Obituary: Farewell to Tony Curtis, Arthur Penn and Gloria Stuart

Actor Tony Curtis (Some Like It Hot), director Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde) and actress Gloria Stuart (Titanic) passed away this week at the ages of 85, 88 and 100, respectively. The three were significant contributors to American cinema, lived long lives and certainly warrant some respect for impressive bodies of work. On to their obituaries…

Tony Curtis

Ah, Tony Curtis … now there’s a movie star. A great-looking guy with a strong on-screen presence and a tabloid-worthy personal life, Curtis (or “Bernie Schwartz from Bronx,” as my father would frequently refer to him) made more than 100 movies, many of them certifiable classics, a good number of others forgettable and a handful that were just plain awful (or maybe you haven’t seen 1991’s Prime Target, co-starring David Heavener and Isaac Hayes…?).

For our purposes, let’s remember the great films — such as Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960), Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones (1958) with Sidney Poitier, the always timely New York favorite Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and the immortally hysterical gender-bending comedy Some Like It Hot opposite Jack Lemmon.

And although those movies might not be considered great, they are always such undeniably fun Curtis starrers as the high-flying circus flick Trapeze (1956), the brawny adventure flick The Vikings (1958), the 1965 slapstick comedy The Great Race and the bizarre art house entry Insignificance (1985), directed by the always-baffling auteur Nicolas Roeg.

Just as Curtis was a bona fide Hollywood movie star, filmmaker Arthur Penn was a singular maverick director.

Sharpening his teeth as a helmer of live television dramas in the 1950s and Broadway theater productions in the 1960s, Penn directed his first feature film, the early revisionist Western The Left Handed Gun starring Paul Newman, in 1958. He followed it up with a couple of idiosyncratic dramas, Mickey One (1965) with Warren Beatty and The Chase (1966) with Marlon Brando, before directing his undisputed masterpiece, 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde, starring Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The film, a portrait of the notorious Depression Era American outlaws, Bonnie and Clyde was at once glamorous, sympathetic, rebellious, violent, sexy, funny and startling. Many describe it as “European” in its approach, but we’d rather refer to it as “outsider” in feel. Whatever you want to call it, Bonnie and Clyde ushered in that outsider appeal to Hollywood, yielding such films as Easy Rider and The Wild Bunch in the years that immediately followed.

Similarly toned “outsider” works followed, including the 1975 crime drama Night Moves with Gene Hackman, and still another strange western drama, The Missouri Breaks, in 1976. And though they were much more conventional (read: Hollywood-friendly) in their story-telling, Penn’s later thrillers, Target (1985) and Dead of Winter (1987), were pretty memorable, as well.

Gloria Stuart

As for Gloria Stuart, the truth of the matter is that outside of her work in Titanic (1997) and a memorable bit part in My Favorite Year (1983), we’re not all that familiar with the work she did during Hollywood’s golden age.  A quick glance at her filmography of more than 40 feature films, though, reveals that we’ve seen her in a bunch of fine movies over the years.

Amongst her best early works (and we mean pre-Titanic when we say early) are a pair of classic horror films by the great James Whale: The Old Dark House (1932) opposite Boris Karloff and The Invisible Man (1933) with Claude Rains.

The studio system used Ms. Stuart to fine effect in the John Ford drama The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), the Shirley Temple vehicle Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938) and the James Cagney comedy Here Comes the Navy (1934). She also shined opposite Dick Powell in Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935).

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.