Monday, January 28, 2013

The Five Best Rock Hudson Performances

Following a recent less-than-flattering review of Magnificent Obsession (1954), someone on Twitter asked why I didn't like Rock Hudson. Nothing could be further from the truth! Over the last decade, I have become a Rock Hudson fan, which prompted the following list of what I consider his five best performances:

Doris mistakes Rock, fresh from a
fishing trip, for a scientist.
1. Lover Come Back - After mostly dramatic roles in the 1950s, Rock Hudson developed into a gifted comedian with Pillow Talk (1959) and this delightfully delirious follow-up. Rock stars as Jerry Webster, an unethical Madison Avenue advertising executive who will do anything to beat his rival, Carol Templeton (Doris Day). When Carol mistakes the womanizing Jerry as a nerdish inventor, he plays along--even to the point of emphasizing he's "never been with a woman." This leads to Rock's best scene, as Jerry tries to encourage Carol to seduce him in her apartment--during which a convenient phone call enlightens her about his true identity. While Lover Come Back is sometimes described as a variation of Pillow Talk, it's actually a superior film, with clever jabs at the advertising industry and sparkling supporting performances (especially from Tony Randall and Edie Adams).

Rock as Brad playing "Rex Stetson."
2. Pillow Talk - That's not to say that Pillow Talk isn't a first-rate--and very funny--film about a swinging bachelor (Rock) and a conservative interior decorator (Doris) who share a party line...but have never met. Brad (Rock) exploits the situation by posing as Rex Stetson, a sincere Texas millionaire rancher, who takes an interest in Jan (Doris). This wacky scenario allows Brad to disparage Rex when talking on the phone with Jan--and then later have Rex act in exactly the same manner as Brad predicted. The brilliance of Rock's performances in both Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back is that he makes unlikable characters likable, long before the love of a good woman makes them better men. Simply put, without his innate charm and expert comic timing, neither of these comedy classics would work.

Yes, that's Seconds.
3. Seconds - Rock Hudson's best dramatic performance can be found in this seldom-shown, disturbing 1966 film about a wealthy middle-aged man dissatisfied with his life. An organization called the "Company" approaches him and promises him a fresh start. It fakes his death, makes him look younger through plastic surgery, and gives him a new identity. But all is not what is seems and his "new" life is not what he expected. Directed by John Frankenheimer, Seconds is a downbeat film, which may account for its infrequent appearances on cable TV. Still, it's well-done and creepy and Hudson skillfully captures the conflict of an older man living in the body of a younger one.

With Liz Taylor in Giant.
4. Giant - I am not a huge fan of this sprawling Texas family saga, but I still admire Rock's performance as Jordan "Bick" Benedict, a wealthy rancher who marries an East Coast socialite (Elizabeth Taylor), clashes with a former friend, and struggles to develop relationships with his children. He allows us to see both the good and the bad in his strong-willed character. That's the only reason it's listed here in lieu of All That Heaven Allows, an immensely likable film about the romance between a middle-aged widow (Jane Wyman) and a younger gardener (Rock).

5. Send Me No Flowers - In a great change-of-pace role, Rock plays a hypochondriac who becomes convinced he's going to die and sets out to find the ideal husband for his wife (Doris Day). It's a nice contrast to the suave bachelors portrayed in earlier comedies, though overall, the film is not on the same level as Lover Come Back and Pillow Talk.

Honorable Mentions:  a friend of mine is a huge fan of The Spiral Road (I'm gradually beginning to appreciate it); World War III (a now-obscure TV movie featuring Rock as a U.S. president trying to thwart a war with the Soviet Union); and Ice Station Zebra (one of his better action film outings).

If one of your favorites is missing (and I'm sure there are some Written on the Wind fans), please leave a comment!


  1. It is always enjoyable to see posts on Rock Hudson. Like you, I tend to be especially fond of his comedic performances. It has been a long time since I have seen "Giant" but my instinct today would have been to have included "All That Heaven Allows" in lieu of it. I really enjoyed your list, Rick. And your point is well made that just because one doesn't like a film, it doesn't mean one doesn't care for its performers or director or insert-job title-here.

  2. I'm voting for "Seconds" - because it's the only dramatic performance of Rock Hudson's that I like a lot. No one would question his dramatic ability after seeing "Seconds."

  3. Rick, I sure enjoy this series. This installment shows that there were more than five reasonable possibilities for inclusion, something that wouldn't have immediately occurred to me before reading this. He did some of his best work for Douglas Sirk, so I'd like to add "The Tarnished Angels" to the two you mentioned. I also thought he seemed well-suited to Westerns and quite liked him playing against Kirk Douglas in "The Last Sunset" and against John Wayne in "The Undefeated." He also made a good impression on me in a supporting part in the James Stewart-Anthony Mann Western "Bend of the River." I also liked him in the TV mini-series of "The Martian Chronicles" too. As you know, "Lover Come Back" is my own favorite of the Huson-Doris Day movies.

