Roy Scheider

All That Jazz (1979, Bob Fosse)

There are few secrets in All That Jazz; the film immediately forecasts where it’s going, with clear shots of star Roy Scheider in the hospital amid the other quickly cut montage sequences. But these are flash forwards, as opposed to the present action and then we’re seeing flashback. Because we’re actually not even seeing “reality” yet. First we meet Jessica Lange, mysterious, magical, dressed in white, in Scheider’s head maybe. These sequences are—except when director Fosse and editor Alan Heim cut them to be so—disconnected from the main narrative. They’re even disconnected from Scheider’s eventual hospital bed hallucinations. They’re not in his imagination, not in his consciousness… maybe it’s his soul. Doesn’t really matter. Putting a noun to it doesn’t change how it functions, giving Fosse and co-writer Robert Alan Aurthur a way to do some show not tell exposition on Scheider’s history as well as give him an egoless outlet.

The film’s present action begins with Broadway director Scheider casting for his next production. Fosse goes through the introduction to Lange, then the quick cut montage sequence of Scheider gearing up for the day (Visine, Dexedrine, cigarettes, positive affirmations), and then gets to the first big dance number. The sequence—Scheider cutting auditioning dancers, then working with the ones who make it—is breathtaking. Set to a live performance (which adds a whole other layer) of George Benson covering “On Broadway,” it’s not just about Fosse’s composition, which showcases both the individual artistry of the dancers but also the scale of the audition as well as Scheider’s place in it, and he and Heim’s editing, which captures movement peerlessly, but also introducing the main supporting cast. Well, minus Ann Reinking. But we meet ex-wife Leland Palmer and daughter Erzsebet Foldi and then the show guys—producers William LeMassena and Robert Hitt, accountant David Margulies, song writer Anthony Holland—from all their various reactions, we get some grounding for Scheider. The show guys are able to tell his not show-minded interest in one of the dancers (Deborah Geffner), which Foldi and Palmer are able to pick up on as well, though they react differently. But Scheider’s not just doing the show, he’s also cutting together a movie, The Stand-Up, about a comedian (played by Cliff Gorman), and running the editing team ragged. It’s also causing Scheider’s contact guy with the studio—Max Wright—nuts.

It’s at the screening of the day’s cuts we meet Reinking, the girlfriend, which is just before we get to see what kind of womanizer everyone’s dealing with. Since leaving the auditions and editing his movie to exhaustion, Scheider’s also had time to ring up Geffner to make a date.

There’s a lot of humanity to Scheider already. The audition sequence, when he’s cutting people, there’s great care in the film to show his hesitations and sympathies. The scene between Scheider and Geffner is where we get to see how Scheider’s empathy has got a strange formula to it. He’s heartbreakingly rude to Geffner, absolutely piggish, but also aware of how his behavior plays out. The asides with Lange have set up Scheider’s convoluted, sorted sexual history with women—Keith Gordon plays him in the flashbacks to working as a young teen in burlesque theaters, where the dancers tease (and don’t tease)—and then we get to see the repercussions of his devout philandering play out with Reinking. Geffner is, apparently, to Reinking as Reinking was to Palmer. Only Palmer’s Scheider’s creative muse—he’s only doing the show so she can headline it—and Reinking’s clearly a good dancer. Geffner is not, adding further complications and giving us a chance to see how Scheider works with his dancers.

The only person Scheider can’t manage—though with Palmer, it’s more she lets him manage her—is Foldi. There’s this amazing scene where Scheider and Foldi dance, with her trying to talk to him about settling down and him workaholicing his way through it, and even though he’s in charge of choreographing the dance, everything she says takes him a little by surprise. The relationship between Scheider and Foldi—well, Foldi and everyone (Reinking and Palmer) have an amazing relationship. In the chaos Scheider drums up so he can control his creative efforts, Foldi’s the only other one able to weather it. Because, like Scheider, she’s native to it.

