You may not be able to pinpoint exactly what you’ve seen the late actor James Garner in, but I promise you you’ve seen him in something. Even if you aren’t a fan of older movies, you probably saw him as “Old Noah” in “The Notebook”. Maybe you caught him romping around in “Space Cowboys” or flipped through an episode of “8 Simple Rules” after he joined the cast following the death of John Ritter. If you’re into poker at all, you might know him from the movie “Maverick”, where he played adversary to the titular character played by Mel Gibson.
What you may not know is that Garner originated the role of “Maverick” on television years ago. You’ve probably not seen the show, especially if you are one of those people who believe television only got good in the past ten years or so.
So why does it matter that this past his prime actor is no longer with us?
If you’ve never seen a Garner movie, so be it, but if you’ve ever seen George Clooney in a motion picture, you owe a debt of gratitude to Garner for paving the way. If you’re a Clooney fan who enjoys the way he can be both charming and self-loathing at the same time or appreciates how he always seems to be in on the joke, then you might actually enjoy James Garner more than you realize.
If you liked George Clooney in the Ocean’s 11 movies, check out Garner in “The Great Escape”, one of the greatest caper movies ever made. Here he is in a scene that gives you a sense how this war flick can be both riveting and dramatic, but retain a sense of humor (he is the one pouring the drink):
Honestly, much like I prefer funny George to serious George, I prefer the funny Garner who appears in rom coms like the underrated “Move Over, Darling” or “Victor/Victoria”. He even has a couple of dark comedies right up the bizarro “Men Who Stare at Goats” Clooney alley like the witty “The Americanization of Emily”, one of a couple of movies that pairs him with Julie Andrews to great effect, much in the same way Clooney spars so well with the prim and proper Catherine Zeta-Jones. While their chemistry is great, I’ll admit this anti-war satire is a bit bizarre with a story that centers on an attempt to market and propagandize the death of the first soldier on Omaha Beach. Check out the trailer and marvel that such a strange flick could be made by a studio in 1964:
Garner had a serious side too, which you can see at work in “The Great Escape” or in the melodrama “The Children’s Hour” with Audrey Hepburn. He was also nominated for an Oscar for his role in the 80’s flick “Murphy’s Romance”. As he aged, Garner deftly switched back and forth between comedy and drama, cracking people up in movies like “My Fellow Americans”, then reducing them to tears in “The Notebook”. If the twilight years of Garner’s career give us a sense of what we might expect from Clooney, I can’t wait for the superstar to stop taking on leading man roles.
Don’t let Garner try to fool you. He is not a common man. He is a charmer, winning folks over with his dry wit and good looks, then reigning them in with the type of talent we only see a few times every generation. So, since there aren’t many Clooneys in the world today, branch out. Start with “The Great Escape” and see the original Clooney stand out in one of the most epic ensembles ever assembled on celluloid.