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Meryl Streep. Kurt Russell and Cher in ‘Silkwood.'

Mr. Movie: Mike Nichols knew how to direct

Mike Nichols left us in 2015. His is a storied career. Mike was one of the founders of the famous Second City comedy company, perhaps the origin of improv. Then he and his wife went out on their own as the memorable Nichols & May comedy team. His acting career isn’t much to talk about. But, oh boy, what a director he was! Many of his movies are certifiable classics.


One of those is his very first, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966). He was nominated for the Best Director Oscar but lost out to Fred Zinnemann for A Man For All Seasons. Adapting Edward Albee’s hit play for the screen entailed corralling some of the greatest talents of the age: Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Sandy Dennis and George Segal. Nichols was up to the job. This film was nominated in every possible category (13), including all four actors. It is by turns funny and heartbreaking as we helplessly watch a marriage break into little pieces.


As good as Who’s Afraid is, Mike Nichols won his directorial Oscar in 1967 for another classic: The Graduate (1967). An impossibly young Dustin Hoffman is the sort-of willing prey for the seductive Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). He then finds he has fallen love with her lovely daughter Elaine (Katherine Ross). The mother is outraged (and so is about everyone else) but the young couple will not be denied. This over 50-year-old film holds up really well.


Bringing Joseph Heller’s immortal Catch-22 (1970) to the screen seems an almost impossible task, but Mike Nichols nearly pulled it off. A huge cast of characters interlock in a hilarious spoof of World War II shenanigans. Martin Balsam (Major Major), Alan Arkin (the “hero” Yossarian), Bob Balaban, Richard Benjamin, Bob Newhart and Anthony Perkins are just a few of the A-list actors. There are just too many stories to make a great movie, but he certainly made a darn good one!


Silkwood (1983) is based on the true story of whistle-blower Karen Silkwood who was exposed to contaminants and probably murdered to shut her up. She decided to go public about the radioactivity at a metallurgy plant where she worked. She did not live to tell about it. Meryl Streep (yep, 40 years ago!) is, of course, superb in the lead. Kurt Russell and Cher are quite good as sympathetic friends. 


Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) is the incredible story of how a lone US Congressman, played by Tom Hanks, almost single-handedly managed a war. Julia Roberts, Amy Adams, Emily Blunt and Ned Beatty are along for the fun. But Phillip Seymour Hoffman nearly steals the movie as a world-weary CIA agent.


All of the movies in this column are available on DVD. All are for adults.