Susan Year Itch: Happy birthday, Guy Who Creates Common Ground Between Me and My Mother!

Think today is just a regular old Wednesday? Think again, it’s Robert Redford’s birthday! Today, August 18, somewhere in Utah, a charming man on horseback will turn a year older. Don’t look up his exact age, it’ll just make you feel weird.

Think today is just a regular old Wednesday? Think again, it’s Robert Redford’s birthday! Today, August 18, somewhere in Utah, a charming man on horseback will turn a year older. Don’t look up his exact age, it’ll just make you feel weird, but join in the worldwide celebration by firing up the DVD player and taking full advantage of Bob’s talents.

No time for movies? That’s ok, I guess, but keep this in mind: Robert Redford has done a lot for us. In addition to his stellar Hollywood career, the guy has dedicated a significant part of his money and time to environmentalist causes. He also goes to great lengths to keep his personal life out of the tabloids, allowing us all to focus on more important issues, like his killer smile and kickass movie festival (if you haven’t figured it out yet, the Sundance Festival is Redford’s baby).

I had the good fortune to catch Redford live at the Richmond Forum a few years ago, and one of the many highlights of an evening dotted with Paul Newman stories and thoughtful insight was the Q&A portion, in which audience-submitted questions were read by the moderator. To Redford’s adorable embarrassment, one enthusiastic fan asked for the number of his hotel room. Everyone laughed nervously and pretended like we all hadn’t seriously considered asking the same question, and my dad and I looked over at my mother and worried what her actions might be if he’d answered it.

The following films are my personal favorites, but if instead you’d rather watch a culturally significant episode of Biggest Loser, I’m sure the living legend environmentalist horseback-riding philanthropist will understand.

Sneakers (Phil Alden Robinson, 1992)
I admit that I only watched this tech-heist film recently,* but, with its all-star cast, intelligent script, and careful cinematography, it’s a solid reminder of the singular elegance of a lot of 1990s films. Dan Akroyd, Sidney Poitier, River Phoenix, and Ben Kingsley all contribute their individual talents to this character-driven thriller. Refreshingly reluctant to design some fantastically fake but sexy-looking Future Computers, the film gives its super-villain a keyboard and a monitor. That realistic touch keeps the far-fetched plot from getting ludicrous, but it does mean that Redford sports some serious mom jeans.

All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976)
Want to learn about Watergate, but too lazy to read the Wikipedia page? I’m with you, friend. Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the real-life journalists who discovered connections between a hotel break-in and the other illegal activities that eventually led to the impeachment of Richard Nixon.

Barefoot in the Park (Gene Saks, 1967)
If political intrigue isn’t your idea of a relaxing Wednesday night, let Redford help you explore a universal truth: the first year of marriage can be really, really hard. Paul and Corie (Jane Fonda) try not to kill each other within the confining walls of the only Manhattan apartment they can afford. Think The Money Pit, only less goofy. Then think The Way We Were (another Redford flick), only more goofy (and less brutally unsatisfying). Then stop thinking and watch the damn thing.

Out of Africa (Sydney Pollack, 1985)
Continuing along in the romantic vein, this sweeping drama features a tanned Redford and a fascinating Meryl Streep, who are unable to resist the cosmic forces that are surely endeavoring to create a super-race of blonde Redford/Streep geniuses. Not only is this film a stunningly directed classic, it will immediately make you want to abandon your distaste for big game hunting and redo your living quarters in post-colonial safari elegance.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969)
When you cast Robert Redford to play opposite Paul Newman, two things happen after everyone recovers from their swoon. 1) Newman takes over the role of Effortless Charmer, leaving Redford free to explore other facets of his talent, and 2) box office gold! In this famous outlaws-on-the-lam film, Redford smolders his way through very few lines and a whole lotta action. Oh, also….mustache.

The Natural (Barry Levinson, 1984)
BUM BUMMMM!!!! (baseball hits ballpark lights, causing them to explode) BUM BUMBUMBUMMMMM!!! (more explosions!) BUM BUMMMM!!!! (this is one of my favorite movies ever) BUM BUMMM!! (Redford and Glenn Close and baseball and Americana) BUM BUMMM! (I almost stopped writing this so I could go watch it again). BUM BUMBUMBUMMM!! (I gotta move on).

The Sting (George Roy Hill, 1973)
Newman, Redford, and George Roy Hill (see B. C. and the S. K., above) are back together again in a film that may be even better than The Natural (I would have given it the same treatment, but I didn’t know how to make the tinkly Scott Joplin piano soundtrack into words). This Best Picture winner brings together perfect scripting, directing, acting, and costuming and produces a marvelously entertaining package with multiple twists that M. Night Shamyalan could benefit from studying. I won’t bore you with misty details of how I grew up watching The Sting, but I will say that it inspired me to become the successful hard-boiled 1930s Chicago grifter that I am today.

*Possibly when commanded by the editor of this website who possibly also commanded me to choose this column’s topic. Bob, your fans! They are everywhere!

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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