A story as relevant as yesterday’s headlines, or too late a tale? Some thirty years ago, Cinefantastique hailed Robin Hardy’s THE WICKER MAN as “the CITIZEN KANE of horror,” lauding the Anthony Shaffer-scripted story of a god-fearing police detective trying to solve a mystery within a community of Scottish pagans for its bold eroticism and cunning narrative. Now, Hardy has taken his own novel, Cowboys for Christ, and brought it to the screen as THE WICKER TREE, billing it as a “reimagining” of his original triumph.
Cinefantastique Online‘s Steve Biodrowski and Dan Persons take a look at this tale of a couple of present-day evangelical missionaries who find they may have bitten off more than can chew in trying to convert the “heathens” of a Scottish village, and discuss how the film fares in its three-plus decade transition. Plus: Oscar 2012 nominations, and what’s coming to theaters and home video.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem like there’d be much intersect between HUGO — the fanciful film based on Brian Selznick’s vividly illustrated novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret — and director Martin Scorsese. It’s set in a Parisian railway station circa the 1930’s, so there’s little opportunity for Brooklyn accents; it’s about an orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) who tends to the clocks in that station while hiding out in its secret passages, so there’s little chance we’ll be seeing Joe Pesci kick someone’s ribs in; and it’s driving force is an automaton that contains within its works a secret about the station’s not-so-kindly toy vender, Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), so forget about hearing any of the traditional, four-letter-word-laced dialogue this time around. It’s only when you find out what that secret is that you realize not only why Scorsese is the perfect choice for this film, but why this may be the film he’s been waiting his entire career to make.
beabetterbooktalker.com‘s Andrea Lipinski joins Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons to explore how a tale about the founding father of fantastic film has stirred a legendary director to create his sweetest and most enchanting work, and how it in turn pays tribute to those who seek to instill the sense of wonder in audiences around the world.
Also: Andrea gives her take on THE MUPPETS. Plus: What’s coming in theaters.
Jimmy Sangster (James Henry Kimmel Sangster), one of the major creative shapers of Hammer Studios’ horror output and the 1950’s-60’s British horror boom, passed away August 19th. He was 83.
Starting as a teenager in WWII England the Welsh-born Sangster worked on the production end of the film business before becoming a screenwriter.
At Hammer Studios he moved from Producer’s Assistant to Assistant Director before taking up screenwriting. Challenged to create a “Quatermass-style” sci-fi horror script after Nigel Kneale declined, James Sangster came up with X: THE UNKNOWN, which proved quite effective.
He was also given the screenwriting assignment on a script by Milton Subotsky (later to co-found Hammer competitor Amicus Productions) for a new version of Frankenstein. Jettisoning much of the rough screenplay, Sangster delivered a sly and decadent take on the old story, which director Terrence Fisher turned into a full-color tour-de-force, starring television star Peter Cushing and a little-known actor named Christopher Lee.
THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) changed the little studio into a major player in the field of home-grown UK productions, and helped kick off a second life for horror films as main features world-wide.
Soon to follow for Hammer and other independents were HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), THE CRAWLING EYE (1958) ,adapted from the television serial THE TROLLENBERG TERROR, JACK THE RIPPER, THE MUMMY (1959), BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), and the Bulldog Drummond spy mystery DEADLIER THAN THE MALE (1967).
Jimmy Sangster also took a few turns in the directors’ chair, helming THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970), a misguided attempt to re-make CURSE as a sexy horror-comedy (with future Darth Vader David Prowse as a bald, semi-traditional flat-headed version of the monster). Sangster fared better as a director with LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971) and the thriller FEAR IN THE NIGHT.
Jimmy Sangster also directed a few American television shows, after leaving for a stint in Hollywood.
Genre shows he wrote for included CIRCLE OF FEAR / GHOST STORY (1972-73), THE MAGICIAN, THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, and THE NEW ADVENTURES OF WONDER WOMAN.
The episode of KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER that he penned, Horror In The Heights, is perhaps the best episode of that short-lived but beloved series.
Sangster wrote the TV movie GOOD AGAINST EVIL (1977), feature film THE LEGACY (1978), and the story for the Bill Cosby and Elliot Gould starring Disney comedy, THE DEVIL AND MAX DEVLIN (1981).
Jimmy Sangster essentially retired from the movie/TV industry in the 1980’s. His autobiography “Do You Want It Good or Tuesday?” was published in 1997.
