FILMS… Gene Hackman: An Ex-US Marine and an Acting Man

#1970s #1980s


Once Upon a time before Hollywood…


On Gene Hackman’s career as an actor with both a Marine and Entertainment connection.



Many of you will know I usually only have War Movies on my review list if a spy involved, the film has an all star cast or it’s a recommendation from my Darlin’ Husband. This explaining the presence of Where Eagles Dare (1968), The Eagle Has Landed (1978) and My Boy Jack (2007) on my blog. But saying that I’ve never been one to refuse a Cold War movie.

After Jonathan from Dubsism invited me to be a co-host for the US Marines blogathon – nattily titled the Send in the Marine’s blogathon – my first choice was naturally A Few Good Men (1992), as I’m a huge Jack Nicholson fan. However, after Dubs added that films from actors who were US Marines could be included in this blogathon, I was torn (as usual).

This was after reading about the wealth of acting talent who used to be marines. These big names including everyone from George C Scott to Bea Arthur, and Brian Keith to Adam Driver. I finally settled on Gene Hackman, as my marine of choice.

So my final choice was returning to a previous decision (from my well-known dithering stage) of Gene Hackman. Hackman was a Marine Corporal before he hit the wee and big screen in 1961. A 16-year-old Hackman lied about his age on signing up as a Marine. He first worked as a radio operator in China and then later he was employed as a DJ and newscaster.

He served as a Marine for five years between 1946-51 and was promoted as far as Corporal. However, he was demoted three times for leaving his post. Gene Hackman himself says HERE of his experiences,

I have trouble with direction, because I have trouble with authority. I was not a good Marine.”


On his movies…

Superman (1978)

Lex Luthor first appearance | Superman (1978), Flashback FM

When it comes to Superman films, most 1970s and 1980s kids will argue that we got the best cast even if the films themselves weren’t as good. The line up of Christopher Reeve as the titular superhero, Superman (and Clark Kent), Margot Kidder as Lois Lane and Hackman as Lex Luthor is simply the most remembered for all the right reasons.

Be it Hackman’s dastardly villain’s on-screen sparring with Reeve’s Superman, which is worth a watch. Or those comic moments where Hackman delivered an abundance of fantastic one-liners. In the first film, these included him saying to his hapless assistant,  Otis;

“Do you know why the number two hundred is so vitally descriptive to both you and me? It’s your weight and my I.Q.”.


No Way Out (1987)

No Way Out Official Trailer #1 – Gene Hackman Movie (1987) HD, Movieclips Classic Trailers

This was one of my fave suspense ridden Cold War movies as a kid, and it’s still just as good today. Possibly a favourite back then due to the intricate plot. But it’s more likely due to having a wee bit of a crush (like most of my peers) on his co-star, Kevin Costner back then.  Starring Costner as Tom Farrell, a Navy Lieutenant and Hackman as David Brice, as the American Secretary of Defense. Both these men had more a bit of a fling with Sean Young as Susan.

Farrell is transferred to work in Intelligence with Brice after a heroic act. After Farrell resumes his affair with Susan, she tells him about her relationship with a married man. She tells him that the other man in her life is… (you guessed it) Brice. While Farrell’s with Susan one day, she notes Brice is on his way to visit her.  Brice notices Farrell leave her home as he exits the scene. Brice doesn’t recognise him from a distance, he asks Susan about her other man.

However as Susan tries to end things with him, she’s accidentally killed. In a panic, Brice visits a colleague Pritchard, who covers up Brice’s murder by pinning the blame on her other lover claiming he was a “KGB sleeper agent”, called “Yuri”. The hunt is on to find this “culprit” with Farrell investigating. Later Farrell is believed to be a possible suspect…

Like Roger Ebert, I found this film an interesting one and one that has you on the edge of your seat with the many twists and turns in the story. Ebert describes it perfectly as

“like a terrifying jigsaw puzzle. And because the story is so tightly wound and the performances are so good, I found myself really caring about the characters.”


The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) Trailer, SPARTEN2

I’ve reviewed this film HERE recently in a tribute to the late Carol Lynley. However, this is like Superman a film that most British kids in the seventies would remember him from in the Christmas telly line up. This time, however, Hackman is cast as a hero rather than a villain.

