Hollywood has lost one of its brightest stars. Screen legend Max Von Sydow passes away at 90.
I, like most people, first came across the work of Max Von Sydow back in 1980 when he appeared as the iconic character of Ming The Merciless in the big-screen version of classic science fiction comic strip ‘Flash Gordon‘. The film was enjoyable in a campy kind of way but nothing could detract from Sydow’s performance as Ming. To be honest, he WAS Ming to me. The classic black and white serials were great entertainment but Von Sydow completely knocked it out of the park. He had just the right amount of evilness and moustache-twirling ability to make his portrayal memorable. To this day, his performance has never been bettered and I hesitate to say it, will probably never be bettered. All of which makes the sad announcement of his death today all that more heartbreaking. Max Von Sydow was 90 years old and had the honour of starring in more than 100 films and TV series in what was a truly memorable career.
Starting out in his native Sweden, Carl Adolf Von Sydow (his birth name) gave the world his possibly best ever performance as the knight Antonius Block in ‘The Seventh Seal‘, Ingmar Bergman’s finest ever film. The scenes where he played chess against death was perhaps one of the most famous scenes in film history, one that has been imitated and often parodied but never bettered. Moving through his career, he appeared in such Hollywood fare such as portraying Jesus Christ in George Stevens’ ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told‘, a film that was elevated by his performance of the biblical figure and quite possibly, the finest portrayal of Jesus ever. Moving on, he graced such productions such as David Lynch’s ‘Dune‘, Steven Spielberg’s ‘Minority Report‘, Woody Allen’s ‘Hannah And Her Sisters‘, Penny Marshall’s ‘Awakenings’ Martin Scorses’s ‘Shutter Island‘, ‘The Diving Bell And The Butterfly‘, ‘Dreamscape‘ and later in life, he made appearances in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ and as the three-eyed raven in HBO’S ‘Game Of Thrones‘. He also received two Oscar Nominations over his career for ‘Pelle The Conquerer‘ and for ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close‘.
However, to many people, he will always be remembered for starring as Father Merrin in William Friedkin’s 1973 horror classic ‘The Exorcist‘. The film scared the pants of its audiences and Von Sydow excelled in what was, in essence, a rather small role in the film. But it is perhaps his most famous and well-loved performance of them all. He is seen at the beginning of the film before we switch attention to Regan and her mother and Father Damien for the majority of the film. But when Von Sydow re-appears three-quarters of the way through the film, the film is once again elevated above all others. That was the power of his acting prowess.
Another role he played that will always stick in my mind was as the government assassin in Sydney Pollock’s 1975 political thriller ‘Three Days Of The Condor‘. His portrayal of Joubert, the leader of a group of assassins is chilling. The film starred Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway in the main roles but Von Sydow easily stole the film from under them. Witness the sequence where Redford’s co-workers are gunned down inside the CIA office where he works is startling in its brutality but it’s Von Sydow that chills the audience the most. The calmness in which he asks a female worker to kindly step away from the window so she can be murdered is something that has to be seen to be believed. When the female answers she won’t scream, his character gives a small smile and a nod of acknowledgement as one of his team steps forward and shoots the young woman dead. It is the mark of a true acting genius and one that I will certainly remember him for.
In 1995, Von Sydow put in a guest appearance as Judge Griffin in the ill-fated and ill-advised Sylvester Stallone flop ‘Judge Dredd‘. But by appearing in the film, Von Sydow gave the proceedings an undeserved star turn, one which gave the film a sheen that it didn’t warrant. Another role that he performed that elevated the film higher than it deserved was his brief appearance in the 1983 non-Eon Bond film ‘Never Say Never Again‘. Von Sydow played Ernst Starvro Blofeld in a cameo role, one that the film didn’t rightfully deserve. And one fact for film buffs everywhere that many people are not aware of, Von Sydow voiced the evil character of Vigo in 1989s ‘Ghostbusters II‘. If you watch the film again, listen closely to the voice of the character and it is unmistakably Von Sydow’s tones that emerge from Vigo’s mouth. Another reminder of what the man could accomplish. His voice fits so perfectly. As did his vocal performance as Esbern in the game ‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim‘ after he narrated the trailer for the game in 2011.
We at The Future Of The Force wish to send our sincere condolences to the late actor’s wife and his four children at this sad time. But we are assured that through all forms of media, the legend that is Max Von Sydow will continue to live on in the form of celluloid forever. And for that, we are and should be eternally grateful.
Carl Adolf (Max) Von Sydow
10th April 1929-8th March 2020.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Staff Writer and Books and Literature Correspondent for Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!