Roy Scheider, Lost Sorcerer
It's sad, sometimes, to see the career of a fine actor sidelined by influences far beyond his control. Roy Scheider was one such actor. He turned in amazing performances in a number of great films, and then I watched him basically fade from the silver screen, and for reasons which I can hardly claim to know or understand. He did take on a rather harsh physical aspect as he aged, so perhaps that had something to do with the scarcity of starring roles in his later years. Scheider also had the extreme misfortune to get wrapped up in some truly awful projects, but whether that was because of poor judgment on his part, or out of desperation, or the luck of the draw I can't say.
What I can say is that he was an extremely fine actor.
My favorite single performance would have to be his turn as Henry "Doc" Levy, the totally freaking scary Jewish secret agent in the Dustin Hoffman/Laurence Olivier vehicle MARATHON MAN. He was a supporting character in that film, but he was absolutely believable as a canny badass intelligence officer. This role came in 1976. This was five years after THE FRENCH CONNECTION and three years before ALL THAT JAZZ. The 70s, I reckon, were the best years for this formidable actor.
But the best Roy Scheider movie that I ever saw was SORCERER, directed by William Friedkin who had, of course, directed THE FRENCH CONNECTION. I've been told that the movie was supposed to have starred Steve McQueen, who would, I'm sure, have been quite effective in the role. But I'm glad the part ended up in the hands of Roy Scheider.
SORCERER is easily one of the most depressing films I've ever witnessed. One can believe that the inhabitants of the South American jungle village in which the movie takes place are, in fact, lost souls trapped in the lowest dungeon of Hell. Scheider is there because he was stupid enough to try to rip off the Mob. His fellow damned are all there for various, if similar, reasons. All rotting away in this hideously filthy, wet, tropical hole.
In fact, the environment around the actors is pretty much a character itself. The drenching skies loom constantly over the scenes. The jungle presses in everywhere and throws down, big time, every chance it gets. Trees block the road. Vines inhibit movement. Rain washes away the route. Rot is a constant and overbearing menace.
One of the more striking images from the movie involves the crossing by one of the large trucks used in the film (to move desperately needed dynamite) on a rope bridge over a raving whitewater jungle river. How this scene was shot is beyond me. It certainly wasn't classic special effects, and I can't figure out how it was done unless...well, unless the director had someone actually drive a multi-ton truck on a rotting rope suspension bridge over a raging whitewater river in the middle of a monstrous jungle. It remains one of the most tension-bound film experiences that I can recommend.
If you've never seen SORCERER, starring Roy Scheider, do yourself a favor and nab a copy. One of Friedkin's finest efforts, and certainly (for me) the best movie Roy Scheider ever made (and that's a hell of a statement).
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