Saturday, 31 October 2009

Arise from the undead!

Yesterday Christopher Lee was knighted. Most people probably think of him as Britain's Vincent Price (they were born on the same day, May 27th, now officially Ham Vampire Day, toasted by throwing a glass of tomato juice down your shirt front). I think his noble screen presence and sonorous voice really should have made him Britain's Charlton Heston.

Swords-and-sandals epics, though, were beyond the resources of the the British film industry and the American one already had its Heston (his sinister eyebrows may also have presented problems, though not ones that couldn't have been tidied up). When Lee did go to Hollywood, in the late-1970s and when he was in his late fifties, it was too late: the mould had been cast. But those Dracula roles did have their compensations: good, predictable money, something not to be sniffed at for an actor.

He'd received some recognition before now (from today's report in the Telegraph):
His prolific career has seen him earn several Guinness World Records, including Most Connected Actor Living [?]; Most Films With A Swordfight By An Actor and Tallest Actor In A Leading Role (Lee is a lofty 6ft 5in).

Hardly what Ralphy, Johnnie and Larry would have aspired to though, is it? But in any event, a leading actor who's still around to recount anecdotes featuring the giants of the silver screen in its heyday deserves a K:
The actor joked about his time in the movie industry and held up his right hand to show his crooked little finger.

He joked: "That was done in a sword fight with Errol Flynn - after lunch. It nearly came off.

Which is what worries me a bit about some of these knighthoods. How many successful and expectant thesps - "ooh I'm glad - he really deserved that" - would have got diddly-squat if they hadn't managed to hang on as long as they did? I'm not saying these superannuated actors don't deserve it - far from it. I think the danger is they die before they come into their rightful gong. What if Mr Lee had died at the respectably old age of eighty-five (he's eighty-seven)? Nada, other than a crummy OBE.

Without question, now that the taboo about giving knighthoods to screen actors is long gone, Sir Christopher is richly deserving of his handle. Over his lifetime he must be a candidate for the hardest working screen actor: by the end of next year he will have appeared in a staggering 266 films dating back to 1948.

However, it's only in recent years that he's been given the opportunity to play some properly Hestonian, noble-browed, be-gowned roles, in Star Wars and most impressively in The Lord of the Rings: confirmation that he would have made a great Moses, back in the day (see above right). He provides a towering performance in this LotR scene, also featuring Sir Ian McKellan and Bernard Hill (shamefully edited out of the cinema release like another much less worthy one):

So let us congratulate this rather wonderful gentleman who now stands tall in the front rank of national treasures. Arise Sir Christopher! thriving and, thankfully, still undead.


Gadjo Dilo said...

I can't say I've followed Mr Lee's career too much, but if he's a good actor then he's surely is a worthy recipient of the ermine. (I tore up my birth certificate, however, when the Beatles got their OBEs in 1966 - I was only 4 at the time but even then I knew right from wrong....)

worm said...

I think the only film Ive ever seen with him in it was The Man with the Golden Gun

as an aside, In my early 20's I used to live near to Bray studios in a house that was built by one of the set designers from the Hammer films - he used lots of stuff in the house, like big studded doors (that were actually made of plywood) and ridiculously freakish carved fireplaces. Naturally, girls used to freak out when I took them back there!!!

best bit of all was the front door key - it was huge and looked like it should belong to dracula's castle! It made an almost unbeatable conversation starter if I left it on the bar haha

Gaw said...

Gadjo: Sir Christopher, if you don't mind. You've missed a treat (sometimes). Try the Wicker Man.

Worm: Ditto. You'd like the Wicker Man: it's weird, macabre and deals in popular delusions. Right up your street I would have thought.

Cool pad. I bet the girls were impressed - even scared - by the size of your ironmongery.

Gaw said...

Here's a trailer for the Wicker Man (1973), which gives you a fair flavour of its weirdness. Doesn't feature Sir C though which is strange as at the climax of the film he's burnt in the eponymous construction.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Ok, Sir Christopher ;-) Many well-meaning Dawkinsite friends have directed me to video clips of The Wicker Man, but I must confess that I thought it more "Iconic" than "Any Good". But it does feature the ultra-camp Lindsay Kemp, with whom I once did mime classes.