The reserved, dignified and sonorous Paul Scofield, one of the greatest stage actors of the 20th Century who starred in relatively few films, has died at age 86. His landmark role was his Oscar-winning portrayal of Sir Thomas More in Fred Zinneman‘s A Man for All Seasons (’66).
Scofield had one of the most beautiful speaking voices I’ve ever heard come out of an actor’s mouth. Listen to this short mp3 clip from a portion of A Man For All Seasons in which the meaning of the keeping of an oath is explained. Although the words were written by Robert Bolt, in my heart I’ve I’ve always thought of Scofield as the man who understood, sculpted and knew the truth of them best.
I love this line from the Associated Press obit about Scofield’s “unforgettable voice [being] likened to a Rolls-Royce starting up or the rumbling sound of low organ pipes.”
My second most vivid Scofield memory is suffering through Peter Brooks‘ King Lear (’71), in which Scofield played the lead. I only saw about 2/3 of it (the agony became too much and I had to leave) but it ranks as a legendary downer for its gray, grim dreariness. I can’t even remember Scofield’s performance. I’ve blocked it out.
The AP obit doesn’t even mention Scofield’s performance as the art-loving Nazi Colonel in John Frankenheimer‘s The Train (’64), which is one of the key reasons for that film’s continued potency. I also enjoyed his graceful, low-key performance as a Russian spook named Zharkov in the little-remembered Scorpio (’73), a decent Michael Winner-directed espionage thriller that costarred Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon.
Scofield was fine but unremarkable as the patrician father of Ralph Fiennes‘ Charles Van Doren in Quiz Show (’94), but his last legendary screen moment was his performance as Reverend Danforth in The Crucible (’96), particularly when, as EW‘s Owen Gleiberman noted, he “wrapped his great basso profundo” around lines like ”Now we shall touch the bottom of this…swamp.'”