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Nick Nolte on film

Nick Nolte on film — A crash course on the actor’s films including ”Teachers,” ”Weeds,” and ”48 HRS.”

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Nick Nolte on film

He started as just another ’70s Robert Redford clone, down to the shag cut and Butch Cassidy mustache. But in movie after movie, Nick Nolte has mapped a terrain charted by few other actors — the ground where brawn meets intellect. Here’s a crash course on the many places he has been. All are available on video.

Return to Macon County (1975)
After a handful of TV movies, Nolte made his theatrical debut in this Sam Arkoff-produced car-crash quickie. He and costar Don Johnson look like they’re still in high school, but Nolte already has a brusque, cut-the-crap authority. D

Rich Man, Poor Man (1976)
Everything about ABC’s 12-hour adaptation of the Irwin Shaw best-seller seemed risky: Miniseries had yet to prove their success, and no one had heard of any of the stars (including Susan Blakely and Peter Strauss, right). But codirector Boris Sagal promised the network that Nick Nolte (as rebellious Tom Jordache) was ”a real street animal with the charisma that made a star out of John Garfield,” and 50 million viewers agreed. B+

The Deep (1977)
The focus was mainly on Jacqueline Bisset’s nipples, so a lot of people have forgotten that Nolte was even in the movie of Peter Benchley’s best-seller. As Bisset’s skin-diving squeeze, he gets tangled up with buried treasure, sunken drugs, a moray eel, and snarling Lou Gossett Jr. It’s not much of a stretch. C-

Who’ll Stop the Rain (1978)
Director Karel Reisz’s underrated thriller (based on Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers) gives Nolte his first thinking-man/action hero. A Nietzsche-reading Vietnam vet, he protects Michael Moriarty and Tuesday Wel, two drug-running babes in the woods, from crooked cops. In so doing, Nolte sums up all the sour disenchantment of the post-Vietnam era. A

North Dallas Forthy (1979)
A double whammy: No one expected a football movie to be this smart, and no one expected Nolte to be this good. A rowdy, incisive look at professional athletes, the adaptation of Peter Gent’s novel remains one of the best sports films ever. And for the first time, Nolte seems an indisputable star. A

Heart Beat (1980)
John Heard as Jack Kerouac, Nolte as Neal Cassady — the guy who lived the lifestyle Kerouac wrote about — and Sissy Spacek as the woman who loved them both, off and on the road. A solid if somewhat chilly drama, with Nolte a garrulous, galumphing, happy hipster of a muse. C+

Cannery Row (1982)
The bums, broads, and beautiful losers of John Steinbeck’s fiction become cutesy-poo clichés in this treacly misfire. Debra Winger is awful as a ditsy hooker; Nolte, playing a baseball player-turned-marine biologist, mostly hides behind his mustache. D

48 Hrs. (1982)
How do you play straight man to Eddie Murphy and avoid getting wiped off the screen? By shading your basic hung-over-grizzly character just a teeny bit into caricature. By bulking up, too: Nolte looks the size of a small RV here. Murphy gets the big laughs in Walter Hill’s action-comedy, but Nolte is a subtly cruddy delight. A-

Under Fire (1983)
An exhilarating action-drama in which the personal and the political seamlessly intermesh. Nolte’s a wary American photojournalist who, with pals Gene Hackman and Joanna Cassidy, witnesses the final days of Nicaragua’s corrupt Somoza regime. Little seen but terrific. A+

Teachers (1984)
The cynical inner-city teacher who can still ”talk to the kids” and reclaims his ideals just in time for the fade-out: That’s the kind of character that exists only in movies, and Nolte just doesn’t seem interested. Arthur Hiller’s watchable comedy-drama talks a lot about real-life problems but ends up sounding sitcom hollow. C-

Grace Quigley (1985)
A legendary bomb, Katharine Hepburn’s last theatrical film plays like Final Exit turned into a queasy farce. Nolte’s the hit man hired by Kate to rub out herself and other tired-of-livin’ oldsters. He obviously has no idea what he’s doing in this movie, and it’s his one truly rotten performance. F

Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)
Nolte and Richard Dreyfuss make a screwy, cross-cultural Mutt and Jeff team in Paul Mazursky’s remake of 1932’s Boudu Saved From Drowning. By playing against type as the suicidal homeless man who takes over Dreyfuss’ 90210 household, Nolte broke out of the ”smart tough guy” straitjacket. B+

Weeds (1987)
One of Nolte’s most expansive roles: a jailhouse lifer who finds freedom — first creatively, then literally — in putting his demons onstage and touring his play to other prisons. Based on a true story, Weeds has gained a loose cult following. Too ramshackle to get passionate about, it’s also much too likable to be forgotten. B

Extreme Prejudice (1987)
The Wild Bunch inflated to Wagnerian proportions, and, as such, engagingly ridiculous. Texas Ranger Nolte lacks his usual intelligent gleam, but he looks just like the Marlboro Man as he chases down buddy-turned-drug dealer Powers Boothe. Director Walter Hill keeps it moving almost fast enough to make you forget it’s macho BS. The key word is almost. C+

Farewell to the King (1989)
Writer-director John Milius (Red Dawn) tones down his penchant for he-man philosophy in this surprisingly stirring saga of an embittered WWII GI gone native. Leading a Borneo tribe against the Japanese, Nolte resembles a cross between Michael Bolton and Tarzan, but his performance is electrifyingly extreme. B

New York Stories (1989)
Nolte and director Martin Scorsese kick off this short-story trilogy with a giddy rush (”Life Lessons”)-too bad the segments by Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen aren’t nearly as strong. Nolte makes his paunchy Soho artist a force of nature in paint-spattered corduroys; he’s needy, impulsive, bullying, caring, hugely talented — often all in the same scene. A

Three Fugitives (1989)
Some movies give Nick Nolte an actual character. Others just require him to show up and grunt. This sickly bank-robbery farce pairing the star with Martin Short is one of the latter. You’ve been warned. D

Everybody Wins (1990)
What a lineup: screenplay by Arthur Miller, direction by Karel Reisz, a cast top-lined by Nolte and Debra Winger. But what a mess. Nolte’s a weak-willed detective uncovering skulduggery in a New England village, but the overloaded plot takes a backseat to what’s-it-all-mean religious symbolism. You’ve really been warned. F

Q&A (1990)
Sidney Lumet’s taut expose of New York police corruption was out of step with its feel-good times, so audiences simply didn’t bother. They missed Nolte’s first out-and-out villain, a bigoted rogue cop whom naive assistant D.A. Timothy Hutton vows to bring down. B

Another 48 Hrs. (1990)
Or: ”Take the Money and Run.” To Nolte’s credit, he chips in a thoroughly professional performance in this uninspired carbon copy. Luckily, the success of Cape Fear and The Prince of Tides means that he may not have to make any more movies like this. D+