The Late Career Favorites

Just a couple of days ago I wrote a piece here on last movies that seemed almost intentionally created to be the last work of certain actors.  The Shootist, for instance, doesn’t just seem like the best possible way for John Wayne to go out but the only way for him to go out.  Well, today, I was looking down the schedule for Sunday and saw Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte and thought to myself how much I liked it and then thought, why not expand the earlier post to cover a more generalized area: The last ten or fifteen years of a star’s career, theatrical releases, I mean.  No hard and fast rules, since an actor’s career can vary in length by such a great number of years, but generally speaking, a movie considered to be a part of their waning career, not their waxing career.  Olivia de Havilland would make several more movies after 1964 but her heyday was in the thirties and forties and by 1964 she was headed out the door, so to speak.  And, as it turns out, many of my favorite movies in an actor’s career will come near the end of said career.  Maybe not my absolute favorite, but definitely some high ranking ones.

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One of the actors and movies mentioned in the comment section of the last post was The Misfits and Clark Gable.  It’s not a big favorite of mine for Gable, though I like it a lot, but I did immediately think of Run Silent, Run Deep, from 1958 which absolutely is a personal favorite.  It was the kind of role that seemed suited for older Gable, the Gable that had a hard time finding his niche after World War II.  For many people, Gable is an actor of the thirties first and foremost and, I suppose, he is for me, too, but he occasionally found a movie later on, like this one and The Misfits, that fit him to a tee.  It was still early in the career of Burt Lancaster who in 1958 was in his prime.  He was the biggest star of the moment in 1958 and it was his name on the credits that probably pulled a lot more ticket buyers in at that point than Gable but it’s Gable’s movie for me all the way.

Speaking of Burt Lancaster, there is no late career movie of his that will ever beat Atlantic City for me.  It’s a beautiful film of loss, loneliness, and desperation but with redemption and second chances and personal reinvention all mixed in.  The parts are all wonderfully acted and Susan Sarandon and Kate Reid do a great job but it’s Burt Lancaster that delivers, to my eyes, the best performance of both the film and his career.

Barbara Stanwyck, I mentioned in the other piece, didn’t have a great or fitting last film, but she had many later career films that I absolutely loved.  Starting her career in the early thirties, her career hit its peak in the mid to late thirties through the mid to late forties.  She was a box office winner by the early thirties but from Stella Dallas through Sorry, Wrong Number, she was royalty.  By the fifties, she was taking smaller parts, like the role in Executive Suite.  It reunites her with William Holden, and as in Golden Boy, he needs her more than he can know.

William Holden has plenty of late career favorites for me.  I love him in The Towering Inferno (and I like the movie quite a bit – yes, I did just write that), Network, and S.O.B.  Now, for most people, Network is the late career Holden they will probably go with and I can’t fault anyone for that but, really, S.O.B. features a Bill Holden I can absolutely relate to and understand if only for his expert, Holdenesque delivery of this great line:  “It’s been my experience that every time I think I know where it’s at, it’s usually someplace else.”  I wrote a whole piece here once on how if I had to choose an actor to be, it would be Holden.  Much of that comes from S.O.B.

late career 03

Another actor in S.O.B. was Julie Andrews, famously baring her breasts for the first time onscreen.  Andrews has done some classic work in her time, and in her heyday of the sixties, but my favorite Andrews movie of all time remains her late career entry, Victor/Victoria.   It also stars James Garner, reunited with Andrews almost twenty years after The Americanization of Emily.  And it’s a later career favorite for him, too.  And Robert Preston, as well as in S.O.B.  Both movies were directed by Blake Edwards.  Maybe Edwards just knew how to get the most out of seasoned actors or maybe because they were seasoned actors, the movies were better.

Of course, this is not meant to be, nor are any of my posts meant to be, a list but merely a conversation starter.  There are so many more to mention.  Paul Newman in The Verdict, Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man, Shirley MacLaine in Bernie, Jack Lemmon in Missing, Judi Dench as M is multiple Bond movies (seriously, what a great addition to the latter part of her career), and Burgess Meredith in anything and everything he did from the seventies on.  The movies weren’t all great but I’m of the mind that Meredith made them all worthwhile.  So not every actor has a great or fitting last movie.  But most of them manage to put some damn fine late career work where, even if they’re not the star of the production, they still shine brightly and make a lasting impression.  Just not the very last impression.



10 Responses The Late Career Favorites
Posted By swac44 : September 13, 2015 3:05 pm

I also like Lancaster in Local Hero, but even though it’s been decades since I’ve seen it, Atlantic City probably does edge it out ever so slightly.

Because I’d just watched The Last of Sheila earlier this morning, my brain immediately went to Paul Schrader’s Affliction which has a great late-career part for Sheila star James Coburn. I remember reading that after years of lending his cool factor to choice titles like Sister Act 2 and Eddie Murphy’s remake of The Nutty Professor, Coburn was a little surprised on the first day of shooting when Schrader put some real effort into shaping his performance.

