L13FC: The Long Careers of Actors

Today is my lucky day! You’ve decided to stop by and add to the discussion to this month’s film topic on my double-nickel birthday. Thank you!

Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Duvall are lifetime friends who bunked together while honing their craft back in the late 1950s. It’s a fascinating trifecta. Read Flip the Movie Script 2016 article, “A Brief Time in History with Friends Hackman, Hoffman, and Duvall” found HERE.

Considered character actors, they catapulted to stardom when their breakout roles were part of an Oscar winner for Best Picture. (Dustin Hoffman in 1967 with The Graduate, Gene Hackman in 1971 with The French Connection, and Robert Duvall in 1972 with The Godfather) Hoffman and Hackman won Oscars for Best Actor, and Duvall was nominated for his supporting role. As generational friends and colleagues, they’ve grown old on the screen and we’ve watched them do it. Their longevity is remarkable. According to IMDb:

Gene Hackman, b. 1930:  100 credits, 2 Oscars, 30 other wins

Dustin Hoffman, b. 1937: 84 credits, 2 Oscars, 60 other wins

Robert Duvall, b. 1931: 143 credits, 1 Oscar, 55 other wins

Having read Allan Hunter‘s biography Gene Hackman, after his win for Popeye in The French Connection, there was a battle within Hackman. How to navigate a career? Should your choices be picky for art’s sake, daring to fall out of favor if your film bombs? Or should you accept any role because you are afraid your flame will burn out quickly if you don’t maximize Oscar success? For Hackman, he never thought “this ugly mug would be so lucky.” By the middle 1970s, he accepted whatever script was offered, and it deflated his high-quality acting persona. Then in the 1980s and 1990s, he seemed to be cast in the same role over and over. The bastard. The son-of-a-bitch. He became “the man” everyone wanted to stick it to.

Please welcome my co-host, Nancy, my mother who has watched these three actors their entire careers. I asked her, “Because Gene is ordinary looking and plays ugly characters does he become repellent to you? If Gene were gorgeous and played ugly characters would he be as repulsive? Or sexier?” 

Nancy’s observations:

Gene Hackman’s looks have nothing to do with it. To me, he comes across as arrogant, even in comedies.  I don’t see him really “acting”, only playing parts that are him.  I love Robert Duvall.  Every character is different, good or bad, such as The Great Santini, Tender Mercies, and as Lt. Col. Kilgore. I don’t have an opinion on Dustin Hoffman one way or another.  Most of his roles aren’t memorable to me. None of them radiate sex appeal. Not like Richard Harris.

Cindy’s observations: 

Gene Hackman said in Allan Hunter’s biography that he knew if he couldn’t get the girl in the film, he would never become a “movie star” like, well, Richard Harris. His talents were utilitarian to a script that needed a smug, corrupt leader. He was perfect and predictable like a favorite dish at a restaurant. If you didn’t get what you expected, you’d be disappointed.

With actors who have sustainable longevity in the business, there seems to be a young version and an older version of themselves. Actors who play diverse roles are my favorite. They are the artists. One wonders after playing 80 + films, like an old horse down a hoof-beaten path, it’s not acting anymore, it becomes, as Nancy suggested, just the man on the screen. The originality of the initial spark that captivated an audience at the start of a career has long since burnt out.

Since many people have a say in the outcome of the film, it would be hard to know which film to pick. What seems like an interesting, meaty role, could end up being an unbalanced disaster beyond the actor’s control. It is the brave artist on screen who bears the criticism of good chemistry gone sour. For career actors, who make 80+ films, I have to wonder if they feel that filmmaking is a hit or miss endeavor. Maybe if one can count four or five excellent roles in a fifty-year career, that’s a job well done at the end of a life?

Considering Hackman, Hoffman, and Duvall, why do you prefer the one you picked? Their best role?

42 thoughts on “L13FC: The Long Careers of Actors

Add yours

  1. I had to look up what number a ‘double-nickel’ refers to. So, you are still young, and I wish you a very happy birthday. I celebrated my own double-nickel by spending four days in Ghent. A memorable trip of canals, great food, and copious amounts of Genever Gin. I also got reduced rate entrance into the castle, because of my age!

    Interesting to hear your Mum’s thoughts. I had never once thought of Richard Harris as having sex appeal. Because of my interest in Oliver Cromwell, I would pick my favourite Harris role as that of ‘Cromwell’, from the 1970 epic about the English CIvil War. Cast against type, he carried it off with some style. Not a great film perhaps, but he was great in it, and held his own against a memorable performance from Alec Guinness too.

    I don’t often think about Dustin Hoffman, but when I do, I conclude that he is a lot better than he is often given credit for. His performance as Lenny Bruce in the biopic ‘Lenny’ (1974) was outstanding, and by far my favourite Hoffman role. I have discussed Hackman here before, and reiterate my choice of his portrayal of Harry Caul, in ‘The Conversation’ (1974). Of the three, I think Robert Duvall has had the more workmanlike career. Always solid in mainly supporting roles, he grabbed my attention in ‘The Outfit’ (1973) as Earl Macklin. One of my favourite American crime dramas ever. Duvall also managed to seemingly get better as he got older, stealing the film ‘Open Range’ (2003) from his younger co-stars.

