Actor George Kennedy recently passed away on February 28, 2016 at the age of 91. Kennedy turned in many great roles in movies like Airport and the Naked Gun films. But for my money, I will always first associate him with his wonderful role as Dragline in the classic film Cool Hand Luke (1967), which has a 100% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
While Paul Newman played one of his greatest roles and one of the great cool characters of all time, George Kennedy made us see the main character through the admiring eyes of his hot-tempered character. It is the pairing of the two actors, laying the foundation for the future of buddy movies, along with a fine supporting cast, that elevates the movie from good to great.
Kennedy’s portrayal of Dragline gave us a movie character for the ages. He even received the honor of uttering the movie’s title in response to Luke’s great line that “sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.” Check out the poker scene from Cool Hand Luke.
It would be too long before Paul Newman finally received a Best Acting Oscar, but Cool Hand Luke gave George Kennedy an honor he deserved with the Best Supporting Actor statue. And he gave a touching and exceptionally short speech.
Interestingly, Kennedy had a different impression than Newman of his Cool Hand Luke character’s motivation in the church scene near the end of the film. In a 1968 interview with Roger Ebert, Kennedy explained that Newman saw Dragline’s acts leading the authorities to Luke as a form of betrayal, while Kennedy saw the act as one of stupidity. I tend to agree with Kennedy’s interpretation, perhaps because his great acting gives the viewer the sense of the character’s simple sincerity.
What is your favorite George Kennedy movie? Leave your two cents in the comments.
On May 7, 1901, Frank James Cooper was born in Helena, Montana. After some work as a salesman and promoter, he started working as an actor in 1925, changing his first name to Gary when he signed a contract with Paramount. Reportedly, a casting director suggested the new name after her tough hometown of Gary, Indiana.
Gary Cooper went on to star in many memorable films including Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Meet John Doe (1941), Pride of the Yankees (1942), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), and The Fountainhead (1949). Cooper was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar and lost for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Pride of the Yankees, and For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Cooper’s First Best Actor Oscar
He received the Best Actor Oscar twice. First, he won the honor in 1942 for Sergeant York (1941). It is a terrific performance, even if some note that Hollywood may have been motivated to honor the World War I film about a pacifist becoming a soldier to encourage Americans to sign up to fight in the new war. Below is the trailer.
Cooper’s Second Oscar & The Meaning of High Noon
More than a decade later, he won the Best Actor Oscar for High Noon (1952), the last time he was nominated for Best Actor. It is hard to pick a favorite Gary Cooper movie, but I am not sure anything tops High Noon (1952).
We liked Cooper as a hero.
At the 25th Academy Awards in 1953, Cooper was filming another movie in Mexico and was ill. So, John Wayne accepted the award for him.
Below, actress Janet Gaynor announces Cooper’s win, and Wayne accepts the statue.
Interestingly despite Wayne’s joke wondering why he did not get the High Noon role, Wayne reportedly did not like the movie. There are various theories about why, but Garry Wills in John Wayne’s America explained that Wayne thought the movie ended on a note of disrespect for the law when Cooper dropped his badge in the dirt at the end.
Like Wayne, a number of people found political messages in High Noon. Some suspected High Noon had a “leftist” message. By contrast, though, others believed the script, written by Carl Foreman, who would later be blacklisted, was not sending a left-wing message but exploring the way people had cowered to the bully Sen. Joe McCarthy.
Other viewers find in High Noon a conservative message about how one man has to stand up when the justice system breaks down. Or they find an allegory about the Cold War. In Bright Lights Film Journal, Prof. Manfred Weidhorn summed up the contrasting theories about the movie, saying “High Noon, bristling with ambiguity, is a veritable Rorschach test.”
But High Noon is deep down a great movie, however you want to interpret any messages about the man (and his wife) standing up to the bad guys. And maybe the possibility of so many interpretations adds to its American character.
Many years ago when I was in college in the pre-Internet days and had some friends visiting from Sweden, I took them to a revival theater to see High Noon. I thought it was a wonderful example of an American movie, or at least of an example regarding how Americans see themselves.
Another former actor, Ronald Reagan, recognized how the movie remained in America’s consciousness decades later. He invokes the movie in this clip, discussing what it was like for a Republican to be in Democratic territory.
Cooper’s Third Oscar
Nearly a decade after High Noon, Cooper would be awarded a third and final Oscar. In April 1961, the Academy gave Cooper a Lifetime Achievement Oscar for his great career.
Cooper again could not accept the award. But this time, unknown to many, it was because of a serious illness.
When viewers saw Cooper’s friend Jimmy Stewart give an emotional speech at the Oscars, though, they realized Cooper was not well. The news soon came out that Cooper was suffering from prostate cancer. He died one month later on May 13, 1961, leaving behind a collection of great films that would be the envy of any actor.
What is your favorite Gary Cooper movie? Leave your two cents in the comments.
