I love Roy Scheider and his films, that love stems from how I was in awe of his performance as Amity Island Police Chief Martin Brody in Jaws. For me, that role made it cool to wear glasses as a kid.
He had a few promotions over the years, heading back to sea (this time underneath) and Spielberg as Captain Nathan Bridger, at the helm of Seaquest DSV. Take that Hooper!
He even played the President on three occasions, something which Richard Dreyfuss also did in the remake of Fail Safe.
Scheider, who sadly passed away in 2008, would have been 85 today (10 November) and this post follows on from my articles on Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss, all who celebrated significant birthdays this year.
As with those before, I'll be examining both Scheider's contribution to Jaws and also my personal favourite roles outside of the Jaws universe. Scheider was one of those actors who held a special place in my filmic heart and alongside Roger Moore and Harrison Ford he was part of that holy trinity of actors that I'd follow to any film they were in, jest because they were in it, not mattering its subject or genre. I'm not sure what I would have done if all three had been in the same film together. Probably exploded like Bruce.
Amity Island Police Chief Martin Brody is the epitome of the everyman hero, he may be Chief of police but he’s an outsider and out of his depth, quite literally by the end of the film.
Apparently Spielberg originally wanted Robert Duvall to play Brody, he wanted Quint and Charlton Heston wanted to play the Chief of police, but Spielberg nixed that. After all, we all knew Heston would win against a giant fish, Scheider. You genuinely couldn’t call it. And that is still what makes that ending so sublime, Brody almost willing the oxygen tank to ‘blow up’.
Scheider’s performance is the glue that holds Jaws together; we are also the newcomer that experiences the world of Amity Island through his eyes – even if it is only an island if you look at it from the ocean. It all helps that he is like us, an everyman. He’s afraid of the water, can’t tie a knot and doesn’t even get to drive the boat! Not exactly Dwayne Johnson, but that is exactly what we love about Brody and Scheider’s performance. He’s endearing, likable and relatable.
And Scheider also just so happens to be the purveyor of the finest ad libs about needing a bigger boat. His reaction says it all, who needs a working shark when Scheider’s face says it all. Terrifying but hilarious at the same time, no one else could ever have played Brody.
So, pour yourself a pint of red wine...you might want to let it breathe a little, never mind. Pour yourself a pint of red wine and raise a glass to the late great Roy Scheider as I reveal my top five Roy Scheider non-Jaws related roles.
As this list is based on Scheider films I’ve seen it means I can’t include All That Jazz (1979) or William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977) as I’ve not had the pleasure of watching them…yet. Sorcerer is back on the big screen though and has just been released on Bluray.
Marathon Man (1976)
Jaws, the highest grossing film of all time and the first film to smash the $100 million barrier, so what does its lead actor, Roy Scheider do next? He takes third billing in a taut conspiracy thriller. But what a film and who wouldn’t be happy to take third billing after Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier.
Hoffman is the ‘Marathon Man’ of the title and Scheider plays his brother, who just so happens to be a covert courier who gets into a whole lot of trouble. The film may be most famous for its dentistry scene, but for me the highlight has to be Scheider being attacked in his hotel room. It’s taut, edge of your seat stuff and still as grim and bloody today, losing none of its power.
Scheider’s role is more a supporting one but he bristles with real confidence with those that he is in, and check out his push ups. Not sure that I still buy that Hoffman is his brother though.
Great unnerving score from Michael Small, who was also responsible for the music for Jaws the Revenge.
Scheider's a real smooth man of action in this and one of his later roles saw him back in the thick of it as Frank Castle Sr in the Thomas Jane version of The Punisher. Worth seeing the opening with Scheider alone, I'd like to think they drank to their legs and swapped shark stories re the making of Jaws and Deep Blue Sea.
TRIVIA: Scheider first read the book during the making of Jaws, prior to him being cast in the film. An eight minute scene with Scheider was deleted and is now presumed lost.
Last Embrace/Still of the Night (1979 and 1982)
I’ve had to include both these films as I must have seen them at very similar times and both owe a debt to Hitchcockian thrillers.
The former is helmed be future Silence of the Lambs director, Jonathan Demme and explores grief and intrigue in a similar way to Vertigo. As ever, nothing is quite as it seems after the death of his wife and when he suddenly starts receiving death threats.
