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.

Horror Film Review: Scars of Dracula (dir by Roy Ward Baker)


Scarsofdracula

As I watched the opening of 1970’s Scars of Dracula, I found myself wondering several things.

First off, why do people even bother with trying to kill Dracula?  At the end of every Hammer film, Dracula would end up dying but then, just as surely, he would be revived in the sequel.  Now, I do think that Hammer deserves some credit for, at the very least, trying to maintain some sort of continuity over the course of its 9 Dracula films.  At least they didn’t have Dracula just mysteriously show up alive at the beginning of each sequel.  Instead, there was always someone or something who would show up at the beginning of the film for the exact purpose of bringing Dracula back to life.  Scars of Dracula, for instance, opens with a rubber bat hovering over the red dust that was once Dracula.  The bat spits up some blood and, before you know it, Dracula’s back and, once again, he’s being played by Christopher Lee.

Secondly, what happens to old vampire hunters?  Dracula shows up in film after film but, for the most part, his antagonists only show up once and then disappear, with the notable exception, of course, of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing.  Then again, seeing as how they probably know that Dracula never stays dead for more than two years, it’s totally understandable that his enemies would probably leave town while they had the chance.

I mentioned Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing.  Interestingly enough, Cushing doesn’t appear in as many Dracula films as you probably think.  However, whenever we think of Christopher Lee’s Dracula, we also think of Cushing’s Van Helsing.  Peter Cushing was one of the few Hammer actors who had a screen presence as memorable as Christopher Lee’s.  As a result, Cushing’s Van Helsing was always seen as a worthy and credible opponent.

The downside of that is that is, when you watch a Dracula film that doesn’t feature Cushing, you find yourself very much aware of just how boring and bland most of Dracula’s other opponents truly were.  For the most part, Lee’s Dracula had to deal with an increasingly generic band of “nice” young men and women, none of whom could come close to matching Lee’s dominance of the screen.

Sometimes, of course, that didn’t matter.  But often times, as with Scars of Dracula, it’s really hard not to wish that Dracula was spending his time dealing with another Van Helsing instead of the film’s forgettable heroes.

In Scars of Dracula, Simon Carlson (Dennis Waterman) drops by Dracula’s castle while searching for his missing brother Paul (Christopher Matthews).  Accompanying Simon is Paul’s fiancee, Sarah (Jenny Hanley).  Naturally, Dracula wants to make Sarah into his bride.  Complicating matters is the fact that Dracula’s servant, Klove (Patrick Troughton), has also fallen in love with Sarah.  There’s plentiful gore, a little nudity, a lot of rubber bats, and Hammer mainstay Michael Ripper shows up playing yet another inn keeper.  Christopher Lee is, as always, an intimidating and cruel presence of Dracula and Patrick Troughton has a lot of fun as Klove.  But whenever the film focuses on its bland young leads, it comes to a halt.

Scars of Dracula is okay without being particularly memorable.  It’s not one of the best of the Christopher Lee’s Dracula films but it has enough of the Hammer style to, if you’re in the right mood, enjoyable.