DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: IN PRAISE OF ROY SCHEIDER

Tuesday 12 February 2008


Roy Scheider was an unlikely leading man - atypical in physical stature with an angular and weathered face, more in line with character actor or villainous henchman. He had one of the more famous broken noses in Hollywood (Marlon Brando's being the most famous). Yet the moment he opened his mouth a calm and soothing voice made you instantly like him. He was rarely the villain or the heavy. When called upon he always did it well and with panache - but it wasn't in his bones. Scheider on screen was someone you could trust. That's why he played more cops in his career than anything else.

I've put together a Roy Scheider retrospective. "Jaws" and "French Connection" are his famous classics, but he has seven other films which deserve to be rediscovered and enjoyed with Mr. Scheider in memory. Here's the ten Scheider classics in chronological order:

1. Klute (1971) dir. Alan J. Pakula
It's not surprising it took several character roles before proving himself as a leading man. Alan J. Pakula's thriller about a prostitute (Jande Fonda) who helps a police detective solve a mystery who Scheider's breakthrough. As Fonda's pimp - an unlikely dark role - he seemed to be cast largely on his street-wise looks than his personality. With it's multiple awards and nominations it was a major breakthrough for the late-blooming 39 year old.

2. The French Connection (1971) dir. William Friedkin
William Friedkin's benchmark film allowed Scheider to become a household name and be permanently etched in pop culture consciousness. Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle was the showcase, but Scheider's quiet toughness as Doyle's loyal partner shone through winning him his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

3. The Seven Ups (1973) dir. Philip D'Antoni
After "The French Connection" Scheider took a series of similarly-themed and often forgettable cop dramas. "The Seven-Ups" is one of these films - but it's made memorable with Scheider's own fantastic car chase (Hackman got to drive the car in "The French Connection") - a grandiose 10mins pursuit through New York.

4. Jaws (1975) dir. Steven Spielberg
And then there's "Jaws", featuring one of the most famous ad-libs in cinema, "We're gonna need a bigger boat". Scheider was Spielberg's original 'everyman' - a family man who's scared of the water and challenges his fears by hunting down the imposing and cunning 25ft great white shark. "Smile, you son of a b--"

5. Marathon Man (1976) dir. John Schlesinger
Roy Scheider could have done anything he wanted after "Jaws", and he probably got hundreds of disaster-film roles thrown his way. Instead he followed up the biggest film of all time for another supporting character role in John Schlesinger's "Marathon Man". Scheider plays Hoffman's sly brother and secret agent who uses him to track down Laurence Olivier's evil Nazi war criminal. It's one of his most underappreciated roles. Just watch the hand-to-hand fight scene in the hotel room and you'll see - like Jason Bourne, he's badass.

6. Sorcerer (1977) dir. William Friedkin
Everyone should see "Sorcerer". The film was labelled a flop in 1977, but for William Friedkin and Roy Scheider it's some of the best work for both artists. Scheider plays one of several desperate ex-pat criminals living in South America in self-imposed exile. Scheider leads a team to transport several crates of unstable nitroglycerin to blow up an oil well. Scheider is again soft-spoken but tough, dependable and trustworthy. But by the end he's driven to madness - "Sorceror" is an assault on your mind, body and spirit. A must see.

7. All that Jazz (1979) dir. Bob Fosse
Bob Fosse's autobiographical artist-gone-wild story is like "Fosse's 8 1/2" with Scheider as his Marcello Mastroianni alter ego. It's a fascinating surreal self-destructive performance channeling the crazed drug-fueled debaucherous adventures and dreams of Fosse's real life. Scheider deservedly received an Oscar nomination for his peformance.

8. Blue Thunder (1983) dir. John Badham
Though Scheider's 80's output wasn't packed with critical acclaim or blockbuster hits from the 70's, he was still a bankable leading man. "Blue Thunder" is not "The French Connection" but it's a wildly entertaining action thriller. With fine direction from John Badham Scheider helps elevate the film beyond the hook of the cool iconic helicopter and officer Frank Murphy a heroic underdog.

9. 52 Pick-Up (1986) dir. John Frankenheimer
One of the best crime dramas of the 80's is this fine, underrated John Frankenheimer classic. "52 Pick-Up" is a tight revenge thriller which sees Scheider the victim of a heinous act of blackmail. Elmore Leonard's wonderful twisting story and razor-sharp dialogue contributes to the melodrama, but it's the trio of superb lead performances, including Scheider, who hold it all together.

10. Naked Lunch (1991) dir. David Cronenberg
Scheider's last great film is a crafty supporting performance in Cronenberg's notorious surreal psychedelic nightmare. Scheider plays Benway a mysterious Doctor who prescribes a counteracting drug to help Judy Davis kick her drug habit. Like in "Marathon Man" it's a devious scene stealing performance.

Roy Scheider had a reputation for being one of the nice guys in Hollywood. A true professional, who despite his acclaim and celebrity respected his fellow actors and crew. Please pick one or more of these films and help celebrate the life and career of Roy Scheider.


Michael Miller said...

Great choice of films! I would just add one more - the underrated 2010, where Scheider gives another excellent and effortless performance.

Unknown said...

I always enjoyed seeing Roy Scheider in films. I loved Sorcerer, All that Jazz, Jaws...all those films really. He was a great actor.

boone0417 said...

I agree with the list 100%. I have said for many years that Roy Scheider was underrated. Unfortunately, he was largely forgotten in the last 2 decades as a result of younger viewers not appreciating some of the finest films and acting around. Sorcerer is a terrific example. Largely dismissed at the time, Friedkin's film resonates and is very well done on both sides of the camera.