    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. Hi Pete! I like the sounds of your birthday in Ghent. Still, it’s sunny and 70 degrees here today, so I don’t dare wish for anything else.
      Regarding Richard Harris, yeah, I don’t get the attraction, but my mom loves his vibrant, lustful personality. You’d have a good time hanging out with Harris, I think. I think Dustin has had many more remarkable roles than the other two. I liked him in his early career –All the President’s Men, with Steve McQueen in Papillion. I thought he was marvelous in Rain Man (so was Tom 😉 and though I thought he was effective, I didn’t much like theTootsie movie. Kramer v. Kramer he was powerful.
      Robert Duvall is a better acter than Hackman. He morphs into interesting characters, more so than Hackman. While the other two can grate on my nerves, Robert Duvall has never disappointed me. Just the other night I watched him in a flawed but cute film called ‘A Night in Old Mexico.’ I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. His mannerisms gave the character an authenticity. I was impressed with his performance. Of the three actors, he still turns out artistic works. Yes, to Open Range. I liked him alongside Jeff Bridges, too, in ‘Crazy Heart’. I still haven’t seen ‘The Judge’ with Downy Jr. I think he was nominated for his role in that one.

  2. Wow, you sure love putting on the spot, don’t you?!! The 3 of them have their own styles, their own remarkable talent to actually become their characters. For Hackman, I imagine most people will say ‘The Unforgiven’, but I’m going for ‘A Bridge Too Far’ and “Bonnie & Clyde’. I feel if that’s how I picture him – those made the strongest impression on me.
    For Hoffman: “Rain Man’ and ‘Death of A Salesman’ show just how well the man stands out in a crowd!
    Last but not least – Duvall: I suppose when I picture him in my mind, ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘The Godfather’ immediately jump in my mind. (I think your picture of him here might have affected that choice.)

    1. Hi GP, they all are arguably equal abilities although I believe Hoffman and Duvall are superior. I think, too, that there’s an upside to being “ordinary looking”. Supporting roles are often better than starring ones.
      Duvall stole the film when he was in ‘Apocolypse Now’. I just think it’s one of the best characters in film ever.

          1. So true. Jaekel was asked one time in an interview if he regretted never being made a leading star – he said an emphatic NO. He said as a character actor, he had more roles than any leading man ever thought of having – it amounted to steady work.

  3. Don’t think it’s possible, at least for me, to pick a favourite out of these 3 actors, they each have merit, duff movies and great ones. I especially liked Hoffman in All the Presidents Men and Midnight Cowboy, Hackman in Mississippi Burning, and Duvall in Apocalypse Now.

    1. Hi Fraggle. Mine would be Hoffman in Papillion, Hackman in The Conversation, and Duvall in Apocalypse Now. When I was reading about Hackman, I wasn’t aware these three shared apartments, helping each other get jobs in the 60s, went to acting school together, and each exploded pretty close to each other. I think Duvall has had the best career overall.

  4. YOW !!! so many roles …. so many movies.
    Hoffman … geez. I hate to say it, but his take on Hook was sweet. A charmer.
    Hackman? Great badguy. Was great as Sheriff ‘Little Bill’ Daggett in Unforgiven. Nasty.
    Duvall? Another great Cowboy. Like Gus in Lonesome Dove. Born for it.
    Could list a dozen for each …
    Cindy … you can surely say these guys have had great careers and done a lot of fine work.

      1. Little Big Man was filmed around Calgary. I actually saw and Dustin and Arthur Penn coming our of a showing The Battle of Britain (a timely recollection) as I was going in.
        Open Range is one of my Favorites.
        Cheers! (3 in fact)

  5. Cindy, as you know I have a HUGE Gene Hackman fan, and “Scarecrow” is to me a masterclass in acting. However, he also can do comedy, like his cameo in “Young Frankenstein” shows, and he did action very well, see “The French Connection” and “Prime Cut” for example…I think I shared this before, but here are my ten favorite movies of his – https://johnrieber.com/2014/03/16/a-celebration-of-gene-hackman-an-amazing-actors-ten-greatest-roles/

  6. Of the three, I would rate them as follows: (1) Duvall, (2) Hoffman, and last (3) Hackman. I’ve never enjoyed the characters Hackman played. They always seemed to be someone who could be jovial but who had a streak of pure evil in their heart. After first seeing him in The Graduate, Hoffman appeared to mature with each succeeding role. Despite that, I always see in the background the middle class Jewish boy from Orange County who lives a fantasy. Duvall moves on in his career from the character he plays in Apocalypse Now. He “grows up”; he “matures” if you will. His characters begin to care about others, to demonstrate an empathy not seen in Hackman or Hoffman’s characters. I see this in the way Duvall portrays the characters he plays in The Assasination Tango and The Apostle. Hackman, Hoffman, and Duvall are all fine actors, but of them all, Duvall fascinates me.

