“Son, whatever you do, don’t sell that cow!”
Happy Birthday Gene Hackman!
One of America’s greatest Actors is celebrating a birthday, so it’s time to share trivia, trailers and ten of his greatest roles….
Time To Celebrate The Legendary Gene Hackman!
January 30th is the Actor’s birthday – he was born in 1930.
His career spanned five decades – and resulted in a ton of awards, including two Oscars. He won the Best Actor award in 1971 for his portrayal of “Popeye” Doyle in “The French Connection”, and the Best Supporting Actor award for “Unforgiven” in 1992.
His First Roommate Was Dustin Hoffman!
First, a few bio tidbits: In 1956, Hackman began pursuing an acting career; he joined the Pasadena Playhouse in California, where he made friends with another aspiring actor, Dustin Hoffman. Already seen as outsiders by their classmates, Hackman and Hoffman were later voted “The Least Likely To Succeed.”
FYI, the two Actors remained lifelong friend, and they finally acted together in the film “The Runaway Jury.”
How about this?!?!?! Gene Hackman nearly accepted the role of Mike Brady in the TV series, “The Brady Bunch”, but was advised by his agent to turn it down – he was almost Marcia Brady’s Dad!
Did you know that Hackman has teamed with undersea archaeologist Daniel Lenihan, and written a number of novels, including Wake of the Perdido Star (1999), Justice for None (2004), Escape from Andersonville (2008) and Payback at Morning Peak (2011).
It was in 2008, while promoting his third novel, that Hackman confirmed that he had retired from acting.
Director Alexander Payne specifically wanted to make his movie “Nebraska” just so he could work with Hackman, but the Actor declined the offer to come out of retirement…so the role went to Bruce Dern, who got an Oscar-nomination for the role!
Could you imagine how great Hackman would have been in the movie? It was a tailor-made role for him – and he is, without a doubt, one of film’s all time greatest…
Here now is my list of the top ten Gene Hackman performances, beginning with one that you may not even remember – his comedic cameo for Mel Brooks:
Yes, it was only a cameo, but Hackman proved he could do comedy with the best of them – popping up halfway through this classic Mel Brooks comedy, as a lonely Monk looking to share a meal and a cigar with the Frankenstein monster.
You never think of Hackman as a comedic Actor, but he had perfect comic timing, shown off no better than here, in a comedy masterpiece…and there are more great comedic examples to come, but first, one of the his best roles is also a favorite for all sports film lovers:
9 – Hoosiers!
In 1986, Hackman played a coach with a checkered past who teams up with a local drunk played by Dennis Hopper to train a small town high school basketball team to become a top contender for the championship.
His performance is understated, and he gives Hopper plenty of room to shine in the smaller role – a great example of his generosity as an Actor.
He burst onto the movie scene, however, with his mesmerizing role in a modern classic:
8 – Bonnie & Clyde!
Hackman exploded on movie screens as Buck Barrow, part of the most legendary gang in history. As Clyde says, “this here’s Miss Bonnie Parker. I’m Clyde Barrow. We rob banks.”
Hackman was oscar-nominated for his performance in this groundbreaking action thriller from 1967. You could see from this performance that he had “star quality”…especially when he tells a joke while they are driving – with the classic punchline:
“Son, whatever you do, don’t sell that cow!”
He was simply mesmerizing in the scene…
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway head up an outstanding cast directed by Arthur Penn, who also directed another classic Hackman film, “Night Moves” – more on that in a moment……
“Bonnie & Clyde” is one of the most important films of the 60’s – ushering in a new era of violence and frankness in movies…read more about that era here:
Hackman could play a tough guy very well, but here is one of his most popular roles – again, many forget this one, since he was playing a comic villain in a beloved Superhero movie!
7 – Superman!
In 1978, Hackman entertained a whole new generation with his portrayal of Lex Luthor, the Superman’s nemesis, and he did it with a comedic flair that has been missing in re-boots of the franchise…
It was unexpected casting – considering that Hackman was an Oscar-winning Actor at the time – serious, tough as nails, not known for a comedic touch…yet in the film, he acts in such a fun, carefree way that it forever changed his reputation as a serious, tough as nails Actor!
As Lex Luthor says to his idiotic accomplice Otis, played beautifully by Ned Beatty:
“Do you know why the number two hundred is so vitally descriptive to both you and me? It’s your weight and my I.Q.”
And Hackman’s comic timing was showcased once again in this film that skewers Hollywood!
