Thursday, April 21, 2011

RIP Michael Sarrazin (1940-2011)

With an unassuming face, not so unworldly and yet not so evil, he sometimes seemed like a blank slate, and was often used as such. But Michael Sarrazin remains an interesting icon from the 1970s, even if he'd faded from view by the 1980s. For me, he'll always be the wide-eyed innocent caught in the middle of Depression-era misery, often at the mercy of the suicidal Jane Fonda, in Sydney Pollack's 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

But he also hit another much different note on TV in 1973 as Frankenstein's slowly rotting creation in the most accurate telling of Mary Shelley's seminal horror tale, filmed as Frankenstein: The True Story (and co-starring Leonard Whiting, David McCallum, James Mason, Jane Seymour, Tom Baker, John Gielgud and Agnes Moorehead). Sarrazin's Creature actually steals the film; you cannot forget the sight of his high-cheekboned visage being ravaged into pulp by the elements, nor the Creature's reaction to his doom. I still think that, Karloff aside, Sarrazin might be the most perfect version of Mary Shelley's monster.

In the title role for the recession-tinged comedy For Pete's Sake, he held his own opposite the always overpowering Barbara Streisand:

He was the lead performer in The Gumball Rally, the original Cannonball Run, centering around a cross-country car race (it's a LOT more fun than the Burt Reynolds film). But no one can remember him in that because the movie features so many other, wilder characters (including an early but no less insane appearance by Gary Busey, who makes much noise in the film's trailer):

I haven't seen The Reincarnation of Peter Proud in a long time, and I'm just now discovering it's available on You Tube (I'll surely be watching it soon). I can't remember much about it, having seen it at a drive-in when I was seven, but I do recall that it frightened me deeply at certain points. It co-stars horror queen Margot Kidder, and has quite the denouement, if I remember correctly. Here's the film's first part:

After 1978's failed epic Caravans, Sarrazin's career burnt out big time, at least on the big screen. He spent the rest of his life doing guest appearances on shows like Murder She Wrote, while co-starring in low-profile films that often hailed from his native Canada. But I remember him in so many movies (including more obscure 70s fare as The Groundstar Conspiracy, Sometimes A Great Notion, and opposite James Coburn in Harry in Your Pocket) that I felt compelled to say goodbye to him here.


Joseph Aisenberg said...

Hey Dean, thanks for this notice, I hadn't heard it anywhere else. His death is very sad to me. He was really quite good, should have been much better known, along with other seventies actors like Hoffmann or Peter Fonda or Nicholson, but I guess he just never got a chance to create a persona and then step into it forever and ever the way they or De Niro did. At least They Shoot Horses Don't They was a great movie that will live on.

Dean Treadway said...

Correct on all counts, Joseph! Thanks for the comments!