Monday, February 11, 2008

Roy Scheider, 1932-2008

Roy Scheider and Gene Hackman,
Roy Scheider (l.) with Gene Hackman in The French Connection

The death has been announced of actor Roy Scheider. Most of the obituaries I've read mention him first and foremost for his starring role as the police chief of Amity in the 1975 blockbuster Jaws. I, however, would prefer to remember him for playing New York police detective Buddy Russo, the partner of Popeye Doyle in the 1971 classic The French Connection.

Scheider's Buddy Russo is a relatively calm and collected officer who has to deal with the manic, raging, and violent Doyle (played, of course, by Gene Hackman) while the two of them investigate a potentially major narcotics deal in early 1970s New York City. I'm normally a huge fan of the old studio movies, when everything was done on the studio back lots. Also, with the advent of color, and especially the changes to Technicolor that made it less brilliant from the 1960s on, a lot of the color movies of the period look to my eyes more dated today than do older black-and-white movies. And yet, there's something to be said about movies like The French Connection simply as a document: one of the advantages to shooting on location is the authenticity that could not possibly have been reproduced on the back lots. What a joy to be able to see New York City as it was then, falling apart and only a few years away from Gerald Ford's telling the city to "drop dead". In the old days, we would only have gotten a few establishing shots.

Scheider was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in The French Connection.

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