Scheider’s just cracked the show when the heart troubles go from giving him pause to requiring hospitalization. It’s approximately halfway through the movie. Then there’s the medical drama parts, which race by—once Scheider’s condition improves, Fosse does a lengthy montage sequence, cutting between various moments during Scheider’s hospital stay and some external factors—Foldi’s experience of her dad being hospitalized, the show guys trying to get another director (John Lithgow). Fosse will drop longer scenes in the montage, kind of taking a break before going back to spinning around, seeing all the various moments. It’s all fairly light. Lighter than anything else has been in the film to this point.

So when Scheider’s inability to control his urges hits again and he takes a turn for the worse, it’s time for the hallucination musical numbers. There are four of them, a showcase for Reinking, Palmer, Foldi, and then women in general. They’re all amazing. But whether or not they’re enough to keep Lange’s symbolic lips of Scheider’s….

The choreography of all the sequences is startling. None of them aren’t great. But then there’s how Fosse shoots them too. How Giuseppe Rotunno lights them. How Heim cuts them. It’s extraordinary work.

Scheider’s performance is great. Then Palmer. Then Foldi. Palmer doesn’t get any expository devices with angelic Jessica Langes to establish her character. She barely gets it in the script. She’s got to do it all with looks. She does it. And Foldi’s excellent. Everyone else is good… Reinking has to play a lot with a stone face and she does it well. The show guys are all good. They’re kind of the comic relief. Even as they cover their asses.

Lithgow’s fun.

The music, the dancing, the direction, the technicals… all of it is exceptional. Heim and Fosse’s editing—which is the subject of the movie in the movie subplot, so the editing is begging attention—is singular.

All That Jazz is a peerless motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Fosse; written by Robert Alan Aurthur and Fosse; director of photography, Giuseppe Rotunno; edited by Alan Heim; music by Ralph Burns; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; costume designer, Albert Wolsky; produced by Aurthur; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Roy Scheider (Joe Gideon), Leland Palmer (Audrey Paris), Erzsebet Foldi (Michelle), Deborah Geffner (Victoria), Ann Reinking (Kate Jagger), William LeMassena (Jonesy Hecht), Anthony Holland (Paul Dann), Robert Hitt (Ted Christopher), David Margulies (Larry Goldie), Max Wright (Joshua Penn), Michael Tolan (Dr. Ballinger), John Lithgow (Lucas Sergeant), Cliff Gorman (Davis Newman), Ben Vereen (O’Connor Flood), Keith Gordon (Young Joe), and Jessica Lange (Angelique).


Still of the Night (1982, Robert Benton)

At the end of Still of the Night, the film puts aside the “whodunit” to give second-billed Meryl Streep—who’s playing the femme fatale part but not at all as a femme fatale—a lengthy monologue. It’s all one take, Streep just acting the heck out of this mediocre thriller monologue. It doesn’t make the film worthwhile, but it does make one wonder if it’s what writer and director Benton had in mind the whole time. Was he just setting up this moment in the preceding eighty minutes.

Because he’s definitely setting up the third act, which has lead Roy Scheider walking through the real location of a former patient’s dream. And it all being for a mediocre Streep monologue… well, it'd be something. Otherwise, Still of the Night is anti-something. And when you find out it’s a Hitchcock homage… you wonder what Benton liked about Hitchcock. Outside a blonde Streep and fifty-something Scheider’s only friend being mom Jessica Tandy. Streep’s thirty-three or so, but seems younger. Maybe because she’s introduced as Josef Sommer’s mistress and, even though Sommer’s not even fifty, he seems older. He seems like a dirty old man… because he is a dirty old man. But emphasis on the old.

Scheider’s a psychiatrist, Sommer’s his patient, who works at a New York auction house. Streep works at the auction house for Sommer and he always has affairs with his subordinates; his wife gets a lot of mention in the first act, with Streep bringing a watch Sommer left at her apartment to Scheider’s office so Scheider can return it to the wife, Sommer complaining Scheider never wants to hear about Streep, just about his bad marriage. Lots in the first act. Nowhere else.

I forgot to mention: Sommer’s dead. The picture opens with his dead body. He’s in a lot of flashback though, as Scheider reviews their old sessions and Still flashes back either to Sommer describing the events in the session or the described events themselves. Always beautifully edited; Gerald B. Greenberg and Bill Pankow do some lovely cutting. Sommer’s an elitist auction house snob and a poor quality human being. His description of “seducing” Streep made me wonder if anyone involved with the film in 1982 had ever thought of pairing “enthusiastic” with “consent” or if the concept would melt their minds (at the time).

