A Lighthearted No-Account Bum Amidst the Tortured Antiheroes

A Lighthearted No-Account Bum Amidst the Tortured Antiheroes

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Oct 18th 2018

The 1970s was a productive period in movies for the supremely talented George C. Scott (1927-1999), who would have turned 91 today, kicking off the decade with his unimpeachable warrior Patton(his 1970 Best Actor Academy Award® winner) and wrapping it up with the ghostly hauntings of The Changeling (1980). During that extraordinary period, he tried a variety of comic and dramatic roles on for size, and this label has already happily delivered three choice Scott performances of that era so far on hi-def Blu-ray. Led by Scott’s beleaguered Manhattan medical institution administrator Dr. Herbert Bock, The Hospital (1971, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Arthur Hiller) “has its heart in Scott’s shaggy, fatigued modern hero, worn out by disbelief, unable to escape his own staggering momentum. Only Scott’s intelligence could make [it] simultaneously so bleak and heroic a film, so funny and touching” (David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film).That same description might also apply to his wearily philosophical 25-year veteran LAPD officer Andy Kilvinski in the fine film adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh’s bestseller The New Centurions (1972, written by Stirling Silliphant and directed by Richard Fleischer) that Leonard Harris of CBS-TV considered “a fast-moving powerhouse.” As the chillingly unbending Midwestern Calvinist father on an unsavory California odyssey to find his missing daughter caught up in the unsavory porno movie trade, Scott is full-throttle amazing in writer/director Paul Schrader’s grimly fascinating Hardcore (1979). Shown the blue-movie evidence of the new life in which his daughter has become ensnared, Twilight Time essayist Julie Kirgo writes, “the terrifyingly potent Scott spares us nothing of his grief, shame, humiliation, fear and fury. It’s an excruciating moment for the character – and for us, Schrader’s audience.” 

There’s undoubtedly a strain of darkness and melancholy in all three of the above Scott portrayals, so it’s a pleasure to uncork a marvelous palate cleanser from the time, early-20th-century oil country roustabout Noble Mason, nicknamed Mase, in producer/director Stanley Kramer’s rambunctious comedy-drama Oklahoma Crude (1973), which critic Rex Reed deemed “a refreshing return to the vigor and excitement of what we all grew up expecting movies to be about.” His co-stars were Faye Dunaway, playing Lena Doyle, the independent-minded owner of a wildcat oil rig; John Mills as her hard-drinking dad, and Jack Palance as the slimy representative of a huge oil conglomerate seeking to muscle in on her well. In the screenplay by Marc Norman (whose rangy resumé includes Sam Peckinpah’s 1975 The Killer Elite and two Academy Awards® as a co-writer with Tom Stoppard and as one of five producers of the 1998 Best Picture Shakespeare in Love), Scott’s rogue drifter is drawn in – first as a strategic-minded ally to help the Doyles and later as an unlikely romantic partner of the willful Ms. Doyle. According to Rage and Glory: The Volatile Life and Career of George C. Scott biographer David Sheward, the wide-open Stockton, California, shooting location “was chosen for its resemblance to the film’s time (1913) and locale (a windswept Tulsa oilfield). Scott told Gregg Kilday of the Los Angeles Times he chose the picture because he liked the characters: ‘They’re totally disparate people who become affectionate and needful. I get to play a ne’er-do-well, a no-account bum who becomes somewhat reclaimed.’” 

The actors gamely soldiered through the location’s many weather shifts, from ferocious heat to long spells of rain to bone-chilling cold, all for a yarn taking place during a sun-baked Okie summer. Sheward reported: “Fog covered the sets for two days in November. Then it got so cold that the actors had to put ice cubes in their mouths just before the cameras so their breath would not be visible…. Scott also remembered that it rained for 19 consecutive days. Scott, Dunaway, Mills and Palance had to wear rubber scuba diving outfits under their early 1900s duds to keep from freezing. Scott carried a flask of Courvoisier for added warmth. The director had more praise for Scott, comparing him to another film great he had worked with: ‘I hate to make the comparison, but George almost totally reminds me of Spencer Tracy. He is a thoroughly professional actor, no questions asked. If I tell George to walk to that mark, turn and walk back off camera, that’s what he does. Only he adds the reactive, and that’s what Spence did. Someone once said that Tracy reacted better than most actors act. George is the same way. I guess it stems from confidence and experience.’” The New York Times’ Vincent Canby echoed Kramer when he filed his review: “The variations that Oklahoma Crude works on the familiar formula are largely the work of Scott. It is a broadly comic performance, beginning with lots of double takes, protestations of offended dignity and expressions of horror at the thought of violence, even though we know the character will turn out to be true-blue and brave, or Scott would not be playing it.” This entertainment gusher starring today’s birthday honoree erupts in 1080p splendor – featuring an Isolated Music Track of Henry Mancini’s brawny and ebullient score and a great Audio Commentary from the Cinema Retro historian triad of Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo – November 20 on TT disc. Preorders open November 7.