The Classic Connoisseur’s Guide to the Best Films & Stars
Editor’s Note: We’re proud and honored to introduce our newest contributor, Vera Marie Badertscher. Her site, A Traveler’s Library, is all about books and movies that inspire people to travel. Here on Reel Life With Jane, Vera will cover her favorite classic films and stars. First up: Burt Lancaster. Happy Valentine’s Day to all the movie lovers out there!
Do you watch those marathons of past Academy Award-winning films each year when the Oscars draw near? I am more of a sprinter myself — picking and choosing the classic films that are worth a second or third look. But in our rush, rush, newest, best, gotta-have-it-now world, we sometimes forget that there are some films and some people from the past that we should not forget.
Too often, once they are gone, we forget the glamour, the talent, the sheer inventiveness of movie stars and films from the past. So I’ve volunteered to remind the readers of Reel Life With Jane of some giants in movie history. I’ll base my choices on very personal and idiosyncratic viewing habits. You may not agree with all of them. You may think I’m just plain nuts from time to time. But if I introduce you to a few movie giants that you have forgotten — or never knew about — then I’m doing my job.
Melanie Votaw wrote here last year about Bradley Cooper, People magazine’s sexiest man alive. During Burt Lancaster’s day, he would have won the title hands down. Very few movie stars have brought all the assets to the screen that Lancaster (1913 – 1994) had. Between 1946 and 1989, he made 74 movies and appeared in several TV shows, as well. His early training as a circus trapeze artist meant that he moved through scenes with the grace of a dancer — and with muscles rippling like a Harlequin Romance cover picture.
Lancaster brought his intelligence to acting, getting inside each character in an age when the attitude of many stars was to “learn the lines and make the marks” (stand on the lines marked for the camera’s best view). And the physical assets … well, a a spotlight gleaming smile, thick wavy hair, knowing eyes, and high cheekbones made a spectacular visual package.
I’m still finding Lancaster movies that I have not yet seen, but when trying to list my favorite Burt Lancaster roles, I have a hard time stopping before I have listed all 74 of them. He was nominated four times for Academy Awards and won for Elmer Gantry in 1960 (a portrait of pure evil). He won the Golden Globe for The Birdman of Alcatraz in 1962 and for Atlantic City in 1980 (a particular favorite of mine because he plays an older man and a very different type from his early romantic heroes).
Lancaster’s choice of roles reflected both his interest in serious subjects and his ability to adapt to the times and the interests of the audience. That kept his work alive through several decades. Two early classics adapted from the stage and both released in 1948 were Sorry Wrong Number and All My Sons.
Shortly thereafter, he played dramatic roles in two other stage adaptations — Come Back Little Sheba (1952), which firmly established him as a serious actor, not just a pretty face, and Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo (1955).
The romantic From Here to Eternity (1953) with Deborah Kerr became a trademark of sort for the love scene in the surf. In the 1960s, he did many character studies, including The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and The Leopard (1963), one of several foreign films that he made.
The Cold war spawned movies based on popular novels, like The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) and Seven Days in May (1964).
Another one that I will never forget reflects its time perfectly — The Swimmer (1968). Gotta love a 54-year-old man who can pull off a nude scene and still look sexy.
And I’m not even listing Lancaster’s western and adventure roles in which he brought depth to gunslingers and pirates so often shown as two dimensional. In all these movies, I love the way he moves. I love the sense of power he projects and the feeling you get that he has a secret.
If you are not familiar with Burt Lancaster, I hope that you will give him a try. I think you may be surprised at how truly good acting can continue to enchant, even though the vehicle may be decades old.