best film: For Cooper it’s a two-horse race between Morocco and High Noon. These two masterpieces are 22 years apart (1930 and 1952) and couldn’t be more different (one is an adventure romance from Von Sternberg and the other a lean western from Fred Zinneman). Gun to my head I’m going with Morocco for that fabulous ending as a tie-breaker.

best performance:   High Noon. It’s easier to pick Morocco as his best film knowing I’d have time here to talk about his best performance which is clearly High Noon. Cooper played a bit of a buffoon (or at least a hick) through much of his career and was great at it (Morocco, his work with Capra, Hawks) but here he’s terse, dedicated, and desperate without showing it quality in his work and Marshall Will Kane was no buffoon. Zinneman’s ticking clock throughout the film is worn so well on Cooper’s face and hidden pain.

stylistic innovations/traits: If you close your eyes and hear 22 films in the archives, 2 oscar wins and 5 total nominations you might think that actor deserves to be in the top 50 and from a filmography standpoint you may be right. However, I think of Cooper more as an actor who gave solid performances in some amazing films than a truly great actor. He’s a poor man’s Jimmy Stewart—can play a soldier, baseball player, western sheriff who was from the sticks or fly-over country (where I’m from) very well (it’s not surprising his Mr. Deeds and John Doe have so much in common with Stewart’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington all coming from Capra). He was the biggest star in the world in WW2 playing the title character in Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York. There’s true depth in his filmography and he’s rock solid in the two Hemingway adaptations (For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms). Cooper died at age 60 and was still going strong. My guess is he would’ve finished with 30 archiveable films.

directors worked with:  Capra (2) and Hawks (2) and these are key, Sam Wood (2) and then once a piece with Lubitsch, Von Sternberg, Wyler, Aldrich, Wilder and Anthony Mann (again the Stewart connection/comparison).

Top 5 Performances:

  1. High Noon
  2. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  3. Sergeant York
  4. For Whom the Bell Tolls
  5. Meet John Doe

Archiveable films

1930- Morocco
1932- A Farewell To Arms
1932- If I Had a Million
1933- Design For Living
1935- Peter Ibbetson
1936- Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
1940- The Westerner
1941- Meet John Doe
1941- Sergeant York
1941- Ball of Fire
1942- The Pride of the Yankees
1943- For Whom the Bell Tolls
1949- The Fountainhead
1952- High Noon
1954- Vera Cruz
1956- Friendly Persuasion
1957- Love in the Afternoon
1958- The Man of the West
1959- The Hanging Tree