The blurb on the box (seen above) tells no lies. They say you can't have it
all, but if anyone did it was Paul Newman. He was a bona fide movie star and one
of the best-looking actors in Hollywood during his younger years. He was also a
daring, critically-regarded actor, unafraid of taking risks on films that other
stars of his caliber didn't touch. When he grew too old to play standard leading
man roles, he adapted and successfully re-defined himself. His marriage to
Joanne Woodward was one those too-rare successful marriages in the entertainment
industry, spanning a period of 50 years. He was known for his charity work,
contributing a great deal to those less fortunate throughout his entire life.
This box set collects 13 of Newman's MGM/Fox films, taking a good look at the
actor's career from the time he reached true stardom (with The Long, Hot
Summer in 1958) to the moment of his transformation as a new actor (The
Verdict in 1982).
The contents of the set are contained in a sturdy cardboard case. The case
contains a 136-page book offering behind-the-scenes photos and a few pages of
info on each film included in the set. In addition, the 17 discs included in
Paul Newman: The Tribute Collection are divided into two separate
fold-out cardboard packages. The discs are contained in shallow slits spread
throughout the fold-out cases, which is a rather unfortunate packaging
situation. First, the set-up will undoubtedly cause some disc scuffing and
scratching over time. Second, the discs slip out of place very easily (I had
this happen numerous times over the course of reviewing this collection). These
concerns aside, it's an attractive package that will look nice on your shelf
(assuming you can find a place for the hefty rectangular box).
If the packaging is somewhat less than Grade A work, it should be noted that
the price is adjusted suitably. Most online retailers are selling the collection
for less than 70 bucks, coming out to roughly 5 dollars per film. So, the real
question is whether or not there are enough quality films in the set to make a
purchase worthwhile. We'll take them one-by-one, but permit me to make a couple
of notes before we begin. First, it should be noted that despite the fact that
each disc seems to be a brand-new printing, the supplemental contents and
transfers are precisely the same as those found on the previously released DVD
versions of these films. That means you get the excellent, recently remastered
version of The Hustler and the awful, non-anamorphic eyesore that is
Exodus. So, I won't be focusing on the details of the audio and video
unless there is something terribly important of note (such as the aforementioned
Exodus transfer). Likewise, for the sake of keeping this only terribly
long instead of unforgivably long, I will only be listing the supplements
included rather than going into specific detail regarding them. Sound good? Okay
then, let's get started.
The Long, Hot Summer
I've always been somewhat fond of The
Long, Hot Summer, a slightly misguided William Faulkner adaptation that
marks the first time Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward collaborated onscreen.
Newman plays Ben Quick, a con man with a history of burning down barns in small
towns. Yes, he's seemingly a serial arsonist, but the folks of Frenchman's Bend,
Mississippi don't know that. Ben gets a job working for the powerful Will Varner
(Orson Welles), the man who more or less owns the entire town. Varner thinks
pretty highly of Ben, so he decides to thrust the hunky young man into a
relationship with his daughter Clara (Woodward). The film is a fun southern soap
that gets pretty ridiculous by act three, but it's a guilty pleasure for me. The
role of Ben Quick is a rather bizarre and challenging one, but Newman tackles it
with a steely gusto that very successfully demonstrates what a cool force he
could be when given the right material. Orson Welles is gloriously hammy (and
remarkably round) as the swaggering Will Varner and Woodward excels in the
scenes she shares with Newman. Look out for good little supporting turns from
Angela Lansbury and Lee Remick, too. Perhaps the film's greatest attribute is a
sensational Alex North score, blending sultry dramatic writing with lusty
Special features include an "AMC Backstory" featurette and a
"Fox Movietone News" clip.
Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!
We see a much different side of
Newman in Leo McCarey's silly romp Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!, which
demonstrates Newman's abilities as a comedian if failing to be a satisfactory
experience overall. Newman plays Harry Bannerman, a man who has two children and
is happily married to the quirky Grace (Joanne Woodward). However, town flirt
Angela Hoffa (Joan Collins) has her eye on Harry and intends to steal him away.
