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Friday, 12 June 2015

Christopher Lee Has Risen From the Grave

At 93 years of age it could be said that he had a good innings, but nevertheless the loss of legendary actor, Christopher Lee is a shock. He seemed immortal, had been around forever and was one of those who would always be around. His work spans the decades, crossing genres, taking in everything from schlock horror to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and beyond. He's resided both in Baker Street and Baskerville Hall and even recorded both opera and heavy metal music. The actor celebrated his 93rd birthday only a few weeks ago, and the as soon as I heard the news of his passing all I could think was, 'Wow, he's going to look freaky in his coffin!'

'I've seen many men die right in front of me. I've seen the worst that human beings can do to one another. the results of torture, mutilation and seeing someone blown to pieces by a bomb.' Christopher Lee talking about his experiences during the second world war.

Lee appeared in over 200 movies, many of then genuine classics - The Man with the Golden Gun, The Whicker Man, Lord of the Rings, but it is perhaps for his work with the Hammer studios where he became something of a double act with another much missed British horror icon, Peter Cushing that he will be best remembered.

'I was attached to the SAS from time to time but we are forbidden – former, present, or future – to discuss any specific operations. Let's just say I was in Special Forces and leave it at that.' Christopher Lee

Following a highly colorful and distinguished war record, Lee's entry into film started in 1946, . He
was initially turned down by several studios, being told he was too tall to be an actor but he was signed as a contract player to The Rank Organization and made his screen debut in future James Bond director, Terence Young's Corridor of Mirrors (1947). Lee had only one line in the movie - a satirical shaft meant to qualify the lead's bravura." - nevertheless he made an impact on the director who would later recommend him to friend, Terence Fisher for Hammer's 1957, The Curse of Frankenstein. The film was a huge success and then a year later Lee portrayed Count Dracula in Hammer's Dracula (AKA, The Horror of Dracula) and was arguably the screen's greatest ever Dracula, in the minds of many, including my own,  Lee eclipsed Bela Lugosi's portrayal of the character and remains the definitive screen vampire. During his time with Hammer Lee played many iconic roles, Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, The Mummy, Rasputin and even Henry Baskerville alongside Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes. Lee himself would play Sherlock Holmes in 1962's,  Sherlock Holmes and The Deadly Necklace. But Lee's association with Holmes doesn't end there and he also played, Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock's brother) in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970).

Lee's work with Hammer is enough to guarantee him screen immortality but there was so much more to the actor - 1973's The Whicker Man is an all time classic and the actor also worked in Spainish films but left after discovering he had unknowingly narrated a soft porn movie. That film was Jess Franco's Eugenie (1970)

' I had no idea that was what it was when I agreed to the role. I was told it was about the Marquis de Sade. I flew out to Spain for one day's work playing the part of a narrator. I had to wear a crimson dinner jacket. There were lots of people behind me. They all had their clothes on. There didn't seem to be anything peculiar or strange. A friend said: 'Do you know you are in a film in Old Compton Street?' In those days that was where the mackintosh brigade watched their films. 'Very funny,' I said. So I crept along there heavily disguised in dark glasses and scarf, and found the cinema and there was my name. I was furious! There was a huge row. When I had left Spain that day everyone behind me had taken their clothes off!' Christopher Lee

In 1973 Lee played alongside Roger Moore in the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun and perhaps provided his best screen villain since Dracula, The movie may not be one of the best in the Bond franchise but Lee is mesmerizing on screen.

" In Fleming's novel he's just a West Indian thug, but in the film he's charming, elegant, amusing, lethal.'   Christopher Lee

That same year Lee appeared on the cover of Paul McCartney's Band on the Run album cover and then in 1977, tired of only being offered roles in horror movies Lee relocated to America. His first role was in Airport 77 and later Steven Spielberg would cast him in 1941. In more recent years Lee turned up in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings as well as The Hobbit. He also put his stamp on another classic movie franchise when he appeared in the Star War prequels. In 2010 Lee took the unlikely move of recording an heavy metal album but nevertheless, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, was both a critical and commercial success.

Lee's last role was in the video game,  Deus Ex Machina 2  in which Lee narrated the piece in the role of the programmer.

Christopher Lee died in hospital after a short illness but people like Christopher Lee are never truly gone, because they will live on forever through their work. He will continue to thrill movie fans for as long as there are movie fans and as I look at my considerable DVD collection of his work I am reminded that, Christopher Lee has truly risen from the grave.

1 comment:

Oscar said...

Sorry to hear about Lee passing on, but like you said, he will live forever in the movies.