I was saddened to hear of the passing of James Garner a few days ago. He was a real straight shooter, the kind of actor who chose simplicity and honesty over any highfalutin acting method. I must confess that I had not seen all that many of his films or TV work, but I had seen enough to consider myself a fan. In light of this recent loss to the media world, I’d like to reflect on those few Garner performances with which I am happily familiar.
The Children’s Hour (1961) – This was the first film I ever saw Garner in, and although his role is nowhere near as important as those of Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, he is effective as Hepburn’s compassionate boyfriend (who just happens to be a successful doctor – looks, heart and brains!). In certain ways the material is dated, but the acting by all three stars holds up.
The Thrill of It All (1963) – The first of two romantic comedies from 1963 starring Doris Day and Garner, Thrill is a little too wacky for my tastes, but it’s still cute. Yet again Garner plays a doctor, this time paired with a wife who suddenly rockets to fame as a soap spokeswoman. Garner also sports some impressive pre-hipster spectacles while performing his doctorly duties.
Move Over, Darling (1963) – This remake of My Favorite Wife (1940), in which a wife long presumed dead from a shipwreck returns on the day her husband just so happens to be getting married again, is a lot of fun. There are many wonderful actors in the cast, including Polly Bergen, Thelma Ritter, Chuck Connors, Fred Clark, Don Knotts, Elliott Reid, Edgar Buchanan, John Astin and Eddie Quillan. Garner shows off his comic flair and there’s also that shot of him in his pool – not narratively important, but ah, delightful all the same.
“The Rockford Files” (1974-1980) – I began watching this detective series a few months ago and though I did not get far (schoolwork being the major obstacle), I really liked what I saw. The gruff, occasionally sarcastic Jim Rockford was not above getting tough and landing some low blows, so long as it meant getting the criminal he was after. Rockford’s main concern was getting his man and he was only sentimental when he felt like it, although that didn’t prevent from partaking in some storylines with love interests. After all, when the leading man is handsome and charming…
Twilight (1998) – Not too long ago I saw this neo-noir, directed by Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer, Places in the Heart, Nobody’s Fool) and co-written by Benton and Richard Russo, thanks to Netflix. Garner is one of many excellent stars in the film, including Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, Reese Witherspoon, Stockard Channing, Giancarlo Esposito, Liev Schreiber and Margo Martindale. It’s quite a fine film, one you ought to see if the opportunity arises. Even in his late 60s/early 70s, Garner still had the magic touch: always being worth watching. He’s an actor we’ll all miss seeing onscreen.