Yes, it’s hard to narrow down the work of legendary screenwriter William Goldman, who died this week at the age of 87.
Goldman’s work spans decades, including several films that are universally hailed as classics. He might be equally famous, though, for one of the more perfect quotes on the unpredictable nature of show business.
“Nobody knows anything.”
That kind of honesty and humility is rare in Hollywood, then and now. Goldman could back it up, though, by telling stories that have aged as gracefully as possible, or “conceivable,” to evoke a certain Goldman classic.
He wasn’t perfect. His fertile mind fueled one of the worst movies in recent memory, the 2003 Stephen King adaptation “Dreamcatcher.” And his last credit? The little-seen Jason Statham actioner “Wild Card.”
The following four films jump out from his resume, each making repeat viewings all but mandatory.
“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
It’s the quintessential buddy movie, a rollicking western and a hoot all in one. It earned mediocre reviews upon its initial release. That reception soon gave way to audience raves and a second, more substantial reckoning from movie scribes.
Yes, the chemistry between stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford is impeccable. That connection can’t exist without a nimble, knowing screenplay anchoring the tale.
“The Princess Bride”
It’s the movie Goldman said got him the most attention in his later years. It’s easy to see why. It’s a simple yarn told through the eyes of a grandpa (Peter Falk). Look closer. The tale is both child-friendly and sophisticated, pleasing young and old in equal measure. How many movies can boast the same? And, of course, it’s endlessly quotable, a trait all the more apparent in our social media age.
Goldman knows firsthand that adapting a Stephen King story isn’t easy. What about one set mostly in a single house with only two characters to shoulder the narrative? “Misery” earned Kathy Bates a Best Actress Oscar and revived James Caan’s career. It also proved that a story with a constrictive setting is no match for a first-class scribe.
“All the President’s Men”
It’s harder to cheer diligent reporting in 2018 given the sorry state of journalism. “Men” stands as a smart, probing look at the profession when its practitioners didn’t show up each day hoping to hurt one party over the other. Media bias existed in the 1970s, but it’s quaint compared to what’s happening now.
Goldman’s first draft of the film won few backers. His second crack at it proved far better, blending the real-life anecdotes with elements of a modern-day thriller. It remains the standard for all journalism movies to measure up against. And, if you saw last year’s Steven Spielberg drama “The Post,” you know how tough an act “Men” is to follow.