Love Roy Scheider. He was such a great, wry center between the cheesiness that is Richard Dreyfuss and the husky brilliance that is Robert Shaw in Jaws. One of the greatest scenes in the history of cinema is the cabin scene, where, after he and Dreyfuss show off their various scars (Scheider sheepishly glances at his appendix scar then thinks better of mentioning it), Shaw’s character talks about being blown out of a submarine and waiting to be rescued as sharks swam all around. It’s a master class in great acting, and, while it doesn’t appear Dreyfuss took notes, maybe Scheider did.
Oddly enough, Dreyfuss was Fosse’s first choice to play himself in All That Jazz, a bizarre casting decision that I can only attribute to the fact that Dreyfuss was “hot” at the time (as in, everybody wanted him in movies, not as in everybody wanted him in bed. I mean…ew). Dreyfuss was still doughy, and his nasal cackle couldn’t be more wrong for Fosse. Thank God the two couldn’t stand each other and Roy Scheider was cast.
Not a dancer, Scheider is still completely convincing as Joe Gideon. The trick is, he isn’t really playing Fosse; he’s playing Joe Gideon. Meaning, he doesn’t try to be Fosse the lanky, pigeon-toed dancer with a whole lot to prove. Instead, he plays what Fosse wanted people to think he was: a tough, hard-boiled perfectionist who’s sexy and, at heart, basically a good guy. Of course, Fosse had all of that in him, but Scheider lives in the skin of Gideon, not Fosse, and it’s the performance of his career. Up until he ends up in the hospital, he does an amazing job of looking weary and yet still absolutely ready to pounce, like an old wildcat who’s become the prince of his domain through audacity and sheer will. Even when he’s sick and on the verge of death, there’s still a restless gleam in his eye, and in the marvelous scene where he rips out all the tubes and stumbles through the hospital, Scheider is scary, funny, and touching all at once. He even manages to yell up at God, “What’s the matter? You don’t like musical comedy?,” and make it sound an exhausted plea that happens to be funny. (Imagine the cheese factor had Dreyfuss tried to milk that line for laughs.)
It’s not Fosse’s greatest movie; I think that’s Cabaret, which is damn near perfect. But Fosse was a GREAT filmmaker, hugely influential, who completely understood the camera; all of his films, except for Sweet Charity, are great, great movies. Roy Scheider’s presence in that much-too-small body of work helps make All That Jazz a lean and beautiful thing despite Fosse’s incredible self-indulgence.
I loved Scheider so much from All That Jazz that I followed him from there on out, but unfortunately, pretty much all of his subsequent movies sucked. There was 52 Pick Up, a bad and very creepy quickie based on an Elmore Leonard book, Still of the Night, a much-hyped Hitchcock rip-off with Meryl Streep, and something with a helicopter that was just awful. It does suck that great roles come around so rarely, and it’s really too bad that he never got the late career rediscovery, like Peter Fonda or Dean Stockwell; he would have been a great, grizzled presence in a movie like Magnolia or Mulholland Drive. But the nice thing is, nobody will remember the crappy movies. The performances in All That Jazz and Jaws are the ones. Not bad.