Don’t be deceived by the fact that John Wayne received an Oscar for his performance as Rooster Cogburn. That award was probably more of a lifetime achievement award than recognition for a single performance, much like Paul Newman’s Oscar for The Color of Money. John Wayne had given better performances and made better films. Probably not coincidentally, John Ford was usually involved.
It’s interesting to think that 1969 saw two landmark westerns that covered much the same territory in vastly different ways. They were both set against the twilight of the old west and both dealt with train robbers for whom time had fatally passed them by. While Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was a breezy, nostalgic comedy, The Wild Bunch is a mostly somber contemplation of violence and mortality.
Sam Peckinpah‘s signature film may have been shockingly violent for its day, but its actually fairly tame in that department compared to modern action movies like Die Hard. However, if the graphicness of the violence is not up to modern standards, the sheer body count of this picture, as well as the callous randomness of the death, is still capable of shocking.
Topaz plays more like a Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Leon Uris‘ novel than it does an Alfred Hitchcock film. Long, deliberately paced and mostly lacking the dark humor that typified his other movies, Topaz demands patience of its audience. That patience is rewarded with an intelligent, if subdued motion picture experience.
When you consider just how identified Robert Redford and Paul Newman are with each other, it’s amazing to realize that they have only made two movies together to date. Of course, when they’re both as good as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, I guess it’s not so hard to imagine.