Winter Project 2017: Gene Hackman

In a career that spanned nearly five decades, Hackman was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning Best Actor in The French Connection and Best Supporting Actor in Unforgiven. He is retired and 87, and I regret to admit I have seen probably ten of his movies–but they seem a long time ago, and I was too young to appreciate him. I think it will be fun to revisit his classics with older, fresh eyes. As far as his personal life is concerned, I know nothing about him.

Every winter I assign myself a male actor who has made an impact on the movie industry, but I know little about. I will read a biography, watch films I missed and revisit the ones I’ve seen him in before. Starting in December through January, I’ll try to connect the film to the man in an effort to get to know him better. What would you recommend I see?

49 thoughts on “Winter Project 2017: Gene Hackman

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  1. Oh this will be fun to keep up with! Loved this guy. He’s a part of one of my all-time favorites, a movie about the 1958(?) Hickory, Indiana high school basketball team and their highly controversial head coach (Hackman). It’s an obscure one, particularly for those who don’t watch sports movies but I find it so good because of the performances. And Hackman is brilliant in it. I know you’re a baseball fan Cindy, but you should give it a look! 😁

        1. Cindy, would you mind copying a link to that L13 Film Club post you mentioned? I browsed through your blog but was unable to find it. Thanks!

  2. Beware of what you ask for…here is my post about his ten greatest roles, and I barely scratched the surface! He is an amazing actor with so much range – gifted at comedy, drama, action, knows when to take a pause, when to punch a line, when to sell if just so…Director Alexander Payne wrote “Nebraska” specifically for Hackman, but couldn’t convince the Actor to come out of a self-imposed retirement to do it…here is my list –

  3. I’m sure you must have seen it but I have to go straight for Coppola’s ‘The Conversation’. (1974)
    Not only is Hackman at his manic best, it is just an all-round wonderful film, with a fabulous cast.

    I struggle with Hackman, to be honest. I loved him in ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, but he irritated me no end in ‘The French Connection’. However, I did like his amusing turn in ‘Get Shorty’, and David Mamet’s 2001 film ‘Heist’ is worth watching. It’s Mamet, after all. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. Hi Pete. I knew you would have something to say about Gene. Of all the films you have listed, I have only seen ‘Get Shorty’. I know, I know–how have I not seen ‘The French Connection’?
      When I see it, I will think of you and wonder why you found him irritating.

  4. So many great films by Gene Hackman, many of them classics, and already listed here by others. I’ll recommend one few have seen, or won’t readily recommend: All Night Long (1981). Quirky as hell, full of personality (including an eccentrically cast Barbara Streisand), and loaded with some excellent character actors. It’s a thoroughly odd family drama/comedy about an executive who loses his temper and is demoted to the night manager at a 24-hour drugstore. And the key reason this strange endeavor somehow works is Gene Hackman. He makes it work and I’ve always recalled the film for just that. If you can find it, the movie is worth checking out.

    1. This sounds like a great suggestion, Michael. I love Barbara Streisand, too. I can only imagine how the two sharp-witted, sharp-tongued actors played off of each other. I will rent it and watch it soon!

  5. He has always been around or so it seems, but I didn’t notice him until he played Clyde Barrow’s brother, Buck, in the movie Bonnie and Clyde. What are his best movies? I find it hard to say, but many of his roles seem to present a basic streak of sadistic meanness that I find unattractive.

    1. Yes, that sadistic meanness is his trademark, but I know there has to be a softer side–I’m looking forward to watching his comedies. He was perfectly cast, for example, in the Robin Williams gay comedy ‘Bird in a Cage’.

    1. Yes, a private man–I associate him with Robert Duvall–private and talented and “real”. Maybe I’m way off with Hackman. I hope the biography I bought is interesting. I look forward to learning about him.

      1. Duvall and him were buddies as struggling New York actors in the 1960s along with Dusty Hoffman. Great Vanity Fair article about it from 2003 but I suspect more will be covered in the biograpy.

    1. Rick, Yay! A Wes Anderson fan. I love that quirky film and he was perfectly cast. Thanks. I have a lot of respect for Owen Wilson, too. He’s underrated and starred a couple times with Gene Hackman, too. The two are both writers. I’m going to try reading Hackman’s novel ‘Wake of the Perdido Star’.

