Hollywood’s ‘Nearly man’ – Remembering Michael Sarrazin (1940 – 2011)

Posted in Remember by - January 22, 2014
Hollywood’s ‘Nearly man’ – Remembering Michael Sarrazin (1940 – 2011)

Ambitious French-Canadian actor Michael Sarrazin always looked as though he had something on his mind. On film he brought his own genial persona to a handful of memorable movies. His characters were often dreamers, or drifters, people on the outskirts of society, not quite fitting in.

Born Jacques Michel André Sarrazin on May 22nd 1940, Michael began acting in his teens, and by his twenties was working in television productions before Universal Studios awarded him a contract. After a couple of minor roles, Michael came to the fore in 1967 with his second movie, the highly enjoyable ‘Flim-Flam Man’ (aka ‘One Born Every Minute’), as George C. Scott’s apprentice scammer, who falls for local farm girl, Sue Lyon. Next up was the forgettable beach movie ‘The Sweet Ride’ (’68), as a drifter falling in love with beautiful starlet Jacqueline Bisset, who in real life began a seven year relationship with the 28 year old Sarrazin.

After starring in the pretty good, twisty thriller ‘The Eye of the Cat’ (’69), Michael had what I think is his finest role, in Sydney Pollock’s brilliant depression-era drama ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’. His large sorrowful eyes and lean frame made Michael ideal for the part of Robert, the hungry hopeful drifter, roped into competing in a gruelling dance marathon. Partnered with Jane Fonda’s desperate Gloria, he finally commits what he sees as a final act of kindness to Fonda’s despondent dreamer.

After an excellent performance in Paul Newman’s family drama ‘Sometimes a Great Notion’ (’71), Michael appeared in the interesting 1972 sci-fi drama ‘The Groundstar Conspiracy’, before being partnered with James Coburn and Walter Pidgeon in the much under-rated caper ‘Harry in Your Pocket’ (’73), about a gang of professional pick-pockets. That same year Sarrazin gave a touching performance as the ‘Creature’ in the acclaimed TV production ‘Frankenstein: The True Story’. Next, he made a rare foray into comedy with Peter Yates’ funny screwball flick ’For Pete’s Sake’ with Barbra Streisand.

1975 had Michael co-starring with Margot Kidder and Jennifer O’Neill in the mediocre drama ‘The Reincarnation of Peter Proud’, before starring in one of the several, popular high-speed movies of the time; ‘Gumball Rally’ (’76), about a coast-to-coast road race. The movie would mark the end of his leading actor status and, like many others, he kept himself busy with mainly TV movies in his later years. The occasional movie did come his way, though most were poor. They included the trashy Morgan Fairchild stalk-fest ‘The Seduction’ (’82), and the seedy 1987 thriller ‘Mascara’, which had Sarrazin as a transvestite cop harboring feelings for his sister.

After a supporting part in Michael Caine’s two middling Harry Palmer comebacks, ‘Bullet to Beijing’ (’95), and ‘Midnight in Saint Petersburg’ (’96), Sarrazin did at least have a good recurring role in the popular Canadian TV series ‘Deep in the City’, which ran for two seasons from 1999-2000.

Unfortunately Michael never quite made the major league. He lost out on Jon Voight’s star-making role in ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (’69) due to a contract committal, and it seems that, like his talented contemporary Michael Moriarty, Hollywood didn’t know what to do with him. A modest, private person, Michael Sarrazin sadly died of cancer on April 17th 2011, aged 70. He may not have gained the recognition he deserved but at least he left behind a handful of great performances.

Favourite Movie: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Favourite Performance: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

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