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Oklahoma’s James Garner – A Big Movie Star But a Better Actor

James Garner with Rod Taylor in “36 Hours”, a 1965 film by George Seaton

A  remembrance of Norman’s native son 



James Garner with Jason Robards in John Sturges’s HOUR OF THE GUN (1967)

May 5, 2023


James Garner was 86 and died of natural causes on July 19,2014.  Growing up in Oklahoma City and a movie fan since as early  as I can remember, Mr. Garner was a favorite actor for me.  But not in the same way as a Steve McQueen or a Paul Newman, or a Richard Widmark.  The guy from Norman and the University of Oklahoma was a pretty boy, and a rather understated actor in many roles.  He was never given the “star” status of the before mentioned three just mentioned, probably because he was just too damned good looking in a way to get the rougher parts of filmdom that a McQueen, Newman or Widmark might get.  Yes Newman was for many a really hot looking guy, but he had an edge as did McQueen and Widmark could play “crazy” as good as the older group like Cagney or Muni or EGR could .  Garner, though, like McQueen, Newman, Widmark had the skill to pull off performance to steal a movie from others that were considered much the better actors by critics and such.  Mr. Garner also had range which was he was really never given credit for. A range much more suited to Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda than Cary Grant.  As Grant played himself in most of his roles, Garner could play Garner, but also could play others with more nuisance than many of the other named greats.  Straight acting, serious drama, such as his performance as Wyatt Earp in “Hour of the Gun”, a film where he played against his persona, is an example.  “Hour…”, not a favorite film of mine just because of Garner’s droll and uncompromising portrail of Earp, still Garner got the rave reviews in his performance performance, even if I did not like it so much. He put Jason Robard’s Doc Holiday to bed in this western.   Put Garner in a comedy with Doris Day and you have another from of acting greatness.  He was really on top of it with Day, another muchly deserving great performer. He not only held his own but surpassed her in many scenes.  Being redundant, going from the dramatic WW2 gem “The Great Escape” and follow with “The Thrill of It All” with Doris Day proved that point.  Garner’s range from comedy, to serious western, to silly western, to dramatic themes such as “36 Hours” was his strength.  He was always the romantic from day one, and could play the leading man with charm, disdain if needed, and always with sincerity even as a coward as in “The Americanization of Emily”, as I will touch upon below, from a previous post.  


James Garner and Julie Andrews in Paddy Chayefsky’s THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964)

From the past:  James Garner and Julie Andrews, the stars of the The Americanization of Emil, a 1964 American comedy-drama war film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Arthur Hiller, have said that this movie was there personal favorite.  I can say as much, as it is my personal favorite movie of James Garner, and my second favorite movie of Julie Andrews (Sound of Music is my personal favorite).  I first viewed this gem as a young teenager, just as the Viet Nam war was taking off.  It bothered me at the time, a movie about a confessed coward (James Garner as Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. “Charlie” Madison) during World War 2.  Even though I don’t consider this movie anti-war (some critics do), it’s sure not a poster boy film for war in general.  A comedy yes, but as written in book form by author William Bradford, it was neither a comedy or a novel about cowardice.  The great Paddy Chayefsky wrote the screenplay and changed the book into a thought provoking movie.   [ “Paddy Chayefsky’s adaptation, while retaining the title, characters, situation, background and many specific plot incidents, nevertheless told a very different story. “I found the book, which is serious in tone, essentially a funny satire, and that’s how I’m treating it.” Wikipedia]  The subject of cowardice in this film was troubling. As we all want to say,  that men who give their time, effort, and many times, their lives to defend our country, is heroic,  what is a true hero?  Is it all about getting killed?  This movie makes one think about this serious topic in a troubling way.  How would you like to be a dead hero?  This movie is one of the best.  It shows that James Garner is one of our best living actors and Julie Andrews was more than Mary Poppins.    


To sum it up, as the great Jim Garner was put to bed for eternity, he will be missed but with a body of work that is as impressive as any, he won’t be forgotten.