Sydney Pollack could never be called an auteur. But he made films with a care and intelligence that made him popular with Hollywood's more conscientious stars and the discerning viewing public.
He studied to be an actor, but Burt Lancaster encouraged him to become a prolific TV director and he made his feature bow with the tense drama, The Tender Thread (1965). Following a handful of misfires, he acquired a reputation for social commitment with They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), a harrowing account of a Depression dance marathon that earned Gig Young a Best Supporting Oscar.
Twelve actors were nominated under Pollack's tutelage, with Jessica Lange winning Best Supporting Actress for Tootsie (1982), in which Pollack also co-starred as the cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman's agent, and Meryl Streep earning the Best Actress prize for Out of Africa (1985), which also landed Best Picture. However, this proved to be Pollack's penultimate picture with his longest-standing collaborator, Robert Redford, with whom he made This Property Is Condemned (1966), Jeremiah Johnson (1972), The Way We Were (1973), Three Days of the Condor (1975), The Electric Horseman (1979) and Havana (1990).
Pollack was less fortunate in his outings with Al Pacino (Bobby Deerfield, 1977) and Paul Newman (Absence of Malice, 1981). But he coaxed a typically laconic performance out of Robert Mitchum in The Yakuza (1975) and put Tom Cruise's posturing to good use in the John Grisham courtroomer, The Firm (1993).
However, later outings like Sabrina (1995), Random Hearts (1999) and The Interpreter (2005) found fewer admirers and Pollack consoled himself by producing such hits as The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Cold Mountain (2003), while also taking scene-stealing roles in the like of Husbands and Wives (1992), Eyes Wide Shut (1999) and Michael Clayton (2007).
He closed his accomplished, if under-appreciated directorial career with the architecture documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry in 2005.
amish_allen Posted on Tuesday May 27, 2008, 23:54
Sad news to see someone talented in so many aspects of filmmaking die. R.I.P
Harry Lime Posted on Wednesday May 28, 2008, 23:51
Another sad loss in a fairly depressing year. The Yakuza is one of the most underrated films to come out of the 1970's whilst They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and Tootsie are two fine movies. And everybody should have a little bit of love for The Firm!
One small point though. Streep took the best actress prize for Sophie's Choice. Not Out Of Africa. She was beaten to the Oscar by Geraldine Page that year. Still, pedancy aside, it's a very well made film.
RJNeb2 Posted on Thursday May 29, 2008, 12:49
Adding to the pedancy, this entry contains a couple of glaring inaccuracies. Pollack's 1965 film was "The Slender Thread", not The Tender Thread. And as the above poster quite rightly pointed out, Meryl Streep did not win an Oscar for "Out of Africa", although she was nominated.
"They Shoot Horses Don't They?" did win an Oscar for Gig Young. But it should also be noted that Pollack earned his first Best Director nomination for the film as well.
And I would take issue with the observation that Pollack's collaboration with Paul Newman on "Absence of Malice" was unsuccessful. It did earn Newman a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
But still, a great loss to the industry. I thought he was wonderfully sleazy in "Michael Clayton".
Manfrendshensindshen Posted on Saturday May 31, 2008, 10:12
I could never really call myself a Pollack fan, though I have a place in my heart for Three Days Of The Condor and especially The Yakuza. But I heard he was an ideal producer - dedicated, but always letting others participate in the creative process. Yet the area in which Pollack probably left the biggest impression on me is as an actor - his small parts in Eyes Wide Shut and Changing Lanes were extremely effective and showed he was one of those few who could appear intimidating through sheer (non-physical) presence. He'll be missed.
YourOtherLeft Posted on Saturday May 31, 2008, 14:58
Not normally one for the online back-patting but nice1 lads; The Yakuza is indeed, a right bloody gem of a movie. Really enjoyed his performance in Changing Lanes, a sad loss to the film world. And Harvey Korman too....crap month!
Frank Comiskey Posted on Wednesday July 23, 2008, 10:41
I took my mum to Memphis/Graceland/Sun Studios for her 60th a few year's ago, and we stayed in the slightly-cheaper hotel opposite the famous Peabody place; anyway, the point is, a few years before that, Pollack was staying there while directing The Firm, and, from what I can gather, he always (figuratively) charmed the pants off all the staff.
They still have a The Firm poster signed in the lobby, and Sydney got Tom Cruise to schmooze the receptionists.
He was, by all accounts, a top bloke, and unlike THIS runaway comment, I also like that his later shooting scripts always demonstrated the precious economy and value of words....................