Paul Newman’s directorial debut, Rachel, Rachel

Written by Joe D on October 13th, 2008


Newman Directs Woodward

Although there are probably millions of words being written about Paul Newman this very second due to his recent passing I felt inspired by seeing his 1968 directorial debut last night on TCM, Rachel, Rachel. Starring his wife Joanne Woodward and a lot of other great actors, most noticeably Estelle Parsons and Frank Corsaro, I mention Corsaro not only because of his fine acting but also because this is his only film role! He achieved fame as a stage director and as head of The Actor’s Studio, a legendary character.


Newman and Estelle Parsons on the Set

The story goes that Newman and Woodward shopped around for a director and didn’t get any takers. Newman had studied directing at Yale and decided to go for it. He created a rare and wonderful film, the sum effect being so much greater than all it’s parts. By this I mean that as I watched the film, there were parts that I thought great, parts I thought OK, maybe the direction seemed a little naive but at the end I was overwhelmed with the sensation of having just watched a great film. Due in a large part to the performance of Joanne Woodward, It is literally unlike any other film acting I have seen. She is such a unique talent, so unaffected, so true, it’s hard to put into words the way she works in this film. Once again at the end of the film I was overcome at how great she was in it. Not any one scene but the whole cumulative effect of the film, it’s magical. This is the kind of film that I wish would get made here in America more often, real people, real parts, no explosions or car chases. Just great characters struggling with their existence here on planet Earth at a particular time in a particular place. The stuff Life is made of, in this case in Connecticut in 1968. And it’s not just acting that makes this film great, there are some wonderful images as well, a date at his family’s dairy farm that James Olson takes Joanne woodward on, he makes her drive the tractor, she forks some hay on him from the hayloft. Things youngsters would do and here she is a middle-aged woman on her first date. Also the end sequence of Joanne and a baby at the beach , so beautiful, so moving. And a flashback scene of Woodward as a young girl sneaking into the basement where her father worked as a mortician. Seeing her father prepare a young boy’s body for burial. The way he tends to the dead boy, incredible. Paul was ably abetted by the great editor Dede Allen, here at the peak of her creative powers and it shows. Joanne Woodward was angry that Paul did not get nominated for an Academy Award for this film, she threatened to boycott the ceremony (She was nominated) but Paul talked her into it. Let’s all praise Paul Newman, he could have just acted in films and raced cars and enjoyed his life but he was an Artist, he had to struggle and make films and I salute him for that.
p.s. Here’s an article about the shooting of Rachel, Rachel, reminisces by the towns people that were there. It sounds like they had a great time. Article

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