Posts Tagged ‘John Wayne’

Peter O'Toole Lion in  WinterI was saddened to discover yesterday that Peter O’Toole had died over the weekend  in London at the age of 81.   He was definitely a favorite of mine.   The Irish-born actor was famous for his partying and brawling alongside his longtime chum Richard Harris, but first and foremost was legend on the stage and on the screen, casting a magnificent presence into all his roles.   And what great roles they were-  the ethereal Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia,  his comic twist as Allan Swann in My Favorite Year and  my favorites, two times as King Henry II in Beckett and in The Lion In Winter.

O’Toole holds a dubious record , being the most nominated best actor ( 8 times) without ever winning the Oscar.  I can’t fault most of the winning choices in the years that he lost.  Most were incredible performances such as Marlon Brando in 1972’s The Godfather, Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962, Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady in 1964, John Wayne in True Grit in 1969, Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull in 1980, and Ben Kingsley in Gandhi in 1982.  All of these are legendary roles.  Even his loss to Forrest Whitaker in 2006’s The Last King of Scotland is understandable.

No, the one where his performance was by far the greatest of that year (and most others in my opinion) was in 1968 when he portrayed  Henry II in The Lion in Winter.  He lost to Cliff Robertson in Charly, which was a great role and a fine movie, the film version of Flowers For Algernon.  I take nothing away from Cliff Robertson but O’Toole’s portrayal was one for the ages, matched as he was with Katherine Hepburn  and a young Anthony Hopkins.  It’s a film that I cannot help but watching whenever it comes on.  O’Toole is mesmerizing in that film, just dominating the screen.  He was truly the Lion in that film.

I think I’ll watch it again today just to see him roar once more.

Here’s a taste:



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Yesterday, after finally getting back in the studio after running errands, I flipped on the tube and caught the end of the classic John Ford film The Searchers.  On the day that the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit opened, it was fitting that they were showing what is probably John Wayne’s finest performance, as the damaged and hate-filled hero Ethan Edwards.  Beautifully shot film with layers and layers of content. 

 The reason I mention this this morning is the image shown here, the final shot of the film.  Ethan has finished his quest to find and retrieve his kidnapped niece and has deposited her with what remains of her family.  He stands apart, the darkness of the interior walls forming a frame that highlights his alienation and isolation.  He is a living ghost.

It is an image that never fails to move me, bringing forward a strong emotional reaction to it, even if only seeing it in a passing clip for a mere second or two. It captures perfectly the tenor and content of the whole story in a single iconic image.  Ethan holds his damaged arm representing his emotional scars as well and he slowly turns and walks away towards the desert as the door shuts behind, bringing the story to an end in darkness.  Just perfect.

I remember seeing a documentary on John Ford that equated his filmmaking to painting in that he looked at the compositions with a painter’s eye, letting the background become part of the storytelling process.  You can see it in most of his films.  There are shots that are so beautifully composed that they evoke an immediate emotional response.  What you hope for as a painter. 

Even now as I sit here writing this, my eye wanders up that image and I am struck by it.  I will probably have that image with me for the rest of the day, at least.  That is powerful.

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I usually don’t like remakes of older movies, don’t like taking something that stands up so well over the years and trying to redo it with a slicker look and more technology.  You usually can’t outdo the original actors who made certain parts iconic.  How could you remake Casablanca today and who could replace Bogart in it?  Who could have the sheer charisma of Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler character in Gone With the Wind without appearing to do a lame impersonation of him?  Or Henry Fonda’s Tom Joad  in The Grapes of Wrath?

But after seeing the trailer for True Grit I am willing to make an exception, despite John Wayne’s iconic portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in the 1969 version.  Maybe it’s the trust I have in the Coen Brothers who are doing this remake.  Or maybe it’s the short clips of Jeff Bridges’ version of Cogburn that I’ve seen (this is no Dude here).  I don’t know.  It looks darker and angrier than the original, more about a biblical sort of wrath than the earlier version.  I liked the early Wayne version but this looks like it could have fallen from the pen of Cormac McCarthy, and in the Coen’s hands that’s okay with me.   I know it will be a different interpretation and not a mere retelling with new window dressing.