To celebrate the lasting legacy of Vincent Price in his centennial year, here is a collection of fond memories and a few letters from a selection of his many friends and co-workers.
HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS was my last film with Vincent. It was the first time Vincent, Peter Cushing, John Carradine and myself were all together in one film. I would have liked to done more with pictures with Vincent, but alas, it was not to be. In all, we only did three pictures together. The first was THE OBLONG BOX, followed by SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. Peter was in that one as well, but we didn’t have any scenes together. I was very fond of Vincent, and had great respect for him as an actor. We always had a lot of fun and joshing on the set. At the end of Scream and Scream Again I pushed Vincent into a vat of acid, to pay him off for the mistakes he has made with his experiments. Well, the yellow tinge of the acid made it look like Vincent had suffered some terrible natural mishap on a grand scale, so the first take we did was completely ruined by our both laughing as we fought to the death.
Vincent did so many wonderful pictures. THE RAVEN was a charming picture. I would have loved to be in that. THE COMEDY OF TERRORS was very funny. I remember laughing until my sides ached. Vincent and Peter Lorre as two drunken undertakers and Boris as the old man without any teeth. I have a wonderful picture at home, which Vincent sent to me. Peter Lorre is playing the piano, and Vincent, Boris and Basil Rathbone are standing behind it singing. Vincent wrote on it, “To Christopher, from three great gentlemen and Vincent Price.” I reproduced that in my autobiography and underneath it I wrote, “Correction: four great gentlemen!”
What a marvelous man he was. I shall miss him dearly.
This is a letter Peter Cushing wrote to Vincent Price in 1973, thanking him for his birthday card:
26 May 1973
Thank you so much for your card today. And the sweet message your wrote.
I much appreciate it.
I also want to thank you for my birthday treat.
I just returned from seeing THEATRE OF BLOOD. How excellent your are in this film, dear fellow. I particularly liked your reactions to the way the syringe was handed to you, and the basin, – in the decapitation sequence. So did the whole audience.
Christopher sent me a cable from Spain and asked me to give you his love and respect for the 27th as he doesn’t have your address.
My card to you should have reached you through Dennison Thornton’s office — and I do hope you spent an enjoyable day in Manchester.
I look forward to the rest of our filming enormously. I’ll be finished with “The Zoo Gang” by Tuesday next – except for post- synching.
May God’s blessing be with you always.
In all sincerity,
SIR LAURENCE OLIVIER
Lord Laurence Olivier wrote this letter to Vincent Price during the tryout run of Jean Anouilh’s Ardele in Brighton, before the play opened at the Queens Theatre in London. Sir Laurence apologizes for not being able to make it to one of Vincent’s performances in Brighton due to illness and wishes Vincent and Coral Browne well in their run of the play when it opens in London.
4 Royal Crescent
Tele 0273 61015
Sun June 15, 1975
Oh my dear, dear Vince,
How dreadfully you must think I neglected you. Do please forgive me. I fully intended to come to the show here in Brighton and get Coral and you back here for supper. The fatted calf has been looking at me reproachfully for months, saying, “I know, I’m being saved for that Vince.”
I was really quite ill with a viral flu and wasn’t allowed out of the house and I continue to feel a great sense of deprivation not to have given you a great hug of welcome to take your place in “the tightly woven tapestry of our island historie” more welcome still upon our banks and still in our midst.
I hope you have the happiest success and I wish you and Coral most lovingly, and I shall come round the Queens as soon as I possibly can, but I am not now up to going out evenings in London yet, but we must have some supper all together as soon as possible – maybe.
All great thoughts, strong wishes and held thumbs for last night,
Ever, as ever,
Cathie Merchant appeared with Vincent Price in Roger Corman’s THE HAUNTED PALACE, playing his assistant and lover, Hester Tillinghast.
I had a crush on Vincent Price from the time I was a very young girl. I thought him the epitome of sophistication, because he was so very handsome and debonair. Indeed, when I met him in person playing Hester Tillinghast in THE HAUNTED PALACE, he was all those things and so much more!
