Sunday, February 10, 2008

R.I.P.: Roy Scheider

I was very sad to hear that Roy Scheider had passed away due to complications from multiple myeloma.  In fact, when I saw him at a 2006 gala for Steven Spielberg in Chicago it was apparent to my eyes that Roy was not in the best of health.  Still, he gave a warm and humorous tribute to Spielberg to kick off of the evening's festivities. One of the finest stage and screen actors of the last forty years, Scheider will be most remembered for his starring role in
Jaws, however he lent his rugged, blue collar presence to many other quality films including: The French Connection, Sorcerer, Marathon Man, All That Jazz, Klute, Last Embrace, Blue Thunder, 52 Pick-Up, Naked Lunch, Still of the Night, and Cohen & Tate.  

Of Scheider's films, I must confess a special affinity for Blue Thunder in which Scheider plays a slightly unhinged Vietnam vet police helicopter pilot who goes against a collection of crooked feds led by a deliciously over-the-top Malcolm McDowell.  This was one of the first R-rated films I saw and I vividly recall sneaking into an afternoon showing with my father after seeing Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone in 3-D.  Aside from the juicy McDowell role, Blue Thunder also features the inimitable and irascible Warren Oates (coincidentally pictured in the below post) in his final feature film role.  [Richard Fleischer's Tough Enough, released just after Blue Thunder and in which Oates also appears, was actually completed earlier in 1981.]

Last Embrace, a Hitchcock-like thriller, is often overlooked in director Jonathan Demme's oeuvre, but it is worth pursuing.  Needless to say, this sleeper is not yet available on DVD. Scheider stars with the late Janet Margolin (David and Lisa), John Glover, Sam Levene, Charles Napier (a Demme and Russ Meyer favorite), and Christopher Walken.  Cult director Jim McBride, cult actor Joe Spinell, and Mandy Patinkin make brief appearances.  The screenplay is by the late David Shaber, who wrote or co-wrote several memorable scripts, including The Warriors, in a relatively brief career.  The legendary Miklos Rozsa contributed one of his last scores to the film.

In the late 1980s and into the 90s, Scheider transitioned to more character and supporting roles and was seen in less high-profile productions.  Scheider had been ill for the last several years, but continued to appear in a mixture of film and television productions, mostly of the independent variety.  At the same time, he became increasingly active in the political arena and was a visible presence at anti-war rallies in recent years.  For further information, take a look at Dave Kehr's obituary at the New York Times.

At the risk of sounding slightly crass, I'll sign off by quoting McDowell's favorite catch phrase from Blue Thunder, one which Roy memorably throws back in his face, "Catch you later."

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