Gene Hackman has his “Summer Under the Stars” day is Friday, Aug. 21.
Turner Classic Movies will present 11 films featuring or starring two-time Academy Award-winner Gene Hackman (The French Connection and, in the supporting category, Unforgiven), whom some consider one of the best American actors of the last four decades.
I can’t say that I agree with that assessment, though throughout his long career Hackman has delivered some truly remarkable performances. My personal favorite is his paranoid surveillance expert in writer-director Francis Ford Coppola’s intriguing The Conversation (top photo, 1974), which is part of TCM’s Hackman line-up.
This Academy Award-nominated and Palme d’Or-winning drama, released not long after the Watergate scandal (though made before the shady events became public knowledge), is one of the high points of 1970s Hollywood filmmaking – the likes of which are, generally speaking, long, long gone. Hackman is flawless as the sleuth who instead of preying on the unsuspected finds himself – or at least believes himself to be – the prey of “invisible” snoops.
(My other personal favorite is Hackman’s right-wing, “pro-family” politician who ends up dressed up in drag – and what an ugly drag queen – while fleeing the paparazzi in The Birdcage. That’s not listed in TCM’s schedule, but it’s widely available on DVD.)
And here are two other must-sees among Hackman’s “Summer Under the Stars” films:
Bonnie and Clyde (1967), which earned Hackman his first (of five) Academy Award nominations, stars Warren Beatty (above) and Faye Dunaway as the two outlaws who wreaked havoc throughout Middle America thanks to both the country’s Great Depression and their own Great (Sexual) Repression. Arthur Penn directed this revolutionary crime drama from a Nouvelle Vague-inspired screenplay by David Newman and future Oscar-winning director Robert Benton.
Although time hasn’t been all that kind to Bonnie and Clyde – the then-shocking violence looks quite tame by today’s standards, while the film’s psychological insights feel quite superficial indeed – it remains a landmark in Hollywood filmmaking, made major stars out of Beatty and Dunaway, and features several first-rate performances, including those of Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons and nominee Michael J. Pollard.
Directed by future Oscar ceremony producer Gilbert Cates from a screenplay by Robert Anderson (who adapted his own play, and whose Tea and Sympathy was shown on TCM on Deborah Kerr day), I Never Sang for My Father (1970) is a solid family drama featuring one of the greatest performances of Melvyn Douglas’ career – playing a domineering, bigoted patriarch – and that means one of the greatest film performances ever. Gene Hackman plays the son who never sang, while Estelle Parsons is his sister, who was disowned by Dad after marrying a Jewish man.
The fact that Hackman was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar that year shows how Academy members can be easily manipulated by dishonest promotion, for Hackman is basically the lead in the film. Douglas, for his part, should have won the best actor Oscar that went to the showier George C. Scott for Patton.
Alan Parker’s multiple Academy Award-nominee Mississippi Burning (1988), a TCM premiere, is worth a look for a very simple reason: it’s the type of Movie with a Message – two white FBI agents go after white racists in the American South – that filmmakers everywhere should learn how not to make. The best intentions are all there on screen, from the performances and the direction to the dialogue and the music, but there’s hardly one non-phony moment to be found.
Mad Dog Coll (1961), TCM’s other premiere of the day, sounds like it could be a hoot. An American Success story, the film stars handsome John Davis Chandler as a young toughie – the Mad Dog of the title – who murders his way to the top. Brooke Hayward, the female lead, is the daughter of Margaret Sullavan and Leland Hayward, a top agent who also produced a few films, most notably Mister Roberts. Also in the supporting cast: Jerry Orbach, Telly Savalas, and Vincent Gardenia. Hackman appears briefly as a cop.
I’ve never watched Another Woman, one of the few Woody Allen movies I’ve missed. But since it’s Woody Allen, no matter how off-kilter it may be, I’d say it’s worth checking out. Another Woman, by the way, is no comedy; it’s one of Allen’s Bergmanesque try-outs, this time revolving around psychotherapy and dealing with one’s past mistakes. In addition to Hackman, the classy cast includes Mia Farrow, Gena Rowlands (above), Sandy Dennis, and Blythe Danner.
Gene Hackman and Warren Beatty Bonnie and Clyde image: Courtesy of Turner Classic Movies.
Gene Hackman movies
3:00 AM Mad Dog Coll (1961)
A young hood kills his way to the top of the mob. Cast: John Davis Chandler, Brooke Hayward, Jerry Orbach, Gene Hackman. Director: Burt Balaban. Black and white. 88 min.
4:30 AM The Split (1968)
A gang of thieves plots to rob the Los Angeles Coliseum box office during a Rams game. Cast: Jim Brown, Diahann Carroll, Julie Harris, Gene Hackman. Director: Gordon Flemyng. Color. 89 min.
6:30 AM Bite the Bullet (1975)
Cowboys compete in a grueling horse-riding marathon. Cast: Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen, James Coburn. Director: Richard Brooks. Color. 131 min.
9:00 AM Marooned (1969)
Three U.S. astronauts face a slow death when their rockets fail during a space voyage. Cast: Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, David Janssen, Gene Hackman. Director: John Sturges. Color. 129 min.
11:30 AM I Never Sang for My Father (1970)
When his mother dies, a grieving son is torn between his demanding father and his need to live his own life. Cast: Melvyn Douglas, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons. Director: Gilbert Cates. Color. 92 min.
1:30 PM Another Woman (1988)
While dealing with her own tortured past, an aging writer becomes obsessed with a psychiatric patient. Cast: Gena Rowlands, Mia Farrow, Gene Hackman, Ian Holm. Director: Woody Allen. Color. 84 min.
3:00 PM Lilith (1964)
A young psychiatrist finds himself drawn to a beautiful young mental patient. Cast: Warren Beatty, Jean Seberg, Peter Fonda. Director: Robert Rossen. Black and white. 114 min.
5:00 PM Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
The legendary bank robbers run riot in the South of the 1930s. Cast: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Michael J. Pollard. Director: Arthur Penn. Color. 111 min.
7:00 PM The Conversation (1974)
A surveillance expert uncovers a murder plot within a corrupt corporation. Cast: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Robert Duvall. Director: Francis Ford Coppola. Color. 114 min.
9:00 PM Mississippi Burning (1988)
FBI agents investigate the murders of civil rights workers in the South. Cast: Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand. Director: Alan Parker. Color. 125 min.
11:30 PM A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Epic re-staging of the Allies’ heroic airdrop behind Nazi lines in Holland. Cast: Sean Connery, Robert Redford, Laurence Olivier, Liv Ullmann. Director: Richard Attenborough. Color. 176 min.
Gene Hackman not one of the best actors “of the last 4 decades”? I’m sorry, is that a joke?
If Gene Hackman isn’t the greatest American actor around, who is?