Monday, February 08, 2010

Five Best Gene Hackman Roles

Gene Hackman turned 80 last week. He's still the voice on the Home Depot commercials, but he hasn't made a film in six years; the last was the unfortunate Welcome to Mooseport (2004). I stayed up too late on Saturday night because Bonnie and Clyde followed The French Connection on Turner Classic Movies, and anyway I believe that Kevin Wignall suggested this list months ago.

If your views differ, leave them in the comments section.

1. Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle, The French Connection (1971). Hackman's first truly iconic role. Popeye Doyle is a screw-up, a bad cop who isn't even particularly competent, except that he's willing to follow his obsessions to the bitter end. Imagine anyone else in this role, and the movie doesn't work at all, because Doyle is fundamentally unlikable — except that Hackman shows us a real man, not a cartoon. And he did about half of his own driving in that car chase.

2. Harry Caul, The Conversation (1974). Again, Hackman plays a character I'd cross a room to avoid. Harry Caul is paranoid, bitter, amoral and vain — and the discovery that he does have a conscience after all changes none of this. It's hard to imagine what a movie like The Conversation would look like if made today, and which modern actors would be willing to play Harry as he's written.

3. The Blind Man, Young Frankenstein (1974). Oh, come on. This has to be on the list. It also makes my list of all-time Top Five Movie Cameos. "Where are you going? I was gonna make espresso."

4. Harry Moseby, Night Moves (1975). I'm surprised by how few of my friends have seen this movie, a masterpiece of 1970s neo-noir. Harry Moseby is a Lew Archer-style private detective who goes looking for a runaway teenager (Melanie Griffith, in her first credited role). The search leads Harry into a tangle of sex, smuggling, greed and betrayal, and no one is redeemed. I just looked, and you can watch this as streaming video on Netflix. Do it when you're in a reasonably good mood.

5. Little Bill Daggett, Unforgiven (1992). Little Bill Daggett is the gleefully amoral sheriff of Big Whiskey, Wyoming, and he keeps the peace because peace is best for business. Having set himself up as an absolute ruler, he dooms himself to an inevitable overthrow; he's not a good man, but his actions and his end have an unlikely nobility.

13 comments:

Kevin Wignall said...

You know, I've seen "Young Frankenstein" several times, but all many years ago, and I never registered that it was him playing the blind man.

Beyond that, I'm simultaneously in agreement with your list while wanting to add others. He was superb in "Under Fire" and Nic Roeg's "Eureka", and in "Mississippi Burning". He's also put some class performances into recent films, as Brill in "Enemy of the State" and as Rankin Fitch in "Runaway Jury". And you can't underestimate his comic gifts, as the unforgettable Harry Zimm in "Get Shorty", and (one of my all-time favourites, as the eponymous patriarch in "The Royal Tenenbaums".

Good call.

AnswerGirl said...

Oh, Gene Hackman is almost unrecognizable in "Young Frankenstein," which is one of the reasons I included it on this list. Once you realize it's him, though, it's obvious. The entire clip is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cw2IIU0a9qw

Sue Lin said...

"The Conversation" is one of my favorite movies of all time. And it has a superb, haunting musical score. Amazing how many actors got early roles here - Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, and of course the great late John Cazale is unforgettable as the thorn in Hackman's paranoid side....

AnswerGirl said...

John Cazale was an astonishing actor. He made five feature films, and all five were nominated for Best Picture . . . perfect candidate for another post.

Kieran said...

You know, it's been said Hackman is the American Michael Caine. Working actor. Takes almost any gig, but always gives it his best even if the script is awful.

Anonymous said...

Didn't you like him in "The Royal Tenenbaums"? I like that movie more everytime I see it.
I watched "The French Connection" and "Bullitt" right before that and I can't get either film out of my head. I loved seeing and hearing things I hadn't in years: people smoking in hospitals, rotary dial phones, the sound of a '60's Mustang. I wish I had DVR'd them.

Anonymous said...

That was me, I forgot to sign. Blame Scott, Peggy

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

These are all great. I will always have a soft spot for his performance in Get Shorty.

norby said...

HOOSIERS!!!!

I love you guys....

AnswerGirl said...

I do love "Royal Tenenbaums," and that movie would have made the list if I hadn't chosen "Young Frankenstein" instead. If this list were 10 roles instead of five, the next five would be "Royal Tenenbaums," "Hoosiers," "Get Shorty," "Superman," and "Runaway Jury."

Tom said...

Hi Answer Girl,
I stumbled on this, your link via a google search regarding Gene Hackman in Eureka. This is a long shot, but perhaps you know the Hackman spoken voice over in the film, the lines that express (+ -) "it's leading me on? it's not the gold that I'm seeking" It's been so long since i have seen the film, and tried to write the lines down. even then it was rather murky to my ears and I'm even harder of hearing now. But those spoken lines seemed the Rosebud of the story. Any help will be wonderful and appreciated. It's one of those perennial "how did that go again's"
My e-mail is eelfinger@gmail.com
Thanks,
tom

AnswerGirl said...

I am embarrassed to say that I haven't even seen "Eureka" — I will add it to my Netflix queue today! If I can figure out what he's saying, I'll let you know . . . thanks for stopping by!

Burning7Chrome said...

In no particular order.

1. Scarecrow (1973)
2. The Conversation (1974)
3. The Royal Tenenbaums (2000)