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May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack: 1934 - 2008


Being at odds with much mainstream filmmaking, it is probably no surprise that my favorite film by Sydney Pollack was also one of his least successful films commercially. Pollack lucked out on getting the assignment due the a chain of events that began when the film was set to star Lee Marvin, with Robert Aldrich to direct. Marvin dropped out, and Robert Mitchum was signed to star. Mitchum, who famously did not get along with virtually every director he ever worked with, still had a grudge against Aldrich dating back to at least the time they made The Angry Hills almost fifteen years previously. Aldrich dropped out and Pollack came aboard. At the time The Yakuza was filmed, Pollack's reputation was based primarily on two box office hits with Robert Redford, Jeremiah Johnson and The Way We Were. Redford was almost considered to star in The Yakuza but fortunately everyone realized he was too young to play a World War II veteran. Aside from introducing most Americans to the yakuza genre, the film also introduced one of the top Japanese stars of the day, Ken Takakura.

It is probably not coincidental that the authorship of The Yakuza is only less convoluted than that of what may be Pollack's best film, Tootsie. What I remember best about The Yakuza is Mitchum's quiet sense of authority, the shot of the chopped of arm firing a pistol, and the final image of Mitchum and Takakura with bandaged hands - symbols the yakuza form of apology by cutting off the pinkie finger. The reputation of Pollack's film has grown to the point where a remake has been listed among future Warner Brothers productions. I have seen all of Pollack's films from They Shoot Horses, Don't They, and some of his earlier work. As much as I have enjoyed some of the films with Robert Redford as well as Tootsie, it is Pollack's journey to Japan that I continue to revisit.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 27, 2008 12:30 AM


Good stuff and info here. I had no idea that Marvin and Aldrich were involved. I just wrote my own appreciation of THE YAKUZA at my blog.

Posted by: christian at May 29, 2008 05:01 PM

ah, you are always pointing to the unusual and out-of-the-way. Here I thought I had Pollack's filmography so well covered, and you bring up this one. It sounds very worthwhile.

I can't remember, from Server's Mitchum bio, whether he got along with Pollack or not ...

Posted by: Campaspe at June 2, 2008 08:21 PM