One thing you’ll never, ever see in an action film is a supporting player (bad or neutral guy) who stands up and is ready to fight or shoot it out with a lead guy, and then — very sensibly! — changes his mind when he realizes that beating or out-drawing the lead guy isn’t in the cards. It happened 52 years ago in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but it hasn’t happened since.
If I’m wrong please remind me of another scene that works like this (i.e., “Uhhm, wait, hold on…I can’t win this one.”).
The card player’s name was Donnelly Rhodes, and he died three and a half years ago. He was 40 or so when he shot this scene with Robert Redford, Paul Newman and director George Roy Hill.
From “Redford’s 12 Year Peak,” posted on 8.7.18: Robert Redford’s acting career can be broken down into three phases — warm-up and ascendancy (’60 to ’67), peak star power (’69 to ’80) and the long, slow three-decade decline in quality (’84 to mid teens).
“That 12-year, golden-boy superstar era happened between the immediate aftermath of Butch Cassidy and Brubaker, his last ’70s film.
Technique-wise and especially in his hot period, Redford was (and still is) one of the most subtle but effective underperformers in Hollywood history. He never overplayed it. Line by line, scene by scene, his choices were dry and succinct and exactly right — he and Steve McQueen were drinking from the same well back then.
Redford’s best peakers, in this order: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (’69), All The President’s Men (’76), Three Days of the Condor (’75), The Candidate (’72), Downhill Racer (’70), The Sting (’73), Jeremiah Johnson (’72), The Hot Rock (’72), The Way We Were (’73), Tell Them Willie Boy is Here (’70), The Electric Horseman (’79) and Brubaker (’80) — a total of 11.
Think of that — over a 12-year period Redford starred in 11 grand-slammers, homers, triples and a couple of ground-rule doubles. That’s pretty amazing.
Mezzo-mezzos & whiffs during peak period: Little Fauss and Big Halsy, The Great Gatsby, The Great Waldo Pepper, A Bridge Too Far (4).
After Brubaker Redford became an older-guy movie star who’d seen better days (i.e., wasn’t landing the greatest parts any more) and was trying to maintain his dignity as best he could.
For 14 years he held his own with better-than-decent performances in The Natural, Out of Africa, Legal Eagles, Havana, Sneakers, Indecent Proposal, Up Close & Personal and The Horse Whisperer — all reasonably good films that didn’t quite have that rocket-fuel, bulls-eye element, at least as far as Redford’s characters or performances were concerned. (Out of Africa belonged to Meryl Streep.)
Things began to get a bit more rickety starting 20 years ago — The Last Castle, The Clearing, An Unfinished Life, Lions for Lambs, The Company You Keep.
But in 2013 Redford rallied with what I believe is his finest all-time performance in J.C. Chandor‘s All Is Lost, as an older-guy sailor trying to survive rough seas. He was also part of a sturdy, hard-working ensemble when he played Dan Rather in James Vanderbilt‘s Truth (’15).
I’m sorry but I didn’t think that all much of his subsequent efforts — Captain America: The Winter Soldier, A Walk in the Woods, Pete’s Dragon, The Discovery and Our Souls at Night (not bad but minor).
Also: Why do you think the copper-haired Redford became a blonde? Ask yourself that. Okay, I’ll tell you why. He became a blonde because he wanted to be big, and he knew (or his agent or some good friend persuaded him) that it wouldn’t happen unless he did something about his hair.
I recall talking to an old friend of Redford’s on the phone once, a guy he used to hang out with in Van Nuys back in the old days, and this guy told me that Redford’s high-school nickname at the time was “Red.” But eventually he let the blonde thing go. I know that he walked around as a natural copperhead when he was hosting the Sundance Film Festival in the ’90s.
Ginger or copper-haired actresses have never had the slightest problem in Hollywood, of course. And a select few (as with anything else) have become major stars — Cate Blanchett, Amy Adams, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Bryce Dallas Howard, Isla Fisher, Lindsay Lohan, Christina Hendricks plus yesteryear’s Katharine Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Myrna Loy, Tina Louise, Greer Garson, Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball, Maureen O’Hara, Carol Burnett, Susan Hayward.
But ginger-haired guys have almost never made it to the penthouse level. Because there’s something about them that Americans just can’t quite settle in with or bow down to…not really. Michael Fassbender, Lucas Hedges, Paul Bettany, Jesse Plemons, Caruso, Ed Sheeran, Damian Lewis, Rupert Grint, Alan Tudyk, Brendan Gleeson, Danny Bonaduce, Eric Stoltz, Carrot Top Thompson, David Lewis, Domhnall Gleeson, Rupert Grint, Simon Pegg, Toby Stephens, the great Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chuck Norris, Jason Flemyng, Seth Green, David Wenham…none of them ever made it into the elite winner’s circle, not really. Because people glommed onto that red hair and went “okay, fine, good actor but nope.”
Yes, Leslie Howard was a fairly serious star in his 1930s heyday, but he wasn’t way up there. He wasn’t Clark Gable big.