    1. Hi Allen. You took the words right out of my mouth. An interesting aspect about focusing each winter on one actor is you come to a decision whether you like or admire them. With Hacknan, I realized I like others more. I think the real Hackman is when he played Royal Tennenbaum.

      1. I don’t know why you think the real Hackman is the character Royal Tennenbaum, but I like that thought. Royal Tennenbaum would is someone that I would like to spend some time with.

  7. Happy birthday Cindy. i find them to be 3 equally important actors who have contributed so much to the movies. Even in their supporting roles, they can make a shallow movie much better. But I remember Hackman most for Mississippi Burning, the Conversation, and Crimson Tide. Robert Duvall for The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and The Apostle. And Dustin Hoffman for Rain Man, Outbreak, and Marathon Man.

      1. I guess its always better to focus on quality. in saying that, i don’t remember ever walking out of a theater and feeling dissatisfied by a movie that included those 3 actors. but then maybe, i wasn’t too analytical about movies back then. Now am curious. which movies of those 3 disappointed you most?

        1. Nice question!
          Gene Hackman — Lex Luthor. That’s when he sold out his artistry for a job for the money. And he already a lot at that point.
          Dustin Hoffman — I haven’t been disappointed with him.
          Robert Duvall. Never been disappointed.

  8. These are three of the best, and I have seen most of their movies. The only film not mentioned is “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Robert Duvall as Boo Radley was my first time watching him on the big screen. Brilliant.

  9. I still like Hackman more in secondary roles than leads. His Oscar came from a thrilling movies but not exactly a demanding role that deserved an Oscar. Hoffman certainly had the best scripts over the years and did right by them. But as far as acting, Duvall is the best pure actor of the three in my opinion.

  10. When a homely man becomes a movie star, he is commnly accepted as a great actor. I dont believe this is always true. These three men are certainly competent actors, and all have turned in superior work at one time or another during their long careers. But none are among my favorite actors. Not even close. Marcello Mastroianni, Jean Gabin, Marlon Brando, Toshiro Mifune, Dirk Bogarde, Charles Chaplin, John Wayne, Robert DeNiro, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, William Holden, \jeff Bridges, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Alain Delon, Robert Mitchum,,,all handsome men, all charismatic screen presences, ,amy of them outstanding actors, others are naturals, The uglies have a chip on theiir shoulders. They hide behind actors studio pretensions, Most seem impossible to direct. Some of the worst of these include Wiillem Defoe, Ed Harris, and Gary Sinise.

    1. Hi Bill. I wouldn’t say Hackman, Hoffman or Duvall are my all time favorites, but you picked up on what I was hoping for in the post which was the ugly question and quality vs. Quantity as a strategy. I liked the other 3 you mention regarding inability to direct. That is, I agree with you. Of your favorite list I am surprised to see John Wayne and Kristen K. Never pegged you for a JW fan.

      1. wayne was the favored acor of americas finest director. he must have smething going for hi,. and he can do just about everything, although he fumbles a bit in live scenes unless they are with maureen io hara. i hought he was miscast in the searchers, which is my keast favorite of fords movies. as fr kris kristofferson, hie is one of the few people i envy i would love to have lifed his life, he represents everything i wanted to be. biridges is also something of an alter ego for me., representig an idealozed version of
        the typical american boy of the 79s.

          1. someday if i have he time id like to do a study and write a book on the american Boy of 1970s cinema. i believe these actors and characters represent something crucial to America, something that has never been duplicated in any other place or time.

  11. Cindy, Happy belated birthday! 🎈 🎁 🎂
    I am not sure I really like any of them more, except their special moments where they show great spirit or heart.
    I admire and love Robert DeNiro and Harrison Ford. I tend to be one who appreciates humor and deprecating behavior. The other three sometimes show these qualities, which is when I like their roles. I enjoyed your thoughts and your great commenters, too.

  12. Hi, Cindy:

    Never thought much of Dustin Hoffman from the first time I saw him trying to sell America 1960s VW Beetles.
    While Hackman and Duvall have the “everyman” niche sewn up with Hackman’s varied roles from ‘Scarecrow’ to ‘The French Connection’ to ‘The Hunting Party’ and ‘Bite The Bullet!”

    And Duvall honing his craft in television and on stage when not in front of the camera for ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, ‘Captain Newman, MD’, Several episodes of ‘Combat!’, ‘Twilight Zine’ and ‘The Outer Limits’. And defining roles in ”The Godfather’, ‘Badge 373’, ‘The Outfit’, ‘The Great Santini’, ‘The Conversation’, ‘The Apostle’, ‘Lonesome Dove’, ‘Open Range’ and ‘Broken Trail’.

      1. Both Hackman and Duvall have made their fortunes and are enjoying their retirements. Though, Mr. Duvall seems to make himself more accessible to projects,

        Where Mr. Hackman has to be approached subtly and talked into a project. As Clint Eastwood did when assembling his cast for ‘Unforgiven’. Some extra effort is required, but the final film is that much better due to it,

        Oh…. Happy Belated Birthday!

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