×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Cooper and Hemingway: The True Gen’

John Mulholland's dual biography of Gary Cooper and Ernest Hemingway proves as exhausting as it is exhaustive.

With:

Patrick Hemingway, Maria Cooper Janis, A.E. Hotchner, Elmore Leonard, Patricia Neal, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Richard Schickel. Narrator: Sam Waterston. Voice: Len Cariou.

From the 20-year-strong friendship between Gary Cooper and Ernest Hemingway, helmer John Mulholland has fashioned a dual biography that traces its two protagonists’ timelines, evolving separately and sporadically intersecting. Unfortunately, once Mulholland has established that both men hark back to a bygone, Teddy Roosevelt-fostered image of laconic masculinity, his peculiar vantage point generates little insight into the psychology and accomplishments of either man, as “The True Gen” abandons biographical logic in favor of a catalogue of arbitrary differences and similarities. At almost two-and-a-half hours, Mulholland’s back-and-forth approach proves as exhausting as it is exhaustive. Opened Oct. 10 in New York, the film begins a Los Angeles run Dec. 6.

Mulholland starts by exaggerating the distinctions between his two macho icons, the better to bring them both back together into congruency. Thus, the fact that Cooper was brought up on a ranch and rode and roped at the age of 6, while Hemingway was raised in the suburbs, leads the helmer to propose Cooper as the “true gen” (Hemingway’s term for the genuine article), the quintessential strong, silent type that Hemingway could only write about, but never fully incarnate. Indeed, Mulholland further opines that Cooper’s lead role in the film adaptation of Owen Wister’s “The Virginian” reps a Hemingway hero before the fact, relying on a somewhat tenuous link between the author’s writing and Wister’s.

Cooper and Hemingway, who apparently had admired each other from afar, met in Squaw Valley in 1940 at the peak of their talent and fame, and almost instantly bonded. They had frequent rendezvous in California, Cuba and Paris, with and without their wives, and even collaborated on film projects based on Hemingway’s novels. The detailed behind-the-scenes stories of Hollywood politics and studio interference that transformed or canceled these productions briefly anchor the film’s dual focus (Cooper had already starred in the 1932 film of “A Farewell to Arms,” and would memorably embody Robert Jordan in “For Whom the Bell Tolls”).

Further accounts of the two men’s work, hunting expeditions and extramarital affairs follow, monotonously narrated by Sam Waterston, and interspersed with interviews with relatives (the second-generation offspring of Cooper, Hemingway, Carl Forman and Joel McCrea) and Hollywood stars living and dead (Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Charlton Heston); numerous letters between Coop and Papa (Len Cariou essays a particularly gruff Heminway in voiceover); and rare photographs and homemovies.

The downward turn in both men’s careers in the late ’40s were followed by the near-simultaneous publication of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” and the release of Cooper’s “High Noon” in 1952, launching the two to even greater acclaim and recognition, and finally their closely timed illnesses and deaths — all serving as further confirmation of Mulholland’s parallel premise.

The docu has obviously undergone extensive cutting (one version was shown at 180 minutes), and editor William Welles has tried for symmetry despite a predominance of Cooper imagery, but further trimming would certainly help. Byron Janis’ schmaltzy score doubles down on the sentimental tendency of Mulholland’s nostalgia-steeped text.

Film Review: 'Cooper and Hemingway: The True Gen'

Reviewed on DVD, New York, Oct. 10, 2013. Running time: 146 MIN.

Production:

(Documentary) A Transmedia Entertainment release of a Moda production. Produced by Richard Zampella. Executive producer, Craig Gilbert.

Crew:

Directed, written by John Mulholland. Camera (color/B&W, HD), Alex Eaton; editor, William Welles; music, Byron Janis; sound, Charles DeBold, Brian Miklas.

With:

Patrick Hemingway, Maria Cooper Janis, A.E. Hotchner, Elmore Leonard, Patricia Neal, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Richard Schickel. Narrator: Sam Waterston. Voice: Len Cariou.

More Film

  • Backtrace Review

    Film Review: 'Backtrace'

    “You can’t kill me! I died seven years ago!” It’s very much to the credit of Matthew Modine that he persuasively sells this melodramatic scrap of dialogue, and every other aspect of his trickily written lead character, in “Backtrace,” a better-than-average VOD-centric thriller that likely wouldn’t work nearly so well without the veteran actor’s totally [...]

  • Brett Leonard Boards 'Elijah'

    Film News Roundup: 'Lawnmower Man' Director Brett Leonard Boards 'Elijah'

    In today’s film news roundup, “Elijah” gets a director, a French fry documentary starts shooting and “Uglydolls” moves its release date forward. PROJECT LAUNCH More Reviews Film Review: 'Backtrace' Broadway Review: 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Brett Leonard, best known for directing ”The Lawnmower Man” and “Virtuosity,” will direct the supernatural feature film “Elijah,” based on [...]

  • SAG-AFTRA HQ

    SAG-AFTRA Commercial Negotiations Set for February

    With no fanfare, SAG-AFTRA and the ad industry have set a mid-February start for negotiations for a successor deal to the union’s master contract, Variety has learned. The current three-year deal — which covers about $1 billion in annual earnings — expires on March 31. SAG-AFTRA and the Joint Policy Committee of the ad industry [...]

  • SONDRA LOCKESONDRA LOCKE - 1986

    Oscar Nominee Sondra Locke Dies at 74

    Actress and director Sondra Locke, who received a supporting actress Oscar nomination in her first movie role for “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” died Nov. 3 at 74. The Los Angeles County Public Health Department confirmed her death. She died due to breast and bone cancer, according to Radar Online, which reported that she [...]

  • Clint Eastwood and Alison Eastwood'The Mule'

    Clint Eastwood: Why Alison Eastwood Came Out of Acting Retirement for Her Dad

    Clint Eastwood’s daughter Alison Eastwood was done with acting after appearing in 2014’s “Finding Harmony.” Or so she thought. More Reviews Film Review: 'Backtrace' Broadway Review: 'To Kill a Mockingbird' It was a Friday night and she and her husband were heading to dinner when her father’s producer Sam Moore called. “He [says], ‘You know, [...]

  • 'Dead Women Walking' Review: Uncompromising, Powerful

    Film Review: 'Dead Women Walking'

    The sober and gripping “Dead Women Walking” focuses on the final days of a series of female inmates facing the death sentence. Divided into nine chapters, each inching its way inexorably closer to the moment of execution, the drama turns the fragmentation of its approach to a powerful advantage. Not only do the individual stories [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Sam Mendes' World War I Drama '1917' Set for Awards-Season Launch on Christmas 2019

    Universal Pictures has given an awards-season release date of Dec. 25, 2019, to Sam Mendes’ World War I drama “1971.” Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners is producing “1917” through its DreamWorks Pictures brand. “1917” will open in limited release on Christmas Day then go wide two weeks later on Jan. 10, 2020. More Reviews Film Review: [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content