Tag Archives: Horton Foote

T.G.I.F. – Ten From Arthur Penn

Arthur Penn died earlier this week. Although he wasn’t a prolific film director, his batting average was incredible, and his films were an accurate reflection of the mores and zeitgeist of their times. His most famous epic, Bonnie and Clyde, was not only a cultural phenomenon in the 70s, but the critical and popular success of its tone and style opened the doors for other landmark films that would revolutionize the film industry.

Penn got his start in television, directing live dramas for shows like Playhouse 90, and was also a very successful Broadway director, winning Tony Awards three times in a four-year span. His work included dynamic shows like Clifford Odetts’ Golden Boy and the original productions of Wait Until Dark and The Miracle Worker.

But although he received three Academy Award nominations for Best Director, he never took home the statuette for his film work. No matter – his impact was huge. Despite a short filmography, he worked with all of the greatest actors of his time – Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty – and was adept at extracting eclectic performances from them. Ironically, he hated method acting, although he worked often with some of its biggest practicioners.

Arthur was often mistakenly identified as the father of the successful Penn brothers – actors Sean and Christopher and musician Michael; their father Leo was also in the industry but no relation.

So in tribute to Arthur , I give you Ten From Arthur Penn. These are his ten best films – also his first ten films – and I suggest those you haven’t seen go on your “must see” list. And if the independent film era of the 60s and 70s  interests you, I highly suggest you grab a copy of the fascinating documentary Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

01. The Left Handed Gun (1958) – Newman as Billy The Kid, an underrated Western with some great performances.

02. The Miracle Worker (1962) – Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in the award-winning smash

03. Mickey One (1965) – An underknown classic with Beatty as a nightclub comic fleeing the mob. Sadly not on DVD yet.

04. The Chase (1966) – An amazing cast in an oddball combination of a Southern melodrama and an action film, scripted by Horton Foote and Lillian Hellman.Trainwreck great.

05. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – One of the best films ever made, period.

06. Alice’s Restaurant (1969) – Arlo Guthrie’s song took up an album side and Penn made it into a counterculture classic.

07. Little Big Man (1970) – The oddest history lesson ever and a great anti-Western; Forrest Gump stole the concept.

08. Night Moves (1975) – One of the dozens of reasons that Gene Hackman might just be the best of his generation.

09. The Missouri Breaks (1976) – At this point directors let Brando do what he wanted just to get him in the film; he was rarely odder than this one.

10. Four Friends (1981) – Craig Wasson leads a lesser known cast in one of the better films made about growing up in the turbulent 60s. Written by Steve Tesich, who gave us another coming-of-age classic in Breaking Away.

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Foote, Finch and Mockingbird

We lost Horton Foote yesterday, at the ripe old age of 92; he was within 10 days of his 93rd birthday. A prolific playwright, Foote might be best known for his screenplay adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, for which he won the Academy Award. I found that Tess Harper’s quote seemed to be one of the most incisive when describing Foote ( “He was a quiet man who wrote quiet people”); she shared the screen with Robert Duvall in another of his classics, Tender Mercies. Duvall, of course, made his screen debut as the iconic neighbor Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird, having been suggested for the part by Foote after the two men worked together on a theatre production. Sadly, Mockingbird’s director Robert Mulligan recently passed away as well; his film credits include baseball flick Fear Strikes Out and coming-of-age classic Summer Of ’42.

"The defendant is not guilty - but somebody in this courtroom is..."

"The defendant is not guilty - but somebody in this courtroom is..."

Ironically, To Kill A Mockingbird aired on TCM the other night; it’s one of those movies that stops me from further channel-surfing and locks me in for the duration. I’ve read the book twice and have seen the film at least a dozen times since my childhood, and I agee with those who rank it high on the list of the best films ever made. Gregory Peck is pitch-perfect as lawyer and widower Atticus Finch, who (as one character describes him) was “born to do our unpleasant jobs for us”. Peck’s grim, silent determination is consistent whether he’s being called upon to dispatch a rabid dog with a single shot, guide his motherless children through their frustrations or stand alone against an angry town of racist rednecks when a black man is wrongly accused of a heinous crime.

His lesson to daughter Scout provides words we could all learn from. “If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

Ain’t that the truth.

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