Tag Archives: Paul Newman

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972)

effect of gamma rays 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: My heart is full.

Beatrice Hunsdorfer (Joanne Woodward) is a single-mother raising two girls while living in the poor side of Staten Island. She is an extremely self-centered, emotionally frail woman who’s bitter about life and alienates everyone that she meets. Ruth (Roberta Wallach) is her rebellious teenage daughter who recognizes her mother’s flawed personality and tries to distance herself from her. Matilda (Nell Potts) is the quiet, introspective daughter who takes in all the chaos while escaping by concentrating on her school science projects particularly the one involving marigolds, but as things progress Beatrice’s mental state becomes more erratic and threatens to tear their lives completely apart.

Actor Paul Newman directs on a tour-de-force level. Absolutely everything comes together while still keeping it on a subtle, visual level. The opening sequences gives the viewer a clear picture of the family’s strife and divergent personalities without ever having to go into any type of verbal backstory, which is great filmmaking at its finest. Although filmed in Bridgeport, Connecticut one still gets a good feeling of a poor inner-city neighborhood with the house that was chosen for the setting looking authentically cluttered without appearing staged. The variety of settings has a cinema verite feel while also remaining true to Paul Zindel’s script. Yet Newman’s greatest achievement is the fact that he creates a wholly unlikable main character that the viewer ends up still feeling quite sorry for and the climactic scene inside the school’s auditorium becomes emotionally wrenching.

Woodward excels in a difficult role and creates a character that becomes permanently etched in the viewer’s mind. Her brilliance comes through from the very beginning with the way she chews her gum while trying on some wigs and her never ending stream of caustic remarks runs the gamut of being rude and insensitive to darkly humorous. Although she was nominated for best actress with the Golden Globes and won the award at the Cannes for her work here she really should have been given the Academy Award as well.

Wallach, who is the daughter of Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, is terrific in her film debut and has some memorable moments not only when she has a seizure, but also later when she plays a caricature of her mother for a school play. Potts, who is Newman’s and Woodward’s daughter, is quite good too especially with her stunning clear blue eyes and facial expressions.

Judith Lowry, who made a name for herself in her later years playing cantankerous old ladies, is outstanding as an old woman who rents a room from Beatrice. Although she frustratingly never says a word her moments are still unforgettable especially with the way Newman focuses on her wrinkled face and toothless mouth as she sips drinks or even hobbles her way to the bathroom.

Zindel’s story was originally a stage play and in fact Carolyn Coates who is cast as Mrs. McKay here played the Beatrice role in one of the stage versions. Most teenagers from the 70’s and 80’s will recognize Paul Zindel’s name as the author of ‘Pigman’, which was required reading in many high schools during that era. Yet I liked this story, which is based loosely on his experiences while growing up, even better and it’s a real shock that it has never been released on an American DVD as it definitely should be!

effect of gama rays 1

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 20, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Newman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD (Region 2)

WUSA (1970)

wusa

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Liberal working for conservatives.

A drifter (Paul Newman) travels to Louisiana and gets a job as a DJ at an ultra-conservative radio station. Despite being a professed liberal he decides to go along with the right-wing rhetoric because he has grown apathetic with things and now just wants to ‘blend-in’.

The idea has a lot of potential, but it is never able to take off. Part of the problem is that instead of trying to play it like satire in the Network vein it instead approaches it with pinpoint seriousness and saturates the viewer with a gloom and doom message. The long and winding stream of social complexities makes the viewer, as with the main character, grow apathetic. The ‘powerful’ statements are redundant and too engulfed with the politics of its day to give anything that is broadly insightful.

It is easy to see why this is probably Newman’s most forgettable film. There is nothing unique or even slightly diverting about it and it meanders badly with no action whatsoever. The ‘exciting’ mob scene at the end looks staged and unconvincing.

The film has leanings as a character study, but even they are weak. Newman’s angry loner role is simply a less intense version of his Hud character. Joanne Woodward as the prostitute with a ‘heart of gold’ is clichéd and dull. Anthony Perkins is the only one that comes off as interesting, but it’s not enough to save it.

This is a truly limp and lifeless picture and I would be amazed if there was anyone out there who would like it.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 19, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray 

Absence of Malice (1981)

abscence of malice 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not fit to print.

Megan Carter (Sally Field) is a go-getter newspaper reporter who implicates innocent liquor wholesaler Mike Gallagher (Paul Newman) simply to get a big story. However, Mike proves to be quite clever and resourceful and spins a subtle, but effective line of revenge and eventually is able to expose the irresponsibility of the media.

The drama here is strong. The issues are relevant and the story is well structured. The points are hit home in a no-nonsense way while revealing how newspaper operations work and how easily they can abuse their power to the extent that it is almost horrifying.

Yet the film seems to defeat its own purpose by wrapping everything up in a much too tidy way. It is almost like saying yes we have a very serious and potentially dangerous issue here, but it can be easily contained and resolved so don’t worry about it.  Also, Mike is just a little too resourceful and slick and it becomes almost like wish-fulfillment at seeing the way he sticks it to the corrupt corporate fat-cats. An ordinary person would be destroyed by an untrue story printed about them and unable to find the money or resources to fight back and the film would have been much more hard-hitting had it taken this route instead.

I also wasn’t too crazy about the musical score. Not that the music sounded bad, but it was too upbeat while a downbeat score would have fit the mood better.

Newman has always been one of my favorite actors, but I felt he wasn’t a perfect fit here. His performance is too low-key and he doesn’t display enough anger or rage that one would expect.

Field is also miscast. Her features are too child-like and a taller woman with a few lines on her worn face would have worked better as it would have helped create the jaded persona of a character who had been is the business long enough to know what she was doing was wrong, but didn’t care.

Having Mike form a sexual relationship with Megan seemed particularly ridiculous on several levels. For one thing the graying Newman looked so much older than Field that it almost appeared like child molestation. Also, the chances of someone forming a relationship with a reporter who has just libeled him seem slim to none.

It’s the supporting cast that comes off better. John Harkins is completely on-target as the jaded corporate lawyer who toys the ethical line like it is some sort of game. Bob Balaban is memorable as a hot-shot young executive with a very interesting way of playing with rubber bands and chewing gum. Melinda Dillon is also outstanding in one of her best roles as a very emotionally fragile woman.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video