One of Hollywood’s elder statesmen, the director, actor and producer Sidney Pollack has died. He was one of Tinseltown’s consummate craftsmen, never flashy but always solid — a comfortable presence in American mainstream cinema that, much like his contemporary Sidney Lumet, never lost sight of quality and subtle auteurial voice. From the caustically satirical They Shoot Horses Don’t They? (1969) to the pitch-perfect Three Days for Condor (1975) and Tootsie (1982) — each of the latter a sort of quality blueprint for their genres, of political thriller and romantic comedy respectively — his best films are unassuming, intelligent and gripping pieces of classic Hollywood cinema.

He is, furthermore, underrated as an actor. Always measured he has this natural presence that he can either channel in comforting ways, such as when he plays Dustin Hoffman’s agent in Tootsie, or subtly disturbing, as in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999) — to me, his standout performance.

And, oh yeah, he also did Danish television viewers a huge favour by suing Danish Broadcasting for airing Three Days for Condor in a Pan-and-Scan version in 1991. In 1997, the court ruled that this constituted a ‘mutilation’ of the film and since then, this ignoble practice has been abandoned by the major Danish stations.

Here’s a clip from Tootsie where he plays opposite Hoffman. The humour starts off understated and works naturally to a screwball-like finish, never loosing the sense of naturalism:

And here’s the chilling and prescient ending of Three Days for Condor, featuring Robert Redford as the indignant citizen with the government’s eyes on him:

Photo: Pollack and Hoffman at the set of Tootsie, Columbia Pictures, from the New York Times.