Michael Sarrazin 1940-2011

Canadian born actor Michael Sarrazin passed away on April 17th after a brief battle with cancer. He was 70 years old at the time. With his tall lanky frame, large soulful eyes and calm demeanor, Sarrazin is probably best remembered for uttering the unforgettable last line, “They shoot horses, don’t they?” in Sydney Pollack’s Oscar-winning 1969 film of the same name.

In some of Sarrazin’s most interesting films he portrayed characters that seemed at odds with the world and out of place in their surroundings. He was often searching for something better. Grasping for an unobtainable future or that tempting gold ring that was always dangling just out of reach. Sarrazin was a thoughtful and easy-going anti-hero and his naturalistic approach to acting helped usher in a new kind leading man that would become widely popular throughout the 1970s. Although he never had the same kind of success and fame that many of his contemporaries did, Michael Sarrazin’s work speaks for itself. He appeared in some terrific movies during the height of his career and I thought now would be as good a time as any to share a few of my favorites.

THE FLIM-FLAM MAN (Irvin Kershner; 1967)
When director Irvin Kershner passed away late last year The Flim-Flam Man was often overlooked in retrospectives written about the director’s work. I’m not sure why the film has been somewhat forgotten because it’s one of Kershner’s best and provided Michael Sarrazin with his breakout role. In The Flim-Flam Man Sarrazin plays a young Army deserter and would-be folk singer who hooks up with an aging grifter (George C. Scott). The two proceed to con their way through the south until Sarrazin falls for a pretty blond (Sue Lyon). Sarrazin and Scott have an interesting partnership in the film and I think they work really well together as a reluctant apprentice and his would-be mentor. The film also includes a memorable performance from Slim Pickens.

EYE OF THE CAT (David Lowell Rich; 1969)
In the entertaining and unusual thriller Eye of the Cat, Michael Sarrazin plays a man named Wylie whose suffering from ailurophobia (the fear of cats). He teams-up with a beautiful young woman (Gayle Hunnicutt) and the two lovers hatch a deadly plan to kill Wylie’s wealthy aunt (Eleanor Parker) and steal her fortune. Unfortunately it won’t be easy because Wylie’s aunt is fond of cats and keeps countless furry felines as companions inside her opulent San Francisco home. The movie was scripted by Joseph Stefano (Psycho; 1960) and Sarrazin’s ability to convey deep-rooted fear as well as menace makes his performance in Eye of the Cat especially riveting. This was Michael Sarrazin’s first horror film but he continued to work in the genre with great success.

IN SEARCH OF GREGORY (Peter Wood; 1969)
Michael Sarrazin is the mysterious and elusive ‘Gregory’ who becomes an object of affection and adoration for Catherine Morelli (Julie Christie). After spotting an advertising poster featuring Sarrazin’s likeness she begins to obsess over him and the film creatively illustrates her romantic fantasies until reality gets in the way of her imagined happiness. This unconventional drama doesn’t give Michael Sarrazin a lot to do except look handsome in a racing uniform but that’s part of the movie’s charm. In Search of Gregory is really a vehicle for the talented and beautiful Julie Christie and the movie’s eccentric take on romantic love and human relationships makes for some strangely compelling viewing.

THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? (Sydney Pollack; 1969)
This acclaimed depression-era drama depicts the grueling toll that a dance marathon takes on its hopeful contestants. One of those contestants is Michael Sarrazin as Robert, an aspiring film director, who gets involved with a troubled woman named Gloria (Jane Fonda) in an effort to win the marathon and take home the cash prize. As the film unravels so do the contestants and it makes for some disturbing viewing. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? foreshadowed the current ‘Reality TV’ craze and the entire cast does a remarkable job of portraying the flawed and desperate characters that populate the movie. In the end Robert and Gloria end up destroying each other in their frantic attempts to escape poverty and restore their broken dreams but their sorrowful journey is brilliantly brought to life by director Sydney Pollack. One of Michael Sarrazin’s costars was the talented actress Susannah York who also passed away earlier this year after being diagnosed with bone marrow cancer.

FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (Jack Smight; 1973)
A few weeks ago I mentioned Frankenstein: The True Story in a piece about Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein play where I called it “surprisingly smart and creative” but I failed to mention that it starred Michael Sarrazin. Sarrazin plays the monster in this made-for-TV movie and he does a fine job of capturing the more thoughtful and sympathetic side of the creature, which often gets lost in other adaptations of Mary Shelley’s classic novel. It’s a harrowing portrayal that forces Sarrazin to transform from a handsome and childlike young man into a decaying beast hell-bent on revenge. Overall this is one of the better and more faithful adaptations of Frankenstein.

