Robert Shaw

A Man for All Seasons (1966, Fred Zinnemann)

What’s so incredible about A Man for All Seasons is how big director Zinnemann makes it while keeping it small while keeping it big. The settings are big—palaces, estates, and so on—but Zinnemann keeps the set pieces small. He and cinematographer Ted Moore will do big establishing shots, but only after they’ve gotten into the details of the places. They incorporate the technique into the opening titles, then keep going with it throughout the film. The film’s all about the small actions and pettiness of important men, those establishing montages bring them down to Earth. Or at least establish a grounded Earth in which to play.

Georges Delerue’s regal but also demure score perfectly accompanies.

The film’s about Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield in a singular performance); he refuses to publicly support King Henry VIII’s first divorce. Robert Shaw plays the King; he’s great too. Only in it for a couple scenes, but great. And a grandiose enough performance to cast a shadow on the film after he’s established. You’ve got to believe Shaw can be so petty about Scofield not supporting him, without ever establishing Shaw’s regard for Scofield. At least, not until after Scofield’s pissed him off. Man for All Seasons has a wonderful sense of how to elucidate history—writer Robert Bolt (adapting his play) does “pepper” the exposition with historical detail, but only ever for the characters’ edification, not the audience’s. And when doing historical exposition, Bolt’s default is for the common man—or at least the more common man, let’s say still identifiable if not sympathetic upper middle class—not the nationstate politics. Yes, Scofield toggles between kingmakers and kings like Orson Welles and Shaw, but he also deals with ambitious bureaucrats like Leo McKern (and unambitious de facto ones like Nigel Davenport). His would-be protege, John Hurt, is just a man trying to make something of himself out of university and Scofield tries hard to protect him for the realities of corruption. For Scofield’s More, the corruption tends to have a religious bent but the film never particularly gets into the religiosity. Bolt, Zinnemann, and Scofield examine More’s actions and how his beliefs chart those actions, not the content of the beliefs. They’re kind of lucky to have More as the subject, as him not voicing any opinion whatsoever is what gets him into trouble. A man keeps his thoughts his own when in Tudor England, something Scofield tries to impart on friend and foe alike, which leads to some wonderful moments.

Scofield’s family also plays a big part. There’s wife Wendy Hiller, who doesn’t get much to do but is good, daughter Susannah York, who’s awesome and gets lots to do—sometimes just reacting; the film sets her up as Scofield’s intellectual heir, if she weren’t a girl anyway, and so her perception of the events and behaviors she experiences are another storytelling slate for Zinnemann and Bolt. Man for All Seasons is very quiet, very simple, very complicated. The film deliberates, even when it doesn’t have enough information (usually because Scofield’s keeping his mouth shut about it).

Scofield’s the protagonist; his actions and reactions drive the plot. A constant undercurrent is the story of ambitious, not entirely dim-witted, but morally corruptible Hurt, who ends up finding a mentor in McKern. Only McKern’s a jackass, power hungry bureaucrat jealous of Scofield’s intellectual powers (no matter what McKern accomplishes, Shaw’s never going to love him for his mind whereas Scofield manages to disrespect the King and maintain the intellectual regard). And Hurt’s aware he’s going to the Dark Side, providing yet another storytelling slate. Man for All Seasons never feels stagy, never feels like its a series of vignettes whether the most character development happens off screen, yet it is that series of vignettes. Zinnemann, Moore, Delerue, and editor Ralph Kemplen just make sure it never feels like one. Zinnemann maintains the importance of the film’s visual style even when the dramatics are center stage (Moore’s beautiful “natural” lighting helps), which allows for nimble style changes. It’s magnificently executed. Zinnemann’s direction is assured but never showy, confident but ambitious; the chances the film takes are almost exclusively on the actors—at least into the second act—and Zinnemann facilitates the performances, but the actors are the ones who have to nail the moment, which seems like it should lead to at least the acknowledgement of the stage adaptation but it never does. Because the film’s limited world is so big.

