Rating: The Good – 62.1 Genre: Thriller Duration: 102 mins Director: Jonathan Demme Stars: Roy Scheider, Janet Margolin, John Glover
Jonathan Demme’s Hitchcockian thriller is an interesting film even if it doesn’t live up to its potential. Roy Scheider stars as retired spy who finds himself the target of a mysterious conspiracy which he believes lies within the agency that retired him. Scheider is his usual competent self and really shines in the early parts of the film when his character is coming apart. John Glover offers interesting support as always and Christopher Walken pops up in one of his earlier appearances. Like De Palma did in Dressed to Kill and Body Double, Demme is explicitly channeling Hitchcock in the way he sets up many of his scenes and it adds a certain dramatic quality to the film. However, the plot shift about halfway through which really counts as a genre change (Hitchcock would be proud) weakens the film as it substitutes one form of intrigue with a lesser form. Last Embrace is still an interesting watch though and counts as another opportunity to catch Scheider at the height of his powers and Demme at the beginning of his career.
Rating: The Good – 90.1 Genre: Musical Duration: 123 mins Director: Bob Fosse Stars: Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Leland Palmer
Bob Fosse’s autobiographical existential musical is an astoundingly profound and honest exercise in self confrontation not to mention one of Stanley Kubrick’s favourite films! It’s also a veritable masterclass in choreography, music, and story telling. All that Jazz tells the compelling tale of a musical director whose drug fuelled life is steadily disintegrating as he struggles to balance the demands of his ego with those of his family, girlfriend, and ultimately his body. Roy Scheider is nothing short of mesmerising in the lead role, giving the performance of his career, but he is ably helped by a strong supporting cast including Jessica Lange.
“Summer’s over. You’re the mayor of Shark City.” This 1975 classic is Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus and arguably one of the best directorial achievements from anyone let alone someone who was essentially directing his third film. Even if you have managed not to see it yet, you’re probably familiar with the plot. Chief of Amity Island police, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) believes a large great white shark has staked a claim to the waters off his idyllic island but the township don’t want to know given that their lucrative summer season is about to begin. As the shark attacks continue, Brody teams up with marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and salty fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) and together they set out to catch and kill the terrifying fish.
Jaws is beautifully filmed full of wide beach and ocean shots and Spielberg uses that masterful technique of tracking the lead character early on in the film as he walks through the town in order to familiarise the audience with the town (a technique his protege Joe Dante would go onto use to great effect in Gremlins and The Burbs). Thus, Amity Island feels welcoming and homely to the viewer and, with that, the horrific intrusion of the shark into this environment feels as alien and scary to the audience as it should to the characters. The tension that Spielberg builds prior to the individual shark attacks would have Hitchcock salivating as the sounds of kids splashing and laughing in the water while radios play somewhere on the beach is slowly replaced by John Williams’ legendary creeping score. In fact, one now infamous scene climaxes with a seemingly effortless “dolly-zoom” shot (dolly-back/zoom-in) that Hitchcock spent years trying to pull off (finally accomplishing it in Vertigo).
The acting is uniformly superb with the great Roy Scheider being as likeable and as watchable as ever. The chemistry between him and the other two leads is terrific and drives the latter half of the film when the story involves nobody but them and the shark. The shots of the shark itself work brilliantly even to this day as Spielberg made up for the static nature of the mechanical prop (named “Bruce”) by intermingling shots of it with footage of actual great whites.
Jaws not only forged a whole new genre of film making but was probably the first major studio blockbuster and so it changed cinema for ever. However, even if that were not the case, it would still remain to this day one of the most entertaining yet technically proficient exercises in movie making. “Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.”