      1. Haven’t seen everything Hack has done. He was in Unforgiven of course. Great cast in that movie (Freeman, Eastwood, Harris and Gene). I’m guessing he’s Bad Guys more than Good Guys? Even his Good Guys were no Galahads. Yeah, but a hell of a career eh!?

  6. Great choice! One of my favorite actors! My top Hackman performances: 1) the drifter in Scarecrow (1973), a brilliant road movie. Hackman has repeatedly said that this is his favorite movie role. 2) the world-weary detective in Arthur Penn’s neo-noir masterpiece Night Moves (1975), and the paranoid surveillance expert in Coppola’s superb The Conversation (1974).

    1. Hi Eric, thanks so much for stopping by! Your suggestions are fine ones–I have intentions to see them with fresh eyes. Have you read any of his novels? I’m excited he writes historical fiction. I thought I’d try one.

      1. No, I haven’t read any of his books. They have gotten good reviews though. Isn’t it interesting? He managed to have a successful second career as a best-selling author! Hackman isn’t the first one. Actors Mary Astor and Tom Tryon also became writers after they retired. I’m not familiar with Astor’s books, but I did read Tryon’s Harvest Home — it was a good book!

  7. A good teacher loves research. You are obviously a good teacher and it would be a treat to sit in one of your classes. I enjoyed teaching College level students. They come to class trying to test your knowledge so at the beginning of each semester I gave them a lot of research projects and made sure I’d read the books as students love to get one up on their teachers so they can look good in front of their peers. lol

    1. Well, thank you, Ian. They do enjoy it when you engage in their passionate topic. Some students have superior intellects at seventeen, and it’s great to listen to their opinions and banter with them.

  8. He’s just one of those actors that make everything they are in better. He is so good in his range from leading man to villain. Just watched him for the umpteenth time in Absolute Power with Clint Eastwood, one of the best movies made from a Baldacci novel. And then there’s The Birdcage, what a hoot for Hackman!

  9. There’s s no limit to what you could watch with such a talent. One of the all time greats. Alright some early films I haven’t seen include Night Moves and I Never Sang For My Father. There is also Scarecrow and two classics I have seen are Bonnie and Clyde (his first big break) and The French Connection. There is also Francis Ford Coppola’s classic The Conversation. I came to him through Superman and his portrayal of Lex Luthor, its interesting to see him play broad and comedic but I’m not sure I’d recommend. Maybe better to check him out Young Frankenstein. Unequivocally and unapologetically I would say some of his best performances and best films from my era are Unforgiven, The Birdcage, Get Shorty Crimson Tide, The Package and The Firm and you absolutely got it Mississippi Burning. Postcards from The Edge might be worth a look and No Way Out or his role in Reds. Bat 21 about a downed high ranking USAF officer shot down over Vietnam is a personal favourite. Twilight might hold your interest for you starring Paul Newman and Susan Sarandon with Hackman in LA Noir. You gotta love his cameo in The Mexican. I have a soft spot for Hoosiers, I love him even in the really silly and commercial The Replacements. For a last hurrah you can see him playing off life long buddy Dustin Hoffman in Runaway Jury but I prefer The Royal Tenenbaums a film he apparently didn’t care for. Whether playing career soldiers in generic action films, sleazy lawyers in slick thrillers, rotten bad guys or straight forward heroes in B-grade fare in everything but budget his presence always added something. In the films that deserved him he contributed to them becoming downright classics. I hope to down A Seven Ages of him soon but I still need to watch or re-watch The French Connection, Night Moves, I Never Sang For My Father, Reds, Young Frankenstein, Postcards From The Edge and The Conversation. I cannot highly recommend enough Mississippi Burning.

  10. So many wonderful films to choose from and some memorable scenes in countless films, both good and bad. Mississippi Burning and Royal Tenenbaums are faves of mine but so hard to nail it down. I will go the other way and say one film I’ve always thought overrated is The Conversation. One of the first things I did when starting blog 3 plus years ago was a live take on Gene. Have fun.

    1. I watched your video. Thank you, Mike for the overview. There are a few off beat ones I can’t wait to watch like All Night Long. Love The Royal Ts. I am going to have fun this winter with Gene’s filmograohy. I hope you can stop around soon!

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