The Letter H is a Good Thing When It Comes to Paul Newman

Guest blogger Monty Hawes writes:

I just realized that Paul Newman did several films that began with the letter H and that they are some of his best films and most successful. And all came out during a time span in the 1960s. So I thought it would be cool to do a post about that.

First up in 1961 is the much-loved and rightly praised The Hustler, which cast Newman as up-and-coming pool player “Fast Eddie” Felson, who challenges top shark Minnesota Fats (played by the Great One, Jackie Gleason). This is one of Newman’s most famous roles. He even did a sequel 25 years later with Tom Cruise called The Color Of Money. The sequel finally landed him an Oscar, which had eluded him for his whole life. Not taking anything away from the sequel, but it’s The Hustler where Newman really shines. The film is one of my favorite films and performances of Newman by far.

Next came 1963’s Hud, with Newman giving another memorable performance as Hud Bannon, a troublesome young man who defies everyone and everything and lives by his own rules. He is described as not having a decent bone in his body. Melvyn Douglas plays Hud’s father and they do not get along at all. Their prickly relationship makes for a powerhouse of a film. Chalk this up as another amazing performance by Newman.

Paul would score again in 1966 with another H-titled film, the whodunit Harper. He’s a cool private investigator named Lew Harper who is hired by a wealthy California woman (hey, it’s my classic movie goddess of the month, Lauren Bacall) to find her kidnapped husband. Based on Ross Macdonald’s best-selling novel series, this almost wasn’t going to be a ‘H’ film for Newman. The character in the books is called Lew Archer, but was changed to Harper and thus continued Newman’s winning ways. And it was so successful that Newman returned for a sequel in 1975, The Drowning Pool.

For 1967’s western thriller Hombre, Newman was cast as John Russell, a white man raised by Apaches on an Indian reservation. Fully grown, he and some passengers on a stagecoach get attacked by  bandits and are left for dead. Russell is called upon to lead them to safety. Newman gives another rock solid performance. He could do no wrong and the ’60s proved to be his greatest decade ever.

Finally comes 1967’s Cool Hand Luke, his crowning achievement. He is Luke Jackson, prisoner on a Southern chain gang who is so cool and unflappable, and just will not bow down to authority. His repeated escapes and then recapture almost become comical, but Newman is just amazing in this role. How he didn’t win a Best Actor Oscar for this is one of the greatest crimes the Academy ever committed.

Honorable mention goes to 1968’s The Secret War of Harry Frigg, which has Newman cast as Private Harry Frigg, who must help fiveAllied generals escape prison during World War II.
So that wraps up this little post about Mr. Newman’s awesome run of H titled films in the ’60s. Hope everyone enjoyed this little exercise of mine.

Who is Monty Hawes? In a nutshell, he is a movie fanatic who loves films…both classic and modern. For more information, visit his blogs All Good Things and Screwball Cinema.



  • Tito Pannaggi

    You forgot Martin Ritt’s “Hud” (1963) where he and late (he died too young) Brandon De Wilde both were superb. They made that film unforgettable.

    Newman started as a Marlon Brando-copy but he developed to be a better actor by years. He was one of Hollywoods greates actors, and not bad as director neither. I miss him!

  • jimmy

    you forgot the long hot summer, the left handed gun, cat on a hot tin roof, any of which deserved oscar consideration.

  • Cynthia LaRochelle

    What a hunk, gentleman and actor. We all miss him.

  • Susan

    Please someone correct the first two responses to this post….and while you are at it please repair the post itself. They all need help and I don’t have the patience.

  • Jerseyjoe

    I’ve been trying to find “The Secret War of Harry Frigg” on DVD for years with no luck. If anyone can help me I’d really appreciate it.
    Just leave a comment where I might find it. Thanks very much.

  • Connie

    Loved Paul Newman…he was a class act!!!

  • Juanita Curtis

    Enjoyed your article very much – Paul Newman was an excellent actor as well as a star. He always made me laugh even in his more serious roles – must have been that million dollar smile. My favourite role- Butch Cassidy.

  • KC

    This is rather interesting… kind of like the letter “S” when it comes to Kentucky Derby winners.

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  • Lydia

    I remember noticing this at the time. Don’t forget Hudsucker Proxy-not the 60s and certainly not a great role for him, but the name connection is there.

  • Rob in L.A.

    I understand that Newman himself was superstitious about the subject and insisted that as many movies of his as possible begin with the letter H, thus (to him) ensuring their box-office success. This is why Ross Macdonald’s detective character’s name was changed from Lew Archer to Lew Harper: to enable the Newman film’s title to begin with an H.