HARRY IN YOUR POCKET (Bruce Geller; 1973)
Michael Sarrazin portrays a hapless pickpocket who teams-up with Trish Van Devere, Walter Pidgeon and James Coburn in an effort to improve his thieving skills in this stylish and captivating crime film. Sarrazin is sympathetic but not particularly likeable as a would-be criminal who becomes frustrated when his love interest (Trish Van Devere,) appears to be falling for his spry mentor (James Coburn). Besides some television work, Harry in Your Pocket was the only full-length feature film directed by Bruce Geller before he was tragically killed in a plane crash and it’s a remarkable first effort. Geller was able to get some subtle and effective performances out of his cast and the film is an impressive looking debut full of picture-postcard shots depicting each city that the group of ragtag thieves find themselves in.

FOR PETE’S SAKE (Peter Yates; 1974)
Peter Yates‘s slapstick style comedy is one of the funniest films that Michael Sarrazin ever appeared in. He stars opposite Barbra Streisand and the two play a married couple with serious financial troubles. For Pete’s Sake chronicles Streisand dubious attempts to secure $3000 for her husband Pete (Michael Sarrazin) so he can invest it in a surefire money making scheme. Outrageous site gags and tongue jabs ensue but Streisand and Sarrazin have some real chemistry on screen. I find it impossible not to root for the love struck couple during their crazy quest for financial security.

THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD (J. Lee Thompson; 1975)
In this eerie thriller directed by J. Lee Thompson (Eye of the Devil), Michael Sarrazin portrays a man plagued by nightmares that seem to suggest he once inhabited the body of another person. As the film’s title makes clear, Sarrazin comes to believe that he’s the reincarnation of a murdered man and throughout the course of the film he tries to piece together his previous identity. Sarazin is extremely sympathetic as the soul searching Peter Proud and the film’s haunting final moments are hard to shake. The Reincarnation of Peter Proud’s unusual subject matter combined with Sarrazin’s telling performance, have garnered the movie a small group of devoted fans over the years. The film also boasts some good performances from the supporting cast, which includes Margot Kidder, Jennifer O’Neill and Cornelia Sharpe.

Unfortunately many of my favorite Michael Sarrazin films aren’t available on DVD but they do occasionally play on TCM so keep checking the schedule. In the meantime, did I neglect to mention any of your favorite Sarrazin roles? Would you like to recommend another film to Sarrazin fans? Please feel free to share your suggestions below!

34 Responses Michael Sarrazin 1940-2011
Posted By AL : April 21, 2011 4:22 pm

Thank you for mentioning his FRANKENSTEIN–this film deserves more attention than it has gotten. Who could forget that haunting moment when he first awakens, descends the staircase almost nude, and Leonard Whiting stares at him in awe and says “beautiful”…

Posted By AL : April 21, 2011 4:22 pm

Thank you for mentioning his FRANKENSTEIN–this film deserves more attention than it has gotten. Who could forget that haunting moment when he first awakens, descends the staircase almost nude, and Leonard Whiting stares at him in awe and says “beautiful”…

Posted By suzidoll : April 21, 2011 4:58 pm

Such a crush I had on Michael Sarrazin when I was a little girl, and his filmography features some of my favorite movies from that era. I am so glad you brought attention to some of his films, especially FLIM FLAM MAN and the FRANKENSTEIN version. I agree with Al, the latter is underrated.

Posted By suzidoll : April 21, 2011 4:58 pm

Such a crush I had on Michael Sarrazin when I was a little girl, and his filmography features some of my favorite movies from that era. I am so glad you brought attention to some of his films, especially FLIM FLAM MAN and the FRANKENSTEIN version. I agree with Al, the latter is underrated.

Posted By Klara : April 21, 2011 5:56 pm

Nice post… I have enjoyed watching Sarrazin and you captured his appeal well in your description. He had a peaceful, quiet quality and it lent itself to a substantial body of work. He was underrated.

Posted By Klara : April 21, 2011 5:56 pm

Nice post… I have enjoyed watching Sarrazin and you captured his appeal well in your description. He had a peaceful, quiet quality and it lent itself to a substantial body of work. He was underrated.

