridge
Newman and Woodward's last film together was a 1990 James Ivory domestic drama about an old-fashioned couple having a hard time adjusting to changing mores and connecting with their children. It's wonderful to see this perfect couple together again. Woodward got an Oscar nomination.
Newman played Sully, a sneaky old scamp, in Robert Benton's low-key 1994 slice of life set in a tiny, boring town in upstate New York. Sully hates his boss and flirts with his boss' wife and deals with his son and battles a banker with plans to upend his life. The unpretentious comedy utilizes Newman's understated sense of humor to perfection. His last best-lead-actor Oscar nomination.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun