Thursday, March 20, 2008

RIP Paul Scofield


I get a kick out of this still, from A Man for All Seasons, which you can see in greater detail at this autograph site in the U.K. It indicates that Scofield, an actor of intimidating talent, was easygoing about the celebrity he fiercely resisted. (He signed it in 2004, five years after his last film and TV appearance.)

Alas, its value has increased as of today. The actor has died, age 86. He was one of only a handful of performers to win the Tony and Oscar for the same part*, and one of the few to achieve the "Triple Crown," earning an Emmy for 1969's Male of the Species. None of this meant much to him: He acted for the love of the craft, and didn't go in for honors. I assume he picked up his 1962 Tony for his Thomas More in person, but sat out the 1966 Oscar ceremony, leaving his co-star Wendy Hiller (also in the picture, and herself a nominee that year) to do the honors regarding the Best Picture winner.

Tony and Oscar got it right. Charlton Heston played Charlton Heston in the part, not badly, and Jeremy Northam has it on The Tudors, which returns to Showtime on March 30. But no one could play its oft-infuriating rectitude, and the terrible price of following one's conscience, as exquisitely as Scofield. His voice, his carriage: Impeccable. I recorded it a few weeks ago and must watch it again.

More was his only New York stage appearance, outside of what I have read was a botched-in-the-presentation King Lear, not his fault. He was world-famous for his Lear, and we have some sort of record in Peter Brook's interestingly glacial 1971 film, a stern, black-and-white telling that I guess is more Brook than Scofield. I would have loved to see his Salieri in the original London production of Amadeus; what fun he must have had with its prickling of pretense.

What we do have are his occasional film and TV appearances, about which he was picky. It's a flab-free resume. He was off to a good start as an undercover officer in the fine fact-based WWII thriller Carve Her Name with Pride (1958), then after his More years switched sides to play a cultivated but cunning Nazi officer in John Frankenheimer's The Train (1964). He was excellent opposite Burt Lancaster, his co-star in 1973's spy thriller Scorpio, adding a touch of class to lower-brow director Michael Winner's resume. He played Tobias opposite Katharine Hepburn in the uneven, rather humorless 1973 American Film Theatre production of A Delicate Balance, and Judge Danforth (an inside-out More) against Daniel Day-Lewis in the middling 1996 film of The Crucible, his final bigscreen credit. 1994 was a more fitting last hurrah for the actor, whose last assignment was voicing a 1999 TV film of Animal Farm: He earned a second Oscar nomination as Ralph Fiennes' conflicted dad in Quiz Show, and was most enjoyable in the Masterpiece Theater production of Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit.

But Scofield had me at More. The film made a huge impression on me. Best wishes to his family (he was married 64 years to actress Joy Parker, another impressive achievement) as the curtain rings down on a great career.

*The others, you ask? In alphabetical order, Jack Albertson (The Subject Was Roses), Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker), Shirley Booth (Come Back, Little Sheba), Yul Brynner (The King and I), Jose Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac), Joel Grey (Cabaret), and Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady). August company.

3 comments:

filmer said...

Mr. Cashill,

A fine piece, and thank you for your tribute to Paul Scofield.

Do you know how "Male of the Species" can be seen?

I was riveted by his performance in 1969 when NBC aired it on Prudential's "On Stage" and didn't even notice Sean Connery or Michael Caine, the other male co-stars.

Is it possible the Caine-Connery clout can have an effect on getting this teledrama put on DVD?

Elizabeth said...

Mr. Cashill,

I must also recommend to you his fine performance in a Noel Coward piece, included in the recent DVD compilation of Coward plays. He appeared in a BBC Playhouse production of Coward's Song at Twilight in 1982, playing Hugo Latymer opposite Deborah Kerr and June Tobin. His scenes with Kerr in particular are very fine.

I must also share in your appreciation of his performance in Man For All Seasons, as well as his fine portrayal of the King of France in Branagh's film of Henry V.

Robert Cashill said...

Much obliged for adding to the memories. I can only imagine, given its starry cast, that MALE OF THE SPECIES is tied up in some sort of rights predicament, or simply languishing for want of interest. It's good to let people know there's desire for them, and to alert of us all of DVDs that may have slipped under the radar.