Joe Grifasi, who’s thirty-eight in the film but somehow looks like he’s seventeen going on fifty-three, is the investigating detective. Scheider doesn’t give him any information about Sommer, even though he’s dead. Maybe because Sommer told him Streep killed someone once and got away with it and would she do it again. Also Sommer can’t shut up about how much he thinks Scheider would be into Streep.

It’s very, very strange. But also a lot more engaging than anything in the second half. Sommer’s a major creep, but he’s a major creep with a pulse (wokka wokka). When Tandy’s not around to liven things up, everyone seems on the verge of a nap. Scheider’s recently divorced, living in an almost empty apartment, focusing on his work; we know he’s a good guy because his first scene establishes he’s going to see a laid off white collar guy even if the guy can’t pay him. Scheider’s… not really believable as a psychiatrist successful enough to have an office even in eighties New York. Tandy’s a psychiatrist too and they get together and talk shop a couple times throughout the film. After they go over the dream sequence, which would still be somewhat creepy even if Benton didn’t… objectify a seven year-old girl, Tandy tells Scheider to call the cops but he won’t because of Streep. He’s got for the hots for her now. Their first kiss is rather uncomfortable because we’ve just seen Scheider getting all this intel on her mental state and then taking advantage of it. His unprofessional behavior is somehow even worse than the perceived age difference (Streep appearing younger, Scheider appearing possibly even older). When he complains in the third act about how he could lose his license… it’s like, yeah, Doc, you probably should.

While the first half build-up is—with qualifications—solid, the second act and its two big action sequences don’t play. Benton doesn’t have much music in the film. John Kander has a single piece they play three or four times, a very romantic piece; has nothing to do with the film or its tone. So there’s no music in the action sequences, just the gorgeous sound design. Sound design, editing, they’re where Still of the Night excels. Everything else has problems.

But having this muted vérité-style just draws attention to how absurd the action plays out. Scheider gentle stalking Streep through Central Park; great sequence, beautiful direction on it too, but it doesn’t work because Benton’s got things too firmly set in reality. Néstor Almendros’s photography plays into that footing too. Almendros does a throughly competent job in the film but in entirely the wrong style. It’s flat, plain, boring. Benton doesn’t showcase New York very much, not even the Central Park thing (which helps on this sequence), but Almendros also lights it without any personality. The lighting is off from the first scene.

The film is off from the opening titles. Lighting first scene. At some point in the film, almost everything becomes off in some way or another. Except the sound, the editing, and Jessica Tandy. Tandy’s awesome.

Maybe the reason everyone looks so dejectedly constipated in the film—save Tandy—is because they all felt it not working but no one said anything. They just made the movie and it really didn’t work, which a ninety-three minute runtime for the first picture Benton directed after winning… Best Director would certainly suggest.

Great sound though. If the third act weren’t so disappointing, I could see Still being worth it for the sound.

That Streep monologue you could just watch in a clip.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Benton; screenplay by Benton, based on a story by David Newman and Benton; director of photography, Néstor Almendros; edited by Gerald B. Greenberg and Bill Pankow; music by John Kander; production designer, Mel Bourne; costume designer, Albert Wolsky; produced by Arlene Donovan; released by United Artists.

Starring Roy Scheider (Sam Rice), Meryl Streep (Brooke Reynolds), Jessica Tandy (Grace Rice), Joe Grifasi (Joseph Vitucci), Sara Botsford (Gail Phillip), Frederikke Borge (Heather Wilson), and Josef Sommer (George Bynum).


The French Connection (1971, William Friedkin)

The French Connection has a linear progression. No flashbacks, no flashforwards; it’s never implied two events are happening simultaneously. One thing happens after another. Only there’s nothing connecting those things, other than the actors, other than the cops’ investigation. Because French Connection unfolds for the viewer just like it does the cops. Or if the viewer has more information, it turns out to be pointless. Not so much a red herring as immaterial.

Eventually, it turns out a lot is immaterial in The French Connection. Director Friedkin doesn’t make an effort to misdirect the viewer, he just doesn’t provide the information.