Rating: The Ugly – 65.8 Genre: Horror, Adventure Duration: 116 mins Director: Jeannot Szwark Stars: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
As a sequel to a landmark in American cinema (no pun intended), Jaws 2 was never going to live up to its predecessor especially considering that Spielberg (the man whose vision made Jaws what it was) and Dreyfus (whose chemistry with Scheider was perfect) weren’t featuring. However, Roy Scheider did return (only because of a contractual obligation with Universal), so did Lorraine Gray as Brody’s wife and John Williams even chipped in with another score. The result is actually quite entertaining as we reacquaint ourselves with the beautiful Amity Island (though not nearly as lovely as it was when Spielberg shot it) and its colourful inhabitants. The story is more of the same beginning with a series of incidents at sea which Brody believes are shark related but no one else does and culminating in a dramatic showdown. The set pieces are obviously different and reasonably entertaining though nowhere near as terrifying as the original’s. Scheider is as terrific as ever as the near-iconic Chief Brody and let’s be honest, two more hours of watching him play the no-nonsense every-man police chief makes this film worth the watch on its own.
Rating: The Ugly – 65 Genre: Action Duration: 109 mins Director: John Badham Stars: Roy Scheider, Warren Oates, Daniel Stern, Malcolm McDowell
A police helicopter pilot (Roy Scheider) becomes embroiled in a military conspiracy involving a hi-tech offensive surveillance helicopter called “Blue Thunder” which results in him commandeering the machine in order to bring the conspirators to justice. Despite the story being pure nonsense and some plain awful dialogue, John Badham’s film works due to the watchable actors on show (in addition to the great Scheider, Warren Oates, Daniel Stern, and Malcolm McDowell also have prominent roles) and the solid chemistry between them. In the 80’s and 90’s, Badham was one of the kings of the guilty pleasure movie and while Blue Thunder very much has that quality about it, there are some nicely crafted moments. There are some excellent aerial stunts and the shots of the helicopters flying around LA feel real and provide an original setting for some funny and thrilling moments alike. It’s just too bad about that screenplay.
Like all Elmore Leonard stories, 52 Pick-Up doesn’t play by the rules and the result is an unpredictable yet highly engaging story of a wealthy engineer who is framed and blackmailed by an unlikely gang of depraved criminals. Roy Scheider is terrific in the lead role and he is matched all the way by John Glover’s truly unique bad guy. In fact, if this film received the attention it deserved Glover’s performance would likely be remembered as one of the more entertaining villains. And truth be told, Glover’s henchman, Clarence Williams III’s formidable psychopath, wouldn’t be too far behind him. Ann-Margaret adds solid support as Scheider’s wife and a number of other lesser known actors do equally well to make this movie an outstanding character piece. On the directing front, John Frankenheimer’s handling of the film is impeccable and he is content for the story to play itself out in a relatively unorthodox manner. This makes the film a rewarding watch for those who feel saturated by the typical Hollywood template but, more importantly, it augments the unpredictability making 52 Pick Up a uniquely tense and enjoyable thriller.
The ultimate cop thriller sees hard-boiled detectives Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Cloudy Russo (Roy Scheider) take on a deviously clever French drug dealer (Fernando Rey) as he attempts to smuggle “Grade A, junk of the month” into New York. As gritty as it is savage, this film pulls no punches as it offers us a glimpse into the obsessed mind like few other films have. Friedkin cleverly draws us into this dark world by familiarising us with the lead characters and their idiosyncratic relationships early on. From then on, it’s just the small matter of great dialogue, seminal acting, and startingly insightful direction that keep us glued to the screen. The French Connection seems to capture the essence of real New York like few other movies as William Friedkin chose the type of run down locations we had rarely seen in movies up until that point. The car chase has become the stuff of legend and as much as the end result was due to Jerry Greenberg’s editing and the death-defying stunt driving, it was also down to Hackman and Friedkin’s tight-knit understanding as to what Doyle’s face needed to show during the pursuit. Don Ellis’ minimalist score deserves a mention too as it remains one of the decade’s most effective. Just don’t get caught pickin your feet!