Vincent had a wonderful sense of humor and sometimes it was quite naughty. He made many funny remarks about the monster in the pit that was going to mate with Debra Paget and most of them are unprintable! However, what I recall most of all, is how very kind and thoughtful he was to me as a newcomer. He was always helpful and concerned for other people. I think one reason he was so convincing in his roles is that he immersed himself in the character and he really believed what was happening in the moment. That really made him very effective in the last frames of THE HAUNTED PALACE. Interestingly enough, we did shoot a scene for The Haunted Palace that wasn’t used. Roger’s brother, Gene directed it. It showed Lon Chaney, Milton Parsons and myself, pulling the portrait of Joseph Curwen out of the big fireplace before it burned up. I think Roger cut that sequence, as it made Vincent’s final scene in the film far less ambiguous.
Vincent was quite unique and has given us many, many moments of pleasure and will continue to do so for many generations to come through his wonderful film performances.
If there was a image that helped me though my early life, it was Vincent Price. For some reason I was always likening the Edgar Allan Poe movies to my own life. Vincent was like my psychologist. He helped me get through the abstractions of those early years. The characters he played (Roderick Usher, Nicholas Medina, Verden Fell) would always go through some grand, dark, catharsis. Vincent was usually plagued by some sort of abstract demons, was overly sensitive and often on the verge of insanity. Strangely enough, I found I could relate to that in a very meaningful way. Those kinds of stories were my form of therapy. His characters really spoke to me. In the same way that when you read fairy tales, you get a real visceral response, well that happens with the Poe films. You get a real emotional response. That’s what I really loved. That extreme imagery that was really symbolic for something else.
Later on, I did some drawings for a children’s book which eventually became VINCENT, my first short film. Vincent Price was the first person I really met from Hollywood and he turned out to be such a wonderful guy. Just incredible! He was interested in all sorts of things and he gave me a great deal of hope when I was starting out. He was a tremendous inspiration to me. Vincent really shaped my early life. Then, when he played the inventor in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS it gave the part an emotional weight that made it very strong for me. It was very thrilling for me to be working with him again. If you look at all the movies he’s done, you see he has such fun with them. He so obviously enjoys what he’s doing, that it can’t help but be a little contagious to the audience.
I was lucky to film a little conversation with Vincent, which we did in his art gallery at East L.A. College. He donated this incredible art collection for the students to look at and I found that to be one of the most admirable things you could do. You know, most people who do something like that splash it all over the place, but Vincent didn’t make any big hoopla about it. He just did it and I found that pretty special. Everybody has someone they admire. For me it was an actor named Vincent Price.
Valli Kemp appeared with Vincent Price in DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, playing his beautiful and ever resourceful assistant, Vulnavia.
Vincent was my mentor and friend from day one when we met on the set of DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN. He was really like a father to me and he would even send me food by cab to make sure I was eating properly. He was so very thoughtful. Vincent was always making me laugh, as I recall in the scene where I was playing the violin after we discovered the tomb in Egypt. He took a grape from the fruit bowl and put it in my mouth, and then he took another grape and put it in my mouth and I couldn’t swallow them, because if I did, I knew I would burst out laughing and ruin the shot. Then Vincent picked up a pineapple and motioned as if he was going to try and put that in my mouth as well, but he shook his head when he realized it was too big. That was all in the film and it was hysterically funny, because I had no idea that Vincent was going to do it! Vincent improvised it all while we were shooting.
Vincent had a serious side, as well. He cared about other people and one day after he heard I was also a painter, he asked me to show him some of my paintings. He loved them and arranged for an exhibition of my work where I sold 30 paintings in only two hours! Vincent was so kind, I miss him dearly, especially when I used to paint him and I could feel his presence.
I have a number of pleasant memories about Vincent Price, who, I have said in all interviews, was truly the nicest man I ever met in my days in Hollywood, a perfect gentleman and a most genial friend.
I recall one specific incident that occurred on the set of HOUSE OF USHER. As a preliminary to the anecdote, I would like to speak of the number of times I saw Vincent talking with visitors on the set. Invariably, he was pleasant and generous with his time and, equally invariably, he always had a little quip to make before leaving his visitors to return to work on the film. One time, Vincent and I were talking about the paintings of the Usher family done by Burt Schoenberg. They were as grim a collection of characters that ever hung on a wall. Vincent shrugged before leaving me and said, “Oh well, they’re just plain folks.”