Posted By Kingrat : April 21, 2011 7:58 pm

Kimberly, thank you for a lovely and informative post about a very appealing actor. If you ever get a chance to see the TV movie JOURNEY TO SHILOH, don’t miss it. Sarrazin has a moving final scene. This Civil War film stars James Caan, and Harrison Ford is also in it. Too bad this isn’t on DVD.

Michael Sarrazin’s death makes me wish that TCM would hurry to do Private Screenings with other 1960s stars before it’s too late.

Posted By Kingrat : April 21, 2011 7:58 pm

Kimberly, thank you for a lovely and informative post about a very appealing actor. If you ever get a chance to see the TV movie JOURNEY TO SHILOH, don’t miss it. Sarrazin has a moving final scene. This Civil War film stars James Caan, and Harrison Ford is also in it. Too bad this isn’t on DVD.

Michael Sarrazin’s death makes me wish that TCM would hurry to do Private Screenings with other 1960s stars before it’s too late.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 21, 2011 8:59 pm

Thanks for all the feedback, folks! Glad to know there are lots of other Sarrazin fans out there.

FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY is one of the films I mentioned that is on DVD and I’m happy to see others chiming in with good words about it. I hope people will seek it out if they’re interested in seeing more of Sarrazin.

Kingrat – I haven’t had the opportunity to see JOURNEY TO SHILOH so thanks for mentioning it. The cast sounds great! I love James Caan. Hopefully it will find its way onto DVD soon along with some of the other Sarrazin movies that are currently hard to see. And I couldn’t agree with you more about the “Private Screenings.” There’s currently a lot of great iconic ’60s era actors who would make great guests and they’re not getting any younger. Sarrazin always seemed youthful in my mind so I was surprised to learn that he was 70 when he passed away. One of his costars, Julie Christie, also turned 70 recently.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 21, 2011 8:59 pm

Thanks for all the feedback, folks! Glad to know there are lots of other Sarrazin fans out there.

FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY is one of the films I mentioned that is on DVD and I’m happy to see others chiming in with good words about it. I hope people will seek it out if they’re interested in seeing more of Sarrazin.

Kingrat – I haven’t had the opportunity to see JOURNEY TO SHILOH so thanks for mentioning it. The cast sounds great! I love James Caan. Hopefully it will find its way onto DVD soon along with some of the other Sarrazin movies that are currently hard to see. And I couldn’t agree with you more about the “Private Screenings.” There’s currently a lot of great iconic ’60s era actors who would make great guests and they’re not getting any younger. Sarrazin always seemed youthful in my mind so I was surprised to learn that he was 70 when he passed away. One of his costars, Julie Christie, also turned 70 recently.

Posted By rhsmith : April 22, 2011 3:05 am

I grew up watching Sarrazin’s stuff, with THE SWEET RIDE and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS being particular favorites (in addition to several mentioned here, such as EYE OF THE CAT and HARRY IN YOUR POCKET). He really was the (young) Man for a while, wasn’t he? I was acutely aware of him in THE SEDUCTION playing a character part, proof positive that his hour had come and gone.

JOURNEY TO SHILOH has one of the most matter-of-fact amputations I’ve ever seen in a movie. My memory may be faulty (we’re talking about 30 years since I last saw it) but it’s mentioned in a throw-away line, something like “Oh, we had to amputate your arm.”

Posted By rhsmith : April 22, 2011 3:05 am

I grew up watching Sarrazin’s stuff, with THE SWEET RIDE and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS being particular favorites (in addition to several mentioned here, such as EYE OF THE CAT and HARRY IN YOUR POCKET). He really was the (young) Man for a while, wasn’t he? I was acutely aware of him in THE SEDUCTION playing a character part, proof positive that his hour had come and gone.

JOURNEY TO SHILOH has one of the most matter-of-fact amputations I’ve ever seen in a movie. My memory may be faulty (we’re talking about 30 years since I last saw it) but it’s mentioned in a throw-away line, something like “Oh, we had to amputate your arm.”

Posted By susan : April 22, 2011 4:53 am

Sometimes A Great Notion, a Classic! I am very sorry to hear Michael Sarrazin has passed away, I have some wonderful memories of his filmswhen I was growing up, he should have been huge. I share your thoughts on Journey to Shiloh. For a long time I would search for Journey to Shiloh in the tv guide to see it again. The Flim Flam Man, also really wonderful. I hope Turner Classic Movies does a retrospective on his movies and if there are any interviews with Michael Sarrazin would be something to see I don’t think I ever saw an interview with him. Condolences to friends and family truly.

