Saluting Hollywood Heavyweight Burt Lancaster


Burt Lancaster a.k.a. Mr. Muscles. Photo courtesy of the Kobal Collection.

Film Society of Lincoln Center is pumped to weigh in on the film career of a legend in our latest retrospective, Man of Steel: Burt Lancaster at 100, May 17 – 23. Mr. Muscles, himself, would turn 100 this year.

“Burt Lancaster brought something new to American movies in the post-war era—something troubled, unsettled, fitting the mood of the era. And then, as he developed as an actor throughout the years, he became one of the most magical figures in cinema—powerful, both physically and vocally, charming, graceful, absolutely commanding,” said Kent Jones, Director of Programming for the New York Film Festival. “It's no wonder that everyone from Robert Siodmak to Fred Zinnemann to Luchino Visconti wanted to work with him. And he created not one but several archetypal characters—the Swede in his extraordinary debut, The Killers; the Sergeant in From Here to Eternity; the title role in Elmer Gantry; the Prince in Visconti's The Leopard; and, of course, J.J. Hunsecker in Sweet Smell of Success.”

Burton Stephen Lancaster was born in Manhattan when the Woolworth Building was the tallest building in the world (1913), but Lancaster would stay in the limelight longer than the Woolworth held that record, reigning on high throughout his brilliant and athletic acting career.


Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in Fred Zinnemann's From Here to EternityPhoto courtesy of the Kobal Collection.

In 1946, Lancaster was cast as the Swede in Robert Siodmak’s The Killers alongside Ava Gardner. By the next year he was making at least two films a year, which continued almost every year until 1991. Nominated for four Oscars (and winning one for Elmer Gantry), half a dozen Golden Globes, and numerous BAFTAs, Lancaster is more than a man of steel, he is a man of mesmerizing ability and a passion for politics, supporting racial equality (including the March on Washington in 1963) and gay rights (fighting against AIDS with friend Rock Hudson).

Join us on Opening Night of the retro with Fred Zinnemann's From Here to Eternity, co-starring Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed, Montgomery Clift, and Deborah Kerr, and winner of eight Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and two Best Supporting Acting awards for Sinatra and Reed). Lancaster plays Sgt. Milton Warden, who falls for his commanding officer’s wife (Kerr) in the romantic setting of Hawaii. But all affairs and emotions are choked back when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. You don’t want to miss what J. Hoberman calls “the most daring movie of 1953,” which means it beat out Stalag 17, The Big Heat, and Tokyo Story.


Louis Malle's Atlantic City with Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon. Photo courtesy of the Kobal Collection.

Seven days after From Here to Eternity, the retrospective comes to a close with Louis Malle’s Atlantic City (1980), about an aging mobster with a King David complex (Bathsheba being Susan Sarandon). Roger Ebert said of Lancaster’s performance: “He has dignity, the same kind of instinctive aristocratic self-regard that made Lancaster's performance in Visconti's The Leopard (1963) so authentic. When you embody dignity, you don't need to play it.”

In the days between these two Lancaster classics, check out Robert Siodmak’s Criss-Cross, a Before the Devil Knows Your Dead meets Bonnie and Clyde story where an armored truck driver plots to have his own truck robbed. Then see Richard Brooks’ Elmer Gantry, featuring Lancaster’s Oscar-winning performance as a traveling salesman with a flask and a “fruitful” knowledge of the Bible.


Robert Siodmak's Criss-Cross with Yvonne De Carlo and Lancaster. Photo courtesy of the Kobal Collection.

On the flip side of Elmer is Dardo, Lancaster’s character in Jacques Tourneur’s The Flame and the Arrow. The film is a Robin Hood-esque piece showcasing Lancaster’s athletic abilities with fights, jumps and acrobatics as Dardo saves a kidnapped woman and child from the clutches of the evil Count Ulrich (Frank Allenby). It’s impossible to show all of Lancaster’s amazing films, but Man of Steel: Burt Lancaster at 100 will do its best with these plus The Killers, The Leopard, Sweet Smell of Success (opposite a scene-stealing Tony Curtis), The Swimmer (based on the frightening John Cheever story), Twilight’s Last Gleaming, Ulzana’s Raid, and Vera Cruz (Aldrich’s post-American Civil War Mexico with Gary Cooper). 

Lancaster said it best himself, “We're all forgotten sooner or later. But not films. That's all the memorial we should need or hope for.” So come to the movies and remember one of Hollywood’s greats! Scroll down for full lineup and schedule.


Lancaster in Tourneur's The Flame and the Arrow. Photo courtesy of the Kobal Collection.

