Sydney Pollack’s Formula: Grand Romance

Sydney Pollack made them old-fashioned — big and bighearted. Matinee idols kissed in exotic locales. The music washed over us like an aural Danube. He lifted us out of our lives and into worlds we would never go — the hunting grounds of "Out of Africa," the snowy mountains of "Jeremiah Johnson," the TV dressing rooms of "Tootsie."

Sydney Pollack, who succumbed to cancer earlier this week, made MOVIES. And though it sounds like a cliché to say it, they don't make them like he used to.

For more than 40 years, the director-producer, who would have turned 74 in July, created films in what seemed like every conceivable genre — thrillers, Westerns, epics, actioners and comedies. But his formula was pretty much the same: Cast great actors as even greater characters. Think of Meryl Streep's baroness, Karen Blixen, in "Out of Africa," the 1985 film that won Oscars for best picture and best director. Or Robert Redford's game-hunting Denys Finch Hatton in the same drama. Or how about Dustin Hoffman's Michael, the out-of-work actor who dons dress, wig and falsetto to become Dorothy, the leading TV soap actress in "Tootsie"?

It was a measure of the man that we enjoyed these films without even realizing we'd seen a Pollack movie. We didn't think about the man behind the curtain. Like his old-time Hollywood forebears, Pollack was a journeyman, the kind to bring in a movie on budget and on time — not choke it with his own imprimatur.


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