Balladeer’s Blog’s theme of Top 20 lists for the year 2020 continues with this look at a score of James Garner films. NOTE: The Great Escape is not included, only because Garner was part of an ensemble cast in that movie.
Best remembered for his portrayal of slick-talking gambler/ gunslinger Brett Maverick and Westlake-esque private detective Jim Rockford, Garner inspired the term “marshmallow macho”. That description perfectly captured Garner’s special appeal.
For many American males James Garner and the characters he brought to life represented a happy medium between psychotically macho men and unbearably femmey men. I hate the term “role model” but for lack of a better choice that’s what we’ll go with.
In addition Garner served in the Korean War and won two Purple Hearts.
MAVERICK (1994) – Though James Garner was technically playing a supporting role to Mel Gibson in this film, Gibson was portraying Bret Maverick, the character Garner had turned into a sensation in the 1950s. Since this movie would not exist without the cultural cache built up by James’ portrayal of both Bret AND “Pappy” Beauregard Maverick (in old age makeup) this definitely counts as a Garner film.
NECESSARY SPOILER: The lawman character that Garner portrays in the film turns out to really be Pappy Maverick, with Mel Gibson’s Bret simply playing along with his father’s impersonation. FOR MY FULL-LENGTH REVIEW OF THIS FILM CLICK HERE
BARBARIANS AT THE GATE (1993) – In this telefilm based on the best-selling non-fiction book, Jim plays F. Ross Johnson, the real-life president of RJR-Nabisco who unleashed one of the most chaotic and frenzied leveraged buyouts in Wall Street history during the “greed is good” 1980s.
The real Ross Johnson was close with Warren Beatty and other major players in the entertainment industry, which may be why he gets painted in a less villainous light in the movie. (Being played by the ever-charming Garner certainly helps.) In reality FEWER jobs were lost by the ultimately triumphant Henry Kravis’ LBO plan than would have been lost if Johnson came out on top.
Teddy Forstmann, the lone Wall Street figure of the 80s who was a voice in the wilderness condemning LBOs and the damage they did to the economy, gets depicted as a virtual loon. Very odd, since Forstmann’s real-life views on LBOs were closer to the sentiments of Larry Gelbart and the others behind this flick than Johnson’s or Kravis’ were.
Ultimately Barbarians at the Gate is a dark comedy classic, it’s true, but read the book if you want the real low-down on the eventful RJR-Nabisco buyout. Continue reading