July 21st, 2014

carole lombard 01
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James Garner: An actor who made it look so easy

Last month, we did an entry about someone asking San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle if Carole Lombard would be a star today, or if Tom Hanks could have done likewise in the 1920s (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/699835.html). LaSalle answered yes to the former ("...we know that Carole Lombard would succeed in any era because she does succeed -- show her in a movie from 75 years ago, and everyone still falls in love with her") and is unsure on the latter ("As for Tom Hanks, it's hard to imagine this phenomenon in reverse").

I can see where LaSalle is coming from (though the "language" of silent film makes it difficult to transpose current-day stars to the '20s), but it's been said there's an exception to every rule...and we lost one of those exceptions Saturday night. His name: James Garner.

Garner, who died at 86, was an actor you could imagine succeeding in any era from the 1930s on. His style of light comedy evoked William Powell or Cary Grant, although his type was more western than either, sort of along the lines of Gary Cooper. (One key difference from Cooper was that Garner rarely portrayed the traditional hero; his characters invariably had a bit of rogue in them.)

Garner rose to fame via the gently satiric '50s western "Maverick" and had another iconic TV series, "The Rockford Files" in the '70s. But his film career was considerable, as he showed off his skill in both comedy and drama. The Village Voice named five "sleeper" films of his (http://www.villagevoice.com/2014-07-16/film/james-garner-movies/).

Two of them will air next Monday as Turner Classic Movies presents a 24-hour James Garner tribute (http://www.tcm.com/this-month/movie-news.html?id=1018763&name=Schedule-Change-for-James-Garner-Tribute-on-Monday-July-28): "Marlowe" and Garner's personal favorite, the brilliant anti-war film "The Americanization Of Emily" with Julie Andrews.

Watch Garner's remarkably effortless (and professional) acting, then imagine him as a leading man for Lombard, Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck or other '30s icons. It's not that difficult to imagine.

Our latest Lombard LiveJournal header is Paramount p1202-478 -- and no, that image isn't turned on its side (you can see writing on the lower right-hand corner).
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