best film: Two of Burt Lancaster’s’ top four films were Italian films – The Leopard (Luchino Visconti’s film and the ultimate winner here) and Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900. The other big challengers are The Killers and The Sweet Smell of Success. There are actors who cluster best work together in a very short span of time – that is not Lancaster at all. These top four films mean that Lancaster’s best four films came in four different decades – The Killers in the 1940s, Sweet Smell in the 1950s, The Leopard in the 1960s, and 1900 in the 1970s. That is some incredible consistency and staying power.
best performance: There is essentially a tie here with The Sweet Smell of Success and The Leopard. In Visconti’s masterpiece, Burt Lancaster plays the proud patriarch Prince Don Fabrizio Salina. This is a gigantic achievement for Lancaster. He is absolutely perfect here with his chin up and shoulders back – he strides around his castle, the ball at the end there is such poise and honor. He is stubborn (and yet somehow self-aware at the same time) and cunning.
stylistic innovations/traits: Burt Lancaster had a whopping twenty-nine (29) archiveable films over his forty-four (44) year career – he was a Hollywood player (often producing his own material to control his career) and star the entire time. He was no Ward Bond (supporting character in everything with nearly forty (40) archiveable films). Lancaster is lead actor in at least twenty (20) of these films. He was handsome, tall, with those broad, athletic shoulders. Lancaster’s first film (he was no pup – he was born in 1913 so he was into his thirties), his very first film (there is no TV movie or bit player supporting role), is The Killers – a magnificent noir in which Lancaster steals the show. His last archiveable film (and overall film – though there was a TV spot or two here that would trickle out) – is Field of Dreams where Lancaster chews the scenes he is in right up and spits them out —he is so damn charming in it. Lancaster is a four-time Oscar nominee. We won for Elmer Gantry in 1960 – a year with admittedly many more superior performances. Still, as Gantry, (based on the Sinclair Lewis novel – and the film opens on a shot of the book) Lancaster excels at playing a Bible-thumping charlatan with the “gift of gab” set on sort of destroying and wooing the devout Jean Simmons’ character. Lancaster is a dynamo – drinking, women, this is a big performance (certainly not naturalism) and when he gets going it is a quite a show with all the yelling, the sweat, and that hair like he stuck his fingers into an electric socket. Lancaster was a dominant Hollywood actor for twenty prime years (1946-1966) and also was adventurous enough to lend himself to European auteurs (Visconti, Bertolucci, Louis Malle). If he had done one or the other (Hollywood star or model to mold for those European artists ) he would have ended up on this list – somewhere near the bottom – but somehow he did both and pulled it off – so he managed to crack the top thirty-one (31) slots.
directors worked with: Robert Aldrich (3), John Frankenheimer (3), Richard Brooks (2), Luchino Visconti (2), Jules Dassin (1), Fred Zinnemann (1), John Sturges (1), Robert Wise (1), Bernardo Bertolucci (1), Robert Altman (1), Louis Malle (1). The multiple films with Aldrich is a bit of a surprise – Vera Cruz is a fine film but generally these are not Aldrich’s finest films. One has to tip their cap to Lancaster for working with the next generation (Altman, Bertolucci, Malle) later in his career. He was clearly seeking out to make art 30+ years into his career.
top five performances:
- The Leopard
- The Sweet Smell of Success
- The Killers
- Brute Force
- From Here to Eternity
|1946- The Killers|
|1947- Brute Force|
|1947- I Walk Alone|
|1948- Sorry, Wrong Number|
|1953- From Here to Eternity|
|1954- Vera Cruz|
|1955- The Rose Tattoo|
|1957- Gunfight at the O.K. Corral|
|1957- The Sweet Smell of Success|
|1958- Run Silent, Run Deep|
|1958- Separate Tables|
|1959- The Devil’s Disciple|
|1960- Elmer Gantry|
|1961- Judgement at Nuremberg|
|1962- The Birdman of Alcatraz|
|1963- The Leopard|
|1964- Seven Days in May|
|1965- The Train|
|1966- The Professionals|
|1968- The Swimmer|
|1972- Ulzana’s Raid|
|1974- Conversation Piece|
|1976- Buffalo Bill and the Indians|
|1977- Twilight’s Last Gleaming|
|1980- Atlantic City|
|1983- Local Hero|
|1989- Field of Dreams|
Hey drake what is your rating for the killers?
@Big chungus – https://thecinemaarchives.com/2022/02/16/the-killers-1946-siodmak/
Ooh wow… i must have missed this review. Obviously R and Hr films are good, but when i see u give out a new MS or MP i get very excited. Cant wait for the new best films list!!! Ill try to watch it in the next few days. Thanks as always
He should be higher. I think he has a good case for any of the slots after the Dicaprio/Pitt combo. Who has a bit more MS level films than Lancaster. The depth is incredible too at this stage. He is very strong in films like The Conversation Piece and The Swimmer for example.
@Drake – Great page as always, have you seen Criss Cross (1949)? It is a Robert Siodmak film, in my opinion his best film after The Killers (1946) and it also stars Lancaster. Below are some notes from my Siodmak Study
I was really impressed by this film which has all the elements of classic noir; femme fatale, a doomed protagonist, underworld criminals hanging out at night clubs/bars, double/triple crosses, and the visual elements; shadows, silhouette images, and masterful use of lighting.
Burt Lancaster continues to impress me, he can play a wide emotion range
Clocking in at 88 min it has similar run time to most of the Siodmak noirs which waste little time getting into the story
Even by noir standards this has one of the most emotionally brutal endings possible
@James Trapp- I remember this from The Killers page. I have not seen it (or if I have it was 20 years ago and I don’t have notes). I was hoping to catch it on criterion but I think it left. I’ll have to catch it the next time it is on TCM or when it comes back
@Drake – yeah unfortunately just left Criterion. Its not quite at the level as his Top 3 but I think it’s at or near the level of his performance in Brute Force