Maria Schneider was one of the most intoxicating women I’ve ever seen on film in 1975’s The Passenger. The film starred Jack Nicholson while he was in his zone; The Passenger was released one year after Chinatown and the same year as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but was overlooked due to the overwhelming praise and commercial success as those films. Luckily, Nicholson bought the rights to the movie and re-released an extended cut on DVD a few years ago where I happened to discover it at TLA Video (RIP) on a whim.
I had never seen Maria Schneider before. She made her bones in Last Tango in Paris opposite Marlon Brando when she was nineteen years old, but The Passenger opened my eyes to this French facemelter. Her eyes and inviting looks did most of the talking to Nicholson. Her curly hair and young, brazen attitude made you want to walk over hot coals just to get her a lemonade. Nicholson played a guy who exercised an out clause on his normal identity, opting to skate around Europe posing as a dude photographer and Schneider played the broad who dangled the carrot. Suddenly Nicholson was stealing cars and running around Italian churches without a care. It’s amazing how much you don’t give a good damn when a pretty Parisian takes a shine to you.
Anyway, Schneider’s career derailed due to drug use and a nervous breakdown in the 70’s. She made no other films of substance until passing away at 58 years old from a longtime illness. She peaked at 21 years old, going toe to toe with arguably the best two actors of the 20th century during the last great era of excellent filmmaking. And like that, she was gone. It was like falling in love with a girl during summer camp who then moved to Anchorage, Alaska. You always wondered what she was up to now, if she still smelled the same, if she ever settled down, what you might say if you ever bumped into her at the super market. But you never did.
Rest in Peace Maria Schneider. You can read more about her career at the AV Club. And I highly suggest watching The Passenger.