For many years, Newman epitomized what many saw in a movie’s leading man: handsome, confident, humor with a touch of the sardonic–and he came through flawlessly in so many films from The Hustler to Cool Hand Luke to The Verdict to The Sting, good God there are so many. He’s the first actor I’ve ever heard describe what he does as a craft. Just as if you were a sculptor, you get better as you practice, so was his belief in acting. He lamented how a number of people he knew and admired let themselves go and let their careers go to waste in the process. Look at the list of films he was involved in and, for the most part (yeah, there were a few duds), he pretty much lived up to his philosophy and then some.
He was also a humanitarian, donating hundreds of millions of dollars to charity through his successful line of food products (love his Newman O’s!) and ended up on Nixon’s enemies list for his undaunted support of liberal causes and the Democratic Party.
Newman doesn’t get credit as a good director, but he’s been behind the camera for some very solid films such as Sometimes a Good Notion and Rachel, Rachel–the latter an especially astute film starring Joanne Woodward in an Oscar-nominated performance.
Both of those films remain unreleased on DVD as does this one, WUSA. Perhaps it’s because a station does actually use these call letters. I think it’s a fascinating film, unabashedly political and eerily prophetic. Newman plays Rheinhardt a drifter landing a job as an announcer for a right-wing radio station, parroting the ultraconservative beliefs on the air although he doesn’t believe them (sound like someone you know, Dittoheads?). The following scene, one of the last in the film, has Rheinhardt trying to quell a panic at a rally with brilliant sardonic humor. A terrific performance by Newman. This film clamors to be released.