News and Commentary – Robert Redford is 80!

Robert Redford turns eighty on August 18, which at some level is hard to believe.  But when you think about, it does come with the territory of having starred in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents—in 1961. 

It might also seem odd that here at Mid Century Cinema we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate the birthday of an impossibly-handsome old-school massively-huge Hollywood movie star who very much liked to team up with other big-studio movie stars so as to crank out hugely successful commercial entertainments that made gazillions of dollars. Which is a bit harsh, if not necessarily wrong.

But Redford has legitimate New Hollywood bona-fides—and there is a real discernable intelligence at work throughout his long career.  In 1969 (having already appeared in ambitious films by Arthur Penn and Abraham Polonsky), Redford starred in Michael Ritchie’s debut effort, Downhill Racer.  Featuring Gene Hackman, the film's daring portrayal of a self-absorbed, ambitious skier offered anything but standard feel-good movie-star fare.  Redford teamed up with Ritchie again three years later for The Candidate, a thoughtful and timeless rumination about the slippery slope of compromised ideals.  Candidate boasts standout performances by Peter Boyle, Melvyn Douglas, and Allen Garfield, and an Academy Award winning screenplay by Jeremy Larner—the former speechwriter for Eugene McCarthy who also wrote the novel Drive, He Said (source material for the 1971 film directed by Jack Nicholson).  In a recent interview Larner describes how The Candidate exemplified the New Hollywood formula at work—the filmmakers traded low budgets in exchange for no studio interference. The movie also lingers in the mind due to its period-perfect empty-victory finale: “what do we do now?”

Redford also earns his place in the history of the seventies film on the strength of two landmark achievements of the era: All the President’s Men (1976), the third entry in Alan Pakula’s essential “paranoid trilogy,” and, in collaboration with his go-to director Sydney Pollack, Three Days of the Condor (1975).  All the President’s Men was very much a Redford project: he purchased the rights to the Woodward and Bernstein book before it was even published, and his production company matched Warner Brothers’ stake in the film.  Redford also hired Pakula to direct and collaborated on the screenplay.  As for Condor, I’ll just note here that it’s on my list of the greatest films of all time.

Finally, while we’re setting out the candles, let’s also take a moment to acknowledge Ordinary People.  Many hipsters like to dump on this picture, because first-time director Redford was handed the Oscar that should have gone to Scorsese for Raging Bull (and it also won for best picture, adding insult to injury).  But, really, it’s not a competition.  And Ordinary People (directed with assurance and subtlety, by the way) is as Roger Ebert described it: “an intelligent, perceptive, and deeply moving film.” 

Redford Condor 

Redford in Three Days of the Condor