Hackman here as the Rev. Scott – in a 70s James Garner inspired polo neck – heading a fabulous all-star cast with everyone from Shelley Winters to Pamela Sue Martin, and Red Buttons to Ernest Borgnine. The plot from a review I wrote earlier tells how

“After meeting those very important passengers, we hit a storm and then an underwater earthquake causes a large wave on the stroke of midnight. This wave turning the luxury cruise ship, the SS Poseidon over with the passengers trapped inside.”

This film well known for those actors carrying out their own stunts and a gem from Irwin Allen. The man behind The Swarm and known to many of us as The Master of Disaster. This disaster film was followed by a sequel with Michael Caine and Telly Savalas.


Misunderstood (1984)

Gene Hackman in Misunderstood 1984 TV trailer,  robatsea2009

This has to be my favourite of Hackman’s movies. It’s one I’d easily rewatch him,  and he’s convincing in this tearjerker. Here Hackman is seen playing an ex-pat American widower, Ned Rawley. Rawley has difficulties communicating with his young sons after their mother’s death. It’s a lovely tender role for Hackman, as the boys’ father and his performance is a heartwrenching yet credible one.

The contrast in his relationships with his kids is seen in flashbacks which show that he was closer to his sons, while his wife was alive. However now with her death, it’s clear that Rawley has still had much to learn about his children and how they need his support now.

His sons are played by 11-year-old Henry Thomas and 7-year-old Huckleberry Fox. With the late Rip Torn as his brother in law. There seems to be a lack of understanding between Hackman and his older son, Andrew who he believes is old enough to cope with this news. Andrew is also asked to keep this news of his mother’s death from his wee brother.

Needless to say, the young boy struggles with this burden. Rawley may sound quite villainous in this description but his character appears to have thrown himself into his work as he too can’t deal with his grief.  In time through talking with his brother in law he learns how to support his son and there are some lovely scenes with the pair.  

There are of course many many more great performances from Gene Hackman. Be it as a patriarch in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Clyde Barrow’s brother in the biopic of Bonnie and Clyde (1967) or as a policeman in The French Connection (1971), Hackman always gives a sterling performance.


My Send in The Marines Blogathon 2019

This post was added to the Send in the Marine’s blogathon. Other reviews with Gene Hackman include Superman, Misunderstood, Bonnie and Clyde and Best Actor Oscar Winners in Superhero Movies. With those films casts, more on  Margot Kidder’s role can be read in her tribute HERE. Christopher Reeve starred in Somewhere in Time and DeathtrapNo Way Out also stars Sean Young as seen in Blade Runner and Kevin Costner in The Big Chill. Stars from The Poseidon Adventure are reviewed in the film HERE, and include Escape from New York (Ernest Borgnine), The Devils Daughter (Shelley Winters), Cruise into Terror (Stella Stevens) and Dynasty (Pamela Sue Martin). Misunderstood starred Huckleberry Fox from Terms of Endearment and Henry Thomas in ET The Extra Terrestrial.




17 thoughts on “FILMS… Gene Hackman: An Ex-US Marine and an Acting Man

  1. Trouble with authority, eh? So many creative souls chafe under discipline, yet it is something they need in abundance to sustain their careers.

    You chose such interesting and eclectic examples from Gene Hackman’s stellar career. He could do it all, and he did! I appreciate his comedic abilities and admire his quiet retirement and further career as an author.

    – Caftan Woman

  2. I’ve always enjoyed watching Gene Hackman. Although I know very little of his background it doesn’t surprise me to hear that he was a military man. He always struck me as someone who could acquit himself well in a fight. I’m sure The Poseidon Adventure was my first introduction to his acting, and I thought he was great in The French Connection films, Bat-21, Narrow Margin, Mississippi Burning, I could go on and on.

  3. Great post! Hackman is one of my favorite actors. I blame him for my addiction to pork pie hats. 😉 Anyhow, I’m glad you mentioned Misunderstood (1984), a fine, touching film that has completely disappeared (where is the DVD/Blue-ray?)

  4. Excellent and nicely varied line-up of films. THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and OCEANS 11 (the orginal) are both New Year’s Eve traditional watches for me. I got to meet Gene Hackamn at a book signing once and he was really nice. Thanked & greeted everyone who stood in line and seemed very humble and down to earth.

Love your thoughts... but only if they are spoiler free!

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