Picture Post: Roll credits - Gene Hackman bows out
Thursday 24 April 2008
"I guess you could call it retired. I haven't worked for four years now." Gene Hackman, 78, will make no more movies, if Hollywood's gossip columnists are to be believed. Hackman declared this week that he doesn't want to play grandfathers or doddering old men, and says he won't miss movie-making. Audiences, though, are sure to miss him. He lacked the star wattage of Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson, and would probably have remained a character actor, but he brought a craggy intensity to his best roles and seldom, if ever, gave a bad performance.
His crowning moment was in William Friedkin's The French Connection, as Popeye Doyle, the New York detective whose ferocious, testosterone-driven approach to police work made John Thaw in The Sweeney look like PC Dixon. He was every bit as good in the sequel, not least in the scene in which he goes "cold turkey" after being injected with heroin by the villains.
Hackman could do neurosis and vulnerability as well as machismo. Another of his outstanding early performances was as Harry Caul, the professional eavesdropper in Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation. Caul is a buttoned-up, repressed type – the near-antithesis of Popeye Doyle. The critics loved him as the private detective with the messy private life in Night Moves, his second film with Arthur Penn (who had directed him in his breakthrough role in Bonnie and Clyde).
Often, Hackman was asked to play stock types – cowboys, soldiers or cops. As an actor, he was as dependable as the men he portrayed. But when more intriguing opportunities came along, he took them. He was utterly chilling as Little Bill, the sadistic sheriff with no romantic notions about the Old West, in Unforgiven. Nicolas Roeg gave Hackman a chance to play a Howard Hughes-like hero in the underrated Eureka as the Klondike prospector-turned-mogul whose wealth brings tragedy in its wake.
As proven by his recurring role as Lex Luthor in the Superman films, Hackman also knew how to do comic-book villainy. He could convey decency and even idealism – look at his FBI agent investigating racist murders in Alan Parker's Mississippi Burning. He even had some flair for slapstick. His cameo as the blind hermit trying to feed the monster soup was one of the highlights of Young Frankenstein.
Not so long ago, when he starred in Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, it looked as if a new generation of film-makers and audiences would discover him. That, though, hasn't happened. With such worthwhile roles in short supply, he has called it quits.
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Oscar voter speaks outfilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Forget 'The Dress': Here are five of the biggest news stories you might have missed
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
Drake matches The Beatles' record with 14 singles in top 100 chart at the same time
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl: First look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Catwoman comes out as bisexual
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Justin Kelly interview: On James Franco playing a gay man who renounces his homosexuality
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts