Tribute: James Garner

Posted on July 20, 2014 at 10:51 am

One of my favorite actors has left us. James Garner, handsome, wry, effortlessly masculine, all-purpose leading man for decades on television and in movies, has died at age 84. He had consummate skill in comedy, drama, and romance, and even in selling cameras in television commercials. He will be sorely missed.

james garnerBorn James Baumgarner in 1926, he was from Norman, Oklahoma. He named his production company Cherokee Productions in honor of his grandfather. He had a difficult childhood and was left on his own at age 14. He had a number of jobs and went into the military, where he received two Purple Hearts.

Early in his career, he had a non-speaking part as a juror in “The Caine Mutiny” on Broadway. He said it was superb training to be on stage for the entire show, watching the lead actors up close each night. His early film roles included parts in the classic “The Great Escape” with Steve McQueen and “Sayonara” with Marlon Brando.

He was superb at light comedy, often showing an off-beat cynicism that was a refreshing change from the earnestness of the 1950’s and early 60’s. When television was filled with laconic Western heroes, his “Maverick” was true to the name as a easy-natured gambler.

He played similar roles in the delightful Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter. He co-starred with Doris Day in two of her most sparkling comedies, The Thrill of it All! and and Move Over Darling.  And he was the laconic private detective Jim Rockford in ‘The Rockford Files.”

Two of his best films co-starred Julie Andrews. He was a cynical American soldier in The Americanization of Emily and an amiable gangster in love with a cross-cross-dressing performer in Victor/Victoria. He was nominated for an Oscar for the bittersweet romance Murphy’s Romance, with Sally Field.

He made superb television movies, including Barbarians at the Gate and My Name Is Bill W.

He continued to create unforgettable performances into his 70’s, with films like The Notebook. No actor half his age could have played a sweeter love scene.

We bid a sad farewell to this most graceful and appealing of actors. May his memory be a blessing.

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James Garner

Posted on November 9, 2011 at 8:00 am

James Garner is one of my all-time favorite actors and I am delighted that he has published a new book about his life, The Garner Files: A Memoir. Garner got his start in the theater playing a juror in “The Caine Mutiny” on Broadway, which gave him an invaluable lesson in focus and the best seat in the house to observe brilliant acting every night.  He specialized in playing laconic but honorable men and is best remembered for his television work: The Rockford Files and Maverick.  But I am a big fan of his movies, especially the two he did with Julie Andrews: Victor/Victoria and The Americanization of Emily and two he made with Doris Day: The Thrill of it All! and Move Over Darling (a remake of Cary Grant’s “My Favorite Wife”).  His pair of comic westerns, Support Your Local Gunfighter and Support Your Local Sheriff are a lot of fun.  He is an adept dramatic actor as well, in films like The Great Escape and The Notebook.  This new book is a great opportunity to revisit his performances.


 

 

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The Great Escape

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Very tense moments, characters in peril and many killed
Diversity Issues: People from a variety of backgrounds and countries work together toward a common goal
Date Released to Theaters: 1963
Date Released to DVD: May 7, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00BN3DUVE

great escape

In honor of the Blu-Ray release of this classic film, it is the Pick of the Week – and I am delighted that I have one Blu-Ray to give away.  Send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with Escape in the subject line.  I will pick a winner at random on May 15.  Don’t forget your address!  (US addresses only.)

Towards the end of WWII, the Germans built a special high-security prison camp for Allied prisoners with a record of escape attempts. This is the true story of the extraordinary courage and ingenuity of the men imprisoned there, and of their plans for the greatest escape ever. As the British ranking officer explains, when the camp commandant urges him to relax and “sit out the war as comfortably as possible,” his duty is to escape, or, if escape is impossible, to force the enemy to use as many resources as possible to contain them.

Each man contributes his expertise. There are “tunnel kings” to dig the three tunnels, a “forger king” (Donald Pleasence) to forge the papers the soldiers will need when they escape, a “scrounger” (James Garner) to beg, borrow, steal, or obtain through blackmail the materials they need, and others who work as tailors and manufacturers. An American who is something of a loner, Hilts (Steve McQueen) becomes the “cooler king” for his long stints in solitary confinement, as a result of his independent escape attempts. When “Big X” (Richard Attenborough), the British officer who supervises the escape, asks Hilts to go through the tunnel to get information about the area surrounding the camp, and then allow himself to be recaptured, so he can let them know what he has found, he refuses. But when his friend is killed trying to escape, his spirit broken by the camp, Hilts changes his mind.

Seventy-five of the prisoners are able to escape before the tunnel is discovered. The Germans track almost all of them down, and fifty are killed, including Big X. It is to “the fifty” that the film is dedicated.

As in “Stalag 17” and many other films about prison camp, the prisoners in this story must adapt to the direst of circumstances, and they choose differing approaches. Hilts adapts by working on his own, or with one partner, while others work on a massive group escape. Ives and Danny begin to unravel under the stress, not so much a “choice” as an involuntary response.

Unlike other prison camp movies, this one does not dwell on disputes between prisoners or on the deprivations of the prison camp, which seems almost comfortable. It is about the professionalism, courage, resourcefulness, teamwork, and loyalty of every one of the prisoners.

As in a traditional “heist” film, the story focuses on defining a problem and then solving it. They examine the restrictions imposed by their conditions, change the ones they can, and adapt to the ones they cannot. They must also adapt quickly and calmly when the plan does not go as they expected.

The story gives us an exceptional example of teamwork and loyalty. Note the way that the prisoners protect each other. When Danny (Charles Bronson) cannot take it any more and wants to escape on his own, his friend talks him out of it. When the Forger goes blind, Big X wants to leave him behind, for his own protection. But the Scrounger promises to take care of him.

Point out to kids what factors do — and do not — go into the prisoners’ calculations and strategy. Big X is cautioned not to allow his personal wish for revenge determine their strategy. But pride (in the sense of morale) is permitted to be considered. When asked “Have you thought of what it might cost?” he answers, “I’ve thought of the humiliation if we just tamely submit — knuckle under and crawl.” They also consider the risk of failure, to the extent they can. At the end, when the Scrounger asks whether the escape was worth the price, the best the British Commander can do is answer truthfully, “It depends on your point of view.”

Note: The  screenplay was co-written by blockbuster novelist James Clavell (Tai-Pei, Shogun). His own experiences as a prisoner of war in a Japanese prison camp are the subject of “King Rat.” The outstanding musical score is by Elmer Bernstein (“The Magnificent Seven” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”). Richard Attenborough, who played Big X, became a director in the late 1960s of films such as “Gandhi” and “Shadowlands.” He continues to appear as a performer, and played Dr. Hammond in “Jurassic Park” and Kris Kringle in the 1994 version of “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Family discussion: Why are the experts called “kings”?  What makes Hilts change his mind about getting the information they want? Who was right about taking the Forger out through the tunnel, Big X or the Scrounger? Given the results of their action in this story, should officers who have been taken prisoner feel duty-bound to try to escape?

If you like this, try: “Stalag 17” and “King Rat”

 

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