When actor George C. Scott passed away back in September of 1999, Hollywood lost one of its greatest talents. The actor's passing left a void in the industry that has never been completely filled. When a role called for a gruff and rugged actor who could intimidate with a glance or a growl, Scott was the man for the job. While he didn't possess your stereotypical leading man looks, he had more than enough presence to keep an audience captivated whenever he was in a scene. Movie execs like to talk about "the it factor" -- and whatever "it" is, Scott had it in abundance.
You could see that firsthand in many of his roles. Patton is the obvious example -- where Scott was so intense and perfectly cast as the General, that it's hard to remember anything other than him from the film. The actor was no stranger to playing military men by that point, and his portrayal of Gen. Buck Turgidson in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove certainly gave him some background experience before tackling the role that would essentially define his career.
As Roger Ebert points out in his review of Patton, Scott the actor and Patton the character are essentially intertwined. Scott's immersion into the role is so deep that the two men seem almost interchangeable -- this was one of his gifts. The portrayal is more powerful because of that -- more powerful than even if they'd have hired one of the "bigger stars" in line for the role. There are still a few actors working today who can do this, but it appears to be a dying art -- and Scott was a master of the craft.
Scott's performance in Dr. Strangelove, meanwhile, demonstrates that the actor was capable of doing comedic turns as well. In that film, Scott turns in a funny performance featuring a mixture of physical comedy (some of his expressions are hilarious) and great lines. It's a nice change of pace from his more straight-laced roles and showed one more layer of his talent.
However, the actor wasn't known just for his portrayals of military men. Scott had this unique ability to make mediocre films better because he was in them. How else do you explain Firestarter, a film based on a Stephen King novel? Scott plays Rainbird in that mostly forgettable flick -- a vicious assassin sent to befriend young psychic Drew Barrymore. Scott is terrifying in the role -- not only because he has an unhealthy obsession with the little girl, but because he switches so effortlessly between his real-self and this facade of John the Cleaning Man he creates to win her trust. It's not exactly an understated performance, but it's definitely memorable. Scott looks like a shark in that role -- a total predator -- and it still creeps me out to this day.
The actor played other unforgettable characters in films like The Exorcist III, Paul Schrader's Hardcore, and as the angry Juror #3 in Friedkin's cable TV remake of 12 Angry Men. The list of great performances in his body of work goes on and on ...
George C. Scott might not be with us any longer, but he left behind a legacy filled with excellent performances so we can always go back and relive some of his finest moments. I still miss the actor -- particularly when I stumble across a part in a movie that he would have been perfect for -- but he definitely left us a lot to celebrate. I think we're all thankful for that.