In the latter Scheider plays a psychiatrist and after one of his patients is found murdered is sucked into a murky world of intrigue and into the arms of Meryl Streep. Is she the murderer and is Scheider next to be murdered?
TRIVIA: Still of the Night was originally planned to be filmed in black and white
Blue Thunder (1983)
The film is written by Alien (Jaws in space, that was the pitch) scribe Dan O'Bannon and is about a state of the art surveillance police helicopter that is probably more pertinent today than when it was first made. Vietnam vet Frank Murphy (Scheider) is the loose cannon pilot with rookie (played by Home Alone's Daniel Stern) who uncovers a conspiracy and put their own lives in danger.
Scheider is as reliable as ever, he just looks to be having fun and is a joy to watch. The helicopter antics are fun and exciting enough, especially over the city and I especially loved his Casio LCD watch with ‘countdown’ that was used to great effect in several scenes to check Murphy’s ‘sanity’. Essentially I used to watch it pretending that Chief Brody now flew helicopters.
Bad guy duties fall to Malcolm McDowell - another pilot who - conveniently Scheider’s character came up against in 'Nam. The pair became good friends off screen and unable to attend Scheider's funeral he sent flowers and a card to his family.
Its director, John Badham, would go onto direct Richard Dreyfuss in Stakeout a few years later and he clearly enjoyed the world of new technology, helming Wargames the same year as Blue Thunder and Short Circuit in 1986.
Blue Thunder was in hot pursuit of that other all singing and dancing helicopter Airwolf, the former gaining its own TV series that lasted just one season. Out when Scheider and in came James Farentino. Helping was Bubba Smith, future Hightower in the Police Academy movies, and Dana Carvey, Garth from Wayne’s World.
TRIVIA: McDowell was terrified of flying and threw up after most flight scenes.
I’ve never been able to sit all the way through 2001: A Space Odyssey but I love this more straight forward sequel that essentially attempts to explain everything in the first film.
Subtitled The Year We Make Contact, Scheider plays Dr Heywood Floyd (a role originally played by William Sylvester) living in regret over the loss of the USS Discovery, its crew and the ship's doomed Jupiter mission. The world is full of political tension as the USA and USSR are on the brink of nuclear Armageddon. Scheider is given the chance to discover what went wrong on a joint US/USSR mission ensuring it is anything but a smooth ride and fraught with tension and danger.
Of course, it will always be unfairly compared to the original and features some memorable visuals, good special effects and great performances from Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren and Bob Balaban, still sporting his Matt Hooper beard from Close Encounters.
And not forgetting Scheider’s pet dolphin in the opening, of course Scheider would link with dolphins again – this time of the talking kind - as captain of Sequest DSV.
TRIVIA: Famously Stanley Kubrick, the director of 2001, destroyed all the models and sets so the Discovery was recreated from photographs.
Cohen and Tate (1988)
With that thin angular face, Scheider was born to play the cop or detective (see The French Connection, Jaws, 52 Pick Up etc) or the bad guy and he played the role of assassin with aplomb in Cohen and Tate, written and directed by Eric Red who wrote another road movie, The Hitcher, two years earlier.
Like that film this pretty much takes places on the road or in the claustrophobic confines of a car and is full of bloody carnage and chaos.
A boy is witness to a mob hit and is kidnapped by two mismatched hitmen. Cohen, an older professional (Scheider) who is constantly clashing with his partner Tate, a younger hot headed killer. Like Jaws then it is another three-player, this time essentially Scheider the grizzled Quint.
Roy Scheider's performance as Cohen, the sleek professional hit-man is wonderful. We know all we need to know about him with the way he expertly puts on his black gloves at the start of the film. Adam Baldwin (Tate) is just as engaging, although obviously we are all secretly rooting for Scheider.
Uneven in places, sure, but worth the tense ride for the explosive climax in what could legitimately be argued as Roy Scheider’s last great film role. Discuss.
And if villainous Scheider is your thing then it is also worth catching him in his season one recurring role in US drama Third Watch.
TRIVIA: Eric Red also wrote Blue Steel and Near Dark
And Scheider's own personal favourite performance? That would be as choreographer/director Joe Gideon in Bob Fosse's musical All That Jazz. A role that he was Oscar nominated for and then went straight into production for a small independent film called Jaws 2. You may have heard of it?
Roy, we miss you, but we’ll always have the characters you created.
By Dean Newman
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