Roy Scheider 1932 - 2008
"Film orange?!?" For most of us, Roy Scheider's contribution to mobile cinema culture in the popular Orange commercials a little while back was a reminder of an esteemed actor who had been away too long.
The ad made reference to Scheider's two most famous films - The French Connection (his first Oscar nomination) and Jaws. Both were huge box office hits in the early 1970s, though neither quite propelled him into the A-list. He was also in Klute, Marathon Man and All That Jazz (his best performance, and Oscar nomination number two).
Lean and compact, Scheider on screen was authoritative, tough and demanding. He obviously knew how to handle himself - and you too, probably. He gave the impression of having graduated from the school of hard knocks - maybe because his nose bore the imprint of the boxing he used to do in his teens. He almost always seemed unhappy about something, but that concern was usually justified by the suspense stories he tended to be cast in.
Reputedly demanding off-screen too, Scheider made the mistake of walking off The Deer Hunter - the role was recast with Robert De Niro, who was nominated for Best Actor. He also bore the brunt of the commercial flop that was William Friedkin's Sorcerer, an expensive action movie that was crushed by the success of Star Wars in the summer of 1977. His director later admitted the movie needed a star - and even on the back of Sheriff Brody, Scheider wasn't that.
In the 1940s, actors like Humphrey Bogart and Edward G Robinson were able to carve out long careers as leading men despite their ambivalent status as heroes - in film noir thrillers, everyone was tinged with grey. Scheider was cut from the same cloth, but as the 1980s kicked in this kind of shading fell out of fashion: he-men like Stallone and Schwarzenegger took over, and Scheider's career declined. So much so, it's been ten years since he made anything of note: a small but significant role in Coppola's The Rainmaker. He had a TV hit in Seaquest DSV, but didn't like the show and tried to get out of it after the first series.
Scheider may not have realized everything he was capable of, career-wise, but anyone interested in exploring his back catalogue would find a good few nuggets buried there. Sorcerer is definitely worth a look. 2010 never had a chance of measuring up to 2001, but on its own terms it's a good sci-fi adventure. 52 Pick Up, Still of the Night and supporting roles in The Russia House, Last Embrace, Romeo is Bleeding and Naked Lunch all qualify as above average. And don't forget Paul Schrader's Mishima: Scheider supplied the voice-over narration.
He will be remembered for one film, and even one great line - "We're going to need another boat". But there was much more to him than that, and Scheider's portrait of his director, Bob Fosse, in All That Jazz gives a much greater expression of his range, dedication and intensity… as well as one of the most memorable death scenes you'll ever see: all singin', all dancin'.
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