Until recently, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood were still doing romantic leads, even though they were far older than Julie Christie, who retains her romantic beauty far better than any of those guys. But in Away from Her, Christie was reduced to playing an old lady deteriorating from Alzheimer's and living in a nursing home—the kind of role inconceivable for any of the elderly-stud stars.
There are some old guys of the silver screen who still have the chops, but they've learned how to relax into age, rather than fight it tooth and nail. This year, Harrison Ford, at 65 (the age of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger) is breaking box-office records as the fourth reincarnation of Indiana Jones. He's our longest-surviving adventure hero, the man who's sold the most movie tickets in history, as the star of George Lucas's Star Wars trilogy, and Stephen Spielberg's Indiana Jones trilogy, and the likes of Blade Runner, Witness, and Fugitive. Ford was first seen as an overaged adolescent in American Graffiti and the Star Wars films. But since Indiana Jones in 1981, he's grown up and become emblazoned forever on the heart of every boy and every man who's sought to do his duty and cop a few thrills.
Ford isn't a big, majestic man like Charlton Heston and John Wayne, nor an especially handsome one like Gable, Errol Flynn, or Denzel Washington. He isn't trapped inside his sagging muscles like Schwarzenegger. With his beat-up face and squinty eyes, he's distinguished chiefly by his engaging grin and an inescapable vulnerability. Before he came to the movies, he was a carpenter, and that may be the secret of his appeal: he humbly puts things together and makes them work.
In 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, set in the 1930s, Indiana Jones was a respected professor of archaeology, who'd just returned from outrunning a house-sized boulder in a booby-trapped cave in South America, wearing his fedora and carrying his whip. He found that the Nazis were unearthing the Ark of the Covenant and decided he must stop it. Indy repeatedly risked his life: facing a Saracen with a twirling scimitar, dropping into a pit of snakes, or hanging on to the underside of a truck racing through the desert. But the central emotional tension of Raiders was between Indy and Karen Allen, playing a tough, audacious woman who delighted in drinking large men under the table. She competed with Indy through each adventure, always holding her own and loving the erotic tension that just left Indy worried as she tried to seduce him. A weather-beaten, sexy adventurer, Allen had eyes the size of Bette Davis's or Susan Sarandon's and a smile as wide as Cinemascope. In Raiders, she triumphed as Ford's partner, rival, and equal. But Allen wasn't to be seen in the next two sequels, and both suffered from her absence.