Rod Steiger did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Carl Schaffner in Across the Bridge.
Rod Steiger I will admit quite worried me as the film opened in a scene where his character is fielding pressing questions about his troubling business history as well as his wife's suicide. In that I've found more recently in my exploration of Rod Steiger's career that there are certain problematic tendencies that are common in his lesser performances. These Steigerisms are on display a bit here early most notably his way of doing this strange loud high pitched yell to signify anger. Thankfully though these are only very briefly used by Steiger, and in context of the entire performance it isn't too egregious as this representation of a man as a pressure cooker just on the edge of letting out his emotions given his situation. That is where his Carl Schaffner is just on the edge of being discovered and about to be liable for a prison sentence. I'll admit though I had a bit further worry, this one a bit more unfounded, in his portrayal of the German Schaffner given his future success in The Pawnbroker. Steiger uses a similair accent here, that actually just becomes a natural part of the character, and successfully further entrenches himself into the role through it.
The strength of this performance quickly became more obvious to me as soon as the plot really kick starts as Schaffner finds himself on a train in his attempt to escape to Mexico in order to escape his prison sentence. Steiger does not portray this initially as a man on the run in a traditional sense. In that he does not portray an overt desperation within the character at first. He subtly exudes just a bit of it enough to be believable, however he introduces well the idea of the cutthroat businessman here on the run as well. This is seen through his portrayal of his initial actions which carry this definite calm in Steiger's performance, and successfully distinguishes the man from the pressure of facing actual consequences. We see the man distinctly running away from them, and the ease that Steiger depicts effectively reveals the man's amorality early on. This personal attitude continuing even as he steals the identity of a fellow passenger who closely resembles him. When Steiger first tricks the man directly, then later directly hectors him for his identity, Steiger carries this intensity with right assurance within this behavior. He delivers this cold efficiency to these two important scenes showing a man ready to avoid taking any responsibility for his actions, in fact rather determined to do so.
Schaffner's choice in identity theft though quickly leads him into trouble as he is sent packing towards Mexico to take the fall as an assassin. Steiger keeps this calm in the moments of the wrongful identification though successfully reveals this certain glint in his eye, a sense of slyness as though this is initially just part of the plan for the man to easily cross over the border. This becomes slightly more complex when the process of correcting his identity takes longer than expected. Steiger still does not depict an obvious breakdown though just a minor frustration in every one of Schaffner's claims of wrongful identification.There is still that cold incisive stare though once the opportunity for bribery and avoiding of responsibility appears. Steiger delivers the needed incisiveness through this bit of smugness in every moment as Schaffner ease away his obstacles and seems to once again avoid his real mistakes. The arrival of Scotland Yard in addition to the local authorities growing exasperation with the man requires further maneuvering from Schaffner. Steiger is consistently compelling in that he captures again that manipulators charisma in that while he is not truly charming, how much command Steiger says with every word is with the authority of a brilliant criminal.
The authorities do not stop trying to catch Schaffner though and Steiger is very good in portraying the growing exasperation in himself which he realizes well in a growing subtle desperation in his performance. This change in the man though goes further though as he sees the results of his actions where the local Mexican populace begin to openly reject any hospitality towards the man due to the fate of the man's identity he stole. The one source of consistent support comes from an unlikely place that being the dog of the same mann. Although Schaffner initially coldly shoos the dog away, which Steiger portrays with the same indifference the same way he treats any human with as well. The dog, being a dog, doesn't reject Schaffner though coming to support him even as all the humans around him having nothing but disdain for him. This relationship oddly enough is the heart of the film, and quite frankly the best part of the film. This is due to Steiger's portrayal of this relationship where he slowly depicts this quietly growing warmth in each subsequent interaction to the dog that insists on taking a liking to the man. This warmth becoming almost a direct need for any tenderness, once all other reject him for his amorality, portraying as this full attention towards the dog. Steiger's quite moving in giving it his all and finally revealing just a bit of a soul in the character. This is often just in his silent performance though in bringing such delicate and earnest physical interaction with the dog that only becomes all the more heartwarming, as the rest of Schaffner's existence becomes all the bleaker. Eventually the dog is used as a last resort by the authorities to catch Schaffner as they tie the dog just across the border where he can be arrested. This idea could have potentially been ridiculous however Steiger makes it honestly heartbreaking by having created such a convincing connection between man and dog. This culminates finally where the dog cries for the man's help, and we only see Steiger's silent reaction where he reveals such a genuine anguish that naturally finally reveals a better man than the one we saw that opened the film. In turn this leaves this performance by Steiger on quite the high note, despite my initial concerns.