Cook Library Cinema Club: James Garner
We were sad to hear of the passing of actor James Garner this week -- he was 86. In a career that spanned six decades, the Oklahoma native moved with ease between television and film, making his biggest mark in his starring roles in two iconic television series: the classic 1960's western series Maverick, and the even more successful 1970's series The Rockford Files. Although they operated in two different worlds, the characters Sheriff Brett Maverick and Private Detective Jim Rockford had much in common: both were anti-heroes who oozed the same charisma and sly humor as the actor who portrayed them. Garner was a tough guy with a tender heart.
In film, the amiable actor proved equally at home in comedies, action films, and dramas. Garner scored major film hits throughout his long career, with memorable romantic pairings with Doris Day, Julie Andrews, Audrey Hepburn, Sally Field, and Gena Rowlands -- thrown in with successful buddy outings with the likes of Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, and Jack Lemmon. Garner published a charming, self-deprecating memoir entitled The Garner Files in 2011, in which he reviewed and rated his own films. What better way to remember an actor than by revisiting projects he felt reflected some of his best work? He cited the following films as his personal favorites:
The Americanization of Emily (1964): In the all-time favorite of his films, Garner plays dog-robber Charlie Madison, whose duty it is to ensure that the Navy General he serves remains well-clothed, well-fed, and well-loved in spite of wartime shortages in Europe during WWII. A self-proclaimed coward determined to avoid conflict, Madison nevertheless finds himself among the first to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day when his General hatches a plan to bolster the image of the Navy by filming the naval forces' efforts during the invasion, including the death of the first sailor on the beaches of Normandy. Julie Andrews plays a British war widow who, tired of seeing the men she loves sacrificed to war, is initially attracted by Charlie's cowardice. The film boasts a biting screenplay by renowned playwright Paddy Chayefsky. Although the dark comedy was somewhat controversial at the time of its release for its anti-war theme, it is now considered a cult classic.
The Great Escape (1963): A classic action-adventure tale in which a group of Allied soldiers attempt an escape from a Nazi POW camp during WWII. In addition to Garner, the all-star cast includes Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. The film was directed by John Sturger.
The Notebook (2004): Garner scored a huge hit late in his career in this screen adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' bestselling novel about two teenagers from opposite sides of the tracks who fall in love during one summer together, only to be tragically forced apart. Garner stars alongside Gena Rowlands, Ryan Gosling, and Rachel McAdams.
Grand Prix (1966): Garner, Yves Montand, Brian Bedford, and Antonio Sabato portray Formula I race car drivers competing in the classic European road race. Eva Marie Saint and Toshiro Mifune also star. Director John Frankenheimer lends incredible excitement to the film through the variety of techniques used to film the action on the racetrack, including shots from the point-of-view of the drivers. Garner, a racing enthusiast in real life, did his own driving in the film.
Murphy's Romance (1985): Garner stars with Sally Field in this charming romantic comedy in which a young divorcee, struggling to support her young son, acquires a run-down Arizona ranch with the hope of becoming a successful horse trainer. The woman befriends the town's pharmacist, a handsome widower with helpful advice on how to win over the local townspeople, who are set against the idea of a female rancher.