Roger Ebert, reviewing Cool Hand Luke in 1967, a 1400-word history lesson on the evolution of our attitudes about heroes and how Paul Newman became the ultimate personification of the anti-hero:
“He’s been in movies where he is a fairly ordinary guy in a fairly ordinary situation. He’s more or less like the people he hangs around with, except he won’t be pushed. He knows his own mind.
The bad guys in his movies don’t like that, and so they try to break him. And he fights back, no matter how much it hurts. If the characters he has played stopped there, they would be more or less conventional heroes. But they don’t. Although they exhibit heroic stubbornness and integrity, they’re not very likable.
For on thing, they’re loners. For another, they don’t seem to have basic human feelings. They do rotten things and don’t fell bad. They’re cold and aloof, and their enemies are usually fairly average people, with a sense of humor. People just like us. We’d break a guy like Paul Newman if we had the chance, because he’s a troublemaker, a malcontent, a loner. Won’t have a drink with the boys. Doesn’t give to the United Fund. That’s the kind of guy he played in all those movies, beginning with H (“The Hustler,” “Hud,” “Harper,” “Hombre”). He smiled at the idiots who were crossing him. He didn’t care what people thought. And a subtle change took place: The hero stopped wanting to be a hero.
There’s much more. It’s Ebert at his best describing Paul Newman at his peak. Not to be missed. Check out one of the most-watched Newman tributes after the cut, and another clip to help remind us that what we’ve lost can be rediscovered every time we click “play.”
Tribute to Paul Newman
James Dean and Paul Newman screen test