The Screening Room
paul newman collection
 In 2008, we lost Paul Newman. In recent years, he'd been fairly quiet on the big screen, but had put his time and passion into auto racing and his food company. His film career was wide and filled with brilliant performances, even if some of the films weren't very strong. Newman could almost always be counted on to bring his best to the screen.

Warner Bros. has released another wave of Paul Newman films on DVD, many of which I can say I've never seen. Some of the films are downright clunkers, but others showcase Newman's acting. He was indeed a brilliant actor who could bring finesse and fiery strength to a role.


The one that put Newman on the map. The one that Newman later apologized for. During the 1950s, widescreen Bible epics were all the rage, and a young actor named Paul Newman was introduced in a clunker called "The Silver Chalice." Yes my followers, this is a bad movie. It's so bad that it's unintentionally funny.

Newman plays the sculpture, Basil, who's job it is to find Jesus' silver chalice.

The movie has bad written all over it, from the clunky and laughable dialogue, to the sets that would fit right in a junior high school drama production. The cheesy visual effects only add to the fun. Almost everyone overacts, except for Newman, who holds his composure. The man was a true professional to get through muck like this! The movie is worth buying if only for the its camp value. 


Newman came back a few years later and really shows off his acting chops in this melodrama. Director Michael Curtiz ("Casablanca") lends his sure-handed direction to the film. It's a fairly standard rags-to-riches story about singer Helen Morgan. We've seen this type of story of the stage numerous times. The film could've easily been made in the 1940s with its occasional overacting by Ann Blyth and numerous dissolves to bright marquees. But it's a handsomely mounted production and Newman shows an early hint of his on-screen charisma.


The most surprising film out of this collection is a good western that uses Akira Kurosawa's classic "Rashomon" as a guide. Cleverly shot and directed, "The Outrage" is an early-1960s gem.

Told in flashback from various points of view, the film surprised me with its adult theme of rape, lying, and a sense of humor. Martin Ritt directs with confidence, and James Wong Howe's brilliant Panavision (anamorphic) cinematography lends the film its dark atmosphere.

Newman plays, though probably seen today as racist, a Mexican bandit who rapes proper Southern lady, Nina Wakefield (Claire Bloom) in front of her husband, Col. Wakefield (Laurence Harvey). Or does he? I didn't recognize Newman at first until Howe's camera focuses in tight, then we see his blue eyes in glorious black-and-white. He's such a fine actor that he convincingly plays a Mexican bandit. There is some stereotyping in his role, but as you watch the movie, you realize that his character is a bit deeper than even the on-screen characters think.


Produced and directed by Newman, this is a difficult film to sit through. The acting is excellent by Joanne Woodward and Newman's direction is fine. But I found the movie too steeped in its very late-1960s film style to really enjoy it. Plus, the pacing is slow. This is an actor's film that works almost like a play. The story is set in a small town with just a few characters, and the film mainly revolves around lots of talking and voices inside Woodward's head. Yes, I understood Rachel's desire to break free (and who didn't seem to in the 1960s) of authority and convention. But at 101 minutes, it's a long ride.


In the 1970s, producer Irwin Allen owned disaster cinema. His clunky productions held audiences spellbound, yet had their own sick charm. Audiences couldn't get enough of cruise liners being overturned by a giant tidal wave ("The Poseidon Adventure," 1972), or tall skyscrapers being engulfed in flames ("The Towering Inferno," 1974). They enjoyed the all-star casts of old time hoofers and former NFL players, mixed in with spectacular effects and people falling to their death.

"When Time Ran Out" is a movie trapped in Allen's world of the 1970s, despite being released in 1980 as the world was changing. The cinematography (though capably done by Fred J. Koenekamp, ASC) is lit with tons of bright light one would associate with "The Love Boat." Nearly every single character, except for Newman, is a cliche from the Irwin Allen Book of Disaster Movies. Where else could one find actors as diverse as Red Buttons, Pat Morita, Burgess Meredith and the mannaquin-like Edward Albert in the same movie? And check out former NFL player Alex Karras carrying a game cock...for a cock fight! (I'm not making this stuff up, readers).

By 1980, disaster films were out, and visual effects had been perfected. For a high budget movie, "When Time Ran Out" has some of the cheapest effects I've seen. Even the sets look cheap in some of the jungle scenes. The film was such a bomb at the box office that poor Irwin Allen's feature film career never recovered (it didn't help that his previous major productions, "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure" and "The Swarm" were turkeys, too).

Yet because of Allen's love for bad cinema, and Newman's credible performance, "When Time Ran Out" is cheesy delight. 

Bill Kallay

Special thanks to Kayla Keller

Photos: Warner Bros. All rights reserved.
DVD Quick Glimpse



Classic and mediocre movies from Paul Newman's career

Director: Victor Saville ("The Silver Chalice")
Michael Curtiz ("The Helen Morgan Story")
Martin Ritt ("The Outrage")
Paul Newman ("Rachel, Rachel")
James Goldstone ("When Time Ran Out")  

Cast: Paul Newman, Virgina Mayo, Joanne Woodward, William Holden

Some trailers and special features on some DVDs

PG and Not Rated

Picture: Good
Sound: Good to Very Good

Even if some of the films aren't all that great, they're still worth watching Newman act

Aspect Ratio (1.85:1) and (2.39:1)

Dolby Digital 5.1 and 1.0

February 17, 2009
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