Meanwhile, the socially active Grace enlists her husband to help in an effort to
stop some military officials (Gale Gordon and Jack Carson) from putting a
top-secret facility in the middle of their lovely hometown. The film works as a
fun romp for the first 45 minutes or so, particularly during the scenes Newman
and Woodward share together. Their chemistry is terrific once again, though in a
much different manner here than in The Long, Hot Summer. However, once
the witty wordplay of the first act gives way to the big plot developments of
the rest of the film, things slowly move from bad to worse. The complicated
unromantic triangle between Newman, Woodward and Collins requires extreme
stupidity on the part of all three characters, while the military plotline is
horribly contrived. Everything culminates in a spectacularly bad finish which
involves a chimpanzee, a spaceship accidentally being launched and a bunch of
local thugs dressing up like Indians. What could have been a fun little outing
is killed by its own wretched excess. Still, it's worth a look if only to see
just how funny Woodward could be when given the opportunity.
Special features include an audio commentary on select scenes with film
historian Aubrey Solomon, a restoration comparison, a photo gallery, interactive
pressbook, advertising gallery and theatrical trailer.
From the Terrace
The third collaboration between Newman and
Woodward was perhaps their most consistent, despite being notably less colorful
than the previous two installments. Newman plays Alfred Eaton, a military
officer returning home from World War II. Sadly, Alfred's father (Leon Ames)
seems cold and distant while his mother (Myrna Loy) has descended into extreme
alcoholism. Newman re-enters the business world, achieving great success on Wall
Street and marrying a very respectable woman named Mary (Woodward). Alas, as
time passes the business side of his life begins to consume him, causing his
marriage to crumble. It's all very melodramatic stuff, playing like slightly
stale Douglas Sirk. Still, the turbulent performances from Newman, Loy,
Woodward, and the rest of the cast are involving in their own over-the-top
manner. The film benefits from impeccable production design and a gloriously
lush Elmer Bernstein score, but ultimately the story feels a bit flat. It's a
credit to Newman that his tormented turn resonates despite the artifice of the
The only supplements are an old Fox Movietone News piece about Newman and a
There may be worse films in this collection, but I'm not
sure there's one as painfully dull as the bloated Exodus. It's a
disappointment both for fans of Newman and fans of director Otto Preminger, both
of whom seem to have lost their usual spark in this outing. Newman plays Ben
Canaan, a Palestinian Jew attempting to liberate ex-European Jews by bringing
them to Palestine in the hopes of setting up an Israeli Free State. The book
included with this set notes that Ben Canaan was the most overtly heroic
character Newman ever played, and that may be a large part of why the role just
doesn't work. As demonstrated in this collection, Newman could play many
different notes masterfully, but evidently straightforward, noble dramatic hero
wasn't one of them. He seems stiff and bland in the part, though the writing
certainly doesn't do him any favors. The sprawling length of the film (208
minutes) is by all means unjustified, as far too many moments waste time on
melodramatic subplots attempting to make the story more accessible for the
average moviegoer. The film was a big hit, which is remarkable considering the
failure of so many other more intriguing films of this sort during the 1960s. As
mentioned earlier, the film's scope cannot be fully appreciated due the terrible
non-anamorphic transfer the film receives. Not only is the massive imagery not
given enough space on your screen, but the picture just looks bad in almost
every way. Scratches, flecks, and awful detail define what should be a visually
marvelous experience. Equally bad: the terrific Ernest Gold score sounds pinched
and distorted throughout.
There are no supplements included on the disc.
There are three true classics contained in this
collection, and The Hustler is the first of them. What is there to say
about this film that hasn't already been said? No, it isn't a movie about pool,
despite the fact that there is indeed a lot of pool contained within the film.
No, it isn't about con games, though there are plenty of con games contained
within the film. It's a movie about human nature and a man's search for
"character," that hard-to-define quality that is simultaneously
elusive and essential. There's a moment early on, when the young Fast Eddie
Felson (Newman) is beating the legendary pool player Minnesota Fats (Jackie
Gleason). Eddie boasts that he's going to keep beating Fats until Fats calls it
quits. "Stick with this one," the tough Bert (George C. Scott) says,
"He's a loser." Sure enough, Eddie loses all of his money, and then is
forced to spend a great deal of time attempting to work his way back into a
rematch with Minnesota Fats. When the climactic moment arrives, we are not just
watching a man attempting to win a pool tournament; we're watching a
masterfully-constructed climax that is functioning on several levels. The
performances deserve great praise, not only the cocky-yet-vulnerable Newman but
also Jackie Gleason (doing a complete 180 from his comedy work), Piper Laurie
(developed with far more complexity than we expect) and George C. Scott
(demonstrating remarkable assurance in one of his early screen appearances).
