Paul Newman is hot
This will come as no surprise, but I’ll say it anyway: Paul Newman is hot. That description really doesn’t do him justice, though. He was so beautiful when he was young that it’s nearly painful. It’s not just his famously blue eyes — though, oh my, they make my heart skip a beat — or the swagger in his walk. It’s those full lips and the hint of disgust with himself in his eyes.It’s no accident that the turning point in the relationship between Ben Quick and Clara Varner in The Long, Hot Summer (1958) comes when he breaks down and tells her about sobbing in a ditch as a boy. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), he settles into his marriage again after an emotional scene coming to terms with Big Daddy’s mortality. There are a lot of similarities between the two movies: crazy southern families led by despotic fathers, sons vying for his affection, antagonistic wooing between Newman and the female lead. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the better movie, what with Liz Taylor’s amazing Maggie the Cat and her overripe desperate sexuality and lovely violet eyes, and Burl Ives’s powerful performance adds heft to the drama; Tennessee Williams’s play is, of course, genius even without their performances (it’s actually better than the film, which tones down Brick’s queerness and makes nonsense of why he’s so conflicted). Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is iconic. The Long, Hot Summer is not, but it’s also got a fabulous pedigree (it’s based on William Faulkner’s stories) and the bonus of Joanne Woodward, whose cool strength is a better match for Newman, and the sheer joy of watching them together in their first movie. Orson Welles is hammy, but great; a young Lee Remick does a lot with her small part and Angela Lansberry was always worth watching before she dumbed down her talent for Murder, She Wrote. The Long, Hot Summer also features a shirtless Paul Newman, which is no small joy, and the bubbly chemistry between Newman and Woodward when they kiss at the end makes up for the otherwise almost senseless shift toward melodrama in the last portion of the movie.
Newman is sexy and charming in both of those films. In Hud (1963), he’s sexy but cold and angry. He’s a bastard, through and through, and it breaks your heart. There’s no happiness in the movie except for Patricia Neel’s sassy and strong Alma, but that disappears in the end, too. If you want some despair and to see an incredibly strong performance to convince you that Newman isn’t just a pretty face, watch the movie. Let yourself dislike him, even if you dislike disliking him, and you’ll see the power of his performance. His beauty is part of why he is the way he is, but it doesn’t excuse his cruelty. If in the other movies he’s the sexy outsider redeemed through the love of a father and the right woman, in Hud his father’s death never moves him and even though Neel’s Alma is as right as they come, Newman’s Hud brings her down instead of rising to her level. I watched the movie for the first time last week, and I don’t think I can watch it again. But you should watch it, just once, to understand why Newman is so great and to respect how he turns the very seductive qualities of his earlier films against us in this one.As Newman got older, his face eased into a more human handsomeness. That’s partly thanks to roles that let him relax a bit, to show some humor and not awe us into submission and desire. Cool Hand Luke (1967), alas, is not on Netflix Instant, though maybe it will be — the Newman movies seem to come and go, so fingers crossed. To get a sense of how funny and relaxed Newman can be, and to be grateful that he didn’t always get stuck being the pretty face, watch his buddy flicks with Robert Redford: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) (for those of you who like your 1960s-inflected Westerns) or The Sting (1973) (for fans of 1970s-inflected Depression-era mob flicks). I’m not normally partial to Redford, but they have a wonderful chemistry together and Newman as the elder statesman is hugely desirable — who wouldn’t want to be under his wing? Perhaps the most amazing thing about Newman in this middle years is how comfortable he seems. He’s still as desirable as anything, but his good looks aren’t a pressure anymore. Remember how gorgeous Marlon Brando was as a young man? He too had that mix of vulnerability and masculinity — the butch but feminine face. But as Brando aged, he lost that beauty and it’s hard not to miss how stunning he was when you watch the later movies, as powerful of an actor though he was. Newman does the opposite — he continues to grow as an actor, but he doesn’t fight against his looks. His beauty catches up to him in his middle age, and as he looks a little bit creased and worn, he seems that much more possible and desirable.
Paul Newman on Netflix Instant:
The Long Hot Summer (1958)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
The Hustler (1961)
Sometimes A Great Notion (1971)
The Sting (1973)
The Towering Inferno (1974)
Slap Shot (1977)
The Verdict (1982)
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Sarah Werner has two sons, at least one job, and too many books to
read. As a result, Netflix Instant is her constant companion. She blogs about books and reading and is
known to a corner of the twitterverse as @wynkenhimself.