Reportedly, the ever-cool Coburn responded, “Oh, so you want me to ACT, do you? OK, I can do that.”

Posted By Tim : September 13, 2015 3:51 pm

Not sure if this counts as it’s a TV appearance, but recently saw Mary Astor in an episode of Boris Karloff’s Thriller TV series, “Rose’s Last Summer,” and thought her performance in that ranks with her best work.

Posted By Bill : September 13, 2015 4:23 pm

First person I think of Edmond O’Brien in Seven Days in May, Liberty Valance, and The Wild Bunch.

Posted By Doug Miller : September 14, 2015 3:07 am

A bit gimmicky, and comedies, but Spencer Tracy in “Mad, Mad World” and Buster Keaton in “A Funny Thing Happened . . . “

Posted By Marty : September 14, 2015 10:17 am

Greg, it was I who mentioned The Misfits in the previous post. But you are right – Run Silent Run Deep is a terrific picture. When you view it next time, watch Gable’s head tremors throughout the pcture, as if he’s horribly hypertensed, which he probably was. He looks beat in that picture, more as his own condition than the role’s. when you get to William Holden, you are talking about my favorite actor…period. In SOB, he’s dricing a Rolls convertible in Malibu with the top down, Sinatra blaring and he looks like just how a mature, successful movie star should look (albeit playing a director in this picture). There is kind of a soliloquy he gives at Felix’s bedise during Felix’s catatonic stuper that ends with something like…”So Felix, if you really want to end it all, I can show you 8 great ways of killing yourself.”
When you talk about Lancaster, I prefer The Swimmer to Atlantic City. I know there was tumult and strife making the picture between writer/direector, the studio etc. But it is a haunting picture with a towering Lancaster performance.
All of this is the beauty of motion pictures and the forum offered us by TCM, which gives us the opportunity to display our feelings about and knowledge of great motion picuters, actors.

Posted By Marty : September 14, 2015 1:22 pm

Bill Holden to Richard Mulligan (Felix Farmer) in SOB

Felix, for the last 40 years I’ve lived a life of dedicated debauchery. I’ve consumed enough booze to destroy a dozen healthy livers. I’ve filled my lungs with enough nicotine to poison the entire population of Orange County. I’ve engaged in sexual excesses that make Caligula look like a celibate monk. I have, in fact, conscientiously, day in and day out, for more years than you’ve been in this best of all possible worlds, tried to kill myself and I’ve never felt better in my life. So, if you’re really going to end it all, I can show you at least a half-dozen better ways to do it.

Posted By Ben Martin : September 14, 2015 10:03 pm

I THINK this fits into this exchange: in the early to middle phase of their careers, Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr filmed an iconic love scene on the beach for FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. But to ME, their more exciting, far more daring love scene takes place in THE GYPSY MOTHS (1969).
The scene is so powerful on so many levels, groundbreaking too, in that Ms. Kerr, a respected mainstream actress – approaching 50 mind you – performs absolutely naked. And from what i can see, Mr. Lancaster is just as bare. How many films of then or now dare to show passionate love-making – on a living room couch no less – (with her sleeping husband upstairs) of two mature individuals instead of teenagers or twenty-somethings.
This scene stands out, but the entire film shows great acting from these two so late in their careers. An overlooked gem, and of the films he directed, one of John Frankenheimers very favorites.

Posted By Brian : September 15, 2015 2:57 am

Cary Grant had great movies throughout the decades but my favorite Cary Grant performance is in Father Goose. I get the impression he had a lot of fun making that film.

Posted By Wes Smith : September 23, 2015 2:38 am

I loved the references to William Holden and followed the link to the article about Holden written back in 2012. Although my comment is more relate to the previous article, I’m going to cheat (not a Holdenesque thing to do, I guess) and add it here. In some ways his most authentic role, the role where he is at his most honest, is in The Counterfeit Traitor. In this role he does the right thing even though he fumes at the British spymasters who have manipulated him, he puts own life at risk to protect an old friend (Otto Holz), and he admits with incredible honesty to Lili Palmer that in the past his conscience has always been like a well-trained dog that always sat in the corner when it was supposed to. How many people can ‘fess up to that?

Posted By robbushblog : October 8, 2015 6:21 pm

Do NOT apologize for liking THE TOWERING INFERNO. I LOVE it! It has great, late career turns by not only Holden, but also Fred Astaire and Jennifer Jones. I will also add Gloria Swanson’s playing her greatest role (tongue planted firmly in cheek) as her herself in AIRPORT ’75. It was a fun performance, and she looked great in it to boot. And then there was Helen Hayes in AIRPORT and Ingrid Bergman in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, both of whom won Oscars for their performances. All-star movies from the 70s were loaded with great, often small, parts for older actors to show off their still formidable talents.

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