There are few films I look forward to but this is one.  Look for it around Christmas.  Here’s the trailer:

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Yesterday, as I was painting in the studio, I had the pleasure of seeing two of my favorite movies, Hangmen Also Die and The Seventh Cross from the WW II era, two films that dealt with the citizens of countries occupied by the Nazis at that time.   Both dealt with underground resistance efforts and how they operated to undermine and hinder the Nazi’s hold on their countries.

I’ve always been intrigued by these movies made during wartime, movies that deal not with the soldiers in the field but with the citizens who struggle to live day to day under a brutal occupier.  The depiction of the resistance fighters in both of these movies is remarkable in that they are portrayed as totally unremarkable people.  Just everyday people who overcome their fears to perform small acts of bravery that collectively become large actions against their oppressors.

In many ways, these people are more inspiring and heroic than the John Wayne style heros of that era’s battlefield films.  When I watch these films, I always find myself wondering how I, or people I know, would react in such situations.  Would we be able to muster the will to put aside our fears and work to oppose our occupiers?  Or would we cave and submit willingly?

I know we would all love to say that we would take the heroic route, that we would fight against the powers that oppressed us.  For me, I can only hope that this is true.  I can’t be sure.   I’ve lived long enough to know that, for most,  the expediency of momentary security often trumps heroic intentions and the very thought of courageous actions.

I hope I never have to know the answer to these questions.

So, if you wish to be inspired by the courage of common folk, take a gander at these two films.  Maybe it will help you be braver in your own lives…

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The other day I had a post about Lon Chaney and my friend, Dave, commented that he had wanted to be Chaney when he was a kid.  This made me wonder what movie hero I wanted to emulate when I was young.  It’s easy to rattle off stars now, when you’re older and know their full careers and the impact they made.  But when you’re a kid the attraction is more basal, less thought out.  More limited to the scope of your own small world.

I wanted to be Audie Murphy when I was a boy.

Though hardly known today, Audie Murphy lived for me in the B-movie westerns that were shown every Saturday morning at 7:30 AM on our local TV station.  They were pretty predictable stories with Audie as the lawman or the wrongly accused cowhand who ferrets out the bad guys, often played by Dan Duryea, another name that is little known today, and finds justice with his fists or his six-guns, riding off into the western sunset.

His appeal for me was in that, as a kid, he seemed both like the hero and the underdog.  He wasn’t a big  tough guy who physically dominated the screen like John Wayne.  He seemed smaller than the villains who threatened him.  Maybe that was the appeal to a kid.  But he had quiet determination and grit and always upheld the heroic qualities of honesty, courage and justice.  He always persevered.

While most of his films were B-movies, he did have a few higher quality outings.  He starred in the classic The Red Badge of Courage and in The Unforgiven with Audrey Hepburn as well as a starring role as himself in the biographical To Hell and Back.  Did I forget to mention that Audie Murphy was a real-life  war hero?  Audie Murphy was the most decorated soldier of World War II and his exploits in the field are legendary.  He received the Purple Heart  when a German bullet hit and shatter his hip.  He recuperated for all of ten weeks, came back and was wounded within days by a mortar then again some time later  during incredible combat actions which led to him receiving the Medal of Honor.  He received 33 medals, all that were  possible, plus 6 medals from France and Belgium.

Not bad for a guy who was listed upon enlisting as being 5′ 5 1/2″ tall and weighing 110 pounds.

But I didn’t even know about his offscreen heroics then nor did  I know about the emotional struggles that came with such brutal war experiences that haunted him until his death in 1971.  He was just the little guy in the light colored hat with the fast fists and quiet determination, fighting for what was right.

Not a bad guy to want to emulate…

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