All of the acting is great. Some of the cast get to have more fun—Welles gets to have a lot of fun, McKern’s a delightful weasel—but the ones who have major constraints (Hurt’s weasel-in-training, Corin Redgrave’s obnoxiously Lutheran Lutheran who’s courting York) are still excellent. York, Davenport, and Hiller all deliver in some hard scenes; York and Davenport get the bigger ones, but Hiller’s got to do a lot in short amounts of time. The film often uses Hiller to establish character stuff for Scofield. She’s part of his ground situation, revealing more as the film progresses, without ever doing exposition dumps. Far from it. Hiller’s concise.

As for Scofield… the story’s about people wanting to hear what Scofield’s going to say next and the film’s about staring at Scofield and waiting to see what it’ll be. He’s in the spotlight the entire film. Great direction, great script, great supporting cast, but Man for All Seasons is Scofield’s performance. And it’s an exceptional one.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Fred Zinnemann; screenplay by Robert Bolt, based on his play; director of photography, Ted Moore; edited by Ralph Kemplen; music by Georges Delerue; production designer, John Box; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Paul Scofield (Thomas More), Susannah York (Margaret), Wendy Hiller (Alice), Leo McKern (Cromwell), John Hurt (Rich), Nigel Davenport (Duke of Norfolk), Corin Redgrave (Roper), Orson Welles (Cardinal Wolsey), and Robert Shaw (Henry VIII).


The Sting (1973, George Roy Hill)

There are two immediate peculiar things about The Sting. The opening credits introduce the cast with scenes from the film, so one watches the picture waiting for a particular actor to come up. While it might have been done to get Paul Newman’s face onscreen sooner (he takes about fifteen minutes or more to appear), it also encourages the viewer not to get too involved with the picture. To remember it’s just a movie.

Second is the sections having title cards. It too breaks the viewer from the film’s internal reality for a few moments. Very interesting choices.

The reality of the film is startling. Director Hill and cinematographer Robert Surtees magically recreate thirties Chicago. And they know it. The shot zooming out from Dimitra Arliss’s bedroom window to the apartment across the street? They knew they were doing something fantastic. It’s the showiest shot in the film but it fits perfectly with the tone. But technically, it’s astoundingly good.

There are some great twists, all throughout, but the performances of David S. Ward’s character moments are why the film exceeds. Robert Redford’s desperate, touching, exasperated and wonderful. Newman’s a great sidekick (even if he is top-billed). Robert Shaw’s amazing.

Other outstanding performances are Arliss, Charles Durning, Ray Walston… and everyone else. Eileen Brennan’s sort of barely in it, but her presence is felt throughout.

The Sting moves fast–Hill only slows down just before the finale; he never lets it get frantic.

The Sting’s a masterpiece… simply magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Roy Hill; written by David S. Ward; director of photography, Robert Surtees; edited by William Reynolds; produced by Tony Bill, Michael Phillips and Julia Phillips; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Paul Newman (Henry Gondorff), Robert Redford (Johnny Hooker), Robert Shaw (Doyle Lonnegan), Charles Durning (Lt. Wm. Snyder), Ray Walston (J.J. Singleton), Eileen Brennan (Billie), Harold Gould (Kid Twist), John Heffernan (Eddie Niles), Dana Elcar (F.B.I. Agent Polk), Jack Kehoe (Erie Kid), Dimitra Arliss (Loretta), Robert Earl Jones (Luther Coleman), James Sloyan (Mottola) and Charles Dierkop (Floyd the bodyguard).

The Deep (1977, Peter Yates)

I’m a little surprised Donna Summer did the theme song for The Deep, seeing as how she’s black and, according to The Deep, every black person is a villain of some kind or another.

Even with his blond locks, I’ve never thought of Nick Nolte as particularly aryan (maybe because his eyes are so brown), but he really comes off like a, well, honky in this one. He calls Louis Gossett Jr. a basketball player as a euphemism for black. Seriously. I think, the last time I tried watching it, I turned it off at that point.

But I struggled through this time and, for that last shot, it’s almost worth the torture. It’s an awful conclusion, maybe the second worst I can think of (after the second Planet of the Apes).