It's a great film and you're guaranteed to find it engaging even if you could
care less about the game of pool.
This 2-disc set includes an audio commentary with Newman, film historian
Jeff Young and film critic Richard Schickel, featurettes "Life in the Fast
Lane: Fast Eddie Felson and the Search for Greatness," "Milestones in
Cinema History: The Hustler," and "Swimming with Sharks: The Art of
the Hustle," trick shot analysis of five different scenes in the film, a
"How to Make the Shot" featurette on five different scenes, galleries
and a theatrical trailer.
Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man
This film is something of
an oddity in this collection, as Newman is merely a bit player in a large
ensemble cast. The central figure of the film is Nick Adams (Richard Beymer), a
character Ernest Hemingway created as a semi-autobiographical lead in numerous
short stories published during the '20s and '30s. The film groups a number of
these short stories together to create a reasonably coherent whole, becoming a
sprawling 145-minute coming-of-age story. Even so, there is a distinctly
episodic feeling to the film, and some episodes work better than others. Critics
of the era praised the opening portion of the film starring Arthur Kennedy and
Jessica Tandy as Adams' parents, but seen today this much-lauded portion seems
preposterous: Young Adams regards his father as a failure because his father
doesn't have the guts to stand up to his domineering mother. The father agrees
and commits suicide. Yeah, it plays as poorly as it sounds. Then Adams sets
about traveling the world, meeting the likes of Ricardo Montalban, Dan Dailey,
Eli Wallach and yes, Newman himself as a grizzled character named "The
Battler." Disappointingly, the Newman sequence is brief and bland. Much of
the film's second half (in which Adams goes to Europe) is actually pretty
compelling, but it's too little, too late. At least the film is nice to look at,
as the lush outdoor scenery is played up as frequently as possible (and it's all
accompanied by a really lovely Franz Waxman score).
The special features include an audio commentary with film historians
Patricia King Hanson and Frank Thompsons, featurettes "Remembering Ernest:
A.E. Hotchner's Adventures with Hemingway," "Papa's Last Days,"
and "A.E. Hotchner and Paul Newman: A Legacy of Charity," a
restoration comparison, theatrical trailer and stills gallery.
What a Way to Go!
Newman plays a supporting role again in the
unusual Shirley McClaine vehicle What a Way to Go!, a rare comedy outing
for director J. Lee Thompson (Cape
Fear, The Guns of Navarone).
McClaine plays Louisa May Foster, a woman who has a disastrous relationship
history. Every time she marries a man, the marriage will go well for a while
until the man ultimately succumbs to greed and meets an untimely and unexpected
death as a result (for instance, one husband literally "works himself to
death" in an attempt to make as much money as possible). The men are played
by Newman, Dean Martin, Dick Van Dyke, Robert Mitchum, and Gene Kelly. Four of
them die; one survives and gets to live happily ever after. No, I won't tell you
which one, but I will tell you that this comedy is a slight disappointment
considering the talent of the cast. There are three or four jokes that are
repeated in some variation in each segment, so by the time the film's final act
arrives it has become tired and predictable. McClaine is appealing in the lead
role, though she spends much of her time reacting to the wild antics of the men
in her lives. A very smooth, hilariously haughty Dean Martin and the
just-plain-eccentric Newman fare the best, creating memorable characters that
keep us laughing during most of their screen time. Van Dyke and Kelly are
appealing, but they do tend to overplay their roles a bit much. As for
Mitchum…hey, I love Robert Mitchum about as much as it is humanly possible
to love an actor, but the man just seems incredibly uninterested in his role as
a powerful tycoon. Ultimately, What a Way to Go! feels like slightly less
than the sum of its parts.
There are no special features on the disc.
In this Martin Ritt western based on an Elmore Leonard
novel, Newman plays John "Hombre" Russell, a white man who was raised
by Apache Indians. Russell has lived with the Indians all of his life, but one
day learns that he has inherited a boarding house in town. Russell determines to
sell the boarding house, but his time spent in "civilized" society
pushes him into moments of interaction with folks like boarding house operator
Jessie (Diane Cilento) and the suspicious Grimes (Richard Boone). Soon he finds
himself onboard a stagecoach with several folks from town, the stagecoach is
robbed, and…well, I won't spoil what happens from there. However, the plot
isn't of particular importance, as it's a routine western template more or less
derived from a variety of prior westerns (not least of all John Ford's Stagecoach). However, the film works.
