Over the course of his illustrious career, American auteur Stanley Kubrick continuously pushed the boundaries of the cinematic medium and achieved new artistic heights. No matter which genre Kubrick set out to tackle, be it horror with The Shining or science fiction with 2001: A Space Odyssey, you knew that you were witnessing the work of a master filmmaker whose vision was overwhelmingly powerful.
Like many other great pioneers of cinema, Kubrick never really had a formal education in film studies. Instead, he started off as a photographer and showed signs of talent even in his early days. He also attended screenings of films by Max Ophüls and Elia Kazan among other visionaries, learning how to formulate his own idea of cinema which he eventually managed to put forward.
Kubrick was always looking to move on to new projects and traverse the landscape of uncharted territory. That’s why he rarely worked with the same cast on multiple projects, with the notable exceptions of Peter Sellers, Kirk Douglas and Sterling Hayden who managed to get the opportunity to collaborate with Kubrick on two productions.
Stanley Kubrick once named his 10 favourite films of all time
Among the films that influenced him the most, he always cited the directorial abilities as well as the acting work of Charlie Chaplin as a source of inspiration. However, the actor whose works he recommended to his own cast members was the one he considered to be one of the greatest acting talents in the history of cinema – James Cagney.
When Steven Spielberg had initially seen The Shining and was disappointed by Jack Nicholson’s over-the-top performance, he discussed it with Kubrick who asked him to name his own favourite actors. After he was done, Kubrick immediately asked him, “Where was James Cagney up on that list?” and explained that Spielberg hadn’t enjoyed Nicholson’s performance only because he did not admire the work of Cagney.
Kubrick absolutely loved Cagney’s impeccable talent of delivering exaggerated performances while still maintaining the central dramatic power of the roles. In fact, Nicholson wasn’t the only actor to draw inspiration from Cagney in a Stanley Kubrick film. Malcolm McDowell, the star of A Clockwork Orange, also revealed that Kubrick liked the fact that McDowell considered Cagney to be one of the greats.
Kubrick wasn’t the only director who enjoyed Cagney’s art, with other filmmakers such as Clint Eastwood also noting their appreciation for him. Eastwood famously said: “Movies were invented for Jimmy Cagney, and he was invented for the movies. A perfect match.”