The French Connection is about New York narcotics cops Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider trying to figure out how Tony Lo Bianco is dirty and what it has to do with Frenchman Fernando Rey. The viewer finds out about Rey in the first scene of the film–in fact, he’s the only one with ground situation character information–but it takes a while for Hackamnd and Scheider to discover him.

The film runs 104 minutes. Much of the second half takes place in the span of a week. Friedkin and screenwriter Ernest Tidyman only have three expository sequences. Two are traditional boss chewing out rogue cops scenes, the other is Scheider giving a surveillance report to Hackman. The audio is laid over shots of the scenes and characters in question. It’s breathtakingly efficient, especially since Hackman and Rey colliding will soon change the film. The somewhat large cast of characters is repeatedly introduced to ingrain. The angry boss scenes use different techniques to do different things, like reducing Scheider’s part while maintaining its presence (the solution is to give him more personality) and setting up Bill Hickman’s dipshit federal agent tagalong.

Simultaneous to this exquisite plotting is the filmmaking. Friedkin and the crew excel. Owen Roizman’s photography has this crisp chill to the police work but a heat to the “off duty” scenes and locations. Friedkin and editor Gerald B. Greenberg have some scenes where it’s just incidental noise, no sound for the dialogue. Or they’ll just cut fast to the next scene. Or they’ll just cut fast and jiggle the pacing of a scene; Hackman is in a car, gets out, but they cut it ahead, so Hackman’s walking into the shot before he’s done talking about getting out of the car. It’s a gallop. And it goes a long way for mood.

Then there are the performances. Scheider is fantastic, ably navigating his character shallowing out as the film progresses. Hackman’s reserved but bombastic, violative but sullen. He has an energy and Scheider’s got to keep up with and sometimes contain it (both as an actor working off another and to essay the script). Hackman and Scheider are a phenomenal pairing.

Hackman’s performance is captivating. He always has something else to reveal about the character, which keeps the police procedural even more interesting. Every action, every reaction–Hackman makes them impulsive but inevitable.

It’s juxtaposed against Rey, who never loses his cool. He also has to reconcile his character–a sauve, cultured, loving Frenchman who’s also an international drug dealer.

Marcel Bozzuffi’s terrifying as Rey’s flunky.

Good score from Don Ellis. It’s deceptive when it’s being obvious. It excites the viewer’s imagination, forcing their engagement with a particular scene or shot. Combined with Friedkin and Greenberg’s cuts, French Connection has occasionally has an uncanny feel without ever giving up its grounding.

The French Connection is a singular motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by William Friedkin; screenplay by Ernest Tidyman, based on the book by Robin Moore; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Gerald B. Greenberg; music by Don Ellis; produced by Philip D’Antoni; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Hackman (Jimmy Doyle), Roy Scheider (Buddy Russo), Fernando Rey (Alain Charnier), Tony Lo Bianco (Sal Boca), Marcel Bozzuffi (Pierre Nicoli), Frédéric de Pasquale (Devereaux), Arlene Farber (Angie Boca), and Bill Hickman (Mulderig).


Jaws 2 (1978, Jeannot Szwarc)

There's definitely a good movie somewhere in Jaws 2; maybe just one without so much shark. Sadly, most of its narrative problems seem obvious to fix. For example, if the shark isn't confirmed and Roy Scheider might just be suffering post-traumatic stress… maybe they didn't want to go dark.

Instead, the filmmakers go bright, shiny and stupid. Director Szwarc doesn't do particularly well with his actors–for some reason Scheider is frequently staring into the camera and past whoever he's sharing the scene with–but most of his composition is fantastic. And Michael C. Butler's photography is gorgeous. Jaws 2 definitely looks good. It sounds good too–John Williams's score is great, the sound design on the film is great.

It's just really dumb.

The film slaps Scheider's story of bickering with town officials in front of this “teens in danger” movie. The stuff with the teens doesn't get enough time once they're in actual danger (and too much time before that part of the film), but there are some sublime moments.

