Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Christopher Lee R.I.P.


The death of Sir Christopher Lee does not come as any great surprise, but it certainly does evoke great sadness. At ninety-three he still possessed a commanding presence on the big screen as evidenced by his appearance in the most recent movie trilogy derived from Tolkien's work. This work was an especially effective turn because of Lee's devotion to the Middle Earth material, which he reportedly read annually.


But as good as his Saruman is, it will always be (at least for me), his turns as Count Dracula in the many Hammer movies he worked in which define his career, either fairly or unfairly. Lee brought a ferocity to that role which forever redefined how people related to Bram Stoker's count. Other actors come and go, but aside from Lee and Lugosi, no others have defined the role of the undead Count.


Not unlike his generational peer Clint Eastwood, Lee was dominant on the big screen for the simple reason he was often taller than his colleagues and his gaze was mesmerizing, even when he wasn't trying to entrance you. Good looking enough for all practical purposes, his face was always rich with character which spoke of experiences that untold still informed his presentations. Whatever was going on in any given scene, there was a good chance your eyes were on Lee.


Even the worst schlock, and he was in some schlock for sure, is made better by his presence. Even a movie as poorly concocted as Captain America II: Death Too Soon is pretty much only watchable because of Christopher Lee's presence. His commanding voice gave resonance to even the most vapid lines.


 Many will mention his turn as Scaramanga, the James Bond villain and "Man with the Golden Gun". That movie unfortunately has a number of silly elements, and wastes Lee's possibilities in many respects, but overall it still rises above the pack of the Roger Moore Bond flicks. I've read that he lost out on the original Bond villain role of Dr.No, and that's a great shame; he'd have been magnificent.


Also of note is his addition to the Star Wars saga as Count Dooku, one of the select acolytes of the dark side of the enigmatic Force. His role is relatively meager (for Lee) but significant and it adds heft to the trilogy which many malign out of all proportion to its sins.


 There are so many grand characters Lee portrayed that it's difficult to recall them all immediately. The Creature of Frankenstein, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Kharis the Mummy, Francisco Scaramanga, Rasputin, Fu Manchu, Lord Summerisle, and so many others.



Now Lee has passed, and has joined his colleague and friend Peter Cushing with whom he made over twenty films. Here is an article which details some of the amazing facts about Lee's vivid and long life.


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8 comments:

  1. What a marvelous choice of photos!

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    1. Thanks. I intentionally wanted to focus on his expressions and his hands which (not unlike Karloff and Lugosi) are key to how Lee presented his characters.

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  2. I read an article maybe a year ago in which Lee said Cushing was his best friend and that he hasnt had a friendship like that since.

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    1. The two were very close indeed, and it shows. Cushing was a decade older than Lee, but there's seems to have been a chemistry between them in the best Hammer efforts that adds up to more than the sum of the parts.

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  3. Another two of his films that I loved were 'Horror Express' and 'The Devil Rides Out'. Apparently he found it difficult to get work in British films in the early days because he was "too tall and too foreign-looking" - both of which were fine for playing Dracula though. He considered one of his best roles was in 1998 playing Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, but the Pakistani government objected to a white man "blacking-up" to play Jinnah so the film was quietly forgotten about.

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    1. I think I've seen Horror Express and I can't say it did much for me. I keep reading about the other one, The Devil Rides Out and I am intrigued. The white-playing-darker thing is problematic weirdly since acting is all about becoming that which you are not, but the history of white guys playing Asians (Fu Manchu famously) and such is something I see the sensitivity to. But I'd hate to see the form get so PC that no one can ever play outside their genetic code, that seems to defeat the purpose of make believe.

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  4. The Devil Rides Out is a little cheesy – but it may well be my favorite Hammer film…I need to read the original Dennis Wheatley novel at some point…With Christopher Lee passed on – it is difficult to think of any living horror actors who could hold a candle to Karloff, Lugosi, Lorre, Chaney, Cushing, Lee…(I’m at a loss anyway.) Then again maybe I just read too many issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland as a kid…In a weird way it seems like this whole line of Immortals is gone now.

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    1. They are. He was a final living link to a past which is quickly slipping into the mists. I cannot imagine a magazine today having the impact of Famous Monsters.

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