It has come to my attention that Jack Nicholson recently turned 70. That means he has been in the movie business for 51 years, since he made his first film, a Roger Corman cheapo called Cry Baby Killer when he was 19. That’s quite a career. One suspects the guy must have talent.
Jack, of course first came to widespread public attention with the sort-of biker pic, the iconic Easy Rider playing the failed Midwestern alcoholic, football helmet donning, latecoming stoner alongside Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. He’s the poor loser who gets his brains bashed out by a couple of rednecks, but he is the pivotal persona of a film that, while it hasn’t aged well, still boasts arguably the best soundtrack of any film. And it boasts Jack, and his career fully took off from there.
He is also probably the best film actor of not only his generation, but one who can sit right up there in the pantheon with Brando, Bogart, Tracy and whoever else you might consider a giant, and he is arguably more versatile than any of the aforementioned. Of his contemporaries the only ones who come close to Jack would be Morgan Freeman, Pacino, Duval and DeNiro.
But, what makes Jack even more significant is that he is ‘cooler’ than all of them. He’s still cool at an age in which most people have been drawing a pension for at least five years. He’s cool in the true sense of the word, much like Bob Mitchum was, and that is that he’s not self-consciously cool. He just is.
I’m not even going to attempt to list Nicholson’s collection of works, but only to say he can do brilliant comedy, intensity, terror, and pathos with equal élan, and he isn’t even afraid of self-parody, with the difference being, he carries it off.
My favorite Nicholson films are Chinatown, The Last Detail, A Few Good Men (Tom Cruise and Demi Moore notwithstanding), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and About Schmidt. But, I would also be prepared to say about Jack is that I’d watch him and listen to him reading the telephone book.
What’s your favorite Nicholson film?