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Case Number 10636: Small Claims Court

Buy The Paul Newman Collection at Amazon

The Paul Newman Collection

Somebody Up There Likes Me
1956 // 113 Minutes // Not Rated
The Left-Handed Gun
1958 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG
The Young Philadelphians
1959 // 136 Minutes // Not Rated
Harper
1966 // 121 Minutes // Not Rated
Pocket Money
1972 // 100 Minutes // Rated PG
The Mackintosh Man
1973 // 99 Minutes // Rated PG
The Drowning Pool
1975 // 108 Minutes // Rated PG
Released by Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // January 17th, 2007

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All Rise...

Paul Newman is an attractive man. And the fact that Judge Brendan Babish is secure enough to acknowledge that only makes him more heterosexual.

Editor's Note

Our review of Somebody Up There Likes Me, published September 26th, 2013, is also available.

The Charge

"The embarrassing thing is that the salad dressing is outgrossing my films."

Opening Statement

Though not as smoldering as James Dean, or as broodily threatening as Marlon Brando, Paul Newman has to be considered one of the best actors of his generation. This also puts him high on the list of best actors of all time. With this box set, Warner Bros. puts together seven of his films, from his first leading role in the 1956 drama Somebody Up There Likes Me to the 1975 thriller The Drowning Pool.

Facts of the Case

Unfortunately, Newman's sporadic activity over the past decade has left nascent generations largely unfamiliar with his work. For these youngsters, this box set is not the place to discover Newman's catalogue. It lacks his seminal films, such as Hud, The Hustler, The Sting, or my favorite Newman film, Cool Hand Luke. Instead we get a trove of curios and merely good movies from the Newman archive.

The Evidence

The Paul Newman Collection contains the following seven titles:

Somebody Up There Likes Me

Somebody Up There Likes Me is based on the life of middleweight boxing champ Rocky Graziano. James Dean was originally signed to play Graziano, but the then-unknown Newman got the part after Dean's fatal car crash. This is a well-regarded movie, and certainly one of the most genial and uplifting boxing films I've seen in a long time. However, Somebody Up There Likes Me is almost 50 years old, and its effectiveness is diminished in light of the great boxing films of the past half-century.

One of the film's glaring weaknesses is its lead character. There's nothing particularly wrong with Graziano, but he just doesn't quite have the endearing goofiness of Rocky's Rocky Balboa, the scary temper of Raging Bull's Jake La Motta, or the saintly decentness of Cinderella Man's Jim Braddock. This movie only remains relevant because of the shockingly good performance from its lead, pretty boy Newman. In the first few minutes of the film, I was unconvinced that the cerebral actor could play a simple-minded bruiser. But despite his beanpole physique and a geniality almost impossible to suppress, Newman's mealy-mouthed dialect and swollen nose slowly won me over.

The sound on the DVD is adequate, and the picture—especially for a 50-year old film—is quite sharp. An especially welcome bonus is a commentary track with Newman, Robert Loggia (who made his film debut here), director Robert Wise, as well as Martin Scorsese and film historian Richard Schickel.

Grade: B

The Left-Handed Gun

Interestingly enough, James Dean was also signed to play Bill the Kid in The Left-Handed Gun, but Newman took this part as well after Dean's untimely death. Like Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Left-Handed Gun is a mediocre genre picture (in this case, Western). Unlike Somebody, The Left-Handed Gun can't be saved by Newman's superior acting. While playing Graziano was a stretch, playing Billy the Kid proves to be just too daunting a task. Not only does Newman have to play simple-minded (not his forte), but also violent, sociopathic, and, as if all that weren't enough, 12 years younger than his age at the time (Billy the Kid died at 21; Newman was 32 at the time of filming). Newman's Billy the Kid is basically a moody delinquent, the antithesis of the traditional Western hero, who tends to be stoic and judicious. The overbearing soundtrack and hammy acting doesn't do him, or the movie, any favors, and pretty much leaves the entire production unredeemable.

The sound of the movie is fine, but the picture seems slightly overexposed. The film was shot in Santa Fe, but the cinematographer didn't seem to take advantage of the beautiful locations. The DVD does contain a bonus commentary track from the film's late director, Arthur Penn, who would later direct Bonnie & Clyde and father actor Sean Penn—both more praiseworthy achievements than this film.

Grade: D +

The Young Philadelphians

In 1958, with the release of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Paul Newman became a major star and soon began chafing to get out of his Warner Bros. contract. Though Newman took the role of social climber Anthony Judson Lawrence in 1959's The Young Philadelphians to fulfill this contract, it's still the best in this collection, and Lawrence seems tailor made for Newman's quick-witted charm.

Based on a best-selling novel, the story's told in three parts: the first third of the film depicts Lawrence's failed relationship; the middle details Lawrence's apprenticeship as a lawyer and his growing prominence; the last third plays like a truncated version of The Verdict, with Lawrence defending a friend who has been accused of murder. Although each of these plots seems disparate and almost self-contained, the same series of supporting characters appear in each, providing some continuity, but also straining the film's credibility. Still, for a film that is nearly 50 years old, The Young Philadelphians has a sensuality that will resonate with modern audiences (as well as future audiences, for that matter). In fact, this is a film that seems ripe for a remake—not that a remake is needed, but that seems to be Hollywood's way of honoring great films of previous eras. I think if Whit Stillman ever chooses to come out of retirement, he could update the class warfare on display here accordingly.

The bad news is that the DVD includes a grainy transfer. It's really not much better than VHS. However, there is a commentary track with director Vincent Sherman and film historian Drew Casper.

