Last week I watched three Paul Newman movies as part of my Summer of Paul — The Rack, The Hustler, and A New Kind of Love. The Summer of Paul is what I am calling my plan to watch as many Paul Newman movies as I can this summer.
Ooh boy. This one was a tough one to watch. This is a very early Paul Newman movie, (his third only in fact) and it was loosely based on a play by Rod Serling (Twilight Zone fame). His acting skills aren’t sharpened just yet, but that is not why it was difficult to watch. It was difficult because it splayed open PTSD from war in a way most movies of the time never did. It showcased what really happened to prisoners of war and stripped away the idea that war creates only unmarked heroes who fought and died for their country and suffered only from being away from their family.
This movie was a very raw depiction of patriotism run amok, how military brass thought they would punish men who collapsed under the heaviness of months and months, if not years of brutal mental and emotional torture and call them traitors, all the while not admitting their own culpability in the mental, emotional, and physical ruin of these men (and later women as well). I support and absolutely stand by our military but our country’s politicians and military leaders are often blind to the hollowed-out husks they abandon when they deny the impact war has on those who fight it on the ground level.
As much as this is a commentary on the effects of war it is also about the stoic relationship between many military leaders and their families and how they can emotionally shut themselves off because of their training.
A lot of the movie features the court room drama of Newman being court marshalled for supposedly collaborating with the enemy, which were the North Koreans at that time. There was one point I wanted to climb right through my computer and absolutely thrash the prosecuting attorney. It is such a brutal scene and I’m guessing many a modern military courtroom drama scene was crafted after it. It certainly stirred up emotion in me. Enough I could have screamed and my heart rate increased at the cruelty of what was being done to Newman’s characters but also what is done to our own soldiers.
The topic of PTSD from our veterans is close to my heart because not only were there two suicides by Vietnam vets within a very tiny area around my house when I was young, in a little grouping of houses of less than 100 people, but after a local soldier was killed in Iraq, many of the soldiers who returned after his death either killed themselves or suffered horrible PTSD. It infuriates me to hear the prosecutor in this film mocking Newman’s obvious mental trauma after being tortured.
Sadly, this film ended in an off way for me. This is a little bit of a spoiler but Newman pretty much says he missed being a magnificent person because he was too mentally week. Ick.
I felt like soldiers with PTSD were made to feel like they are wrong for their actions under duress, but then again, maybe that was the point of the writing of the film (since the film actually changed Serling’s television play quite a bit) — to show that many soldiers will apologize for their weakness under mental stress, instead of admitting it is an actual issue.
The movie is still a good one that makes you think, so I definitely recommend it. It’s also fun to watch Newman start to become the great actor he later became (though he definitely is not there in this one).
If you want to know more about the movie, how it was made, and Paul’s part in it, you can read this story on Roger Ebert’s Blog (https://www.rogerebert.com/streaming/on-the-rack-with-paul-newman-and-stewart-stern)
This movie did not have as much action in it as I had hoped. I wanted more pool playing and less melodrama between Paul and the woman in the movie. I think the only reason I felt like I didn’t like this movie is because I was expecting something completely different.
Paul plays a professional hustling pool player who travels the country pretending he doesn’t know how to play pool and then swindles people out of their money. The 1986 film, The Color of Money, which stars Paul and Tom Cruise, was the sequel to this film. Yes, it is also on my list of Paul movies to watch this summer.
In the middle of the movie the woman Eddie (Paul’s character) is living with yells, “What else are we going to do?”
And I said I hoped Eddie would go back and play pool because we needed some more action in this movie already. I seriously thought the movie was more about playing pool than Eddie just being a huge jerk.
At one point Paul asks his girlfriend after they’ve spent most of the movie drinking away their days, “So, do you think I’m a loser?”
The Husband, The Boy, and I all said, “yes” at the same time.
I sort of feel like if a movie director needed someone to play a mopey, depressed and moody guy in the 1960s he said, “Call Newman. This role is for him.”
But then I see a movie like A New Kind of Love and realize that Paul could play light characters as well.
The Hustler is a good film, don’t get me wrong. It is well written and well-acted. It was just quite a bit darker than I realized and I would have liked more scenes with Jackie Gleason, who was nominated for an Oscar for the 15 minutes he was on screen out of the 2-hour and 16 minute movie.
A New Kind of Love:
A New Kind of Love was much lighter, but as a self-proclaimed prude, I was bothered by how flippantly sex was regarded by Paul’s character. I wondered when all the STDs would catch up with him if he’d been a real person and not a character in a movie.
Despite my prudish views, I did enjoy the movie overall.
Paul plays a reporter who is also a womanizer, which is always getting him in trouble. His latest fling causes him to be sent into exile in Paris where he meets Joan who is a fashion consultant visiting Paris from New York. Joan has no interest in love. She acts more like a man than a woman and when she first meets Paul, she hates him, of course. The movie takes some unexpected turns when Joan decides that love might be interesting after all when she gives herself a French makeover.
The movie was a nice distraction from the depression in the world.
Sadly, I think I might be sinking into more depression at some point when I watched From the Terrace and Rachel Rachel this weekend. But I get to stare at Paul’s blue eyes, so I guess it is worth it.
Have you seen any of these movies? If so, did you enjoy them?