best film:  Even though Warren Beatty only has twenty-four (24) total film credits, he has been in three (3) masterpieces and another two (2) entries just a step below. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) helped to reboot Hollywood entirely and made Beatty a major player in the industry. It also has a dazzling montage slow-motion finale that makes it an artistic heavyweight as well. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) is Robert Altman’s melancholy mood piece allegory with sublime music from Leonard Cohen. It is set in a muddy little town. Beatty plays John McCabe – an entrepreneur with greasy hair in a town where everyone needs a bath. The Parallax View (1974) may also very well be Beatty’s best film and is his third (3rd) masterpiece. Alan Pakula’s thriller (and the middle film in his 1970s paranoia trilogy) is right there with McCabe and Bonnie and Clyde. That next group just a step down includes Beatty’s best two films as director:  1981’s Reds (a highly ambitious film) and 1990’s Dick Tracy – plumb full of visual bravado.


Warren Beatty as John McCabe in Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Beatty perfected the role of the fool. McCabe – as wily and sincere as he is at times (“I got poetry in me”) – cannot do simple math and add 9 and 16 . This is Altman so there is no John Wayne or Clint Eastwood in this revisionist western.


best performance:  Beatty’s work as Clyde Barrow in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde leads the way here but it is the really the small army of high quality work rather than one big, monument of a performance for Beatty. It is no secret that the top 100 male acting performances of all-time will come and go without a Beatty mention, but Beatty deserves applause for each of the five (5) films in the category above (Beatty is lead all of them) and then also add in performances in films like Shampoo (1975) and Bugsy (1991) to the mix. If the Bonnie and Clyde performance ekes its way to first place here – then Reds is second. The blowup fight between Beatty’s John Reed character and Diane Keaton’s Louise Bryant character at the 40-minute mark is worth the price of a movie ticket alone. This is the “taken seriously” fight. In Reds, even when playing a man with brilliance in him, Beatty leans into his talent at portraying simpleminded behavior – Reed hits his head on the chandelier over and over, even burns dinner in the kitchen.


Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow – Clyde is cocky, not overly intelligent, dealing with inner turmoil (sexual frustrations and repressions) – a complicated character and performance. Both Beatty and Faye Dunaway absolutely shine in the leads.


stylistic innovations/traits:  Historically, very few actors have attempted to play unintelligent characters as often as Warren Beatty. He should be praised for the attempt and for succeeding so often. This may be part of the reason why Beatty is so often overlooked when the discussion of his generation’s best actors comes up. Think about his characters – John McCabe, Clyde, George the hairdresser in Shampoo, Bulworth. He gets the wool pulled over his eyes in The Parallax View. This is clearly Beatty’s forte – and it takes courage to take on this challenge again and again. His characters are often sympathetic or pitiable – but there is still usually some sort of anger or envy (because he does look like Warren Beatty after all). Beatty arrived on the scene in the early 1960s (debuting in an Elia Kazan film – much like James Dean, Eva Marie Saint, Martin Balsam and Eli Wallach) and was known for a minute mostly as Shirley MacLaine’s younger brother. Beatty bet on himself by producing often (including Bonnie and Clyde – making for a massive payoff – both financially and artistically) and then directing (and he was a damn fine director). Overall, Beatty had thirteen (13) archiveable films and four (4) Oscar nominations (as an actor – he has more when you include producing, writing, directing).  Choosing the right project and collaborators is as important as acting talent – maybe more so – and Beatty has always excelled at this portion of what it takes to be a great actor.


Beatty as Joseph Frady in The Parallax View. This is the middle film in Alan Pakula’s paranoia trilogy (flanked by Klute in 1971 and All the President’s Men in 1976).  Rightly so, this film comes up often when critics talk about the best political thrillers of all-time. There is a long brainwashing visual sequence (certainly aping A Clockwork Orange a little) pictured here.


directors worked with:  Warren Beatty (4), Arthur Penn (2), Elia Kazan (1), Robert Rossen (1), Robert Altman (1), Alan Pakula (1), Hal Ashby (1), Mike Nichols (1), Barry Levinson (1). Beatty never crossed over with the Movie Brats (Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma) – but his filmography here is chock-full of other important collaborators – vital figures to The New Hollywood – landmark films with Altman, Pakula, Penn, Ashby and Nichols. Beatty is seminal figure in the The New Hollywood paradigm shift.


top five performances:

  1. Bonnie and Clyde
  2. Reds
  3. McCabe & Mrs. Miller
  4. The Parallax View
  5. Bugsy


archiveable films

1961- Splendor in the Grass
1964- Lilith
1965- Mickey One
1967- Bonnie and Clyde
1971- McCabe & Mrs. Miller
1974- The Parallax View
1975- Shampoo
1975- The Fortune
1978- Heaven Can Wait
1981- Reds
1990- Dick Tracy
1991- Bugsy
1998- Bulworth