Yates’s Panavision composition is boring, seemingly ready for the TV version (since The Deep was pre-video). John Barry contributes a wholly inappropriate but exceeding lovely score. It’s hard to say if it’s all Yates’s fault or if it’s just a bad production. I’m sure Peter Benchley’s novel wasn’t good, so his screenplay would be similarly dubious. But there’s nothing thrilling about it, there’s no excitement. In fact, it might be the only big Hollywood picture I can think of without a single likable character.

It’s a long two hours, mostly because of the lengthy exposition and then the boring underwater scenes. It’s an anti-thriller film, almost worth examining.

Even Robert Shaw is phoning it in here.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Yates; screenplay by Peter Benchley and Tracy Keenan Wynn, based on the novel by Benchley; director of photography, Christopher Challis; edited by David Berlatsky; music by John Barry; production designer, Anthony Masters; produced by Peter Guber; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Robert Shaw (Romer Treece), Jacqueline Bisset (Gail Berke), Nick Nolte (David Sanders), Louis Gossett Jr. (Henri Cloche), Eli Wallach (Adam Coffin), Dick Anthony Williams (Slake), Earl Maynard (Ronald), Bob Minor (Wiley), Teddy Tucker (the harbor master), Robert Tessier (Kevin) and Lee McClain (Johnson).


Jaws (1975, Steven Spielberg)

The first half of Jaws–before the boat, when it becomes a different film–might be the most perfectly made film ever. The second half isn’t less perfectly made, but it’s its own thing, not easily comparable to any other film; that first half deals in traditional filmic standards and does so with singular success. Verna Fields’s editing, Bill Butler’s photography, Joe Alves’s production design… it’s utterly perfect. Spielberg’s use of frame depth, so startling wonderful (and now long gone). From the first moment after the credits, with Fields’s cuts during the beach party, it’s stunning. Too often the main emphasis, when discussing Jaws‘s writing, is on the Indianapolis monologue, but really, throughout, it’s great. The family scenes, the ones between Roy Scheider and Lorraine Gary, carry the first half of the film. Richard Dreyfuss’s appearance gives Scheider a friend, but it doesn’t really affect the situation very much. The whole first half of the movie builds towards Murray Hamilton (who’s so good) and his breakdown at the hospital, the one Scheider’s too busy to notice.

Then Jaws resets. Even though Robert Shaw had his moment twenty minutes in (I never look at the clock when watching Jaws, it’s an absurd idea), he’s somewhat foreign as the second half starts out. Then Dreyfuss becomes really foreign and the characters reveal themselves differently under pressure. The moments when Dreyfuss and Shaw start liking each other are great and some of my favorites, but this time I really noticed the scene after Shaw starts losing it and then he has to ask Dreyfuss for help. Scheider finds himself abandoned on the boat in stretches, since he doesn’t know what do–Scheider’s disappointment in Dreyfuss mirrors the viewer’s. It’s a constantly shifting environment, but one totally dependent on the looming disaster. The discreet moves Jaws makes, positioning its characters and their reaction to fear, is something wonderful. So wonderful, I never realized until this time watching it, both Shaw and Dreyfuss revisit their first experiences with sharks.

While this post reminds me of why I don’t like writing about great films I’ve seen before, Jaws is something even more than the usual. I could sit and talk about Jaws, listing all of the great things it does, for three times through. It’s a constantly rewarding experience.

Maybe a last little something about John Williams’s music. Even though Jaws has its famous theme, the score isn’t one concerned so much with it. Williams’s sensitivity to the changes during scenes, even to the cuts, is noteworthy. Jaws is the ideal example of something being the sum of its parts and his contribution is magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, from the novel by Benchley; director of photography, Bill Butler; edited by Verna Fields; music by John Williams; production designer, Joe Alves; produced by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Roy Scheider (Martin Brody), Robert Shaw (Quint), Richard Dreyfuss (Matt Hooper), Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), Murray Hamilton (Larry Vaughn), Carl Gottlieb (Meadows), Jeffrey Kramer (Hendricks) and Susan Backlinie (Chrissie Watkins).


Scroll to Top