Thursday, August 12, 2010

More Than A Grin

I recently read Kate Buford's biography of Burt Lancaster. Lancaster might not have had the acting chops of his greatest contemporaries, but he possessed certain qualities that set him apart. He had a presence, a movie star presence. He moved with a grace that few could match. And he suggested coiled power, ready to pounce, like no one else.

In his younger days he was an acrobat. When he got a role on Broadway right after WWII, all the talent scouts recognized this guy was something special. Before long, he was starring in The Killers (1946) and he remained a star till the end.

Lancaster has never been one of my favorite actors, but I couldn't help but be struck, looking over his roles, how much he stretched and tried new things, and how many significant and/or entertaining films he made.

It's an impressive list in breadth and depth, including Criss Cross, The Crimson Pirate, Come Back Little Sheba, From Here To Eternity, Vera Cruz, The Rose Tattoo, Trapeze, The Rainmaker, Gunfight At The O.K. Corral, Sweet Smell Of Success, Separate Tables, Elmer Gantry, Judgment At Nuremberg, Birdman Of Alcatraz, The Leopard, Seven Days In May, The Train, The Swimmer, Airport, Ulzana's Raid, 1900, Go Tell The Spartans, Atlantic City, Local Hero and Field Of Dreams. (He also turned down a lot of major roles--Stanley Kowalski (on stage), Ben-Hur, Patton--and he wanted to be the Godfather but didn't get it.)

I like him in his early noir and Westerns, and he's delightful in acrobatic action like The Crimson Pirate. Yet I think his greatest performances are when he had to hold things in--Sweet Smell Of Success, Birdman Of Alcatraz. (Sweet Smell may be my favorite film of his, but it was a major flop that all but destroyed his production company.) His greatest work may be in a film near the end of his career, Atlantic City. He played something rare for him--a loser, a second-rater. Seeing him win a small victory in his small world ends up being more powerful than all those outsized roles he took to so well in his early days.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

didnt he play jim thorpe in his life story?

8:47 AM, August 13, 2010  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Yes, and he had the athleticism to pull it off.

10:07 AM, August 13, 2010  

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