Tuesday, June 28, 2016


I'm a little bit late since his birthday was in March but it's never too late to celebrate one of my favourite human beings.  Fellow New Jerseyan Sterling Hayden was born in Montclair, NJ in 1916.  He was working on board a ship when some beefcake photos of him appeared in a magazine and Hollywood came a-calling.  With no theatrical or acting experience, they dropped him into major Hollywood productions as Tinseltown's latest hunk.  Hayden, always refreshingly candid about himself, viewed his movie career as laughable; however, he did excel in film noir and Western tough-guy roles and, in later years, took his acting more seriously and gave nice performances in such 70's classics as THE GODFATHER and THE LONG GOODBYE.  I think my favourite performance was in Stanley Kubrick's classic heist movie THE KILLING in which Hayden played the lead with a credibility that may have been lacking in some of his other movie work.

But I think more than for his movie work, I appreciate him for the intensely free-spirited outsider life he lived.  Rather than fall into the Hollywood trap, Sterling Hayden soon began only making movies when his money ran out and he needed capital to sail his boat around the world.  He fought in Yugoslavia during World War II and was so impressed by Marshall Tito that he momentarily joined the Communist Party (until scheduled meetings cramped his style and he quit).  During the HUAC witch hunts, Hayden sadly did cooperate and "name names" but, as ever truthful with himself, regarded his behaviour as weak and shameful, apologized many times for it and was forever haunted by it.  In 1963, he published his autobiography WANDERER which is one of my favourite books of all time (thanks, Lisa*).  And during his 1970's career renaissance, he made several legendary appearances on Tom Snyder's TOMORROW show in which he demonstrated what an intensely interesting conversationalist he was -- audiences demanded multiple reruns of the episodes in the days before VCRs.  

In my small way, I am choosing to celebrate his 100th birthday by watching a great big chunk of his movies.  The films you see above are those Sterling Hayden films I've already seen (and some of which I'll be revisiting):  THE GODFATHER (in which he breaks Al Pacino's jaw), JOHNNY GUITAR (one of my favourite Westerns which Nicholas Ray makes gothic and operatic with a strange colour palette), THE KILLING (my favourite Kubrick film and one which Quentin Tarantino owes a large debt to), THE LONG GOODBYE (nihilistic 70's take on Philip Marlowe), ZERO HOUR! (which was the template for AIRPLANE!), THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (with MM), 9 TO 5 (in which Sterling has a cameo as the company CEO that Jane, Dolly & Lily work for), THE STAR (middling Bette Davis melodrama with Hayden as her hunky boy toy), CRIME WAVE (a little-known cracking film noir), CRIME OF PASSION (an over-the-top barnstormer with an off-her-nut Barbara Stanwyck). VENOM (a daffy "horror" movie with a deadly Black Mamba snake on the loose and Oliver Reed teaming up with Klaus Kinski as kidnappers!) and DR. STRANGELOVE (a movie I'm admittedly not a fan of but will probably revisit to see if my opinion has changed).

In addition, there's a passel of movies which I've never seen but which I intend to do my durndest to watch:  (as shown above) SUDDENLY, WINTER KILLS, THE ETERNAL SEA, TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN, THE GOLDEN HAWK, KANSAS PACIFIC, NAKED ALIBI, DEADLY STRANGERS, CRY ONION, TOP GUN, ARROW IN THE DUST and THE IRON SHERIFF.  Add to that the previously unknown-to-me documentary about Sterling Hayden which was made three years before his death:  PHAROS OF CHAOS:  A PROFILE OF STERLING HAYDEN.  Happy birthday, you rebel you!

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