APACHE
Robert Aldrich, USA, 1954; 91m
During Geronimo’s surrender to the U.S. Cavalry, a lone Apache warrior (Lancaster) defiantly interrupts the ceremony of his white conquerors. Captured and shipped off to the Florida Everglades, he escapes and begins an epic journey back to his desert Southwest home. One of Robert Aldrich’s best and leanest anti-establishment narratives, and one of Lancaster’s most energetic and athletic performances. With Jean Peters as his lover and fellow fugitive, John McIntire as the grudgingly sympathetic frontier scout who pursues them, and Charles Bronson (then Buchinsky) as an old Apache rival who has donned Cavalry Blue.
Saturday, May 18 - 1pm
Monday, May 20 - 4:30pm

ATLANTIC CITY
Louis Malle, Canada/France/USA, 1980; 104m

Lancaster, in his last great performance and one of the best of his career, plays Lou, an aging mob foot soldier in the once bustling and now sleepy gambling mecca, who can’t help peering across the way at his beautiful neighbor (Susan Sarandon) when she bathes at her sink. When Sally’s weaselly ex-husband puts her in jeopardy, Lou comes out of retirement and becomes the hard guy he always wanted to be. Beautifully directed by Louis Malle and just as beautifully written by playwright John Guare.
Sunday, May 19 - 6pm
Thursday, May 23 - 9pm


CRISS-CROSS
Robert Siodmak, USA, 1947; 94m

A companion film to The Killers, perhaps even more visually exciting (shot by the great DP Franz Planer), also directed by German émigré Siodmak, and told through flashbacks. Lancaster plays a truck driver whose passion for his ex-wife (Yvonne De Carlo) drives him to the wrong side of the law. Lancaster is excellent, and Dan Duryea steals the show as his tormentor and rival—his final expression, the last image in the film, is one of the signature moments of film noir.
Friday, May 17 - 9:15pm
Wednesday, May 22 - 4:15pm


ELMER GANTRY
Richard Brooks, USA, 1960; 146m

An Oscar-winning performance from Lancaster as the eponymous bible-thumping con artist in Richard Brooks’ visually ravishing (it was shot by the great John Alton) and dynamic adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ novel. Lancaster’s fiery evangelist burns with the sheer physical joy of his own bigger-than-life charisma, his own gift for taking people in – he seems to almost believe his own act. With Jean Simmons as the genuine article, a real believer, and Shirley Jones in the film’s other Oscar-winning performance as a minister’s daughter gone bad.
Thursday, May 23 - 6:15pm

THE FLAME AND THE ARROW
Jacques Tourneur, USA, 1950; 88m

Lancaster’s training as an acrobat and his graceful physicality are in full flower in this lovely, muted swashbuckler, written by Waldo Salt and directed by Jacques Tourneur. Lancaster is Dardo, an archer in 12th century Lombardy whose wife and son are kidnapped by the evil Hessian Count Ulrich (Frank Allenby). With his deaf mute friend Piccolo (Nick Cravat, one of Lancaster’s best friends in real life), he fights, leaps, and tumbles his way into Ulrich’s stronghold. A lighthearted romp with an interestingly muted overtone courtesy of Tourneur, shot in beautiful Technicolor. With Virginia Mayo and Norman Lloyd, still going strong at 98.
Monday, May 20 - 2:30pm & 6:30pm

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY
Fred Zinnemann, USA, 1953; 118m

Adapted from James Jones’ classic novel of Army life, From Here to Eternity racked up eight Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and two Best Supporting Actors (Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed.) Schofield Army Barracks, Honolulu, 1941. Burt Lancaster’s NCO falls for his commanding officer’s wife Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift’s rebellious Private falls for “hostess” Donna Reed and Sinatra’s skinny Italian wisecracker is targeted by Ernest Borgnine’s sadistic sergeant. All the emotional turmoil is put into sudden, sharp perspective when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. One of the signature films of its era.
Friday, May 17 - 2:30pm
Sunday, May 19 - 8:15pm


THE KILLERS
Robert Siodmak, USA, 1946; 105m

The stellar debut of an American movie icon. Ernest Hemingway, author of the classic short story so chillingly recreated in the opening reel of Robert Siodmak’s noir classic, always cited The Killers as the best movie ever made from his work. Burt Lancaster’s first movie role, as “the Swede,” begins only moments before his death. He knows it’s coming and he doesn’t try to run. What he did and why it used him up is told in jagged flashbacks as an insurance investigator (Edmond O’Brien) looks into the Swede’s haunted past. Ava Gardner shines darkly as quintessential femme fatale Kitty Collins.
Friday, May 17 - 7pm
Wednesday, May 22 - 9pm


