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Branded men: Harrison Ford passes the leading man baton onto George Clooney

George Clooney is occupying a number of screens this Fall. Whether peering at us from the other half of TIME Magazine in the IDES OF MARCH poster or literally running through the trailer of Alexander Payne’s forthcoming THE DESCENDANTS, he seems to be everywhere you look, and since he’s pretty much the sexiest middle-aged guy around, I don’t think anyone’s complaining. He’s definitely the sexiest major leading man who used be only be a television actor. (I’m kidding! I know, I know, TV is all that.) But is his trajectory absolutely unique?

I started to reflect on this question in lieu of thinking about another actor who began to really hit his stride when he turned 40: Harrison Ford. Ford was 39 when he made RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and Clooney was 37 when he starred with Jennifer Lopez in the amazing Soderbergh film OUT OF SIGHT. Ford made a big splash as Hans Solo four years prior, leaving television credits behind him by the time he was 35. Clooney starred in BATMAN at 36, but he didn’t completely leave TV until a few years later.

But never mind the dates. In examining the top leading men of the last fifty years, Ford and Clooney are the two, amongst the river of Eastwoods, De Niros, Nicholsons and Depps, who are reliably, consistently sexy. Others are too weird, too goofy, too violent, too abusive. Is that star branding or what? I’m not sure if it’s ultimately good or bad, but having your movie star stay away from the too-fantasical (no scissors on hands) or to the too-aggressive (no killing pimps) definitely breeds a specific understanding of that individual. (And not that I dislike EDWARD SCISSOR HANDS or TAXI DRIVER, in fact, I adore both films. It just changes the brand.)

The one-two punch of Ford and then Clooney is really very powerful if your movie-viewing coming-of-age spans RAIDERS, WORKING GIRL, OUT OF SIGHT and UP IN THE AIR. Both stick with the disarming charm, the self-effacing wink. So as a hand off, a baton pass from leading man to another, I say nicely branded (and nicely done). So come now, George. Charlize played a serial killer. Nicole put on a long, fake nose. Will you alter the brand? Maybe I don’t want you to. Running around with a bit of a dork in your step (DESCENDANTS) and singing with the boys in O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU might be about as much as the brand can take.

– AH