10 March 2021

What Film Had the Best Cast? I Try to Answer this Subjective Question -- Off the Top of my Head

Notorious with L-R, Rains, Grant, Bergman

I just saw a tweet that posed the question: "what do you think was the best movie cast of all time?" I saw one answer, The Philadelphia Story (1940) Cukor, before leaving Twitter and coming here to give my answer -- of sorts -- without thinking about it. Thus what I'm doing here is a form of live blogging, or stream of consciousness blogging in which I'm writing as I think. Should be fun -- for me a least. Let's see what I come up with.

As I said the only response I saw was The  Philadelphia Story and that was indeed a good cast with Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn. It gets mighty thin after those three with two strong supporting cast members, Roland Young and Henry Daniell. If you're going by best three leads for a film than The Philadelphia Story is in the running.

Cary Grant reminds me of Notorious (1946) Hitchcock where it's him, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. Another excellent top three. The supporting players, especially Louis Calhern are good if not spectacular.

Claude Rains and Ingrid Bergman come to mind again as they were part of a terrific cast along with Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Paul Henreid and some excellent supporting players in Casablanca (1942) Curtiz. The supporters include Sydney Greenstreet, John Qualen, S.Z. Sakall, Marcel Dalio, and Conrad Veidt. This one's definitely a contender.

I think of Rains yet again who was with Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur, Thomas Mitchell and Edward Arnold in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) Capra. Supporting players include Eugene Pallette, H.B. Warner, Grant Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, Guy Kibbee, Harry Carey and Jack Carson. A who's who of Hollywood beloved supporting players of the late thirties. That's a helluva cast.

Two Elia Kazan films come to mind. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) was headed by Marlon Brando, Vivian Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. Not too shabby. But I think that's topped, if barely, by On the Waterfront (1954) with Brando, Malden, Lee J Cobb, Rod Steiger and Eva Marie Saint.

Let's see what the Seventies -- my favorite decade of film -- have to offer. Shampoo (1975) Ashby, immediately comes to mind. Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant, Carrie Fisher and Jack Warden is pretty formidable. 

The Deer Hunter (1975) Cimino had a stellar cast with Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep and John Cazale. That's an impressive foursome.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) Allen is certainly among the best. Check this out: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Max von Sydow, Dianne Weist, Barbara Hershey, Maureen O'Sullivan, Carrie Fisher, Lloyd Nolan, Daniel Stern and cameos by future stars Julia-Louis Dreyfus and John Turtorro.

A more recent film with a great cast was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) Tarantino. Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Al Pacino, Samantha Robbie, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern and Emile Hersch.

I can't believe I hadn't yet thought of The Godfather (1972) Coppola. Pacino, Brando, Cazale, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Sterling Hayden.

Godfather Part 2 (1974) Coppola wasn't bad either with Pacino, Cazale, Keaton and Duvall returning joined by DeNiro, Bruno Kirby and Lee Strasberg.

The Ice Storm (1997) A. Lee has a great cast. Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Cristina Ricci, Katie Holmes and Elijah Wood. The last four were just starting out in Hollywood when the film was made.

Can't forget The Great Escape (1963) J. Sturges. Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, David McCallum and Donald Pleasance. 

A recent Best Picture winner with a great cast was Birdman (2014) Iñárritu. Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough.

The Wild Bunch (1969) Peckinpah might have the best cast of any Western. William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Edmund O'Brien, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson and Strother Martin.

Speaking of Ben Johnson, he was part of a great cast in The Last Picture Show (1971) Bogdanovich with Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepard, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, Timothy Bottoms, Eileen Brennan, Randy Quiad, Clu Gulager, and Sam Bottoms. Wow.

Spartacus (1960) Kubrick is another strong contender with Kirk Douglas, Jean Simmons, Tony Curtis, Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov and Woody Strode.

Another all star cast from the seventies can be found in All the President's Men (1976) Pakula. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as your leads then Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Jason Robards and Jane Alexander.

L-R, Lemmon, Cagney, Fonda, Powell
How about Mister Roberts (1955) Ford/Leroy with James Cagney, Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon, William Powell and Ward Bond. That's five huge stars (albeit Bond was always a supporting player but one who found himself in some of the great films of Hollywood's Golden Age) in one cast. Between them they represent such classics as White Heat, Public Enemy, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, The Thin Man, My Man Godfrey, The Lady Eve, The Grapes of Wrath, The Searchers and The Maltese Falcon, to name but two films for each.

Then there's The Departed (2006) Scorsese. How about this: DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen.

Another Scorsese picture, The Aviator (2004), boasts this cast: DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Baldwin, Alan Alda, Ian Holm, Jude Law and Kate Beckinsale.

One mustn't forget A Bridge Too Far (1977) Attenborough with James Caan, Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, Elliot Gould, Ryan O'Neal and Maximilian Schell.

I'm going to stop with this one, JFK (1991) Stone. Kevin Costner, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Donald Sutherland, Ed Asner. Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci, Gary Oldman, John Candy, Tommy Lee Jones and Kevin Bacon. That's what I'd call an all-star cast.

I could go on and indeed perhaps will in a second installment. Again, this was just off the top of my head and perhaps I could find more and better casts (more for sure, better? doubt it) with more thought and a little research.

Of course this was purely an objective list. I did not include any films that had greats casts but are not, in my opinion, particularly good films. Also I was the arbiter of who was or is an important actor and that was reflected in the films I chose.

The original question was what is the best film cast of all time. So do I have a winner? Gimme a second here....In looking over what I've written I believe I made my case for one of them in writing about it, Mister Roberts with Fonda, Cagney, Powell, Lemmon and Bond. I may give that a re-think when I consider a sequel to this post. However it is possible that I won't find much to add to this and may not find anything to top the cast of Mister Roberts. It'll be interesting for me to dig into this further. At any rate it was a fun exercise.

1 comment:

Jim Doughty said...

I second your impulse to name The Philadelphia Story as the first answer to this question. And I don't overlook your qualifier that this is all off the top of your head. Really I don't think there's a bad pick in your whole piece.

But if you're going to rate TPS's supporting cast, well... all credit to Roland Young and Henry Daniell as you mentioned, but Ruth Hussey and Virginia Weidler have to have to have to be prominent in that conversation. Even John Howard brought just the right tinge of modulated antipathy to keep George Kittredge from becoming just another Ralph Bellamy doesn't-get-the-girl guy.

Now for my own nomination: Ron Howard's 1994 The Paper, with Michael Keaton, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Jason Robards, Randy Quaid, Marisa Tomei, Catherine O'Hara, Jason Alexander, and Spalding Gray!