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8 Classic Movies Starring Gary Cooper

Laconic Everyman, Quintessential American

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Possessing a down-home persona that was quintessentially American, Gary Cooper spent five decades making dozens of classic movies. At his peak, he was a top box office draw who earned five Oscar nominations and won twice.

Despite his quiet on-screen persona, Copper was a dashing ladies man with a taste for the good life. He courted controversy late in his career for making High Noon, which rankled friend John Wayne.

Cooper died relatively young and still in his prime, but left behind a staggering cinematic legacy filled with extraordinary performances. Here are eight classic movies starring laconic everyman Gary Cooper.

1. ‘Design for Living’ – 1933

Paramount Pictures
Ernst Lubitsch directed this sophisticated romantic comedy based on a stage play by Noel Coward. Cooper played an artist who falls for an American woman (Miriam Hopkins) in Paris, only to find himself in competition with Fredric March, leading to indecision on her part which one to choose. Of the three stars, Cooper is the one who seems a little out of place in the proceedings, but he does manage to use enough charm to work his way through the comedic material.
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2. ‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town’ – 1936

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cooper’s laconic delivery and down-home persona was put to excellent used in this classic comedy directed by Frank Capra. Cooper plays Longfellow Deeds, a successful local businessman in Vermont who wants nothing more than to compose greeting cards and play his tuba. But when he inherits millions from a wealth arts patron, Deeds finds himself in the Big Apple, where the eccentric Deeds uses his no-nonsense approach to fend off all manner of big city grifters. Cooper’s pitch-perfect performance was the first truly great one in his career and earned him the first of five Academy Award nominations for Best Actor.
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3. ‘Sergeant York’ – 1941

Warner Bros.
Directed by Howard Hawks, Sergeant York starred copper as a hell-raising farmer from Tennessee who turns to God after being struck by lightening and vows never to get angry again. When the United States enters World War I in 1917, he declares himself a conscientious objector despite being drafted, but gets sent to the front lines anyway where he becomes a national hero and Medal of Honor winner for his heroics on the battlefield. A huge box office hit and classic war movie, Sergeant York earned Cooper his first of two Academy Awards for Best Actor.
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4. ‘The Pride of the Yankees’ – 1942

CBS Video
Cooper earned his third Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his stirring performances of New York Yankee icon Lou Gehrig, whose death at 37 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis saddened a nation and ended one of the greatest careers in all of professional baseball. Covering Gehrig’s life from his boyhood up until his moving farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, The Pride of the Yankees featured Cooper in his most dignified performance and became a big hit, not only because of Gehrig’s recent death but also because of World War II, when audiences were looking for heroes. Cooper’s iconic rendition of Gehrig’s farewell speech would later become part of his routine when he entertained the troops.
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5. ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ – 1943

Paramount Pictures
Cooper found himself in Oscar contention once again for playing archetypal Hemingway hero in this faithful adaptation of the author’s famed novel. The actor played an idealistic American caught in the Spanish Civil War, where he’s tasked by a Spanish guerilla outfit to blow up a bridge in order to stall the enemy’s progress. Along the way, he falls in love with a beautiful peasant girl (Ingrid Bergman), who has joined the fight after her own unpleasant run-in with Franco’s forces. Once again, Cooper was the star of a major commercial and critical hit, and cemented his place as one of classic Hollywood’s top actors.
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6. ‘High Noon’ – 1952

RHI Entertainment
Cooper won his second Academy Award for playing U.S. Marshal Will Kane, the most iconic performance of his career. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, High Noon depicted Marshal Kane as a man trapped between love, duty and impending death, as he awaits the arrival of four outlaws intent on killing him despite his intentions to marry a Quaker girl (Grace Kelly) and abandon his post for a life of peace. Abandoned by the townspeople, Kane is forced to go it alone, throwing his world and future into chaos. Though chastized by friend and Western hero John Wayne for depicting a lawman begging for help, High Noon lived on as an all-time classic.
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7. ‘Vera Cruz’ – 1954

MGM Home Entertainment
Once again, Cooper was the star of a big commercial hit with Vera Cruz, a gritty revisionist Western where he starred opposite Burt Lancaster. The two play mercenaries caught between to warring factions during the Mexican revolution in 1866, leading to the theft of a cache of gold and ultimately doing the right thing in the end. Both funny and violent, Vera Cruz was a precursor to the spaghetti Westerns made popular in the following decade and proved that Cooper was still a huge box office draw in his later years.
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8. ‘Friendly Persuasion’ – 1956

Warner Bros.
In this poignant drama by William Wyler, Cooper played Jess Birdwell, the head of a Quaker family whose moral opposition to war is put to the test by the American Civil War. His son (Anthony Perkins) finds himself trapped between adhering to his family’s values and the pressure of being branded a coward by his country. Allowing his son to follow his conscience, Bidwell manages to stay faithful to his pacifism even when faced with the possibility of death at the hands of a rebel soldier. Cooper delivered a sensitive performance that marked one of the last great turns he gave before his death in 1961.
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