We are taking some liberties today to discuss a movie we both like — a lot — that strictly speaking falls well outside the time frame of the classic Hollywood period. It’s The Verdict, released in 1982, which remains one of the finest courtroom dramas ever filmed.
A big reason for our enthusiasm is the movie’s star, Paul Newman, who was three years shy of 60 when it came out. Maybe it’s just us, but we have a real soft spot for Newman as a senior actor in contrast to his buff, chiseled good looks in, say, 1958’s Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, 1956’s Somebody Up There Likes Me, 1962’s Sweet Bird of Youth or 1969’s Butch Cassidy’s and the Sundance Kid.
The Newman of The Verdict appears tougher, more world weary, older certainly but by no means wiser — someone who has been through the wringer. Newman’s character is a down-at-the-heels alcoholic lawyer who takes on a longshot medical malpractice suit — designed to extract a large settlement from a hospital. He very much needs the work. As the case unfolds, the lawyer confronts various twists and turns, and gradually becomes passionately involved in the case.
Newman’s performance is commanding, utter credible and moving. You get the feeling that this is an immensely talented and seasoned actor at the top of his game. The performance also reminds that Hollywood best stars mutate and grow over the course of their careers, perfecting their technique via the sheer process of living. Can we say Newman is far better as a senior actor? Perhaps.
Consider Jack Lemmon. Enormously facile in a variety of roles, nearly 100 in all spread over a half century, Lemmon was known early on as “America’s Everyman.” But his benign, comedic presentation over time evolved into a dark, fascinating edge exemplified by his later work.
Lemmon added depth, and grew better as he got older. Check out his Oscar-winning performance as a morally compromised garment manufacturer in 1973’s Save The Tiger; or as the patriarch in Eugene O’Neill’s harrowing drama, Long Day’s Journey Into Night; or as tired real estate huckster in 1992’s Glengarry Glen Ross; or as pathetic English vaudevillian Archie Rice in 1976’s The Entertainer.
(Interestingly Sir Laurence Olivier surprised many when he declared that his role of Archie Rice in the original 1960 film version of the John Osborne play was his personal favorite of the many distinguished parts he played onscreen. Olivier was 53 at the time he made the movie.)
The Verdict was superbly directed by Sidney Lumet, and boasts of a terrific supporting cast including Milo O’Shea, Edward Binns and Julie Bavasso. The movie also presents one of our favorite actors, James Mason (seen left in photo at the top of this blog) in another of his oleaginous bad guy performances — worth the price of admission alone.
The Verdict was Oscar nominated in five categories — best picture, best actor (Newman, who had lost three times before), best supporting actor (Mason), best director and best writing based on other material (David Mamet). It was shut out in all five. (This was the year of Gandhi.)
Revisiting The Verdict. Highly recommended.