No one in the film is particularly bad, except Donna Wilkes, and there are some acting stand-outs. David Elliot, Keith Gordon, Ann Dusenberry, Mark Gruner–all good performances. Lorraine Gary gets a few good moments as Scheider's wife, though not enough. There's a strange subtext about her having a career being a big problem–she's even wearing pants right before Scheider gets in trouble at work.

It's long, it's bad, it's pretty. The technical pluses oddly outweigh all the other minuses. Kind of.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc; screenplay by Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler, based on characters created by Peter Benchley; director of photography, Michael C. Butler; edited by Steve Potter, Arthur Schmidt and Neil Travis; music by John Williams; production designer, Joe Alves; produced by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Roy Scheider (Police Chief Martin Brody), Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), Murray Hamilton (Mayor Larry Vaughn), Joseph Mascolo (Len Peterson), Jeffrey Kramer (Deputy Jeff Hendricks), Collin Wilcox Paxton (Dr. Lureen Elkins), Ann Dusenberry (Tina Wilcox), Mark Gruner (Mike Brody), Barry Coe (Tom Andrews), Susan French (Grace Witherspoon), Gary Springer (Andy Nicholas), Donna Wilkes (Jackie Peters), Gary Dubin (Eddie Marchand), John Dukakis (Paul ‘Polo’ Loman), G. Thomas Dunlop (Timmy Weldon), David Elliott (Larry Vaughn Jr.), Marc Gilpin (Sean Brody), Keith Gordon (Doug Fetterman), Cindy Grover (Lucy), Ben Marley (Patrick), Martha Swatek (Marge), Billy Van Zandt (Bob) and Gigi Vorgan (Brooke Peters).


Sorcerer (1977, William Friedkin)

It’s incredible how much concern director William Friedkin is able to get for his characters in Sorcerer. Now, the film’s really kind of like four or five movies in one–there are four prologues, with very full ones for Bruno Cremer and Roy Scheider, then there’s the story of Cremer, Scheider and Amidou (who also gets a prologue, just not a substantial one) in South America, then there’s the story of Ramon Bieri and his American oil company and how it affects the local South American population, then there’s the story of these four guys who have to drive dangerous chemicals to an oil well fire.

Sorcerer is packed.

The “real” movie, the actual drive across dangerous terrain, starts almost halfway into the film. It’s amazing stuff. The film’s beautifully edited by Bud S. Smith; he and Friedkin create impossibly tense situations. The success is even more impressive because none of the characters, save Cremer to some degree, are likable. Scheider’s a bit of a jerk, a bit of a moron.

But for about seventy-five percent of its run time, Sorcerer is glorious. Friedkin aims high and hits every note just right. Then things fall apart. There’s a lengthy, silly hallucination sequence. There’s odd characterizations, there’s too emphatic Tangerine Dream (who Friedkin usually let take a back seat to the great sound design). Sorcerer unravels in the home stretch.

The good stuff and the great stuff still makes the film worthwhile. It’s masterful work from Friedkin and Smith.

Bad finish though.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by William Friedkin; screenplay by Walon Green, based on a novel by Georges Arnaud; directors of photography, John M. Stephens and Dick Bush; edited by Bud S. Smith; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, John Box; released by Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures.

Starring Roy Scheider (‘Dominguez’), Bruno Cremer (‘Serrano’), Francisco Rabal (Nilo), Amidou (‘Martinez’), Ramon Bieri (Corlette), Peter Capell (Lartigue), Karl John (‘Marquez’), Friedrich von Ledebur (‘Carlos’), Chico Martínez (Bobby Del Rios), Joe Spinell (Spider) and Rosario Almontes (Agrippa).


The Fourth War (1990, John Frankenheimer)

With all the monologues–there aren’t any conversations, just one character talking while another listens–in The Fourth War, it feels like an adaptation of a play. It’s not. It’s based on a novel, which must be a brief read since War is plodding at ninety minutes. Given Frankenheimer got his start in television–adapting plays–one might think he’d notice treating War like a play would produce a better result.

He does not.

He also doesn’t realize Roy Scheider is a lot more interesting a devolving lunatic than as a misunderstood American hero. Harry Dean Stanton–who gives the film’s best performance as Scheider’s commanding officer–occasionally has voiceovers explaining and qualifying Scheider’s actions. It’s a terrible move, especially since the film later turns Scheider’s adversary–an atrocious Jürgen Prochnow–into a stereotypical evil commie.