Rating: The Good – 77 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 116 mins Director: Peter Hyams Stars: Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren
Though on paper this counts as a sequel to Kubrick’s masterpiece, the film is better served if the audience treats it as a stand alone straight-shooting sci-fi. As the latter, this film stands up quite well compared to most space-based science-fiction. It tells a compelling story of a joint US-Soviet mission to Jupiter to investigate a strange mysterious monolith orbiting one of the planet’s moons that may or may not have caused a previous mission to fail and leave the derelict ship adrift. The fact that the new mission is taking place against a backdrop of political instability between the two super-powers strains diplomatic relations between the on-board astronauts and scientists resulting in a climate of distrust. Veteran sci-fi director Peter Hyams (he who gave us the excellent Outland) does a beautiful job with the look of the film (he also took on DP duties) and the special effects are striking even to this day. The acting is first rate with the always great Roy Scheider providing a strong lead and John Lithgow, Bob Balaban, and Helen Mirren all doing well in support. However, operating in the shadow of 2001: A Space Odyssey was never going to be easy and while Hyams is technically adept he (like everyone else) was never going to be able to match Kubrick in terms of his vision. His only real mistake was that he gave it a go and as a result we get a pretty ham-fisted message-laden ending which the film could’ve done without. Minus that ending, however, and this is an excellent film.
Rating: The Good – 72.2 Genre: Crime Duration: 103 mins Director: Philip D’Antoni Stars: Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Victor Arnold
Philip D’Antoni’s role as producer of The French Connection saw him take the helm of Sonny Grosso’s story about a special NYPD unit which uses any means necessary to tackle organised crime and ensure their arrests yield sentences of seven years and up. Roy Scheider stars as the leader of this unit which soon into the movie, becomes embroiled in a series of mob kidnappings when one of their undercover men is mistaken as a kidnapper. In some ways, The Seven-Ups is highly reminiscent of The French Connection. Urs Furrer’s cinematography gives the streets of New York that same coarse atmosphere while Don Ellis (who scored The French Connection) pitches in with another memorable 70’s-esque score. Scheider gives his usual charming and charismatic performance as the tough cop not afraid to bend the rules and Tony Lo Bianco pops up as Scheider’s snitch. D’Antoni even throws in a car chase which rivals that most famous of chase scenes from The French Connection and in some ways actually surpasses it.
The result is an entertaining and gritty movie the type of which the 70’s seemed uniquely capable of producing. That said, D’Antoni’s directorial efforts fall far short of Friedkin’s and while Scheider was probably capable of giving something close to Hackman’s Popeye Doyle, the somewhat uninspired writing never gives him the chance. His character doesn’t develop as much as it should and so we never really throw in with him. Moreover, the actors constantly struggle to get into sync with each other and with the spirit of the film, another indication that D’Antoni wasn’t up to the task of director. Despite these shortcomings, The Seven-Ups remains an interesting and very enjoyable feature worth seeing for those 70’s vibes alone but it would’ve been very interesting to see what Friedkin did with it.
Rating: The Good – 72.4 Genre: Crime Duration: 86 mins Director: Eric Red Stars: Roy Scheider, Adam Baldwin, Harley Cross
Eric Red’s success as screenwriter of The Hitcher and Near Dark saw him get the chance to direct his next script, the gritty road-thriller Cohen and Tate. The film follows two contract killers played by the great Roy Scheider and a young Adam Baldwin who after brutally killing two government witnesses and their federal protection, head for Houston to deliver the kidnapped young boy of their victims to some people who wish to speak to him. Who those people are and what they want is largely irrelevant because Cohen and Tate is all about the car journey, the two abrasive personalities of the killers, their uneasy partnership, the police pursuit, and the mind games of the clever (perhaps overly so) little boy who they are forced to keep alive.