Posted By susan : April 22, 2011 4:53 am

Sometimes A Great Notion, a Classic! I am very sorry to hear Michael Sarrazin has passed away, I have some wonderful memories of his filmswhen I was growing up, he should have been huge. I share your thoughts on Journey to Shiloh. For a long time I would search for Journey to Shiloh in the tv guide to see it again. The Flim Flam Man, also really wonderful. I hope Turner Classic Movies does a retrospective on his movies and if there are any interviews with Michael Sarrazin would be something to see I don’t think I ever saw an interview with him. Condolences to friends and family truly.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 22, 2011 4:26 pm

Thanks for the recs, Richard! THE SWEET RIDE is a movie I’ve wanted to see for awhile but I haven’t had the opportunity yet.

During the ’70s it seemed like Sarrazin’s movies were always on TV. I particularly remember seeing EYE OF THE CAT and THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD multiple times back then. I recently discovered that there are two versions of EYE OF THE CAT and one was heavily edited for TV so I suspect that’s the version I saw. Now I’m eager to see the original version of the movie. Hope to track down a copy soon.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 22, 2011 4:26 pm

Thanks for the recs, Richard! THE SWEET RIDE is a movie I’ve wanted to see for awhile but I haven’t had the opportunity yet.

During the ’70s it seemed like Sarrazin’s movies were always on TV. I particularly remember seeing EYE OF THE CAT and THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD multiple times back then. I recently discovered that there are two versions of EYE OF THE CAT and one was heavily edited for TV so I suspect that’s the version I saw. Now I’m eager to see the original version of the movie. Hope to track down a copy soon.

Posted By Kevin R. : April 23, 2011 11:26 pm

Even though I can’t help watching attractive great actresses on film, being a guy and all of course, there are only a handful of “actors” that are so good at what they do, that I end up watching them more than their quite pretty leading ladies in their movies. Sarrazin was one of those actors for me. There was so much going on inside of him in his character performance in “The Flim Flam Man” that I forgot many times in his scenes, that it was only a movie.

I appreciate the tribute Kimberly, as I didn’t know he had passed.

Posted By Kevin R. : April 23, 2011 11:26 pm

Even though I can’t help watching attractive great actresses on film, being a guy and all of course, there are only a handful of “actors” that are so good at what they do, that I end up watching them more than their quite pretty leading ladies in their movies. Sarrazin was one of those actors for me. There was so much going on inside of him in his character performance in “The Flim Flam Man” that I forgot many times in his scenes, that it was only a movie.

I appreciate the tribute Kimberly, as I didn’t know he had passed.

Posted By Vicki : April 25, 2011 2:02 pm

I have always had a fondness for Michael Sarrazin. I’m glad to see others showing there appreciation for him too. I loved FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY. It was interesting to watch him play two characters in that film. The newborn “monster” as well as the doctor, who was in possesion of the body. I always enjoy watching HARRY IN YOUR POCKET too. James Coburn, Trish VanDevere and Michael were a great team.

Posted By Vicki : April 25, 2011 2:02 pm

I have always had a fondness for Michael Sarrazin. I’m glad to see others showing there appreciation for him too. I loved FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY. It was interesting to watch him play two characters in that film. The newborn “monster” as well as the doctor, who was in possesion of the body. I always enjoy watching HARRY IN YOUR POCKET too. James Coburn, Trish VanDevere and Michael were a great team.

Posted By Michael Blanton : April 26, 2011 3:07 am

JOURNEY TO SHILOH and SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION are both available on netflix streaming

Posted By Michael Blanton : April 26, 2011 3:07 am

JOURNEY TO SHILOH and SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION are both available on netflix streaming

Posted By Fred : April 26, 2011 2:48 pm

My Mom always had a HUGE crush on Michael Sarrazin, so we watched every film my Mom could find with him in, whether on TV or in the movies. She even made it through FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY despite her lifelong avoidance of horror films (her earliest film memory was of her father carrying out crying and screaming from a showing of Bob Hope’s remake of THE CAT AND THE CANARY — to this day she will not accept my explanation that the film was a comedy!). Sarrazin will be sadly missed, and I’m sure my Mom will be heartbroken to hear the news.

