NPR logo Hollywood Looking For Machismo In All The Wrong Places

Movies

Hollywood Looking For Machismo In All The Wrong Places

Youthful indiscretions: Could this Bogie ever have been Bogie? Photo illustration by Trey Graham, NPR. hide caption

toggle caption
Photo illustration by Trey Graham, NPR.

An arresting headline in Variety — "U.S. short on tough-guy actors" — caught my eye recently. Anne Thompson cites a bunch of producers lamenting the "boy-men" and "imps" who pass for movie stars these days. Apparently the suits are pining for the tough guys — the McQueens, Bogies, Bronsons and Waynes — of yesteryear.

Those guys could carry a movie, say the studio guys. These days, once you get past Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Harrison Ford and a couple of others, the real men — Mel Gibson, Christian Bale, Javier Bardem, Russell Crowe, and Jason Statham are among those cited — mostly hail from foreign shores.

Now granted, I don't have to scrounge financing for gazillion-dollar action flicks, but I'm not sure I agree with the premise. Vin Diesel has carried his share of action movies, and he's certainly not a boyish man. Mark Wahlberg, now well past his Calvins-model days, may not always be a great judge of material, but credit a guy who can open drivel like The Happening ($30 million in its first weekend) with some box-office clout.

Tim Robbins, Wesley Snipes, Robert Downey Jr. and Edward Norton seem macho enough to me (I mean, they have senses of humor, which arguably the Waynes and Bronsons didn't, but does that disqualify them?)

And the Waynes and Bronsons weren't considered tough guys when they were in their 30s, anyway. So isn't it really about seasoning?

Steve McQueen was a kid when he battled The Blob; he only grew into the grizzled macho stuff later. Matt Damon and Will Smith are about the age now that McQueen was when he did films like Bullitt and The Thomas Crown Affair. George Clooney is the age McQueen was when he did Papillon and The Towering Inferno.

And in previous generations, stars tended to establish themselves first in theater. Humphrey Bogart didn't get into movies until he was in his mid-30s — which means he didn't have a cinematic youth to live down when he was pushing 50. (And starring, masculinely, in Key Largo and The Big Sleep).

Might not have been the same if he'd been modeling underwear in his 20s.