One of Hollywood's most recognizable faces and best loved personalities left us when actor James Garner died last Saturday, July 19, at the age of 86. Equally successful on the big and small screens, Garner is best remembered for two iconic television series. First he was an affable gambler antihero of the old west in "Maverick" (1957-62). He returned in the seventies as an unconventional private eye with a cool car in "The Rockford Files." Now his lengthy film career can be reviewed on the small screen beginning with a 12 movie marathon on Turner Classic Movies Monday July 28.
Among the marathon's highlights is Garner's first movie, "Toward the Unknown." This 1956 test pilot adventure stars William Holden and airs at 6 a.m. At 9:30, he appears as an auto racer in the nearly three hour epic "Grand Prix" (1966). Primetime then shows off Garner's romantic-comedy skills at 8 p.m. with 1963's "The Thrill of It All," his first of two pairings with Doris Day, and again with Julie Andrews in the dark war comedy "The Americanization of Emily" at 10. Check out the full day's listing in the programming change note at tcm.com.
Though every film in the marathon is worth a look, there are also some surprising omissions that are fortunately available on DVD. "36 Hours" is an unusual and intriguing World War II film from 1965 co-starring Eva Marie Saint and Rod Taylor. Garner is an American major kidnapped by the Germans in an elaborate scheme to obtain D-Day information by convincing him that the war has ended. Also demanding a look are his Best Actor Oscar nominated performance in 1985's "Murphy's Romance" and his rollicking teaming with Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland in 2000's "Space Cowboys."
Yet the single greatest of all his pictures is the 1963 WW II adventure classic "The Great Escape." Garner joins an all-star international cast in this unforgettable must-see POW escape tale. He plays Hendley "The Scounger," the guy who can get everything from tasty treats to a camera for passport photos, often to the befuddlement of a German guard named Werner (Robert Graf). He's at his most charming, compassionate and coolest, particularly opposite a wonderful Donald Pleasence as the forger who goes blind. If you're looking for the quintessential James Garner, "The Great Escape" is it.