This is one of the best films about Hollywood. John Travolta starred as mobster Chili Palmer, who travels to Hollywood to collect a debt and discovers that the movie business is much the same as his current job: a non-stop hustle. Hackman has a terrific role as Harry Zimm, a low-rent, low-budget movie Producer who gets caught up in Travolta’s Hollywood adventures, and pays a painfully funny price.
The late James Gandolfini also has a great part in the film, but Hackman nailed the sleazy Producer role.
As Zimm says of Chili Palmer:
“The guy’s been in town two days, and already he thinks he’s David O. Fucking Selznick.”
Lots of great acting in this hilarious movie from 1995.
Now, back to a classic film noir from he 70’s…
I’ve written about “Night Moves” before, but now that it has been released on DVD and Amazon streaming, it’s a great film to check out.
Here is the film’s trailer:
It’s a terrifically moody film noir – Hackman plays private detective Harry Moseby, who gets hired for a standard missing person case, as an aging Hollywood actress wants him to find her stepdaughter. The stepdaughter is played by Melanie Griffith, in her first movie role.
As Private Detective Harry Moseby travels to Florida to find the missing girl, he begins to see a connection between the runaway girl and a suspicious mechanic when an unsolved murder comes to light.
As with all great film noir, the story takes many twists and turns as the true motives of the cast become clear…and a great cast including the young Griffith and a young James Woods as well.
You can see more about this film here:
Hackman starred in a number of action films, but perhaps the most deliriously entertaining is this gritty “B” movie from the early 70’s:
Lee Marvin was one of film’s all-time tough guys, but Gene Hackman stood toe-to-toe with him in this gritty thriller…here’s a teaser:
Lee Marvin plays his toughest role ever, as an “Enforcer” for the Mob, who heads to Kansas City to get the money that Gene Hackman owes the Mob…
Hackman plays a cattle rancher who not only grinds his enemies into sausage, but sells women as sex slaves. The movie was considered highly risqué for its time based on its level of violence, as well as its graphic depiction of female slavery, including a scene depicting the auctioning of young women in the manner of beef cattle.
Gene Hackman digs into his role as the bad guy, but it’s Marvin to kick ass and takes no prisoners. There is a scene where Marvin and Sissy Spacek are chased through a wheat field by a shredder…a great action sequence.
This was Sissy Spacek’s feature film debut – and involves a lot of nudity for the young Actress….
Marvin and Gene Hackman have a number of great scenes together, a couple of tough guys chewing up the scenery in a great B-movie – here is more trivia on the film:
One of the my favorites of all-time includes a performance by Hackman that is one of his best:
“A crow isn’t afraid of a scarecrow. It laughs.”
Hackman starred with a very young Al Pacino in Director Jerry Schatzberg’s brilliant “Scarecrow”…here is the trailer:
Talk about an acting master class! Gene Hackman was just a year past his Oscar-Winning Best Actor role in “The French Connection” Here he plays Max, an ex-con who’s been saving money to open a car wash in Pittsburgh.
Max: “For every car, there is dirt.”
Max is hitch-hiking across country, and on the way he meets Al Pacino…
Gene Hackman is brilliant as a tough, tough TOUGH ex-con who has a plan, and NOTHING is going to get in his way…he also has a few hilarious quirks, such as what he likes to eat:
Max: [at the lunch counter] “Gimme a chocolate doughnut and a bottle of beer.”
This is a real “road” movie. Before shooting, Gene Hackman and Al Pacino both dressed as hobos and hitchhiked through California to get into their characters.
Hackman’s Favorite Role!
Gene Hackman has stated that his performance in “Scarecrow” is his personal favorite. For Pacino, this film followed “Needle Park” and “The Godfather”, and led right into “The Godfather Part 2″…what a run of masterful acting performances for both of them!
Next up is one of the most under-rated movies of the 70’s, even though it was nominated for a slew of Oscars, including Best Picture:
“I’m not afraid of death, but I am afraid of murder.”
In 1974, Francis Ford Coppola made this outstanding drama about Harry Caul, an expert in the art of listening in on others…but his specialty comes back to haunt him when he hears a murder…or does he?
Hackman controls himself throughout the film, giving a nuanced performance that is in stark contrast to his other roles of the time…and the film is an acknowledged masterpiece.
“The Conversation” was nominated for Best Picture in 1974, losing to Director Coppola’s other masterpiece that year, “The Godfather Part 2”.
Here is the trailer for this masterful thriller:
Now, don’t laugh…but tied for #2 on my list is a big-budget action movie that is great!
2-The Poseidon Adventure!
“Hell, Upside Down.”
