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Gene Hackman, I Miss You!!!
Last night I watchedThe Poseidon Adventure for the first time in twenty years. I remember seeing it for the very first time in a theater in Houghton, Michigan when I was fourteen years old. It was one of the earliest in the disaster film genre that hit theaters with the movie Airport, in 1970. They were all-star extravaganzas where characters die one at a time in heinous and violent ways, while the audience tries to figure out who will die and who will make it to the end credits. The audience also gets some pretty heady special effects—especially for the pre-digital era. (I still get a chill when I see that tsunami heading towards the doomed Poseidon .) Being a reader even then, I had devoured the book by Paul Gallico. Unless the script departed drastically from the novel, I didn’t have to guess who would die and who would make it. The most fun for me was going to be seeing the characters come to life on the screen, portrayed by all these name actors like Shelley Winters and Stella Stevens. In the book, the Reverend Scott was described as “almost too good looking.” The Reverend Scott was played in the movie by Gene Hackman. Gene Hackman is not a man you’d describe as pretty. I was disappointed . . . for about two and a half minutes. After that, I was in love with Reverend Scott and Gene Hackman.
Watching the movie as a somewhat more sophisticated adult, I could appreciate the deftness with which Gene acts around some of the clumsier lines in the script, without ever losing his commitment to the character he played. The Poseidon Adventure , both book and movie script, is not literature. It’s a fun idea surrounded by stock characters. But even with my more mature perspective, it happened again. I fell in love with Reverend Scott last night. (I’ve never been out of love with Gene Hackman.)
Just watch him play Popeye Doyle in The French Connection or its sequel, for instance. He is fearless in his portrayal: grungy, unshaven and uncouth. He seems even more repugnant as he plays mental chess with slick, natty and urbane Fernando Rey. In The French Connection II he chases Rey to Marseilles. There is a wonderful tiny moment in a French saloon where Popeye orders a drink and the bartender asks him if he would like “de glace” (ice) in his drink, Popeye impatiently replies, “Yeah, put it in a glass.”
Quiet thrown-away lines, are your specialty, Gene! Where are you? We need more quiet, thrown-away lines in our movies. The movies need you, Gene.
What would the Christopher Reeve Superman movies be with anyone other than Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor? Less fun, for one thing. His nonchalant arch villain plays cat to Reeve’s mouse beautifully, while he revels blissfully in his intellectual superiority and wicked perfection.
I can’t even do justice with words to what may have been the cinematic “coupling” of the decade in 1967’s Bonnie & Clyde. I’m not talking about Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. I’m talking about Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons as Buck and Blanche Barrow. Enough said.
In Mississippi Burning, in 1988, Gene plays FBI Agent Rupert Anderson in a film based loosely on the murders of three civil rights workers in 1964. Rupert is from Mississippi and understands and subtly manipulates the culture he knows so well. His scenes with Frances MacDormand who is married to one of the suspects, are foxy FBI interrogation masked as genteel flirtation and southern decorum. Yet, the chemistry between the two is as obvious as a slap in the face. Underneath his personal integrity and his oath as a law enforcement officer, is a distinct kindness, a sexual desire, and a kind of yearning for his past. How many layers of acting is that? I lost count.
Gene's last movie was Welcome to Mooseport in 2004. He has been quoted as saying his film career is probably done -- though he's closed the door, he hasn't yet locked it.
Oh, Gene, please return to the screen!
But do not, do to your career what Robert DeNiro has done to his.
Ah, maybe that’s the rub. Maybe you’re trying to avoid franchise acting as in The Little Fockers, etc. and guarantee your proper film legacy. Maybe you don’t want to sell out.
Then Hollywood, I turn to you to find a decent script that will lure Gene Hackman back to the screen.
3D isn’t gonna do it. A cameo in Pirates of the Caribbean XIII isn’t gonna do it.
Wait. I’ve changed my mind.
Gene, write your books and keep your integrity intact. I will still love you (and Reverend Scott.)
Just know . . .
Gene Hackman, I miss you!!!
And . . . I doubt that I’m the only one who does.