  4. I love all of Rock Hudson films, especially his charming, romantic, comedies he performed with Doris Day.

    The film, Giant, is another favorite of mine.. It is hard to believe that his career spanned five decades.

  5. Rick, I like your blend of comedy and drama choices for Rock Hudson. They're definitely the most entertaining films for the most part (I'm not really into sprawling sagas like GIANT), but SECONDS is the one that truly shows what a terrific actor Rock Hudson could be. Nothing happy-go-lucky about SECONDS, that's for sure! It's as downbeat as they come, but it really gives a viewer food for thought as Hudson's character finds out the hard way that true happiness and peace of mind come from within, not grafted on - poor fool. Director John Frankenheimer and DP James Wong Howe give the film a very noir look. Whether you love SECONDS or hate it, you'll never forget it!

  6. I second RD Finch on "The Tarnished Angels," which reunited Hudson w/his "Written on the Wind" co-stars Dorothy Malone and Robert Stack and the director Douglas Sirk. It's a film that should be better known, and all 3 actors are terrific in it - it doesn't have the lush melodrama or color cinematography of Sirk's better-known 50s films, which may be why it's not frequently shown/viewed. I also thought Hudson's performance in 1957's "A Farewell to Arms" was a good one, sincerely and thoughtfully done. Other than that, the best work Hudson ever did was in "Seconds," which needs to be re-released on DVD.

  7. Those are some fine choices there, Rick! I too am fond of Rock Hudson and think he's another underrated performer with expert comic timing and good dramatic chops when called for. Some performances by him that I really enjoy but that haven't been mentioned yet include his courtly Confederate officer in THE UNDEFEATED (where he holds his own nicely against Duke Wayne) and in Howard Hawks' charming romantic comedy MAN'S FAVORITE SPORT, opposite Paula Pretiss.

    I also like him in McMILLAN & WIFE. Hudson often had excellent chemistry with his female co-stars, and the sparks really fly between him and Susan Saint James on that series (by far its strongest feature).

  8. Hudson was having a lot of fun in PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, and I think he was pretty effective in what is truly a one of a kind black comedy.

  9. Marvelous comments that reinforce that Rock Hudson was a better actor than often given credit for. I haven't seen several of the films mentioned in many years (e.g. PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, THE TARNISHED ANGELS). Now, I'm in the mood for a Rock Hudson film festival!

  10. Looks like I am going to be contrary to everyone here, but overall,Hudson is nowhere at the same level as an actor as Brando, Newman, Clift, Douglas and others of his generation. In comedies he's not exactly Cary Grant, but then who is? He was more a "movie star" than a real actor. Nothing wrong with that but I think there is a distinction.

    On the plus side SECONDS is an excellent film and it is easily his best role.

    1. I disagree, I have recently watched all of Cary Grants films, and now I'm in the process of watching Rock Hudson's; No disrespect to Cary Grant as he was a fine actor but although Cary Grant was extremely funny in some of his films he was trying too hard to be funny in some and it showed on screen, he didn't have what Rock had, a natural, easy flowing humour.

      Cary Grant had an 'image' to maintain whereas Rock was down to earth and acted in numerous films that required him to be a gentleman to murderer, humorous to sadistic etc, that is what makes an actor great, diversity.

      Again no disrespect to Cary Grant, in fact I'm having a Archibald Alec Leach 'aka Cary Grant' day next week visiting his old places of interest from his birth town, seeing as it's near my home town in honour of the dear fellow.

  11. I vote "Seconds" followed by "Written on the Wind." I also like him in "The Undefeated" as well. He and John Wayne played well together. I need to see "The Spiral Road."

  12. I vote for Seconds.I also like 1963's A Gathering of eagles with Rod Taylor. Love watching Robert Lansing just kick Rocks butt playing handball.

  13. The first time I saw Rock Hudson was in the awful TV miniseries "The Martian Chronicles", and I thought he was overrated. But I later saw him in "Pillow Talk" and "Lover Come Back" and I thought he was terrific! After reading the comments here, I will definitely watch for "Seconds"

  14. A fun list! GIANT is his best work, to my mind, and PILLOW TALK is way up there too. But I'd definitely have to find room on the list for some of his work with Douglas Sirk.

    Fun to see the opinions offered in the comments, too!

    Best wishes,

  15. My favorite is Giant, closely followed by All That Heaven Allows and Magnificent Obsession. Rock was wonderful in those light comedies with Doris, but also developed into a fine and compelling actor. A lot of charisma!!

  16. I like this list, but I would add to it THE TARNISHED ANGELS (his dramatic monologue near the end is brilliant), and A GATHERING OF EAGLES for dramatic roles. I also think he's spot-on as a hot-headed Irish rebel in CAPTAIN LIGHTFOOT.