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The Films of Sydney Pollack

The Slender Thread

This Property is Condemned

The Scalphunters (September 30/13)

The Scalphunters follows rugged trapper Joe Bass (Burt Lancaster) as his valuable furs are stolen by scalphunters (led by Telly Savalas' sadistic Jim Howie), with the movie detailing Joe's continuing efforts at recovering his property - with his attempts both assisted and hindered by an escaped slave named Joseph Lee (Ossie Davis). Filmmaker Sydney Pollack, working from William W. Norton's screenplay, has infused The Scalphunters with a deliberateness that immediately (and consistently) prevents the viewer from connecting to the material, with the palpable lack of forward momentum ensuring that the movie's few engrossing sequences are drained of their impact. (There are, for example, a couple of decent fights towards the end that are essentially rendered moot by the otherwise interminable atmosphere.) The film's erratic feel is compounded by a continuing emphasis on eye-rolling instances of humor, with the undercurrent of over-the-top comedy wreaking havoc on Pollack's efforts at establishing any tension or suspense. It doesn't help, either, that Norton's script is, for the most part, awfully repetitive, as the movie generally revolves around the central character's failed attempts at reclaiming his loot - which, when coupled with the movie's overall vibe of pointlessness, cements The Scalphunters' place as a seriously misguided and hopelessly dated endeavor that's best left forgotten.

out of

Castle Keep

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Jeremiah Johnson

The Way We Were

The Yakuza (February 4/07)

Set primarily in contemporary Japan, The Yakuza casts Robert Mitchum as Harry Kilmer - an ex-G.I. and all-around tough guy who heads to the land of the rising sun after an old friend's daughter is kidnapped by a ruthless mob boss. Harry consequently enlists the help of a former Yakuza member (Takakura Ken), and even finds time to track down an old lover (Keiko Kishi) and her daughter (Christina Kokubo). As talky and deliberately-paced as one might've expected from a Sydney Pollack film, The Yakuza is generally an effective - if somewhat overlong - little thriller that undoubtedly benefits from Mitchum's effortlessly cool and thoroughly compelling performance. Much of the movie's opening hour is devoted to long, dialogue-heavy sequences in which the characters contemplate the various cultural differences between them; it's sporadically interesting stuff that admittedly isn't quite as fascinating as screenwriters Paul Schrader and Robert Towne clearly believe it to be. That said, the film does improve considerably as it slowly-but-surely morphs into a flat-out revenge story - culminating with a genuinely thrilling finale that finds Mitchum and Ken descending upon a Yakuza stronghold, where they must battle almost two dozen soldiers (Mitchum, armed with a shotgun and a pistol, is particularly bad-ass here).

out of

Three Days of the Condor

Bobby Deerfield

The Electric Horseman

Absence of Malice

Tootsie (February 8/08)

Tootsie casts Dustin Hoffman as Michael Dorsey, a struggling actor who decides to reinvent himself as a woman after his temperamental sensibilities get him blacklisted within the industry. Michael - in the guise of alter ego Dorothy Michaels - subsequently lands a gig on a hospital-themed soap opera, and the movie primarily follows his efforts to blend in with the cast and crew. Though perhaps a little on the long side - something one has come to expect from a Sydney Pollack film, admittedly - Tootsie is an amiable and frequently hilarious comedy that boasts one of the most effective performances of Hoffman's career. That he's been surrounded by a near flawless supporting cast certainly doesn't hurt, yet - despite the presence of such folks as Bill Murray, Dabney Coleman, and Jessica Lange - it's Pollack himself who turns in the film's most memorable periphery performance (it's interesting to note that the director initially didn't even want to play Michael's exasperated agent). It does eventually become clear, however, that Tootsie fares best in its relatively frenetic opening half hour, as the movie slowly-but-surely adopts a more conventional feel as it progresses - particularly as Michael attempts to forge some kind of a relationship with Lange's sweet but guarded Julie. The film recovers superbly for a brilliantly-conceived finale that effectively sidesteps the expectedly melodramatic fallout from Michael's scheme, and it's ultimately not terribly difficult to see why Tootsie is now ranked among cinema's most indelible comedies.

out of

Out of Africa

Havana

The Firm

Sabrina

Random Hearts

The Interpreter

Sketches of Frank Gehry

© David Nusair