Today saw the loss of one of Hollywood’s most endearing characters, James Garner. With a career that spanned over 60 years, his charming persona and distinctive, laid-back Southern delivery made him not only a likeable leading male but one that often would steal the films and TV shows he appeared in. So as a tribute, here’s my top ten of his career. Rest in peace, Mr Garner
10. Sunset (1988)
Although the film was a massive flop, this strange fictional account of Wyatt Earp and Tom Mix investigating a murder during the Academy Award doesn’t know what it wants to be, a thriller, a western, a comedy but Blake Edwards’ film does have a nice double act of Bruce Willis as Mix and Garner as the wily sheriff.
9. Space Cowboys (2000)
Clint Eastwood’s comedy drama about a bunch of aging astronauts given the chance to head off to space is made more fun by the casting of Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and Garner, who manages to steal the film even from these big hitters.
8. Maverick (1994)
The big screen version of the show that made Garner a star, has Mel Gibson taking over the Brett Maverick role and Garner as a rival gambler. Once again, Garner’s charm makes his performance just as memorable as Gibson’s and Jodie Foster in this slight, affectionate western comedy.
7. Support Your Local Sheriff (1969)/Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971)
Although technically not a sequel, these comedy westerns follow similar lines, as Garner plays a man just passing through a town when he takes the job as Sheriff, while in the second film, he plays a con artist mistaken for a legendary gunslinger. With many of the cast returning and director Burt Kennedy helming both, they are just a slight, fun double.
6. Murphy’s Romance (1985)
Garner won an Oscar nomination as a small town drug store owner who starts a light romance with single mum Sally Field, until complications occur when her ex arrives, looking for a place to stay. Not the most memorable of films but the teaming of Field and Garner make for a delight, with Garner’s obvious charm working overtime.
5. Grand Prix (1966)
A change of persona for Garner, playing an ambitious racer who causes an accident with a team-mate, loses his job and is determined to get another drive. A long film with a mix of soap opera melodrama and heart-stopping excitement on the track, Garner loses his charm but still manages to be extremely watchable.
4. Victor Victoria (1982)
Blake Edwards’ superb musical farce sees Julie Andrews desperate for money so takes on a job playing a man pretending to be a woman. Garner plays a big time gangster who finds himself in a confused state when he falls for Andrews, not knowing her real identity. Great songs, great performances (especially from a scene stealing Robert Preston) and a great film.
3. The Great Escape (1963)
The infamous prisoner of war classic has Garner as the Scrounger, a man who can get anything. His relationship with Donald Pleasance’s forger brings a level of heart to an otherwise tremendous Boy’s Own adventure that you can never get bored with.
2. Marlowe (1969)
Garner was perfect as the laid back private detective on the case of a missing girl in a sixties take of Raymond Chandler’s sharp-talking creation. The film is memorable for Bruce Lee’s office destruction scene and yet Garner comes out as one of the best Marlowe incarnations.
1. The Rockford Files (1974-1980)
I know it’s not a movie but how could a top ten of James Garner not have his most famous creation at number one. Six series of the ex-con turned private eye was Garner’s finest hour and one of the 70’s best TV shows. It would be a real tribute to have the show brought back for a new generation to warm to this great screen presence and a truly classic character.