"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

"Of COURSE, they're naked!!!" ... (Updated 12 Jun 2015 - Rest In Peace)

 - "It's dangerous to jump through a fire with your clothes on!"

Thusly Christopher Lee (as Lord Summerisle) responds (quite reasonably) to an outraged visiting police sergeant, who has stated the obvious while witnessing a pagan ritual dance in The Wicker Man (1973). To be sure, that sergeant will soon find his sensibilities to be the very least of his problems.

My previous post Immortality, a "Happy Birthday" to composer John Williams who turned 80 just yesterday (08 Feb 2012) was an attempt to come to terms with the fact that I'm closing in on 70.

Well, Sir Christopher (born 27 May 1922, who could address John Williams as "Kid" and will hit NINETY just two days after I reach 70), would probably respond to my lamentation with "Stop WHINING!!!"

Although he'd done a lot before, for many of us this was our introduction to Lee ...

Many photos can be found of him in that role, but none that can hold a candle to this portrait from Canadian fan artist presterjohn1.  He captures the very soul.

Lee's IMDB page (linked at the top of this post) lists 274 titles in which he appears, and there are more to come.  Like Michael Caine, he apparently lives to work, and has probably no interest whatever in retiring. (To Sir Christopher: If you ever do contemplate that, my sincere advice is -- Don't!)

That resume goes back to 1946, but it was 12 years later when he first appeared as Dracula in Horror of Dracula (1958), a role he performed eight times, including an Italian-made version, Count Dracula (1970), that was quite faithful to the original novel, and an uncredited appearance in a Jerry Lewis comedy, One More Time (1970) that one of you will have to check out;  from what I've read, that one is probably not going to make it onto my must see list.

In deference to the opening lines and title of this post, I've read many times that Christopher Lee's favorite role is (or was for a long time) ...
Lord Summerisle, in The Wicker Man - from bafta.org

As the leader of a modern day pagan cult, preparing to offer a human sacrifice, Lee is clearly having the time of his life, being so wickedly charming and reasonable.

My personal favorite of his roles is ...
Le Comte de Rochefort in The Three Musketeers
modified from photo at juntajuleil.com

In 1973, director Richard Lester put together the absolutely finest version of The Three Musketeers (1973) I've ever seen.

(He then proceeded to create a firestorm by splitting the movie into two parts, releasing the second part as The Four Musketeers: Milady's Revenge (1974) the following year.  You see, he had learned that theater owners weren't too keen on booking a movie that was over four-hours long, as you get fewer showings that way and don't make as much money.  So, he split it.

BUT, he really should have discussed it with his actors and crew first;  most of whom were a bit less than thrilled to learn that they had made two movies while being paid for one. Lawsuits resulted and things were eventually worked out.)

The movie had a stellar cast, but Lee managed to steal it whenever he showed up.

Athos (Oliver Reed) to D'Artagnan, who had inquired about the man with the eye-patch:
"His name is Rochefort. He's the Cardinal's living blade, and he's deadlyIf you should see him coming down the other side of the road, well, just don't cross over;  that's all."

Years later, another installment was made, The Return of the Musketeers (1989), with Lee, the same director, and most of the same actors, but sadly it was pretty forgettable.

He went up against 007 ...
Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga - from snyderworld.co.cc

... in the Roger Moore James Bond movie The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), and lost of course.  How could he ever have had a chance? :-)

Not my favorite Bond movie by a long shot, nor my favorite Lee performance, it graces this post only because of the trivia that Christopher Lee is a cousin of the late Ian Fleming (the writer who conjured up Bond in the first place).

Now, for an example of making maximum use of limited time ...
Christopher Lee as Blind Pew - modified from photo at starwarped.net

Charlton Heston created perhaps the finest version ever of Treasure Island (1990) as a made-for-TV movie, and populated it with a wonderful cast (he did pretty well with his part as well, considering that Long John Silver is not an easy role, having to be tough enough to control a pirate crew and still manage to be sympathetic to a young boy).

Long available only on VHS tape, late last year it finally came out on DVD (and about damn time too). (Added 25 May 2012 - I have a lot more to say about this version in a later post - Treasure Island.  You can probably gather that I like it a lot.)

It opens with the arrival of Billy Bones, played by the formidable Oliver Reed (never a shrinking violet), but when he is humbled by Blind Pew showing up to deliver the "black spot" and an ultimatum, I'm not at all sure just how much of that is acting;  Lee has a commanding presence and, during the probably less than 10 or 15 minutes of total screen time he has here, totally dominates it.

I'm not going to exhaust the internet's store of photos and info about him. (I doubt I could keep up with him in any case).  Most of you probably already remember him as Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus in the 2nd and 3rd Star Wars prequels, and as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

I last saw him in Hugo (I mention that movie a bit in my post "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy") and the IMDB page lists (at the moment) five more movies he's working on (including the two Hobbit movies, where he returns as a slightly younger Saruman).

So, what does a guy pushing ninety look like today? ...
From wildsoundmovies.com

Damn! There are people in their sixties (including yours truly) who would surrender their souls to look like that. Life is just so unfair. :(

(And Sir Christopher repeats, yet again, "Stop WHINING!!!" :-)

Update 12 Jun 2015 - Rest In Peace ..
I have learned that, sadly, he passed away on 07 Jun 2015, at the age of 93. The best eulogy I've seen, so far is  Rest In Peace Sir Christopher Lee .

Sir: You will be truly missed.


Foxfier said...

*grin* My sister is worrying about nearing 30. (Three years early, but she likes to get a head start....)

Amusingly, I've got no problem with my next birthday being the 30th-- and folks like the ones you're pointing out are part of why!

I wanna be Dame Smith when I grow up! ;^p

Oh...and you're only a few years older than Rickman, who's a year younger than my dad, and two years younger than The Gunny. (Now there's something that messes up my mind....)

Paul Gordon said...

I've loved Maggie Smith since I first saw her in a Peter Ustinov comedy called "Hot Millions" (1968).

Among the English Ladies, I place her up with the Redgraves and Helen Mirren.

As for The Gunny, check out "Switchback" (1997) starring Dennis Quaid and Danny Glover, but in which Ermey steals it.


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