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The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Warren Beatty

Last week, we looked at the career of director Paul Verhoeven. This week’s subject has had a long career both in front of and behind the camera, becoming one of the major icons of his era...
Warren Beatty

In Robert Evans’s infamous memoir, “The Kid Stays in the Picture”, he calls Warren Beatty, “The Pro.” Now, Evans is partially referring here to Beatty’s notorious success with women, with author Peter Biskind in his bio of Beatty guessing he bedded upwards of 12,775, a ludicrous figure. Of course, this was before he met his match in actress Annette Bening and had a family, but it’s a shame any discussion of Beatty’s career gets bogged-down in his love life. Even if he was able to carve time out for that much sex, he still made a whole bunch of great movies, and made himself one of the most distinctive and important voices in the “new Hollywood” to emerge in the late sixties and seventies.

Before BONNIE & CLYDE, Beatty was a pretty-boy leading man. He had to take the reins of his own career to escape this image, producing BONNIE & CLYDE, which was such a massive success it forever established him as a master in Hollywood. Some snippy headlines are going around saying his body of work has been inconsistent, which it has - specifically when he only starred in movies rather than taking a creative role, such as in TOWN & COUNTRY. His ISHTAR was also a notorious failure. Yet, his successes were so huge they make the failures irrelevant.

Beatty wasn’t above poking fun at his own image, most famously in SHAMPOO, a sixties satire starring him as a none-too-bright hairdresser. He’s been able to make both audience-friendly hits (HEAVEN CAN WAIT and DICK TRACY - a movie he still promises will get a sequel twenty-six years later), and more ambitious awards bait, like his REDS, which won him the best director Oscar in 1981. 1991’s BUGSY is another highlight, and is his 1998 political satire, BULLWORTH, which is more relevant than ever in a post-Trump world. At seventy-nine, he’s still as sharp as ever and one a man well-worthy of being called a legend.

His Best Work

I think people underestimate how much of a stretch BONNIE & CLYDE was for Beatty at the time. Already known as a ladies man, here he plays a murderous, impotent bank-robber who dies in a horrendously violent scene that melted brains in 1967. In fact, the initial reaction to the film was so negative it wound-up being pulled from circulation, only to get a major critical reappraisal a few months later, followed by a wildly successful re-release. It justifiably made both Beatty and co-star Faye Dunaway megastars, and has been much imitated since, with even Beatty himself returning to the genre for BUGSY. It’s true Hollywood classic, and a movie that pushed a lot of buttons fifty years ago.

His Most Overrated Work

Some have criticized Beatty for being a bit stiff as an actor. I actually think that’s true, but only in films he didn’t direct. Many point to SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS as the movie that made him a star, but despite direction by the great Elia Kazan, to me Beatty’s performance as the golden boy loved by Natalie Wood has always rung false (Robert Redford would have been better). He gave a much better performance the next year in John Frankenheimer’s little-seen ALL FALL DOWN, in which had played the most unsympathetic part of his career. SPLENDOR is an important film, but not Beatty at his best.

His Most Underrated Film

One film that often gets ignored in pieces on Beatty’s career is THE PARALLAX VIEW. The middle installment in Alan J. Pakula’s paranoia trilogy (it follows KLUTE and would be followed by ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN - two more successful films), it stars Beatty as a journalist who uncovers a government plot to breed assassins. This was another controversial film, keeping in mind it followed the JFK/RFK/MLK killings. It’s a fast-paced whale of a thriller with an amazing montage smack-dab in the middle, where Beatty finds himself being brainwashed. Few people have seen this one, but its a killer.

His Best Scene

While I probably should have chosen the ending of BONNIE & CLYDE, in the hope of not spoiling it for those of you who haven’t seen it, here instead is my favorite scene from THE PARALLAX VIEW. Outside of DICK TRACY, Beatty mostly avoided action movies, but he could be a very tough guy when needed. This bar fight in THE PARALLAX VIEW proves my point, and rumor has it Beatty didn’t use a stuntman.

His Five Best Films

5. REDS
4. SHAMPOO
3. BUGSY
2. THE PARALLAX VIEW
1. BONNIE & CLYDE

Up Next

Given how long he takes to make movies, it’s very possible RULES DON’T APPLY, his first movie as a director since BULLWORTH in ‘98, will be be swan song. If it is, he’s left behind a tremendous filmography. That said, you never know with Beatty, and maybe he’ll even get around to that new DICK TRACY movie. Never count out The Pro.

Source: JoBlo.com

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