I've always liked Paul Newman. He was blessed with matinee idol looks and twinkling blue eyes and could've fully relied on those attributes to carry his film career. Instead, he went his own way and pretty early on established himself as a maverick personality, with an independent mindset and a determination to make it in La-La Land based on his acting, not his looks. Back in those days, when the Hollywood studios were still more in control of things, that streak of gumption could've spelled doom for an actor establishing himself. But, the thing of it is, Paul Newman can also act - and act exceedingly well. So he was given license to be a real actor, instead of a Hollywood puppet. He fought for the meaty roles he ended up with, when he could've made a solid living coasting in cinematic romances. So, yeah, I like Paul Newman.
For me, there are two utter gems in this collection: SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME and THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS. These are the first two Paul Newman films I saw, so they have special resonance for me. HARPER is almost as memorable, with its sequel THE DROWNING POOL and THE MACKINTOSH MAN being decent enough. Even POCKET MONEY and THE LEFT-HANDED GUN, two kinda bizarre films, have some justification for existing as motion pictures, because even at his least capable, Paul Newman still exuded style and swagger, that unmistakable Hollywood presence that made him a top cinematic leading man in his heyday.
Here's the cool thing: all the films in this collection are being released in dvd format for the first time. Now, the special features are listed by Amazon so there's no need to go into details. I will say that the extra feature I'm most looking forward to accessing is the audio commentary by Paul Newman, Robert Wise, and Martin Scorcese on SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME. I already own the individual films on VHS but the decider for my having pre-ordered this collection is the above-mentioned audio commentary. Three Hollywood legends chit-chatting about one of my favorite boxing movies? It was a no-brainer for me.
The seven films featured here vary from excellent to decent to Geez-it's-a-good-thing-I-like-you-Paul-Newman. SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME is truly excellent, with HARPER just a notch below. THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS, which is in my top two favorites here (due to sentimental reasons) is a highly diverting soap opera-type of film. THE MACKINTOSH MAN is a pretty entertaining spy thriller. THE DROWNING POOL is so-so; I enjoyed it mostly on the strength of it being a sequel to HARPER. THE LEFT-HANDED GUN and POCKET MONEY are my two least favorites here, even though both films have their own merit. So, obviously, for Newman connoisseurs, his best films aren't in this collection. Off the top of my head, I'm talking about classics like THE LONG HOT SUMMER, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, HUD, COOL HAND LUKE, THE HUSTLER, BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID, THE STING, THE VERDICT, THE COLOR OF MONEY...heck, even SLAPSHOT is a fine sports film. But, see, all those are already out in dvd. This collection is for the Newman completist, as well as for those who haven't yet had a chance to view his lesser known work. I can't, in good conscience, rate this collection as 5 stars overall, because some of the movies themselves aren't 5-star films. But it does get a very healthy 4 stars, as well as a semi-exasperated "Well, finally!" Man, I've been waiting for years for the dvd versions!
HARPER (1966) is based on Ross MacDonald's classic detective Lew Archer and is an engrossing mystery film. Newman is simply great as the cool and unflappable Lew Harper as he attempts to ferret out a missing millionaire but ends up, as usual with these types of mysteries, digging up more than he bargained for.
THE DROWNING POOL (1975) is the sequel to HARPER and is decidedly a lesser effort. This time out, Harper goes to Louisiana to get to the bottom of a blackmailing plot and ends up meeting eccentrics. A slow mystery, and, in a way, more of a slice of life type of film. But, if you've seen and enjoyed HARPER, you almost have to see this. Plus, it features a very young Melanie Griffith.
Paul Newman got to portray middleweight boxer Rocky Graziano when James Dean (who had been originally signed) tragically died. SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (1956) chronicles Rocky's wild, law-breaking youth and his evolution from an unpolished street fighter to an unpolished prize fighter. Highly entertaining stuff, with a very rootable protagonist. Pier Angeli, as his future wife Norma Graziano, is unassumingly charming. But, make no mistake, Newman's nuanced performance carries the day and is what made Hollywood sit up and really pay attention.
THE MACKINTOSH MAN (1973) is a pseudo-Hitchcockian cold war thriller starring Newman as Joseph Rearden, a supposedly convicted criminal who escapes from prison in the company of a spy. Then, things get more murky and complicated. Not a bad gritty flick directed by John Huston.
THE LEFT-HANDED GUN (1958) is a sympathetic take on William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid. As westerns go, it's...not bad, though it is a bit loopy at times, with regards to Newman's off-the-beaten-path take on the famous outlaw. This time, the troubled Billy the Kid is portrayed as, more or less, on the side of the angels who seeks justice when his friend and mentor is murdered by a dastardly lawman and his peeps. This is actually one of my least favorite Paul Newman flicks.
POCKET MONEY (1972) is an offbeat modern western-comedy starring Paul Newman and Lee Marvin as two cowboys who get bilked in a cattle smuggling scheme by a two-faced rancher played by Strother Martin. This movie has its own leisurely sense of pace and takes a while to get into, as its not afraid to go off on its own tangents. This is ultimately a character study revolving around Newman's gullible Jim Kane and Marvin's dim-bulb Leonard. In fact, their performances are the saving grace of this film. For those who enjoy contemplative, off-kilter films without lots of action, this one's for you.
THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS (1959) offers up some very good performances, with Newman doing the heavy lifting, acting-wise. It's basically a soap opera tale elevated to the big screen and given a Hollywood sheen. Newman plays a young, gifted lawyer from the poor side of town attempting to scale Philadelphia's elite social ladder. Jilted romances and courtroom dramas abound. Personally, I really dig this film.