On March 27, 1973, Marlon Brando won the Best Actor Academy Award for The Godfather (1972) and became the second person in history to turn down the Best Actor Oscar. Like George C. Scott a few years earlier, Brando was a no-show for his award, but Brando sent a replacement to make a political statement and to officially reject the award during the telecast.
The night before the Oscars, Brando told the Academy he was sending Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather in his place. But when Littlefeather took the stage, she walked past Roger Moore holding the Oscar and explained that Brando was refusing the award. Brando, who was active in a number of social causes, declined the award to protest the portrayal of Native Americans in films.
Watching Littlefeather’s speech today, I realized I had forgotten how polite the speech was. From her respect of the time limit, to her apology, to her reference to the “very generous award,” her speech contrasts greatly with the few boos you hear in the audience. I also forgot that the applause outnumbered the boos. Reportedly, she had planned to read Brando’s long statement but Oscar officials told her beforehand she only had 60-seconds. So Littlefeather improvised quite well, even mentioning recent events at Wounded Knee.
Some critics later claimed that Littlefeather, who was born with the name Marie Cruz, was not Native American. But her father was from the White Mountain Apache and Yaqui tribes. She has appeared in a number of movies and TV shows and is still active in the Native American community.
While some articles report that Littlefeather read “part” of Brando’s speech, in looking at the text, it appears to me she merely did the best one could to summarize his main point in the short time. She captured Brando’s attempt to be polite in his unread remarks, where he explained that he did not attend because he thought he was of better use if he were at Wounded Knee. His written speech closed:
“I would hope that those who are listening would not look upon this as a rude intrusion, but as an earnest effort to focus attention on an issue that might very well determine whether or not this country has the right to say from this point forward we believe in the inalienable rights of all people to remain free and independent on lands that have supported their life beyond living memory. Thank you for your kindness and your courtesy to Miss Littlefeather. Thank you and good night.”
Brando appeared on The Dick Cavett Show not long after he refused the Oscar. In the first few minutes, you can tell that the audience had no problem with his decision to refuse the Oscar for a principle in which he believed. In the clip, he discusses his Oscar decision starting around the 6:30 mark, and he elaborates on how different ethnic groups are portrayed on television.
In 1971, two years before Littlefeather took the stage for Brando, George C. Scott rejected his Best Actor Oscar for Patton (1970) because of his dislike for the awards. But on the night of the awards, Patton‘s producer accepted Scott’s award from presenter Goldie Hawn. While Scott claimed he was at home watching a hockey game, he rejected the award because he did not like the idea of acting as a contest and had stated years earlier that the Oscars are “a beauty contest in a slaughterhouse.” According to the Los Angeles Times, George C. Scott’s Oscar ended up on display at the Virginia Military Academy Museum in Lexington, Virgina, out of recognition of the man Scott portrayed onscreen, General George S. Patton.
Marlon Brando passed away in 2004, and I am not sure what happened to Brando’s Oscar, as some websites claim that it was just put back in the pile and given to someone else while others claim it is in a vault somewhere waiting in case his estate decides to pick it up. Some report that Roger Moore took it home for a short time and that eventually it was given as a replacement for a damaged one owned by Charlie Chaplin. Another source claims it ended up with an unnamed person and that Brando wanted it back at some point.
I like to think that Brando’s Oscar is off somewhere fighting for justice.
Would you have booed or applauded if you were in the audience that night? Leave your two cents in the comments?
With the Academy Awards show this Sunday, February 24, everyone is wondering which movie will win Best Picture this year. Most prognosticators believe Argo will walk away with the big prize because it has been cleaning up with other awards. A few wonder whether Argo will win because Director Ben Affleck was not nominated in the directing category. Yet, while some pull for a dark horse like Silver Linings Playbook, it seems clear that Argo is the front-runner going into Sunday.
I will not make a guess, but I do think this year was one of the best years for movies in recent years. In addition to Argo, I enjoyed many of the other nominated films like Life of Pi and Django Unchained. But if I had a vote for the Best Picture Oscar, I would vote for Lincoln.
Of course, nobody knows who will win this year, but we can look back on past Best Picture winners. Nelson Carvajal has created this cool video of all of the Academy Award Best Picture winners. How many can you identify?
The music for this Oscar montage is “November” by Max Richter.
Which film do you think should win Best Picture? Leave your two cents in the comments.
While we wait for the Oscars announcements this weekend, Malcolm McDowell and Uggie (The Artist) recently announced the winners of the Pawscars Awards. The American Humane Association gives these annual awards for best animal and animal-related performances in movies as part of the organization’s work to ensure humane treatment of animals in films.
Winners this year include Django Unchained (2012) for “Best Horsemanship.” The American Humane Association specifically noted the work by Jamie Foxx, a horse rider since childhood who used his own horse Cheetah in the film. Check out the other winners from McDowell and Uggie in this video.
On a regular basis, the American Human Association awards movies with the famous words “No Animals Were Harmed®” at the end of the film. But this is the fifth year the Association also has given out the Pawscars Awards.
What was your favorite animal performance this year? Leave your two cents in the comments.