Christopher Lee, R.I.P.


Jinnah

The picture above is Christopher Lee in the 1998 film Jinnah.  In this epic biopic, Lee played Muhammad Ali Jinniah, the founder of modern Pakistan.  Up until yesterday, I had never heard of Jinnah but, after news of Lee’s death broke, Jinnah was frequently cited as being Lee’s personal favorite of his many roles and films.

Consider that.  Christopher Lee began his film career in the 1940s and he worked steadily up until his death.  He played Dracula.  He played The Man with the Golden Gun.  Christopher Lee appeared, with his future best friend Peter Cushing, in Laurence Olivier’s Oscar-winning Hamlet.  He played Seurat in John Huston’s Moulin Rouge.  He appeared in both The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies.  He appeared in several films for Tim Burton.  He even had a small role in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  He appeared in two Star Wars prequels.  He appeared in the original Wicker Man (and reportedly considered it to be his favorite of his many horror films).  He appeared in Oscar winners and box office hits.  And, out of all that, Christopher Lee’s personal favorite was Jinnah, a film that most people have never heard about.

Unless, of course, you live in Pakistan.  When I did a google search on Christopher Lee, I came across several Pakistani news sources that announced: “Christopher Lee, star of Jinnah, has died.”

And really, that somehow seems appropriate.  Christopher Lee was the epitome of an international film star.  He worked for Hammer in the UK.  He worked with Jess Franco in Spain and Mario Bava in Italy.  He appeared in several movies in the United States.  And, in Pakistan, he played Jinnah.  And I haven’t seen Jinnah but I imagine he was probably as great in that role as he was in every other role that I saw him play.  Over the course of his long career, Christopher Lee appeared in many good films but he also appeared in his share of bad ones.  But Christopher Lee was always great.

It really is hard to know where to begin with Christopher Lee.  Though his death was announced on Thursday, I haven’t gotten around to writing this tribute until Friday.  Admittedly, when I first heard that Lee had passed away, I was on a romantic mini-vacation and had promised myself that I would avoid, as much as possible, getting online for two days.  But, even more than for those personal reasons, I hesitated because I just did not know where to start when it came to talking about Christopher Lee.  He was one of those figures who overwhelmed by his very existence.

We all know that Christopher Lee was a great and iconic actor.  And I imagine that a lot of our readers know that Lee had a wonderfully idiosyncratic musical career, releasing his first heavy metal album when he was in his 80s.  Did you know that Lee also served heroically during World War II and, after the war ended, helped to track down fleeing Nazi war criminals?  Did you know that it has been speculated that Lee may have served as one of the role models for James Bond?  (Ian Fleming was a cousin of Lee’s and even tried to convince Lee to play Dr. No in the first Bond film.)  Christopher Lee lived an amazing life, both on and off the screen.

But, whenever one reads about Christopher Lee and his career or watches an interview with the man, the thing that always comes across is that, for someone who played so many evil characters, Christopher Lee appeared to be one the nicest men that you could ever hope to meet.  Somehow, it was never a shock to learn that his best friend was his frequent screen nemesis, Peter Cushing.

Christopher Lee is one of those great actors who we assumed would always be here.  The world of cinema will be a sadder world without him.

Legends together

Legends together

Here is a list of Christopher Lee films that we’ve reviewed here on the Shattered Lens.  Admittedly, not all of these reviews focus on Lee but they do provide a hint of the man’s versatility:

  1. Airport ’77
  2. Dark Shadows
  3. Dracula A.D. 1972
  4. Dracula Has Risen From The Grave
  5. Dracula, Prince of Darkness
  6. Hercules in the Haunted World
  7. The Hobbit
  8. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
  9. Horror Express
  10. The Horror of Dracula
  11. Hugo
  12. Jocks
  13. The Man With The Golden Gun
  14. The Satanic Rites of Dracula
  15. Scars of Dracula
  16. Scream and Scream Again
  17. Season of the Witch
  18. Starship Invasions
  19. Taste The Blood of Dracula
  20. The Wicker Tree

Sir Christopher Lee was 93 years old and he lived those 9 decades in the best way possible.  As long as there are film lovers, he will never be forgotten.

5 responses to “Christopher Lee, R.I.P.

  1. I have the same affection and respect for Christopher Lee you have expressed more than one on the site. The man personified the term “presence”. which could manifest itself as dignity, intimidation, elegance, intelligence, malevolence, or any combination thereof, sometimes, all of them.

    (By the way, what a great picture of Mr. Lee with his iconic colleagues.)

    I loved his Hammer films, and especially his collaborations with Peter Cushing, another distinguished gentleman, terrific actor, and nice guy. But I heard a quote from him in which he indicated he didn’t really enjoy playing Dracula that much, since he was called upon mainly to make faces and lunge at people (profoundly paraphrased). I think that may be part of the reason his favorite roles were ones that gave him the opportunity to develop and present a deeper and more nuanced character. Lord Summerisle wasn’t the main character in the great “The Wicker Man”, but he was sufficiently enigmatic, charismatic, and insane to be fascinating, and was apparently fun to portray, which he did so well.

    With that in mind, I watched “Jinnah” last night. As you assumed, Christopher Lee was great. The film has an interesting and somewhat unusual manner of exploring the title character, and this allows for more scenes featuring Lee than would have a more conventional style. Since you are a self-described history nerd, I think you will appreciate how the film provides a history lesson about a region i, and I suspect most Americans, know little about. Very informative, and well-done. And a nice opportunity to see another side to Christopher Lee’s talent.

    Curious after watching the film, I took a look at Jinnah’s Wikipedia page. I was surprised when I saw this picture. Compare it to the one at the top of this page. Clearly, the casting of Sir Lee was a great choice for a few reasons –

    I will miss that stentorian voice. But then again, I am looking forward to hearing his singing – especially the heavy metal stuff! – of which I had not known before your post.

    I suppose 93 years is a pretty long time. His really does seem to have been a life well-lived. (Check out his bio – he’s an impressive guy.) How fortunate for us he spent so much of it making films, and that he was so good at it.

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  3. I just found out about this today because, yeah, June was a busy month. RIP to not only a great actor, but a man who proved you can never be too old to love heavy metal.

    Like

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