This is partially due to terrific performances from the entire cast
(particularly Newman's stony turn in the lead role and Boone's fun performance
as the film's villain), and partially due to the intriguing moral dilemmas that
play a role during the film's second half. If you're a fan of the western genre,
you've seen plenty of films like this one before, but when such films are
executed as skillfully as Hombre it's hard to complain.
Supplements are limited to a stills gallery and a theatrical trailer.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
The second truly great film
of the collection is George Roy Hill's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance
Kid, a western that teamed the well-regarded Newman with up-and-coming star
Robert Redford and gave both actors one of the great films of their respective
careers. The duo play a pair of bank robbers who finally rob the wrong train and
find themselves being tracked by a ruthless posse. Desperate to break free,
Butch and Sundance head to Bolivia. Alas, life doesn't get much easier despite
their new surroundings. Directed with a melancholic sense of nostalgia and
featuring two great actors at the peak of their powers, the film is an
infectious experience that I really enjoyed getting a chance to revisit.
Granted, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is very much an exercise in
style. It plays like a postmodern American remake of a Greek tragedy directed by
Truffaut…but what a depth of style and what a depth of feeling this
exercise contains. More and more protagonists were turning up dead during the
third acts of western films at the time, and so do the protagonists of Butch
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. However, what comes before that (appropriately
unseen) moment is a romantic and affecting contrast to the ultra-gritty
bleakness of the then-evolving western genre.
The 2-disc set includes two audio commentaries, the first featuring director
George Roy Hill, documentarian Robert Hall Jr., lyricist Hal David, and
cinematographer Conrad Hall, and the second featuring writer William Goldman.
You also get the featurettes "All of What Follows is True: The Making of
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Wild Bunch: The True Tale of
Butch and Sundance," and "History Through the Lens," in addition
to a documentary called "Outlaws Out of Time." Finally, you get
interviews with various cast members, galleries and trailers.
The Towering Inferno
Irwin Allen's massive blockbuster about a
135-story building that catches on fire is probably the most blatantly
commercial film of this set. Newman plays Doug Roberts, the architect
responsible for designing the tallest building in the world. Alas, in an attempt
to save money, contractor Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) does shoddy wiring
work, causing a series of fires to take place on the day of the building's grand
opening. What follows is an intense, engaging action-adventure film that
represents Allen at the peak of his powers as an entertainer. Newman isn't
employed so much for his considerable acting ability as for his star power. The
combined names of Paul Newman and Steve McQueen were guaranteed to put butts in
seats, and they're joined by a star-studded supporting casts that includes
William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner, Jennifer Jones, O.J.
Simpson, and even Fred Astaire (in a rather exceptional turn). The performances
are all just fine, but acting takes a backseat to the action/suspense sequences
that dominate the film. The Towering Inferno has dated a good deal since
the time of its release (am I the only one who finds that John Williams score
awfully cheesy?), but it remains an entertaining spectacle. So often these
massively expensive action films are deservedly associated with stupidity, but
this one actually does have a moderate amount of brains to accompany the special
The 2-disc set gives you an audio commentary with film historian F.X.
Sweeney and selected scene commentary with special effects artist Mike Vezina
and stunt coordinator Branko Racki. You also get the featurettes "Inside
the Tower: We Remember," Innovating Tower: The SPFX of an Inferno,"
"The Art of Towering," "Irwin Allen: Great Producer,"
"Directing the Inferno," "Putting out Fire," "Running
on Fire," "Still the World's Tallest Building," and "The
Heart of Disaster: Stirling Silliphant." You also get an "AMC
Backstory" featurette, loads of deleted scenes, archival interviews,
storyboard-to-film comparisons, interactive articles, galleries and
Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson
Two of the most striking examples of Newman's status as an unpredictable wild
card are his collaborations with director Robert Altman, both of which are
included in this set. The first of these is the oddly-titled Buffalo Bill and
the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson, a satirical and curious take
on a peculiar chapter in American history. By examining the actions and
activities of Buffalo Bill (a rather good, surprisingly restrained performance
from Newman) and the members of his colorful Wild West Show, Altman playfully
ponders subjects such as fame, showbusiness, and the troubling manner in which
American history was formed. It's a mess, but an entertaining and engaging mess
at that. A few sequences stand out as genuinely exceptional, particularly a
moment towards the end when Buffalo Bill has a chat with the ghost of Sitting
Bull. It's a busy, crowded tale in the classic Altman tradition, with a colorful
ensemble cast (including Harvey Keitel, Shelley Duvall, Geraldine Chapman, Burt
Lancaster and others) talking over each other and creating an array of distinct
characters. Even so, it ultimately seems a bit too lacking in focus to become
something really exceptional. The worst part is the DVD transfer, which is
perhaps the worst transfer of the set. It's another non-anamorphic outing, and
boy is it painful to look out. Scratches, flecks, dirt, grime, color bleeding,
horrible lack of detail…ugh.