Posted By Fred : April 26, 2011 2:48 pm

My Mom always had a HUGE crush on Michael Sarrazin, so we watched every film my Mom could find with him in, whether on TV or in the movies. She even made it through FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY despite her lifelong avoidance of horror films (her earliest film memory was of her father carrying out crying and screaming from a showing of Bob Hope’s remake of THE CAT AND THE CANARY — to this day she will not accept my explanation that the film was a comedy!). Sarrazin will be sadly missed, and I’m sure my Mom will be heartbroken to hear the news.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 26, 2011 6:24 pm

Thanks for all the great comments! I’m glad people are sharing their memories of watching Sarrazin’s films. His work obviously touched a lot of people.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 26, 2011 6:24 pm

Thanks for all the great comments! I’m glad people are sharing their memories of watching Sarrazin’s films. His work obviously touched a lot of people.

Posted By Donna : May 4, 2011 8:06 pm

I was surprised you didn’t mention The Sweet Ride. He was so great in it… along with Jacqueline Bisset and Gilligan! I hope you catch it soon! I’d love to read your thoughts on it.

Posted By Donna : May 4, 2011 8:06 pm

I was surprised you didn’t mention The Sweet Ride. He was so great in it… along with Jacqueline Bisset and Gilligan! I hope you catch it soon! I’d love to read your thoughts on it.

Posted By Rob : May 13, 2011 11:46 pm

Saddened to hear of Michael Sarrazin’s passing. Growing up in Alaska in the sixties, the local TV stations weren’t exactly on par with network stations in the lower 48, and one station in particular had an extremely limited film library. “The Flim Flam Man” was one of it’s few titles and it was played over and over. I never got tired of viewing it, however. “Journey to Shiloh” has been playing on TV of late. I hadn’t seen it for over forty years and I have to admit this was one picture that should stay in the can. James Caan has stated in interviews that he was pretty much uninterested in the whole thing and mumbled his way through it. It was a surprise to see Harrison Ford as one of the supporting players. After all, forty years ago it was “Harrison who?”
Of all the Frankensteins to grace both movie and television screens, Michael Sarrazin has my vote as the clear best. Dare I say better than Boris? Yes indeed!
Michael seemed to drop out of sight after the seventies. I lost track of him until this announcment of his passing.
May peace be upon you, Michael.

Posted By Rob : May 13, 2011 11:46 pm

Saddened to hear of Michael Sarrazin’s passing. Growing up in Alaska in the sixties, the local TV stations weren’t exactly on par with network stations in the lower 48, and one station in particular had an extremely limited film library. “The Flim Flam Man” was one of it’s few titles and it was played over and over. I never got tired of viewing it, however. “Journey to Shiloh” has been playing on TV of late. I hadn’t seen it for over forty years and I have to admit this was one picture that should stay in the can. James Caan has stated in interviews that he was pretty much uninterested in the whole thing and mumbled his way through it. It was a surprise to see Harrison Ford as one of the supporting players. After all, forty years ago it was “Harrison who?”
Of all the Frankensteins to grace both movie and television screens, Michael Sarrazin has my vote as the clear best. Dare I say better than Boris? Yes indeed!
Michael seemed to drop out of sight after the seventies. I lost track of him until this announcment of his passing.
May peace be upon you, Michael.

Posted By Pat Turman : May 23, 2011 12:27 pm

Wow. Didn’t even know he died til just now. He was a pretty big name in the 70′s. Then it’s like he disappeared off the face of the earth. Anybody know what he’d been doing the last 30 years? Sorry he’s gone.

Posted By Pat Turman : May 23, 2011 12:27 pm

Wow. Didn’t even know he died til just now. He was a pretty big name in the 70′s. Then it’s like he disappeared off the face of the earth. Anybody know what he’d been doing the last 30 years? Sorry he’s gone.

Posted By Sandra Conti : May 29, 2011 8:47 pm

As a young girl I always admired Michael Sarrazin and saw quite a few of his movies when they first came out. I loved ‘They Shoot Horses, Dont’ They?’..a little hard to watch but I loved it. He was as you said underrated and I’m glad quite a few people can recognize how good of an actor he was. I too didn’t know he had passed. It’s so sad as I grew up with all these 60′s actors and love seeing these movies over and over again. Thank you for such a great write up about him. It was way over due!

Posted By Sandra Conti : May 29, 2011 8:47 pm

As a young girl I always admired Michael Sarrazin and saw quite a few of his movies when they first came out. I loved ‘They Shoot Horses, Dont’ They?’..a little hard to watch but I loved it. He was as you said underrated and I’m glad quite a few people can recognize how good of an actor he was. I too didn’t know he had passed. It’s so sad as I grew up with all these 60′s actors and love seeing these movies over and over again. Thank you for such a great write up about him. It was way over due!

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