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Monday, 17 January 2011

Top Ten Western Actors No 5 - Gary Cooper

Gary Cooper or Coop, as he liked to be called, made over 100 movies, a great many of them westerns - his first sound picture was the classic, The Virginian (1929) and for some time it seemed that he could do no wrong and his film choices were sound. However he famously turned down the lead in Gone with the Wind, feeling that the film would be a massive flop.

"Gone with the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I’m glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling flat on his nose, not me" Gary Cooper

He also turned Alfred Hitchcock away when the director wanted to cast him in Foreign Correspondent and again for Saboteur.

Still it mattered not and in 1942 Coop won his first Oscar for best actor for his blistering performance in Sgt. York. And then in 1953 he won again for what must rate as one of the best ever westerns, the iconic High Noon. In fact High Noon remains a favourite among western fans even today and is the most requested film in the White House cinema.

High Noon is a damn effective film - it builds the drama and tension to breaking point as as Coop's Mashall Wil Kane prepares to face off against Frank Miller, a man he sent to jail many years previously, and his gang. The townsfolk don't hold much hope for Coop's chances and leave him to face off against the coming terror alone. The film is strong on character and yet doesn't skimp on the action and although Coop was too old for the part, and suffering with ill health all through shooting he carries it off with vigour and it is difficult to think of any other actor in the role.

Coop made another western that was almost as good in 1958 when he teamed up with Anthony Mann for Man of the West. Once again there were concerns about Cooper's health but he carried the entire film off with dignity and there is amazing strength in his performance. The following year Coop gave another great showing in the vastly underrated melodramatic western, The Hanging Tree.

Right from the beginning when Coop had an uncredited part in a 1925, Tom Mix western, Coop was never far away from the cinematic range. Even his lesser westerns, and there were several, are watchable and for some time he challenged John Wayne as the western's biggest box office draw.

Some actors looked as if they had been born in a saddle and Gary Cooper was one of them - he made it all look so effortless and every film he appeared in benefited from his strong, silent charm.

Gary Cooper a true man of the west.

1 comment:

Tom Roberts said...

I have always enjoyed Gary Cooper's role in VERA CRUZ (1954), in contrast to the flashier Burt Lancaster role. An action-adventure film with spectacular location shots, great soundtrack, hundreds of extras for the battle scenes, etc. A high quality production spotlighting a little-featured part of history deserving more recognition.

And although often labeled as routine, SPRINGFIELD RIFLE (1952) Cooper's next role after HIGH NOON, is also an enjoyable film, with its great cast of familiar faces as supporting players and strong action throughout; a suspense film in Western garb.

Tom Roberts
Black Dog Books