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Somebody Up There Likes Me is included in The Paul Newman Collection, a bulging seven-DVD package that shakes out thusly: three late-1950s titles from the beginning of his career, one mid-sixties hit, and three lesser films of the early 1970s. It's by no means a "best of" compilation, being limited to Warners and MGM titles, but it gives a flavor of Newman in his prime time. He got the Graziano role after James Dean died, and his performance is a very busy, post-Brando jumble of tics and mumbles. The movie holds up nicely as a boxing picture, and the location NYC shooting won an Oscar for cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg (you can see why director Robert Wise got hired to do West Side Story after this). Sal Mineo and Steve McQueen are in the cast as Newman's fellow j.d.s.
The Left-Handed Gun (1958), based on a teleplay by Gore Vidal, is a truly weird, compulsively watchable artifact from the psychological-Western genre. Newman plays Billy the Kid, glowering and grimacing like a rebel without a cause. It's one of those films that has much more to do with the time it was made than the time it is set; also notable as the big-screen debut for stage and TV director Arthur Penn. The Young Philadelphians (1959) is more conventional, an entertaining soap opera about a young lawyer (Newman) with an old-money Philly name but no money, who gets burned by love and decides to connive his way to the top. Young Robert Vaughn snagged an Oscar nomination for a showy turn as an alcoholic society lad.
Harper (1966) is chockfull of kooky mid-Sixties design and Rat Pack patter (courtesy screenwriter William Goldman). But it must be said that Newman is miscast as the melancholic private eye of Ross Macdonald's literary world, here re-imagined as a wisecracking hepcat who mugs his way through a missing-persons investigation. The supporting cast is a weird over-the-hill gang including Lauren Bacall, Janet Leigh, and Shelley Winters. That film's hero, Lew Harper (renamed from Macdonald's "Archer"), returned in 1976's The Drowning Pool, a more bearable if somewhat humdrum whodunit set in New Orleans. Newman's wife, Joanne Woodward, has a supporting part, but the picture is most notable for an early Melanie Griffith nymphet role.
Pocket Money (1972) is one of those only-in-the-seventies movies that pairs Newman with Lee Marvin in a drowsy, nearly plotless comedy. Both actors give elaborate performances: Newman plays a numbskull two-bit cattle broker who takes absolutely everything literally, and Marvin is his buddy in Mexico who signs on for an ill-considered cattle-buying job. One of the credited screenwriters is Terrence Malick, and the movie has a highly eccentric feel for language. Finally, The Mackintosh Man (1973) is one of the periodic duds that director John Huston would crank out in his otherwise starry career, with Newman as a spy on an incomprehensible case in England. The first half is a red herring, and Dominique Sanda (more recently of The Conformist) is out of depth with the English language. It's a bleak film with a kind of grinding fascination, and the Maurice Jarre score is catchy but fatally overused. --Robert Horton