The Verdict on Paul Newman


Paul Mirengoff speaks for me in his remembrance of Paul Newman below. “Cool Hand Luke” seems to me a classic of American filmmaking to which Newman brought the gifts that gave a shabby and cliched existential antihero remarkable depth. The film toys with an audacious religious allegory that is by turns comic and tragic. Newman effortlessly endows Luke Jackson with a charisma that makes it moving and real.

Newman was also a capable director. He both directed and costarred (with Henry Fonda) in “Sometimes a Great Notion,” based on the novel by Ken Kesey The film made few waves when it was released in 1971 and is little remembered today. The film memorably tells the story of a family whose business refuses to toe the union line during a contentious strike.

I would just add that Newman’s performance as the alcholic ambulance chaser (photo above) pulling himself together for a worthy client in “The Verdict” has to rank as one of his finest. Apart from Newman’s Frank Galvin, the characters lack dimension. And the depiction of the trial process is a joke. As Galvin, however, Newman brings the redemption that is the story at the heart of the film to life.

Newman joins Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Charlton Heston in the pantheon of actors who stamped their own indelible interpretations on the archetypal American hero.

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