FILM : Hey, show an old guy some respect

There is plenty of work for aged Hollywood stars: the good get blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameos; the very good get lifetime achievement awards. What a waste, complains Nick Hasted

"Did you always look like that?" a little boy asks Paul Newman in Nobody's Fool. "Pretty much," he admits. From the moment Newman makes his entrance in Robert Benton's gentle film, ducking through a door in the manner of a star, it's obvious that his 70 years aren't going to be a problem. Looking like he did at 60, acting roguish and resilient, Newman is strangely unchanged. By his own standards, it's an unremarkable performance, making his Oscar nomination and recent Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival seem odd. By all of Hollywood's usual logic, it's surely time for him to shuffle off to the sidelines. He has, after all, already had two awards from the Academy for still being alive (for the Color of Money in 1986, and for his "Lifetime Achievement," just last year). But Nobody's Fool (reviewed opposite) and Newman are remarkable for not going quietly. Newman's age isn't an issue in this film.

In its intelligent use of its veteran star, Nobody's Fool adds to a trend begun in 1993, when a 62-year-old Clint Eastwood won an Oscar for Unforgiven. On the whole, today's Hollywood isn't used to seeing its ageing legends at work: its greatest talents are more often treated like antiques. In cameo after cameo, from Burt Lancaster in Field of Dreams to Charlton Heston in True Lies, Hollywood's pensioners have become senile circus turns, wheeled on and off in the blink of an eye. It's a remarkable, ridiculous waste but it's nothing new. Its roots snake back 30 years.

By the early Sixties, most of the stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, the first to grow old in public, had already slipped from the screen. Some, like Gable, had died; some, like Cagney, had retired; others, like Davis and Crawford, had been reduced to roles of implicit senility. As the Sixties progressed, the few old stars who did remain came to symbolise the geriatric state of Hollywood itself - ageing stars for an ageing audience. Pop stole the voltage these fading legends had invented. It was a sad, stumbling time. The industry's greying founders seemed to be waiting for someone to pull the plug.

Easy Rider (1968) did. It dragged Hollywood into the present with rock music, drugs and new, young stars. The time for older icons was up; the rapid wastage of a healthy pop machine had overtaken them. Robert Mitchum's brief turn as Philip Marlowe in the 1970s was typical. In the New Hollywood, a man in his fifties seemed like a character from the 1940s. By the time of Star Wars (1977), things were even worse; Hollywood had become crazed with youth and sensation. Special effects ruled; stardom itself seemed irrelevant. Like some science-fiction nightmare, the over-sixties had been wiped from the movie screen.

It took On Golden Pond, in 1981, to bring them back. It starred a dying Henry Fonda and an ageing Katharine Hepburn alongside Fonda's daughter, Jane, but, as William Goldman pointed out, it might as well have had James Stewart and Bette Davis, or Jimmy Cagney and Irene Dunne. The point was it used old, almost forgotten movie stars for whom audiences still had huge affection, as its box-office success proved. The Academy rubber-stamped this pensioners' revival with Oscars for both veteran stars. As the special effects boom faded, it seemed that Hollywood's old-timers might have been written off a little too soon.

But when the dust settled, it became clear that On Golden Pond had done their cause even more harm by handing to its aged stars just sentimental ciphers. The film had not opened a way back for old stars to act, it just let them back to be old. What followed was not a flood of meaty roles for Hollywood's founders, but their reduction to exploited Old Folk. Some were lured back to grant credibility to inferior xeroxes of their best work, like Peck and Mitchum in Cape Fear. Occasionally, as with the farewell granted by Tim Burton to his idol Vincent Price in Edward Scissorhands, a genuine respect has shown through. But increasingly it has seemed that these stars are being granted day-release from some retirement home in the Hollywood Hills, not on the basis of who they are or were, but on whose ticker can stand the pace. Peck, the most boring of surviving legends, got a key role in Old Gringo over the entirely different Burt Lancaster because he was less likely to die mid-shoot. Jimmy Stewart's last role to date has been, bizarrely, in Fievel Goes West, because he was too infirm to do much else. These cameos are grotesque enough. But when modern Hollywood puts its legends centre-stage, the results have been even worse.