Another incident that took place during HOUSE OF USHER was when Mark Damon came charging into Roderick Usher’s room with an ax (fortunately, not a real one) in his hand and after threatening to hit Roderick with it, gave up in disgust and slung the ax aside before charging out to look for Madeleine. Mark, I gathered was an advocate of “the Method,” as he used to run in place before a scene, huffing and puffing to work himself up, while Vincent merely chatted with someone and then went right into the scene and would be far superior in every way. When doing the scene, Mark did not think about where he was slinging the ax and it bounced off Vincent’s shin with some force. I heard, at that time, the only epithet I ever heard Vincent utter and he immediately left the set and walked around its entire perimeter, in pain and shaking his leg. By the time he returned to the scene, he had totally regained his composure and was, once more, the same genial, kind, charming man he always was. To my knowledge, he never berated Mark for what he had done, but simply accepted it as an accident of the game.
Not long before he passed on, I had the foresight to write Vincent a thank you note, in which I told him how much I had enjoyed working with him and how I appreciated the quality of his work in the scripts I’d written for him. I also send him a copy of my book The Path and told him how much I admired him as a human being. Needless to say, even ill and weak, he wrote back a lovely note thanking me and expressing his pleasure at working with my scripts.
What a wonderful man. I hope he enjoyed every pleasure that life has to offer and very much suspect that he did.
Mark Damon co-starred with Vincent Price in HOUSE OF USHER and wrote this letter to Price on February 9, 1960 before the film had opened.
This is an “actor-to-actor” note before the picture has been released. My comments are therefore not on your performance, which I don’t have to see on the screen to appreciate, but on your off-screen behavior, which has taught me much.
You remember, I asked you if you had learned anything working on this picture, and you told me that you had. I didn’t tell you what I had learned. I learned just how gracious, cordial, and warmly human a star of your caliber could be. You set an example I hope I may follow through the rest of my acting career. Thank you for that.
Thank you, also, for your advice, your help, your unselfishness, and for all the wisdom you imparted to me. I have benefited greatly by working with you, and I am very grateful to you.
I hope I will have the pleasure of seeing you again very soon.
Your good friend,
I cast him in our first film together, THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, because the character of Roderick Usher was very close to his own persona: handsome, educated, cultured and sensitive. In the Edgar Allan Poe story, Roderick Usher is a gentle, aristocratic man who progressively descends into madness. My feeling was that the audience should be frightened of this character but not in conscious reaction to his sinister features or brute strength. Instead, I envisioned a refined, attractive man, who’s intelligent but tormented mind operates in realms far beyond the minds of others, and who therefore inspires a deeper fear. In Vincent I found exactly the man I was looking for.
Only once do I remember Vincent being puzzled by my film making requirements. In THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, he was asked to speak the line, “The house lives. The house breathes.” He came to me and asked in great bewilderment, “What does that mean?” It seemed that the good folks at American International Pictures, the company providing our financing, were worried that this was a horror film about a monster. To win them over, I had promised that the house itself would be our monster. Now I had to make good on my promise. Once this was explained to him, Vincent said, “I understand totally.” He went on to deliver the line with a subtle intensity that became for me one of the high points of the entire film.
Aside from his powers as a dramatic actor, Vincent was surprisingly adept at humor. His abilities along these lines were put to the test in THE RAVEN, a film intended to combine horror with comedy. Vincent’s contribution of jokes & comic bits to the shooting script added greatly to the picture’s overall humorous effect. On the set of THE RAVEN, Vincent had to adjust to the presence of two veteran co-stars, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff, as well as a new young actor, Jack Nicholson. He showed extraordinary flexibility in working harmoniously with Jack (trained in the Method), Boris (schooled in the English classical style) and Peter, who did anything that came into his mind at any given moment!
Peter Lorre’s great talent was for improvising, which he did with great wit and panache. This on-the-set spontaneity did not sit well with Boris Karloff who was nearing the end of a long and distinguished career, and expected to do his scenes precisely as written. Inevitably, there was some friction between these two strong personalities. Fortunately for me, Vincent was able to strike a balance in his own acting style, adapting to Peter’s looseness but also playing scenes with Boris that were models of the classical approach. His personal graciousness in bending to the demands of two conflicting egos was a great help to me in what could have been difficult circumstances.
Vincent had a well-deserved reputation as a host and a gourmet chef and I was privileged to attend several dinner parties at his home. The food, the wine, the décor, everything was planned in the most exquisite detail. And he had the gift of eliciting sparkling conversation from his guests, so that it was a joy to sit at his table. I suspect that by inviting me to dine, Vincent was trying to improve my eating habits, which tended toward the Spartan back then. In fact, in our film making days he used to joke about sending me CARE packages to keep me from starvation.