The Leopard / Il gattopardo
Luchino Visconti, France/Italy, 1963; 205m

"So I opened the drawers and saw that they were filled with beautiful, handmade things. And I said to Visconti, ‘But we won’t be able to see them.’ And he told me, It doesn’t matter. They are your things. You know they are there.’" Italian master Luchino Visconti was severely criticized for casting Lancaster as a Sicilian prince in this remarkable adaptation of Count Giuseppe di Lampedeusa’s novel, but 50 years later it looks like a casting coup: Lancaster carries himself as if the world were his possession. His prince is the center of gravity for the sumptuous world of Sicilian aristocracy, fading from the historical horizon. Visconti’s masterpiece also stars Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, future spaghetti western star Terence Hill and a very young Pierre Clémenti.
Saturday, May 18 - 5pm
Tuesday, May 21 - 3pm


SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS
Alexander MacKendrick, USA, 1957; 96m

“Match me, Sidney.” Lancaster held his powerful frame in perfect check when he transformed himself for this now-classic film into J.J. Hunsecker, the sexless, iron-willed gossip columnist who rules the world from his table at 21. As Lancaster speaks Ernest Lehman’s and Clifford Odets’ syncopated dialogue, you may have the impression that every word is etched in acid. With Tony Curtis, revving himself up past the speed of light, as gutless columnist Sidney Falco, Susan Harrison as Hunsecker’s lost little sister and Martin Milner as her hapless jazz musician boyfriend. Featuring one of Elmer Bernstein’s very best jazz scores and the electric camera eye of cinematographer James Wong Howe.
Friday, May 17 - 5:00pm
Sunday, May 19: 4:00pm


THE SWIMMER
Frank Perry, USA, 1968; 94m

Neddy Merrill (Lancaster) decides to "swim" his way home through the all the pools in the backyards of high WASP country in the Connecticut valley. Every stop brings back another memory. Lancaster’s powerful physique and piercing eyes give poetic life to the concepts of faded glory and shattered dreams in Frank and Eleanor Perry’s adaptation of the John Cheever story: there’s a whole biography woven into this performance. With a terrific cast that includes Janice Rule and Kim Hunter.
Sunday, May 19 - 2:00pm
Tuesday, May 21 - 9:00pm
Thursday, May 23 - 4:15pm


TWILIGHT'S LAST GLEAMING
Robert Aldrich, USA, 1977; 146m

“I wondered what would happen if you had an Ellsberg mentality, if you had some command officer who came out of Vietnam and who was soured not by war protesters but by the misuse of the military,” wondered director Robert Aldrich. His curiosity led to this taut 1977 thriller where the suspense never stops ratcheting up. Lancaster plays a renegade Air Force general who takes over a nuclear missile silo in an attempt to force the U.S. President (Charles Durning) to reveal the true motivation behind the Vietnam War. The stellar cast also features Richard Widmark, Melvyn Douglas, Roscoe Lee Browne and Joseph Cotten.
Saturday, May 18 - 8:30pm
Thursday, May 23 - 1:15pm


ULZANA'S RAID
Robert Aldrich, USA, 1972; 103m

Two decades after Apache, Lancaster and Robert Aldrich reunited for a darker and more complex meditation on the Indian wars. Lancaster is an aging scout tracking a renegade Apache (Joaquin Martinez), a vicious killer carrying out horrific degradations against white settlers. Alan Sharp’s brilliant and tough-minded screenplay disdains the kneejerk sentimentality of its era by making Ulzana a truly terrifying figure and finding historical justice in his doomed, murderous campaign. A great and brave Western, a high point for both Lancaster and Aldrich.
Monday, May 20 - 8:30pm
Wednesday, May 22 - 2:00pm


VERA CRUZ
Robert Aldrich, USA, 1954; 94m

The second of the four films that Burt Lancaster and Robert Aldrich made together is the story of two mercenaries (Lancaster and Gary Cooper) in Mexico after the American Civil War who are hired by Emperor Maximillian (George Macready) to safely bring a countess (Denise Darcel) to Vera Cruz. When they discover that millions of dollars in gold are hidden in the countess’ stagecoach, complications ensue. This was one of Aldrich’s personal favorites, and it features a solid supporting cast including Jack Elam, Ernest Borgnine and Charles Bronson.
Saturday, May 18 - 3:00pm
Tuesday, May 21 - 1:00pm

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