Scheider similarly suffers. He’s good when he’s unlikable, but it’s Roy Scheider, half his onscreen persona is being likable. Once Lara Harris enters as the girl he needs to help, War falls even further to pieces. Harris isn’t bad, but it’s like she got the job to fool audiences watching the trailer into believing Isabella Rossellini is in the picture.

Tim Reid shows up–occasionally–as Scheider’s second-in-command. His lack of screen time, and Frankenheimer’s reliance on summary storytelling for really simple scenes, makes one wonder if War ran out of money during filming and the script got hacked down.

But in Frankenheimer’s tired hands, the film wouldn’t have been better longer.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Frankenheimer; screenplay by Stephen Peters and Kenneth Ross, based on the novel by Peters; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Robert F. Shugrue; music by Bill Conti; production designer, Alan Manzer; produced by Wolf Schmidt; released by New Age Releasing.

Starring Roy Scheider (Col. Jack Knowles), Jürgen Prochnow (Col. Valachev), Tim Reid (Lt. Col. Clark), Lara Harris (Elena), Harry Dean Stanton (Gen. Hackworth), Dale Dye (Sergeant Major) and William MacDonald (MP Corporal).


Blue Thunder (1983, John Badham)

Blue Thunder is astoundingly dumb. It’s not exactly bad, as there are some fantastic effects and some of the script has shockingly sublime moments, but it’s astoundingly dumb.

It starts off strong, with a decent enough first act. Daniel Stern is new to the Astro division of the LAPD and, through him, the film introduces Roy Scheider’s on the edge cop. Thunder is just an on the edge cop movie, only with helicopters. Their first night out stuff is fine.

When Candy Clark shows up as Scheider’s comically unstable girlfriend, things get shaky. Then Malcolm McDowell shows up as the British villain (working for the U.S. Government, however) and Thunder bellyflops. It recovers somewhat for the last thirty minutes, with the helicopter in action over LA stuff, but not entirely.

It’s a fun finale, but accepting its stupidity is one of the requirements for enjoying it. Writers Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby have this conspiracy subplot and they mangle it. It, and McDowell’s terrible performance, go far in dragging Thunder down.

The occasional sublime moments–there’s a great scene of Clark looking for Scheider–are memorable enough to leave a better impression than Thunder deserves.

Scheider’s good, Stern’s mediocre (but still likable).

It’s technically masterful. Badham can’t make a good movie, but he can shoot Panavision action well. He’s got great help from cinematographer John A. Alonzo and editors Edward M. Abroms and Frank Morriss.

Arthur B. Rubinstein’s score is repetitive but catchy.

Blue Thunder‘s often entertaining, but entirely stupid.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; written by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby; director of photography, John A. Alonzo; edited by Frank Morriss and Edward M. Abroms; music by Arthur B. Rubinstein; production designer, Sydney Z. Litwack; produced by Gordon Carroll; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Roy Scheider (Officer Frank Murphy), Daniel Stern (Officer Richard Lymangood), Malcolm McDowell (Col. F.E. Cochrane), Warren Oates (Capt. Jack Braddock), Candy Clark (Kate), Paul Roebling (Icelan), David Sheiner (Fletcher), Joe Santos (Montoya), James Murtaugh (Alf Hewitt) and Jason Bernard as The Mayor.


The Punisher (2004, Jonathan Hensleigh)

Considering Dolph Lundgren got famous playing a blond Russian and can definitely act better than Kevin Nash, who doesn’t even have any lines and is terrible, it’s telling Jonathan Hensleigh didn’t bring him back for a small role, an acknowledgment of the far superior 1989 Punisher adaptation.

Whereas that film–and to some extent, the one following this effort–tried to be a senselessly violent action revenge movie, Hensleigh’s Punisher tries to rationalize the comic book character, who’s never been conducive to such analysis. The closest is Garth Ennis’s recently concluded terminating work on the character, which acknowledges the unreality and tragedy of being an unstoppable killing machine.

