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Robert Osborne - November 2013
Remind Me

Robert Osborne on Burt Lancaster

Our Star of the Month for November, Burt Lancaster, costarred with many impressive males during his long-running career, among them the top of the crop such as Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, Paul Newman, Robert DeNiro and Kirk Douglas (sharing billing with Kirk in eight projects, including a play). But Robert Mitchum wasn't one of them, which is a pity because not only would the mix of Lancaster and Mitchum have been an extremely interesting and feisty combo, but also because they were so much alike in person. Neither one had any interest in letting the world see what they were really like, deep down, where it mattered. Each was a serious, articulate man who was, at heart, a poetic, deep thinker. Both were perfectly content to let the world confuse them with the tough street guys, roustabouts and hooligans they often projected in films. "Never complain, never explain" seemed to be their shared credo.

Movie watchers have come to know much about Mitchum; less has been exposed about the real Mr. Lancaster. I once had the pleasure of hosting a Q&A session with Lancaster at a college in California and, along with the rest of the crowd that afternoon, I was stunned at what a bright, wise, thoughtful and eloquent man he was. It was expected that he'd be savvy about the movie business; he was, after all, an accomplished actor, producer, sometimes-director and the head of his own successful independent production company, initially known as Hecht-Lancaster, then Hecht-Hill- Lancaster. But the shocker was discovering what an exceptional grasp he also seemed to have on everything--politics, literature, human nature, travel, even pizza in Italy and certainly the art of keeping an audience, me included, at rapt attention on an afternoon in Southern California.

The many sides of this remarkable gentleman are something we'll be focusing on in the primetime hours every Wednesday in November as we offer you a look at 29 examples of the work of the always-buff Burt (that sturdy physique of his, which served him especially well in the many Fairbanks-esque adventure films he made, is the result of his early life as a circus acrobat), from his very first film, the 1946 film noir classic The Killers, to his last great big-screen success, 1989's Field of Dreams, with other Lancaster essentials in between.

Like his friend Kirk Douglas, Burt designed a brilliant career plan for himself that worked remarkably well: every year he'd make a lively action movie to beef up his basic fan base (e.g. 1950's The Flame and the Arrow, 1952's The Crimson Pirate) followed by a so-called "prestige film" to show everyone, especially critics, his range and seriousness as an actor (thus Burt's decision to do secondary roles to esteemed actresses in such films as 1952's Come Back, Little Sheba and 1955's The Rose Tattoo). You'll get a full spectrum of Burt L. on TCM this month, including the complete 3 hour-6 minute version of Luchino Visconti's dazzling family epic The Leopard (1963), also a delightful Lancaster comedy we've never shown before, Mister 880 (1950), and, a primary Lancaster necessity, the movie that brought him the Academy Award®, Elmer Gantry (1960).

It's going to be an exceptional, all-encompassing salute to an exceptionally well-rounded human being. Guaranteed on both counts.

by Robert Osborne