It’s a lot to contend with but Red’s unique thriller doesn’t get bogged down in it. In fact, it’s a very lean film that sits easily within the confines of that car thanks to the slick writing and interesting performances. Red’s screenplays always kept a certain degree of space between the audience and his characters and this film is the strongest example of that tendency. The two leads are chilling and intensely mean. Furthermore, given that the film opens and settles before we even see them, Red makes sure we see them as intruders throughout. In fact, their entrance shatters the uneasy quiet which the opening sets and if you’re watching the uncut version, it will leave you queasy. The characters are defined further with the type of affectations all the great 80’s villains had. Scheider’s Cohen with a hearing aid which goes unmentioned until a lot later and Baldwin’s Tate with a Terminator like garb. Red intrigues us further by writing one hell of a personality conflict into their relationship which gives the kidnapped boy lots of psychological rope to pull on. Red isn’t going for realism in this film as these guys are either too slick (in the case of Cohen), too insane (in the case of Tate), and too clever (in the case of the kid). But such sharp edges to the characters ensure plenty of sparks will fly when they’re thrown together and that’s exactly what you get in Cohen and Tate.
Given this was his debut behind the camera, Red is to be commended for demonstrating some substantial style. There are a couple of unpolished scenes, particularly the opening, as he struggles to get the actors working from the same page. But when in and around the car, he’s buzzing. One scene in particular involves the two killers using the police to walk them through their own roadblock and it’s a minor triumph of staging, editing, and overall composition. The result is a scintillating moment of tension which most directors would be envious of.
The last word here should go to the two leads. Baldwin is a touch cliched in his depiction of the sadistic Tate but it’s undeniably an intimidating and entertaining turn. On the other hand, Scheider is electric as the clever, methodical, and mostly heartless Cohen. Yes, his character is written with real verve but it’s the great man’s unique presence that steers it in such a focused manner. Cohen and Tate has seemingly been forgotten as the decades have gone by but a recent Blu-ray release and a resurgence of interest in the gritty 80’s thrillers of Mann and Friedkin might hopefully dictate that it finally gets the attention it deserves.
Rating: The Good – 79.7 Genre: Thriller Duration: 125 mins Director: John Schlesenger Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider
Atmospheric adaptation of William Goldman’s novel that sees grad student/marathoner Dustin Hoffman get involved in a conspiracy that involves his brother (played by Roy Scheider in outstanding form), diamond smuggling, and an ex-Nazi with a penchant for dentistry (Laurence Olivier). As with all the great 70′s thrillers, Marathon Man is defined by a heightened sense of paranoia thanks largely to Michael Small’s memorable score and the top class acting on show. Olivier and Hoffman got all the plaudits but one mustn’t overlook the contribution of Roy Scheider who carries the opening act on his shoulders. Rumour has it, there is a whole sequence of scenes missing where Scheider tears through Paris wreaking vengeance on those who attempted to kill him before returning to New York and that these scenes were removed because of their violence. Judging by how good he is in the cut version it would be a treat to see these scenes restored.
Rating: The Good – 85.7 Genre: Adventure, Thriller Duration: 121 mins Director: William Friedkin Stars: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal
William Friedkin’s thunderous examination of human desperation is one of the best films of the 1970′s and a worthy adaptation to follow in the substantial footsteps of Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. It follows a series of men who for different reasons (shown in the first 30 minutes of the film) end up hiding in the back end of the world in some nameless South American country where an oil company is building a pipeline. Desperation brought them there but desperation also drives each of them to want to escape the torturous way of life and lethal working conditions. When an oil well explodes four of them are given the opportunity to earn enough money to do just that. The only catch is they must drive two trucks loaded with unstable dynamite through 200 miles of the roughest terrain imaginable. Friedkin is in his element here and he captures the ferocious journey like few others could. He also takes his time in the buildup allowing us to become familiar but also unfamiliar with the four protagonists as the mystery within each of their characters deepens. Roy Scheider heads the cast in one of his finest performances as a former getaway driver and Bruno Cremer co-stars in an excellent turn as a French businessman on the run for fraud. On the technical front, John Box’s raw production design deserves special mention for managing so well to depict the sweaty squalor from which the four men are attempting to flee. Equally impressive is Tangerine Dream’s nightmare-like score which counts as one of their best and which Friedkin uses to sublime effect. Sorcerer is more of a visceral experience than a conceptual one and in that sense, it is a complete triumph. There are few films imbued with such passion and determination in terms of both the story it tells and the Herzogian like efforts that went into making it.