There is no question that Vincent Price was a remarkable actor and a remarkable man. His friendship enriched my life, and for that I will always be grateful.
This week offers a wide-ranging edition of the Cinefantastique Round Table Podcast, including capsule reviews by Dan Persons of three films currently in release: GNOMEO & JULIET, Disney’s animated adaptation of Shakespeare; VANISHING ON 7TH STREET, an independent film with a TWILIGHT ZONE vibe making its way around the country with art house engagements; and WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, a cannibal horror story from IFC Films, currently playing exclusively in New York. Also up for discussion: the news that Michelle Pfeiffer is being courted to play Elizabeth Collins in DARK SHADOWS, the big-screen adaptation of the Gothic soap opera, set to be directed by Tim Burton with Johnny Depp as reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins. And Steve Biodrowski celebrates Christopher Lee’s recent BAFTA Fellowship Award with a double-bill screening of SCREAM OF FEAR and THE GORGON. All this, plus the usual round-up of news, theatrical events, and home video releases.
In the history of Cinefantastique Magazine, Sir Cristopher Lee has appeared on our cover three times, surpassed only by Ray Harryhausen. Interestingly enough, all three of the CFQ covers on Lee (Dracula, The Man With The Golden Gun and The Wicker Man), were also the movies that were given the most play in the film clips shown in the nine-minute tribute to Sir Chris at the BAFTA awards in London on Sunday night.
The BAFTA Fellowship award is quite important, as it puts Mr. Lee in the august company of those talented people who have preceded him: Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Sean Connery, Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Christie, John Barry, Stanley Kubrick, Anthony Hopkins, Terry Gilliam, Dame Judi Dench and last year’s recipient, Vanessa Redgrave.
The award is even more noteworthy because it is the first time an actor in the genre of dread has ever been given such an honor. It is something that eluded past genre superstars, like Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. Of course, directors in the genre, like Spielberg, Lucas and Cameron, our now loaded down with such honors, but sadly horror actors have not been so fortunate.
Since Mr. Lee will turn 89 this coming May, I’m sure everyone reading this will agree, “it’s about time!”
Here is the text of Tim Burton’s BAFTA induction of Mr. Lee, followed by Christopher Lee’s acceptance speech:
The recipient of this years award is an electrifying screen presence, whose work I’ve loved since I was a child. I’ve since had the privilege of working with him several times, starting with Sleepy Hollow, which was itself drawn from the inspiration of his great screen heritage. At six foot-five, he physically towers over those around him, in the same way his screen persona puts all of us in the shade.
The range of his screen performances is truly amazing: From Sherlock Holmes to Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man, from Rasputin, to Rochefort in The Three and Four Musketeers, to the real life founder of Pakistan in Jinnah, one of the best performances of his career.
In the ’50s and ’60s, he was definitive Count Dracula, as well as The Mummy and Frankenstein’s monster, giving his own unique take on the classic screen monsters. In the seventies he was Francisco Scaramanga, James Bond’s triple-nipple adversary in The Man With the Golden Gun. More recently he appeared as the villain Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels, and appeared as Saruman in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I won’t mention every movie he’s ever made, because we’d be here all night, but he has developed the reputation as one of the most dedicated and determined actors of multiple generations.
Last year he worked with Martin Scorsese on Hugo Cabret and is currently slated to reprise his role as Saruman in the forthcoming fantasy, The Hobbit. In between all of this, he manages to squeeze in time to do work with UNICEF and record Operas and heavy metal albums. I don’t know if any of you have those, but they are good!
In 2009 he was knighted for his many achievements and at the age of 88, he’s still keeps doing amazing things!
Film clips from Lee’s career included HORROR OF DRACULA, THE WICKER MAN, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, Saruman in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, Count Dooku in the STAR WARS prequels, and several of Burton’s own movies, most notably CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACOTRY and THE CORPSE BRIDE. Only two of Lee’s many non-genre films were highlighted: that of his own favorite performance, Jinnah, where he plays the leader of Pakistan, (and which received almost no distribution whatsoever in America) and his new film Triage, with Colin Farrell (which will also have no American theatrical release).
I do feel a little bit like the man who said, I can’t wait to hear what I’ve got to say, but I’ll do my best.
