December 24, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

George C. Scott born 1927

Although George C. Scott’s heart was in stage work — he felt he’d reached his thespian peak as Shylock in Joe Papp’s 1962 production of The Merchant of Venice — his imposing frame and penetrating gaze seemed built for the screen. The grandest of his creations was Gen. George S. Patton, the towering World War II commander whom he portrayed as alternating between bouts of megalomania and melancholy. Scott — who died of a ruptured aneurysm Sept. 22 at 71 — earned a Best Actor Academy Award for Patton (1970), but ever the Hollywood heretic, he turned it down, having years earlier scorned the Oscars as a ”beauty contest in a slaughterhouse.” Lest you think Scott was a humorless chap, check out his comic portrayal of that other famous soldier—World War III’s Gen. ”Buck” Turgidson, the apocalyptically giddy triumph of mordant slapstick featured in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964). Even in that tongue-in-cheek role, Scott exuded the same dangerous magnetism that enabled him to steal scenes from such movie legends as Jimmy Stewart (whose defense attorney was upstaged by Scott’s sharklike prosecutor in 1959’s Anatomy of a Murder) and Paul Newman (whose pool-hall protagonist was overpowered by Scott’s reptilian gambler in 1961’s The Hustler). Although Scott sometimes spoke ill of acting and the people it attracted (he once described himself as a madman, claiming that his life’s work had psychologically scarred him), he was no doubt speaking from the heart when he said, ”Acting was, in every sense, my means of survival.” — TP

Stanley Kubrick born 1928

When Stanley Kubrick, 70, died in his sleep March 7, mere days after turning a print of his last film, Eyes Wide Shut, over to executives at Warner Bros., there was an initial sense that his passing might be the final dark joke of a world-class pessimist. His reputation as a control freak was legendary: Tales abound of Kubrick putting actors through 100 takes of one shot, showing up at movie theaters in London’s West End to make certain his films got the right sound and projection balance, orchestrating every last adverb of promotional copy. What better way to ensure massive interest in your first film in 12 years than to die? More rationally (but still tellingly), his death was the kind of psychic curveball the Bronx-born Kubrick specialized in throwing. Where other directors hewed to specific genres, he roamed the cinematic landscape, covering satire (Dr. Strangelove), war (Paths of Glory, Full Metal Jacket), period drama (Barry Lyndon), epics (Spartacus), future shock (A Clockwork Orange), sci-fi profundity (2001: A Space Odyssey), and straight-up horror (The Shining). All that connected such shimmering dots was, in the words of his biographer Alexander Walker, the belief that men ”are risen apes, not fallen angels.” His cynicism was of a piece with his times: Kubrick was America’s most prominent contribution to the ranks of visionary postwar directors, on equal footing with Bergman and Kurosawa, Godard and Fellini. Of all their work, Kubrick’s films stand out most like warning shots across the bow of human complacency, seeing civilization as a brittle veneer that constantly fails to keep savagery at bay.

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