Gary Cooper - American Life, American Legend

United States, 1989

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Clint Eastwood narrates this documentary on popular American actor Gary Cooper (1901-61), who enjoyed great fame and prosperity in Hollywood, particularly during the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Coop, as he is affectionately called, was the everyman of Hollywood cinema, often assuming roles as the romantic lead, upstanding citizen and cowboy, ironing out trouble and restoring peace to lawless frontier towns. Coop’s protagonists, stern and moral men, were often capable of displaying a naive quality and innocence when it came to romance. In the title role of “Mr Deeds goes to town” (Capra, 1936) Cooper played a moralistic citizen who inherits great wealth and distinguishes himself by assisting the underprivileged masses; the actor soon after became the personification of the model American male - strong, idealistic, upstanding, heterosexual and somewhat overwhelmed when in love. Other famous roles include “Meet John Doe”, “High noon”, “The Fountainhead”, “Love in the afternoon”, “For whom the bell tolls” and “Sergeant York”. This documentary chronologically follows Cooper’s career without really discussing the man behind the myth, instead presenting extensive clips from the actor’s many films and exploring his public persona. Briefly touches on Cooper’s role in the investigation by the House of the Un-American Activities, as a friendly witness, and his affair with actress Patricia Neal.

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Richard Schickel

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