Special features includes a featurette called "From the Prairie to the
Palace" and a theatrical trailer.
Now here's the real oddity of this collection. You know
how every once in a while you come across a film that makes you say, "How
on earth did this thing actually get made?" Quintet is one of those
films. Despite the fact that it was made by a major director (Altman) and stars
a very popular actor (Newman) supported by a classy European cast (Fernando Rey,
Bibi Anderrson), it's simply not well-loved or well-remembered. Why? Maybe
because the film is near-incomprehensible from both a visual and storytelling
perspective at times. Maybe because the vast majority of the film features Paul
Newman walking through icy buildings with an ominous look on his face. Maybe
because this post-apocalyptic flick introduces a Children of Men-style glimmer of hope
at the 30-minute mark and then smashes that hope at the 45-minute mark, leaving
only hopeless desolation for the remainder of the film's running time. Things
are so strange and different in the world Altman creates; even the remnants of a
world that has been destroyed don't seem to resemble our own very much at all.
Newman reminisces about the days when everyone on earth was categorized by
numbers and color coding. Old town centers resemble new-age design concepts
fused with computer technology, and there seems to be a desperate need to find
seals. As I said, you have to take some pretty huge mental leaps. In the bonus
featurette included on the disc, Altman wickedly hints that it might not even be
our own planet…"I don't really know," he claims. At one point in
the film, Newman sees a goose flying north…but why? There's not supposed
to be anything to the north. Then comes this bit of musing, which sums up this
film quite perfectly: "The goose…does he know where he's going, or is
he just flying into the unknown?" Any which way you slice it,
Quintet is cinematic food for thought, whether or not you like the taste.
It's also notably different from most Altman efforts, so don't expect the usual
if you're a fan of the director.
Special features include a featurette called "Developing the World of
Quintet" and a theatrical trailer.
The set concludes with Sidney Lumet's The
Verdict, another masterpiece that deserves to sit alongside the likes of
The Hustler and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Newman plays
Boston lawyer Frank Galvin, an alcoholic ambulance-chaser whose best days seem
to be far behind him. One day, an open-and-shut medical malpractice case falls
into Frank's lap. The easy thing to do would be to settle the case, pocket the
cash, and keep drinking. However, after Frank actually meets one of the victims,
he decides that more than a simple settlement is needed and determines to take
the case to court. Critics were startled by Newman's performance upon the film's
release. Suddenly the great movie star seemed old, tired and beaten down by
life…and it all seemed very convincing, almost disturbingly so. Newman's
work is tremendous, though it should be noted that Lumet and screenwriter David
Mamet give him excellent, thoughtful material to work with. It succeeds as a
courtroom drama and as an in-depth character study, and the film delivers
heartbreaking moments of truth with considerable consistency. While I'm
disappointed that this collection wasn't able to include any films from the
final 20 years or so of Newman's career (Nobody's Fool or Road to Perdition, for instance),
The Verdict represents the start of a new, equally compelling section of
the great actor's resume.
The 2-disc set gives you an audio commentary with Lumet and Newman, the
featurettes "Paul Newman: The Craft of Acting," "Sidney Lumet:
The Craft of Directing," and "Cinema History: The Verdict,"
archival featurettes, galleries and trailers.
So, Paul Newman: The Tribute Collection offers a pretty even mix of
great films, good films, intriguing misfires, and terrible experiences. I feel
there's enough material of quality here to merit a recommendation, though the
frustrating packaging and awful transfers on Exodus and Buffalo Bill
and the Indians should certainly be taken into consideration. You're missing
quite a few essential Newman films, but this set does indeed offer a respectable
overview of a great actor's work.