Stuart Whitman: handsome, strong and formal

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Manly, rocky, corpulent, attractive and given to forceful interpretations, Stuart Whitman leaves us a handful of masterpieces that are the epic of the 20th century, titans with nuances, capable of bringing luminosity and corporeality to plots written by the best minds in Hollywood. His career was a symphony of heroes and spanned between Biblical majesties, melodrama gallantries and Wild West dust-ups. The great Maximilian Schell snatched the statuette for best performer in 1961, but that does not mean that Whitman did not have plenty of dramatic skills: quite the contrary. At a time when elegant older men disputed the amorous dreams of world cinephilia, the Californian actor became part of those die-cut cards that young girls from all over the world collected and who dreamed of starring in a romance with him or with James Garner, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Peter O’Toole, Anthony Franciosa or Robert Vaughn.

It was indeed Oscar nominee for Best Actor for his impressive performance in the British drama.”marked man» (1961), by Guy Green, in which he shared the screen with the unforgettable Maria Schell –sister of the winner– and the extraordinary Rod Steiger. Based on the novel «The brand» (1958), by Charles E. Israel, the film raised the stigma attached to a man trying to rehabilitate himself and reintegrate himself into everyday life, after spending three years behind bars for the kidnapping of a minor. Today this argument, adapted by the persecuted Sidney Buchman – included in Senator McCarthy’s blacklists – on his return to the world of celluloid, does not attract much attention. But the issue was so thorny at the time that although the Academy recognized his work, it was not widely disseminated. And since the career has to be reinvented, Whitman – who never needed cinema to live, since he dedicated himself to construction in parallel – turned to the western, a genre in which he stood out for his corpulent presence and acting abilities. After serving in the United States Army Corps of Engineers, he studied law at Los Angeles City College while training at acting schools at night.

All his roles are invitations to believe in the dreaming power of the seventh art, because Whitman conferred cleanliness, geometry, roundness and great credibility to his roles and the public refined those values ​​by granting him their favour. He was one of the first to make the leap to television with the successful cimarron (1967-1968), in which he gave life to sheriff Jim Crown; but the masculine prototype gradually changed and gave way to darker anti-heroes in which he, a patriotic soldier and cowboy in one piece, did not find an easy place. Indeed, his style was at the very antithesis of the introspective intensities advocated by the Actors Studio. Watching a movie of his from the 1960s is like diving into the treasure trove of the best cinema, just when the big studio system was beginning to crumble.

«The Crime Syndicate” (Murder, Inc. 1960), by Burt Balaban and Stuart Rosenberg. Impressive and extremely violent crime film, written from the gangster chronicles co-written by Sid Feder and Burton Turkus about the New York underworld in the 1920s and 1930s, founded by Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, when Brooklyn was a focus of extortion.

«Ruth’s Story » (The Story of Ruth, 1960), by Henry Koster. 20th Century Fox found in the peplum and in the Holy Scriptures an alternative form of business to the unstoppable advance of the small screen. Koster, an expert in the epic tale in cinemascope –he directed the Sacred Robe– was chosen to adapt the Book of Ruth with the help of Norman Corwin. In the tape, Whitman brings Boaz to life, with whom Ruth falls in love as soon as he sees her… like the spectators in those movie theaters.

«A marked man” (The Mark, 1961), by Guy Green. An essential title to meet the most unknown and courageous Whitman, with a descent into the psychological hells of a soul tormented by his past.

«The comancheros» (The Comancheros, 1961), by Michael Curtiz. In this western, Whitman sets his standard as a tough cowboy and mirrors none other than John Wayne, set against a superb plot from Paul Wellman’s novel about Texas rangers who have to take down a dangerous band of “comancheros” – who traffic liquor and whiskey with the Comanche Indians – commanded, of course, by Lee Marvin.

«Conchos River» (Rio Conchos, 1961), by Gordon Douglas. Huge Western written by Clair Huffaker about a group of mercenaries featuring a huge Richard Boone as a former Confederate officer and accompanied on a mission by Union Army soldiers led by Captain Haven (Whitman). Watch out for the immense music by Jerry Goldsmith and the “Conradian” role of rebel colonel Pardee, played by Edmond O’Brien in a state of grace.

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Stuart Whitman: handsome, strong and formal


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