  • Joescarp

    Why the “h…” did Newman want to make movies that begin with the letter “h”? I thought this article would explain it. It left me anging.

  • Ross B

    ” I’ve been trying to find “The Secret War of Harry Frigg” on DVD for years with no luck. If anyone can help me I’d really appreciate it.
    Just leave a comment where I might find it. Thanks very much.”

    ***On,DVD came out last year in the “Universal Vault Series” ****

  • William Sommerwerck

    “Hud” is a great film, but it’s worth reading the novel — “Horseman, Pass By”, by guess-who — to see how the film distorts the story’s themes, and converts moral grays into hard blacks and whites.

  • BoB

    Yes, Susan, but I don’t have the patience either.

  • Maryjo

    I agree Susan and BoB – precisely why I cancelled my facebook account yesterday! I too can no longer be bothered.
    I lurved Paul Newman and miss him terribly as well Cynthia ! My favourite Newman picture is Cool Hand Luke followed by the Long Hot Summer,and Butch Cassidy. His BEST performance in a movie – definately The Verdict, which he should have won and Oscar for. And Mr & Mrs Bridges is a gem too.

  • Maryjo

    Tito _ the first film mentioned was HUD – you need glasses.
    Jimmy – the subject matter is about the number of films Newman made that began with the letter ‘H’
    Hud,Hombre,Harper,and the immortal Hustler. He does mention other films but it’s the H ones he wrote his article about.
    And Ross B ? Amazon have it in stock…..cheeee !

  • Gord Jackson

    I skipped ‘Hydsucker’ but have “Hud”/”Huster”/”Harper”/”Hombre” in my collection.

    Agree with Maryjo re “The Verdict” but I also think his Rocky Graziano in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” deserved a nom.

    Favourite Newman film is “The Long Hot Summer” which was also Oscar nom worthy altho 1957 was a tough year with so many not getting a nomination.

  • Trish

    In the movie “Cars”, he played the Hudson Hornet. I guess he DOES have a thing for the letter H!

  • Ellen Urie

    Took me a few minutes to figure out what was wrong with the first 2 comments! Although I liked “Hombre” & “Cool Hand Luke” I was not a Paul Newman fan. I also thought he started out as a Brando imitator. I thought “The Verdict” was good, but not an H movie! The article was very interesting – also the comments.

  • Rufnek

    As I remember from my reading, Newman insisted (somewhat superstitiously) on the name of the Archer character and the film title being changed to Harper because Hud was such a success. Lightning didn’t strike twice for subsequent one-H-word titles, however. I remember Harper as a mediocre, rambling 1960s-fuzzie film with big enough holes in the plot to drive a getaway car through. I thought the much later Hombre just stunk. Mad Magazine did a takeoff off on that film at that time in which after Newman’s Hombre dies after killing Richard Boone and the other bad guys, and the surviors seem safe, the last member of the outlaw gang–the one you earlier see riding off on Boone’s instruction to “close the backdoor” of the good guys’ escape route, shows up and steals back the loot, telling them, “The director forgot about me, the audience forgot about me, but I’m still here.”

    Newman’s performance in the one-H-word films Harper and Hombre weren’t nearly as good as in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (another H-word in the title) or Summer and Smoke or even Sweet Bird of Youth, which was dominated by Geraldine Page. I even liked his small role in What a way to Go better than his starring roles in Harper and Hombre. But that’s just my opinion.

    I wouldn’t count two of the best films in which Newman starred as part of the H group but more circumstantial. He hadn’t the clout to insist on The Hustler’s title; besides as good as he was in that film, Jackie Gleason in the offbeat role of Minnesota Fats and George C. Scott chewing the scenary with all his early vigor, out performed Newman in that film–especially Scott who should have got an Oscar for his performance, one of the best in his career. Even the guy who played Newman’s friend and manager was good (can’t recall his name but he played to sergeant in No Time for Sargents). Cool Hand Luke, although filled with good performances, was also a coincidence, I think. What else were they gonna call Newman’s character–Cool Finger Luke, Cool Foot Luke, Cool Arm Luke–even Cool Head Luke just don’t have the zing.

  • Rufnek

    Had I read the earlier postings first, I would have remember the movie to which I referred was “The Long Hot Summer.” Guess I came up with “Summer and Smoke” because they both have Summer in the title and Ben Quick’s daddy in “The Long, Hot Summer” was an arsonist.

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