Hensleigh tries to turn Thomas Jane’s Punisher into a sympathetic hero. He fails miserably and, as a result, gives Jane the worst written role in a movie filled with poorly written roles. When John Travolta, all in all, turns in a better performance than Will Patton, it might very be the end of the world as we know it.

Laura Harring is atrocious. Who else… oh, poor Roy Scheider. Why was he in this one?

The best performance is from Rebecca Romijn. Really. She’s actually totally believable as a regular person with real problems. Ben Foster and John Pinette are both good too, as Romijn’s sidekicks.

Hensleigh is a boring director, but not terrible. His wife, Gale Anne Hurd, probably got him the job. She should have brought in a real screenwriter.

Carlo Siliotto’s music, though inappropriate (it’s heroic), is all right.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh; screenplay by Hensleigh and Michael France, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru; director of photography, Conrad W. Hall; edited by Jeff Gullo and Steven Kemper; music by Carlo Siliotto; production designer, Michael Z. Hanan; produced by Avi Arad and Gale Anne Hurd; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Thomas Jane (Frank Castle), John Travolta (Howard Saint), Will Patton (Quentin Glass), Roy Scheider (Frank Castle Sr.), Laura Harring (Livia Saint), Ben Foster (Dave), Jon Pinette (Mr. Bumpo), Rebecca Romijn (Joan), Samantha Mathis (Maria Castle) and Marcus Johns (Will Castle).


Last Embrace (1979, Jonathan Demme)

Last Embrace goes a long way in showing what’s wrong with Hitchcock homages. Most of Last Embrace isn’t even a real Hitchcock homage–it’s a Niagara homage and Niagara was Henry Hathaway–but Embrace is supposed to be Hitchcock, down to Miklos Rozsa’s score (but he never did any Hitchcock). So it’s kind of a second-hand Hitchcock homage, a homage to Hitchcock homages, only without being funny about it. Last Embrace shows why location shooting and accurate film stock (versus Technicolor) miss the majority of the point to the Hitchcock film. Oh, geez, I just remembered the last two references (I forgot the earlier ones, because the Niagara realization threw me). Psycho and Suspicion.

The problem with the bad Hitchcock homage is Demme, but the problem with the film overall is the screenplay. The film’s missing its denouement, sure, but it fails to tell its two stories–one, of a secret agent who has a breakdown and, two, of a man who’s on a mysterious hit list for something he doesn’t know he did. Last Embrace is from a novel and I’m sure the novel went deeper in to some of the particulars, but for the film to ignore the first plot once the second one takes over (much more entertaining, thanks to a wonderful Sam Levene). It’s a pointless ninety-seven minutes and not even an amusing experience.

Some of the acting is fantastic. Since Roy Scheider doesn’t have much to do–and he’s Cary Grant from Suspicion for the last fifteen minutes–his performance is best in pieces. Demme shoots New York beautifully and Scheider works great in New York, so it works out more often than not. Like I said above, Levene is a wonderful presence in the film and it’s impossible to imagine it without him. Janet Margolin, who I remember from nothing, is absolutely fantastic in the film. She really holds it together until Levene shows up. John Glover is–strangely–bad and annoying as an annoying professor, which is too bad.

The film runs ninety-seven minutes, but I doubt there’s a superior hundred and ten minute version out there. Demme tries to go for style above substance (or story) and when the best thing about your style is transitional shots of New York City… well, the movie’s in definite trouble. But most of the fault–there not being a main character, just someone who has different reactions to different people and different situations–falls on the script (and seeing screenwriter Shaber’s credits, Last Embrace is a singular achievement).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Demme; screenplay by David Shaber, based on a novel by Murray Teigh Bloom; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Barry Malkin; music by Miklos Rosza; produced by Michael Taylor and Dan Wigutow; released by United Artists.

Starring Roy Scheider (Harry Hannan), Janet Margolin (Ellie Fabian), John Glover (Richard Peabody), Sam Levene (Sam Urdell), Charles Napier (Dave Quittle), Christopher Walken (Eckart), Jacqueline Brookes (Dr. Coopersmith), David Margulies (Rabbi Josh Drexel), Andrew Duncan (Bernie Meckler) and Marcia Rodd (Adrian).


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).


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