Friday, August 21, 2009

Gene Hackman on TCM

August is "Summer Under the Stars" month at Turner Classic Movies, with each night devoted to a different star.

Each night is good, but some are better than others. And tonight is one of those nights.

Gene Hackman — for my money, one of the best actors of the last half century — is being featured today. In the hours leading up to prime time and in the early morning hours, you can see him in some of his supporting roles if you wish, but I'm talking about a few films in which he was featured more prominently.

For example:
  • At 7 p.m. (Central), you can see him in 1967's "Bonnie and Clyde," the fourth–highest grossing film of that year. It wasn't his first film, but it was close.

    You can see several other stars who were on the brink of film stardom — Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Estelle Parsons — and you can see Gene Wilder in his film debut. You also can hear Flatt & Scruggs' instrumental piece, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," which works in this film even though the bluegrass music style originated after Bonnie and Clyde's day.

  • At 9 p.m. (Central), you can see Hackman in 1974's "The Conversation," a thriller directed by Francis Ford Coppola and co–starring Cindy Williams, Frederic Forrest, Teri Garr, Harrison Ford and Robert Duvall.

    Coppola made "The Conversation" between "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II," and it is clearly a departure in style. It wasn't as commercially successful as many films that year, but I think most movie fans would say it was one of the artistic highlights of the 1970s.

  • And then, at 11 p.m. Central, you can see 1988's "Mississippi Burning," co–starring Willem Dafoe and Frances McDormand.

    The movie isn't entirely historically accurate, but it presents a realistic portrayal of the volatile racial atmosphere that existed in the South in the 1960s.
As a student of history, I don't recommend using any of these films as primary sources for a term paper.

But, if you want to see some films that do a better than average job of conveying the sense of the times they portray, you couldn't do any better.