Screenwriter William Goldman, who died Friday in New York City at 87, famously asserted that, when it came to the film industry, “nobody knows anything.” But we feel confident in saying that you can’t go too wrong watching these films penned by the Hollywood legend.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
“You’ve never met a pair like Butch and Sundance!” declared one trailer voiceover for this classic western. Goldman’s Western outlaws — played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford — were not just charming, but, in their own way, revolutionary, fleeing to Bolivia rather than face a pursuing posse. The writer’s insistence on his heroes getting the hell out of Dodge initially stalled the project but ultimately earned Goldman both a record $400,000 for his screenplay and his first Academy Award, for Best Original Screenplay.
All the President’s Men (1976)
Redford hired Goldman to adapt journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s non-fiction account of the Watergate scandal. Starring Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein, Alan J. Pakula’s film is one if the definitive conspiracy thrillers of the ‘70s and helped transform the profession of investigative reporter into one of the most highly-regarded of the day. Goldman won his second Oscar for expertly showing how his central duo “followed the money.”
Marathon Man (1976)
“Is it safe?” Goldman adapted his own 1974 novel, the tale of a former Nazi dentist, Dr. Christian Szell, and a young marathon-runner, Thomas “Babe” Levy, who accidentally falls into his clutches. Hoffman played Babe in John Schlesinger’s movie while Brit acting legend Laurence Olivier earned an Oscar nomination for his chilling performance as Szell. See also 1978’s Anthony Hopkins-starring Magic, in which Goldman did for the profession of ventriloquism what he does for dentistry here.
The Princess Bride (1987)
The film for which the word “beloved” might as well have been invented. Goldman adapted another of his novels for this fantasy-romance whose list of unforgettable characters merely starts with Cary Elwes’ Westley, Robin Wright’s Buttercup, and, of course, Mandy Patinkin’s vengeance-seeking Inigo Montoya. We find it inconceivable that someone couldn’t love it.
Goldman attacked the horror genre with the force of an ankle-breaking sledgehammer for this adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. James Caan plays novelist Paul Sheldon who, following a car accident, finds himself in the dubious care of his “number one fan” Annie Wilkes, played to Oscar-winning perfection by Kathy Bates. (Sidebar: As if to prove that “nobody knows anything,” Goldman later co-wrote a second King adaptation, 2003’s disastrous Dreamcatcher.)
- The Princess Bride: An oral history
- What we learned at a Princess Bride 25th anniversary screening
- Nobody Knows Anything (Except William Goldman): Doc about legendary screenwriter launches Kickstarter campaign