A Man Among Men

Paul Newman is dead at 83.

The role I think I loved him in most was as Sully Sullivan in Nobody’s Fool. It was a role that almost anyone else would have screwed up by playing it broadly, making the film little more than an ABC Afterschool Special.

The cult of celebrity creates such a noise around the real people who compose its base, but Newman was one of the few men who somehow managed to shine clear through all of that while not projecting some equally phony or grandiose idea of himself as anti-celebrity. When I think about my ideal image of American masculinity, Newman is one of the people I think of: full of wily humility, smart about himself and the world around him, confident but modest, at ease but canny enough not to make too much out of that. Class act.

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4 Responses to A Man Among Men

  1. kit says:

    Indeed, a wonderful movie, wonderfully played.

  2. Western Dave says:

    Plus, he was a top-notch race car owner with the Newman-Haas team. Too bad he never won the Indy 500.

  3. cjlee1 says:

    I think my favorite film of his, among many, is “Hud.” A lot of great dialogue, and he walks such a fine line between being admirable and completely reprehensible. What makes the performance work for me is how his behavior is not simply a reflection of who he is personally, but how it’s a reflection of the changing circumstances around him, essentially the decline of the American West and how there is no room for the kind of masculinity he aspires to. Instead of riding a horse and tending to a prosperous ranch, he drives a convertible and chases pigs at the local fair. Like “The Last Picture Show” which is also based on a Larry McMurtry novel, “Hud” captures this transitional period, and Paul Newman, like Jeff Bridges in the LPS, internalizes and personalizes this historical change (with all its uncertainty) brilliantly.

  4. Carl says:

    I’m a little surprised that “The Rack” (1956) hasn’t popped back into the popular culture. As I remember, Newman plays the p.o.w. who has broken under the pressure of physical and psychological torture and is being court-martialed for treason. Lee Marvin is the gung-ho accuser, a fellow p.o.w. who did not break but was subjected only to physical torment without the psychological accelerators.

    It’s maybe not one of Newman’s best acting performances – he’s young and raw – but its exploration of the subtleties of torture and human endurance, duty and compassion is riveting. Newman’s doubt and ultimate self-condemnation was wrenching to me, especially in comparison to Marvin’s narrow moral certainty. Which one would McCain have been?

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