Sunday, June 14, 2015

Who's the Best...Christopher Lee Role?

Karen: Last week the world lost a giant of the entertainment industry -particularly the horror/fantasy/science fiction genres - when the great Christopher Lee passed away. Mr. Lee was a prolific actor, appearing in some 250 films in his 93 years. He is best known for his horror roles, although this was only one part of his vast career (and indeed, amazing life). 

The role he is most strongly associated with continues to be Dracula -or does it? It may depend on one's age and interests. Some might think of Lee as the traitorous wizard Saruman from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The youngsters unfortunately are stuck with "Count Dooku" (Dooku? really? sigh...) from the Star Wars prequels. But this is the tip of the iceberg. Lee left his mark on so many roles, particularly genre ones; James Bond's foe Scaramanga, the one-eyed Rochefort from The Three Musketeers, Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft, Rasputin the Mad Monk, and other monsters for Hammer -Frankenstein's Monster and the Mummy. He had other memorable roles in films like The Wicker Man and The Devil Rides Out to name a couple.

So here's your task today: Tell us what you think is Lee's very best role, the one we will ultimately remember him for above all others.


Anonymous said...

It's Dracula he'll be most remembered for but as Karen says there were so many other great roles - another film that comes to mind is 'Horror Express'. In interviews he said that he would have liked to play Dracula in an adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel but I've read that novel and it's over-rated in my opinion - far too long and tedious, the Hammer films were far more enjoyable especially 'Dracula, Prince Of Darkness' from 1966. Unfortunately for him he got the Star Wars prequels while Peter Cushing got the original Star Wars movie - d'oh !!

Rip Jagger said...

I agree, it will be Dracula he will be remembered for. Like Lugosi before him, the other actor to defined that role, Lee brought something fresh to it, a ferocious quality all subsequent versions must respond to.

It's remarkable how so many of his early roles (Frankenstein's Creature, The Mummy, and even Dracula to a great extent) did not rely on words, despite the outstanding nature of his voice.

As good as his other roles might've been (Summerisle, Saruman, Sherlock) he will always be first and foremost Dracula.

Rip Off :)

Anonymous said...

"City of the Damned" aka "Horror Hotel". Loved it!

Mike said...

I'm with the majority in voting for Dracula. Btw, TCM is doing a tribute to him on June 22nd running a bunch of his movies starting with The Mummy at 6:15AM Eastern. I'm checking out the Dracula ones since its been awhile for me.

Martinex1 said...

I also say Dracula. although I really thought his Bond villain was memorable. My sons however only know him as Sauman and Dooku. I read he made a heavy metal record late in life; I'd love to hear that.

Anonymous said...

Surely Lee will always be remembered as Miguel the terrorist from the Captain America 11 - Death Too Soon !:)


Anonymous said...

Well, it all depends on what age you are; most people under 40 years old remember him as Dooku (or what I call Dracula with a lightsabre) from Star Wars or Saruman from the LOTR/Hobbit movies. Older folks will remember him as Dracula, Frankenstein or even Sherlock Holmes.

Like Karen said, those roles mentioned above while memorable are just a small part of his long and illustrious career. Lee himself said that his best performance was in a little known 1998 film called Jinnah detailing the life of the founder of the nation of Pakistan. This role along with his turn as the hedonistic Lord Summerisle in the 1973 cult horror classic the Wicker Man Lee rates as the best of his career.

I found it quite ironic and amusing that while Lee played a fictional Bond villain onscreen, in real life he was an honest to goodness spy during WW2; in fact, some of his activities are still classified!

My personal favourite Lee roles are Dracula and Saruman. Bela Lugosi invented the sexy, charismatic, aristocratic interpretation of Dracula but Lee further refined it with his animal magnetism, and it is these two which are the gold standards to which all versions are compared up to this day. I'm sad my buddy Colin Jones thinks the novel is too long and tedious. I found it a good read; yes, the end is anticlimactic, but I think Bram Stoker wasn't trying to write a novel simply so some hack producer would turn it into a mindless popcorn Hollywood movie. Writing a full-fledged vampire novel almost 120 years ago in the Victorian Era was a huge novelty!

As for Saruman, Lee has publicly stated he read the LOTR books literally every year. He even met his literary idol Tolkien in a pub (bar)once! While he wanted to play Gandalf (I personally would have loved to see him in this role, no disrespect to the marvelous Ian McKellen) Peter Jackson cast him as Saruman instead. Maybe I should start rereading LOTR and the Hobbit every year too!

All in all, what a life and career this amazing man had. Truly the last of his kind, and we are all the better off for it. Thank you Sir Christopher.

- Mike 'Christopher Lee is singing metal to the angels now' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Edo Bosnar said...

First, a belated RIP to Mr. Lee - a life well lived indeed.
Second, I can't really say which role I think was his best, just because I don't think I've seen enough of his movies: I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I've only seen parts of his Hammer Dracula movies, usually because I always caught them somewhere in the middle, late at night, and fell asleep before the end. The Wicker Man is a movie I've wanted to see for a long time, but just never got around to it.
By the way Mike, I totally agree with you that Lee could have easily played Gandalf just as well as Saruman (and I don't think the reverse is true, i.e., while McKellen was fantastic as Gandalf, he wouldn't have been able to pull off Saruman).
I will say this, though, Lee tends to elevate any movie he's in, or at least the parts he's in don't suck - this is especially true for the Star Wars sequels, and even that deplorable made-for-TV Cap movie that Sean mentioned.

Humanbelly said...

Ah, it's a shame to lose him. 93 was too soon to let him go.
A couple of years ago in the "Who's the best. . . Mummy?" post I spoke a bit more about Mr. Lee. And once again I'll recommend his autobiography (most recent edition is titled "Lord of Misrule"). He's just about the most British guy you'll ever come across-- he almost seems to come from a slightly earlier era than his own, in fact.

NPR had a charming and appreciative segment on his passing. One point that was made, which is really rather melancholy, is that he was truly our last remaining dyed-in-the-wool Horror Film "star". That stable was never all that big to begin with, and it was stretched pretty thin over the decades, but Christopher Lee's place in it was untouchable. He was the final representative of a group of actors who had name-above-the-title B-movie cred-- starting with Lon Chaney, Sr in the silent film era.

Yep, yep-- Dracula's what he'll be identified with basically, but I do think even that is somewhat eclipsed by his stunning longevity and adaptability. His WICKER MAN performance is terrific, but geeze-- that film is soooo freakin' disturbing that I have trouble enjoying him in it. And HBSon pointed out that he's done some great voiceover work in recent years in both video games and animated films. What the man did (like any up-from-the-trenches-actor does!) is know how to keep himself a-workin'-- and rarely let his ego get in the way of taking a legitimate job if he thought he could do it well. Or rather ('cause his unique ego does show through in his autobiography), he was always satisfied to improve any lesser (but paying) project if he believed he could improve it with his talents.

LORD, did he love golf, though. I suspect he would have been a tough fellow to have dinner with, as he did seem to distinctly remember pretty much every round he played at every course in the civilized world-!

Man, I miss him already--


J.A. Morris said...

Dracula is the obvious answer. But I was never a huge fan of the Hammer horror films. When I was growing up, if you wanted to watch Lee as Dracula, all that was available was grainy prints shown on the local UHF station. I've seen them more recently, on dvd and TCM and I've found them to be a mixed bag at best. Of course Lee and Peter Cushing were always the best thing about them.

I'd probably go with Saruman, a great role in a great trilogy of movies.

Phil said...

Duc de Richleau from the Devil Rides Out was his best performance and best movie. But he is best known for Dracula.

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