Grade: A

Harper

Strangely, one of Harper's biggest strengths is also a liability. Filmed in 1966, Harper is a swinging '60s detective movie with a jazzy score, chicks in bikinis, and a new-age guru. The film inhibits the newfound irreverence of that decade with a wise-cracking detective, played with effortless charm by Newman, who stays cool around hot chicks and can still crack a joke with a loaded gun pointed at him. While the '60s décor and attitude provide a fun backdrop for the action, those things are distractions that undermine the film's actual plot—involving the kidnapping of a wealthy man and Harper's interactions with a wacky set of suspects. There are many light moments in the film, but the second half is a pretty straight detective picture. If Harper had maintained its levity throughout, I think I would have enjoyed the film a bit more.

That said, Harper does have the best extra feature in the entire box set. William Goldman, a heralded but uneven screenwriter (he wrote both Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Year of the Comet), provides commentary; anyone who's read his engrossing memoirs on his work as a screenwriter (Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell?) knows he's great at dishing about his Hollywood experiences.

Grade: B

Pocket Money

Pocket Money is an odd, minimalist Western about Jim Kane (Newman), an amiable cowboy who, due to financial difficulties, travels down to Mexico and gets involved in some shady horse buying. In Mexico, Kane hooks up with Leonard (Lee Marvin, Cat Ballou), an old friend and business associate. The two men encounter widespread corruption, violent ranchers, and a dangerous lack of funds.

I have to admit, this is the first Lee Marvin film I've ever seen. Though he's a major actor, the only film he's been in that still seems to be relevant is The Dirty Dozen. My guess is he's more famous among young moviegoers for being referenced in Reservoir Dogs than for any of his work. It's sad that, less than two decades after his sudden death, he's fallen so far into obscurity.

This film did little to make me appreciate Marvin's talents. It's also not much of a showcase for Newman, either. Both come off as likable, but the film's plot is unsatisfying. The big problem is that the film doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. The jaunty soundtrack and colorful characters suggest this is a comedy, but there isn't enough humor to support this. The legal problems and hardships Jim and Leonard experience in Mexico add a bit of drama to the movie, but the two never seem to be in any real danger. Ultimately, Pocket Money is an interesting curio for teaming up these two superstars (in a film written by a young Terrance Malick), but don't get your expectations up too high.

Grade: C

The Mackintosh Man

This is probably the most frustrating film in the set. Paul Newman plays Joseph Reardon, a British intelligence agent who is attempting to out a British double agent, played by James Mason. I have to assume this is the film's plot, because after a lot of meandering, which includes an extended stint in prison and a drawn-out, anti-climatic escape, this is pretty much the only worthwhile event in the film. I suppose if I watched it again, I might have a better handle on what actually happened, but the movie still won't be very interesting, and, with a film full of flat characters, I don't really care.

The film does manage to work in some shots of the Irish countryside that might have been beautiful, but the grainy transfer doesn't do them any justice at all.

Grade: D +

The Drowning Pool

The Drowning Pool is a sequel to Harper, though the only returning character is Lew Harper. In a plot reminiscent of Fletch Lives, our wisecracking detective travels to Louisiana to untangle a web of blackmail, murder, and corporate greed. Like Fletch Lives, The Drowning Pool proves to be an underwhelming and forgettable sequel. Newman is witty and charming again as Harper, but the first film's biggest strength was its kitschy '60s look; devoid of that, as this film is, the whole thing falls pretty flat. The only highlight is a brief appearance of a young, comely Melanie Griffith (Bonfire of the Vanities).

Like the transfer of The Mackintosh Man, the picture here is dull and underexposed. The transfers of these two movies are just about the two worst I have seen from a major studio on DVD in several years.

Grade: C-

Closing Statement

For Newman completists and enthusiasts, this set is a godsend. It is also evidence to Newman's incredible presence and talent, as a collection of his more mediocre films can still be so respectable. Still, I recommend most curious readers Netflix individual films of this set (in particular, The Young Philadelphians) before purchasing the entire collection.

The Verdict

Though the collection is full of Newman's lesser titles, I commend Warner Bros. for releasing several out-of-print titles in an affordable collection. Not guilty.

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Genres

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Scales of Justice, Somebody Up There Likes Me

Judgment: 79

Perp Profile, Somebody Up There Likes Me

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1956
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Somebody Up There Likes Me

• Audio commentary with Paul Newman, Director Robert Wise, Martin Scorsese, and Richard Schickel
• Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Left-Handed Gun

Judgment: 79

Perp Profile, The Left-Handed Gun

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, The Left-Handed Gun

• Audio commentary with Director Arthur Penn

Scales of Justice, The Young Philadelphians

Judgment: 79

Perp Profile, The Young Philadelphians

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Release Year: 1959
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Young Philadelphians

• Audio Commentary with Director Vincent Sherman and Film Historian Drew Casper

Scales of Justice, Harper

Judgment: 79

Perp Profile, Harper

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Portuguese
• Spanish
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Harper

• Introduction by TCM Host Robert Osborne
• Commentary by Screenwriter Robert Osborne

Scales of Justice, Pocket Money

Judgment: 79

Perp Profile, Pocket Money

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, Pocket Money

• Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Mackintosh Man

Judgment: 79

Perp Profile, The Mackintosh Man

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, The Mackintosh Man

• Featurette: "John Huston: The Man, The Myth, The Moviemaker"
• Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Drowning Pool

Judgment: 79

Perp Profile, The Drowning Pool

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Portuguese
• Spanish
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, The Drowning Pool

• Featurette: "Harper Days Are Here Again"
• Theatrical Trailer








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