Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Five Best George C. Scott Performances

1. Patton (1970) - Judith Crist, then a critic at New York magazine, called Scott's portrayal of General George S. Patton, Jr. "one of the great performances of all time." It's hard to argue even though the film as a whole doesn't resonate today as strongly as it once did. Still, his opening speech on a stage in front of a huge American flag is an iconic moment in 1970s cinema. Scott famously refused his Oscar for Best Actor in 1970. Actually, he tried to refuse the nomination, just as he did for Best Supporting Actor for The Hustler in 1961. Scott played Patton again in the 1986 made-for-TV movie The Last Days of Patton.

2. The Flim-Flam Man (1967) - George C. Scott was 40 when he played elderly, gray-haired con artist Mordecai Jones. It could have easily become a gimmick, but Scott's performance is so masterful that one quickly forgets the age difference between actor and character. His make-up is adequate, but it's Scott's voice and physical gestures that allow him to transform into an old man. He owns the character, balancing Mordecai's enthusiasm over successfully pulling off a con with his paternal friendship with a young Army deserter. He boasts of holding the degree M.B.S., C.S., D.D. in one scene (that's for "Master of Back-Stabbing, Cork-Screwing and Dirty-Dealing"). Then, in another, he reflects, with a tinge of remorse, about how he became bitter toward the human race.

3. They Might Be Giants (1971) - In this cult favorite, George C. Scott plays Justin Playfair, a former judge who imagines himself to be Sherlock Holmes in contemporary New York. Joanne Woodward plays his psychiatrist, Dr. Watson. While the film is only partially successful, it provides a showcase for the mesmerizing Scott, who effortlessly transitions back and forth from the confused Justin to the supremely confident Holmes. In the film's most touching scene, a tired Holmes reads the biography of Justin Playfair, a once influential judge who retired from the bench and lost his wife the previous year (thus explaining why Justin became Holmes).

4. Anatomy of a Murder (1959) - Scott has a field day as an ambitious, theatrical prosecutor in a high-profile murder case in one of the best (if not the best) trial films. In her memoir, actress Colleen Dewhurst stated that it was "the part that would explode him in the public eye." Scott, who had earned good notices for his stage and television work, was originally offered the small role of the bartender. However, he lobbied to play the prosecuting attorney and earned his first Academy Award nomination.

5. Hardcore (1979) - It's too bad that writer-director Paul Schrader's dark drama isn't better known. Scott plays a conservative father from the midwest who learns that his missing daughter is involved in the adult film business. He goes to L.A. to find her and bring her home. Scott gives an emotionally-charged performance as a morally rigid man thrust into a seamy underworld. However, it's his scenes with Season Hubley, playing a streetwalker who helps him, that bring out the complexities in his character.

Honorable mentions:  The Hustler, The List of Adrian Messenger, Dr. Strangelove, and The Changeling.


  1. I usually poo-poo honourable mentions when a list begins with a specific number, but in the case of George C. Scott, I can't. For me, it would be an impossible task narrowing his best down to 5. I have no argument with your Herculean task.

  2. I have to put in a word for The Hospital, which Scott made the year after Patton. It's a very dark Paddy Chayefsky comedy about a suicidal doctor, which Scott plays to near-perfection. I've always measured its strength by the fact that, the year after refusing the Oscar, the Academy saw fit to nominate him for Best Actor again. I think that takes quite a performance to get them to do that!

  3. So glad to see Patton at the top of the list. For me, there is no one else in the scene when George C. Scott is on the screen. Truly one of the great actors.

  4. Great list! I was glad to see that The Hustler & The Changeling made it to the honorable mentions!