The exceptionally gifted George Segal was a necessary, nervy, highly charged actor for over 50 years (early ’60s until 2014). In his heyday he was an explorer of urban Jewish neurotics with underlying rage…half superficial, half pained and always guilty or bothered about something…at other times Segal was a smoothie…an amiable grinner with sandy brown hair and an eye for the ladies.
Segal’s two best roles were in Paul Mazursky‘s Blume In Love (’73) and in Robert Altman‘S California Split (’74).
Segal worked hard and dutifully and never stopped pushing, but honestly? His leading-man peak period lasted only nine or ten years. Or if you want to be cruel about it, he was The Guy Everyone Understood and Related To for only about five years, between ’70 and ’75.
The golden period began with Segal’s breakout performance in Ship of Fools (’64), and then as a crafty prisoner of war in King Rat (’65). This was followed by his career-making performance as Nick, the ambitious and randy biology professor who beds Elizabeth Taylor but can’t get it up, in Mike Nichols‘ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (’66). Segal’s streak ended with his lived-in performance as compulsive gambler Bill Denny in California Split, opposite the wonderfully on-target Elliot Gould.
Segal didn’t catch serious fire until neurotic Jewish guys became a hot Hollywood commodity in the early ’70s. His first serious breakout came when he played a vaguely unhappy cheating commuter husband in Irvin Kirshner‘s Loving (’70). This was followed by his guilty, lovesick moustachioed Jewish attorney in Carl Reiner‘s Where’s Poppa? (’70).
After this Segal starred in six winners — The Owl and the Pussycat, Born to Win (drug addict), The Hot Rock (Kelp the locksmith), Blume in Love, A Touch of Class, The Terminal Man and finally California Split — my favorite of all his films.
Between the mid to late ’60s Segal starred in five films that were somewhere between interesting and pretty good but at the same time not great — The Quiller Memorandum (’66), The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
(’68), Bye Bye Braverman, No Way to Treat a Lady (’68), The Bridge at Remagen (’69) and…well, that’s it.
Segal’s last decently written role was as Ben Stiller‘s dad (and Mary Tyler Moore‘s henpecked husband) in David O. Russell‘s Flirting With Disaster (’96).
Segal passed today at age 87. Hugs and condolences to friends, family, fans and colleagues.
Excerpt: “A funny scene happens in Blume in Love when Segal is snooping outside a therapist’s office and listening to his ex-wife, playing by Susan Anspach, share her thoughts. Anspach tells the therapist she’s sensing that Segal may be snooping outside; the therapist asks if she’d like him to check and she says yes. Cut to a shot of Segal running down the carpeted hallway as quickly as possible on the balls of his feet, anxious not to make a sound.”
Excerpt: “The way Segal and Elliott Gould size up some Reno poker players in California Split makes me chuckle every time. The loose smoky vibe is what sells it. Gould mutters like a jazz musician on hemp, Segal is nodding sagely and the pretty bartender is chuckling away. Neither she nor Segal are bothered, of course, that Gould is making simplistic assumptions based on cultural stereotypes. That’s actually what funny about it.
“The Lyndon Johnson guy with the cowboy hat, the kid who’s seen The Cincinatti Kid too many times, the family doctor who doesn’t take chances, the red-coat guy who used to be a cha-cha dancer, the Ku Klux Klan guy, the Hispanic guy who talks louder than he needs to because he came from a large noisy family, the Oriental prince whose father made a fortune selling egg rolls, etc.
“It’s amusing stuff in a shuffling Robert Altman context, or at least most people find it so, but if you were to write something a little bit similar to Gould’s patter in an online column, you’d soon be dealing with some very ornery talkbackers. That’s one difference between 1974 and 2010, it’s fair to say. Not that I would be so idiotic as to mention egg rolls in discussing an Asian-American.”
I have to be honest and admit that I was never that charmed by Segal’s singing and banjo playing. But let’s not go there.
Bluray.com forum posting: “Peter Yates‘ The Hot Rock (’72) will be arriving on Blu-ray from Twilight Time on August 21, 2018…a limited edition of 3000 units.” Fact: The Howard Hawks seal of approval is bestowed if and when a film has three great scenes and no bad ones. The Hot Rock — a completely insubstantial heist film — has at least eight great scenes and several great bits, and I’m sorry but most of them are arguably better than any similar moments in Ocean’s 8: (a) Robert Redford John Dortmunder being released from jail at the very beginning (Warden: “You couldn’t just go straight?” — Redford: “My heart wouldn’t be in it”); (b) the Central Park negotiation scene between Redford, George Segal and Moses Gunn, (c) the failed museum robbery, (d) the state prison breakout scene, climaxing with Ron Leibman driving the convertible getaway car, (e) the helicopter ride through lower Manhattan on way to the fake bombing of the lower Harlem police station, (f) the Zero Mostel fake-out scene in the warehouse with “Chicken”, (g) the ridiculous Miasmo hypnosis scene, and (h) the safe-deposit diamond recovery scene followed by Redford’s joyful stroll up Park Avenue.