Grumpy Old Men re-united a great comedy team, Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, and was a commercial success. But unlike Lemmon's fiery performance among contemporary talent in Glengarry Glen Ross (1993), ignored by the public, Grumpy Old Men merely offered a fumbled version of who its stars used to be. The film was made not to exploit its stars' talent, but to exploit nostalgia for their names. It reduced Matthau and Lemmon to the level of The Flintstones.

The problem which haunts all these efforts can be seen in the difference between two films, Atlantic City (1980) and Tough Guys (1986). The former, a low-budget film directed by the Frenchman Louis Malle, neglected in America, cast Burt Lancaster as a weary small-time hood, grasping one last chance at redemption. It was his true farewell performance, playing on both his age and the powers of his youth with dignity. Hollywood's Tough Guys, by contrast, cast him alongside Kirk Douglas as a legendary hood, beating up muggers, robbing trains, pretending to be young. Tough Guys proved that most of Hollywood, for so long obsessed with youth, now lacked the capacity to deal with age. Instead, it was condemning its best- loved talents, one by one, to graceless ends.

It's a process which now seems to be creeping up on men considerably younger than Newman. His one-time co-star Robert Redford, 59, made one attempt, in Havana (1990), to appear as the sun-ravaged, leathery creature which he now is. His public fled, horrified. He had to follow it with Indecent Proposal, which filmed him in soft-focus, and squeezed his image almost off its posters. He must feel like Dorian Gray about to crack.

Paul Newman, almost alone, has passed these terrors by. His life after 60 has instead been a lesson in how to grow old gracefully in Hollywood. From his deserved Oscar for The Colour of Money to his refusal of a sentimental turn in Maverick for the more challenging The Hudsucker Proxy, Newman has never been condescended to. He has continued to make his choices as an actor, not a legend. So when Nobody's Fool came, he was ready. An Oscar nomination in his 70th year isn't just a pat on the back. It's his reward, in the teeth of Hollywood history, for still being himself. Next year, the Academy should have Robert Mitchum, 77, to consider, in a new western. It will be directed by Budd Boetticher, 76. You wouldn't bet against them.


AGE: 77

Fitness fanatic Douglas finally played his age in Amos (1988), and sported a wheelchair in Greed (1994). A hit autobiography, The Ragman's Son, was followed by a novel.


AGE: 77

Mitchum's last film, Woman of Desire, a straight-to-video sex thriller with Bo Derek. Age hasn't withered him - he always did look badly dry- cleaned.


AGE: 85

A cameo in A Love Affair (1994) is Hepburn's cinema swan-song. Her last appearance of all (she says) was in cable's One Christmas (1994). A tribute- show fixture.


AGE: 74

Last seen in the cinema cameoing (with Robert Mitchum) in Cape Fear (1991), Peck has also turned up in two TV tributes to himself, so far.


AGE: 86

The only survivor, with Hepburn, of the Golden Age, illness has forced Stewart, too, from cameos to retirement. The cartoon Fievel Goes West used his voice.


AGE: 74

Perked up by Grumpy Old Men, the Grouchy One is now a regular supporting player again. Currently on view as Einstein in the madcap romantic comedy I.Q.


AGE: 70

Having raised himself from South Seas slumbers for his autobiography, the Mumbler will soon be seen in Don Juan and the Centrefold.


AGE: 70

After a spell on The Colbys, he was last seen making Arnie look like a sissie in True Lies. Oh, and falling down Dame Edna's stairs.


AGE: 79

Not a great star in his prime, the Man who was Zorba is now coming in to his own. Brilliant with Kevin Costner in Revenge (1989).

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?