That was the tagline for the greatest disaster movie of all time. And you know why it’s just a timeless action thriller? Because of Hackman!
It is the gravitas of Hackman that holds the film together – a testament to his powerful screen presence…
Gene Hackman plays Reverand Scott, who must help a small group climb up to the bottom of the overturned luxury cruise ship. This is the gold standard for disaster films, and it took a great actor like Hackman to give the premise weight – to make their adventure seem real.
Look at the cast of classic Hollywood names populating this film: Stella Stevens, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, just to name a few of the ton of recognizable faces that populate this 1972 smash hit.
This is a classic 70’s disaster film, see the trailer here:
I love all of these movies, but this is the one that cemented Hackman’s reputation:
The French Connection!
It was the Academy Award-winning Best Picture of 1971, the true story of “Popeye” Doyle, a NY cop determined to bust a heroin smuggling ring…
He is, of course, a cop willing to break all the rules in order to get his man – and that includes one of the most amazing car chases ever filmed…beautifully directed by legendary Director William Friedkin, who went on to make “The Exorcist”, “To Live And Die In LA”, “Sorcerer” AND “Killer Joe”!
The Legendary Car Chase!
Thanks to the terrific website IMDB, here are some amazing anecdotes about the filming of the legendary car chase through the streets of New York in “The French Connection.”
The car crash during the chase sequence, at the intersection of Stillwell Ave. and 86th St., was unplanned and was included because of its realism. The man whose car was hit had just left his house a few blocks from the intersection to go to work and was unaware that a car chase was being filmed. The producers paid the bill for the repairs to his car!
According to IMDB, the car chase was filmed without obtaining the proper permits from the city! Members of the NYPD’s tactical force helped control traffic. But most of the control was achieved by the assistant directors with the help of off-duty NYPD officers, many of whom had been involved in the actual case.
A camera was mounted on the car’s bumper for the shots from the car’s point-of-view. Hackman did some of the driving but the extremely dangerous stunts were performed by Bill Hickman, with Friedkin filming from the backseat.
Friedkin operated the camera himself because the other camera operators were married with children and he was not. The mjaority of the chase was, however, very well choreographed, but it is that realism in the filming that makes the scene itself so heart-pounding!
The film spawned a sequel, as Hackman goes to Marseilles to track down his nemesis…this is also a great film with a dynamite performance by Hackman…
Hackman’s Oscar-winning role included memorable dialogue such as this:
“All right! You put a shiv in my partner. You know what that means? Goddammit! All winter long I got to listen to him gripe about his bowling scores. Now I’m gonna bust your ass for those three bags and I’m gonna nail you for picking your feet in Poughkeepsie!”
Interestingly, the creative team behind the Oscar-winning Best Picture “The Artist” re-told “The French Connection” – from the french point of view!
You can see more about this new film here:
As for Gene Hackman, he excelled in every film he made, even “B” movies like this one:
This early 70’s western starred Hackman alongside Oliver Reed and Candace Bergen – a gritty film about kidnapping and revenge…see more here:
There you have it – enough great Gene Hackman movies to keep you busy for the next year! Tell me what I missed – although I already have an idea – I mean, he was great in “The Firm”, The Royal Tanenbaums” and of course, “Unforgiven”…so much stuff to share – and celebrate…
Happy birthday, Gene!
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Lovely tribute, and you’ve convinced me to see a few more movies with him – thanks!
Great career. Got to get UNFORGIVEN in there. Stole the movie from Eastwood.
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I know! Several others have commented on that film as well, which I love, because I really enjoy great westerns, and Clint made a number of them…I will do a new list for Hackman and mix it up a bit – he’s sorely missed in cinema but hey, let him enjoy his life now, right?
The great Gene Hackman, what else is there to say. Nice post John. I hadn’t heard of Prime Cut, the action scenes look awesome.
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Lloyd, “Prime Cut” was Sissy Spacek’s first movie and she is naked in most of it…a very gritty “B-movie” – trashy and enjoyable
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Fantastic birthday tribute, John! I ♥ Gene. I STILL haven’t seen Scarecrow. Eegads. I know this sounds silly, but I remember as a preteen watching ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ at the drive-in and fell in love with him as the handsome, fiery leader. I was right there crying with Susan Dey when he plummeted into the flames. It’s still my favorite disaster flick. 😉
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Great birthday tribute, John. My personal favourite was and still is The Conversation, but he was always reliably good in any role. He certainly made the best of his role in ‘Unforgiven’, not one of my favourite westerns.
“The Duck of Death”.
Better without the awful toupees too!
Best wishes, Pete.
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