Wise and generous members of the committee, my fellow thespians, many of whom are involved in this (points to the BAFTA award)… I thank you all. This is a truly a great honor. A great, great honor. Two things really make it so. The fact that this was voted to me by my peers, and secondly, that I received it from one of the great directors of our age. (Tim Burton hugs Christopher).
I think there was a newspaper this morning that said I was probably going to cry, something I don’t very often do, in films at any rate. But it is a very emotional moment for me. I’m thankful that I don’t follow in the steps of the great Stanley Kubrick, whose award was posthumous. And I would like to say (looks at award)… my God… this is without a doubt the finest image I’ve ever had.
Nic Cage’s latest, SEASON OF THE WITCH — about two knights who seek to redeem themselves for their participation in the Crusades by transporting an accused witch to a monastery for trial — has been roundly burned at the stake by most critics. But is this film truly deserving of such condemnation? Heedless of the warnings, CFQ’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons have braved exposure to the first genre film of 2011 and emerged, if not enriched, then at least more entertained than any of them expected. In this episode they discuss what works, what doesn’t, and whether it’s time to end the pile-on on Mr. Cage’s career.
Also on the slate: news and theatrical and home video releases. Click on the player to hear the show.
Opening tomorrow, January 7th is the medieval supernatural action thriller SEASON OF THE WITCH.
” Nicolas Cage (‘National Treasure’, ‘Ghost Rider’) and Ron Perlman (‘Hellboy’, ‘Hellboy II’) star in this tale of a 14th century Crusader who returns to a homeland devastated by the Black Plague. A beleaguered church, deeming sorcery the culprit of the plague, commands the two knights (Nicloas Cage, Ron Perlman) to transport an accused witch to a remote abbey, where monks will perform a ritual in hopes of ending the pestilence.
A priest, a grieving knight, a disgraced itinerant and a headstrong youth who can only dream of becoming a knight join a mission troubled by mythically hostile wilderness and fierce contention over the fate of the girl. When the embattled party arrives at the abbey, a horrific discovery jeopardises the knight’s pledge to ensure the girl fair treatment, and pits them against an inexplicably powerful and destructive force.”
Directed by Dominic Sena (KALIFORNIA) from a screenplay by Bragi F. Schut (THRESHOLD) , SEASON OF THE WITCH also stars Claire Foy, Stephen Campbell Moore, and Robbie Sheehan. Fan favorite Christopher Lee also appears.
From Relativity Media
This 1960 UK-France co-production was the third adaptation of French writer Maurice Renard’s novel of the same name. The first, THE HANDS OF ORLAC (Orlacs Hande), was made in Weimar Germany and released in 1924. The second, also known as MAD LOVE and starring Peter Lorre, was made in Hollywood and released in 1935.
These dates and details are significant insofar as they thus correspond with three key points in the history of the horror film: The 1920s pre-genre period of German Expressionism and Hollywood Gothic melodrama; the 1930s and the emergence of horror as a genre in Hollywood, with considerable input from German and British personnel; and the late 1950s reinvention of horror associated with Britain’s Hammer Films.
The 1960 HANDS OF ORLAC clearly shows a Hammer influence in its cast beyond first-billed Mel Ferrer, who plays Orlac. Christopher Lee is predictably the villain of the piece, while the supporting cast includes a plethora of British horror film talent including Donald Wolfit (BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE, 1958), Donald Pleasance (THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, 1959), Felix Aylmer (THE MUMMYy, 1959), Janina Faye (HORROR OF DRACULA, 1958) and David Peel (THE BRIDES OF DRACULA. 1960).
The Hammer influence does not, however, extend to the film’s actual approach. It’s not so much that it is a black-and-white film – PSYCHO and EYES WITHOUT A FACE (both 1960) managed to be modern in monochrome, after all – as that veteran director and co-writer Edmond Gréville, seem more comfortable operating in a 1930s than a 1950s idiom.
The story for those unfamiliar with it: After his hands are horribly maimed in accident, concert pianist Stephen Orlac comes to believe that he has been given the hands of a murderer – more specifically a strangler, as foregrounded in the alternative HANDS OF THE STRANGLER title – via a transplant.
This idea is actually something that can also be found, in an inverted form, in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) insofar as Peter Cushing’s Frankenstein seeks out a pianist’s hands to replace those of the hanged criminal whose body serves as the main basis for his creation. The crucial difference is that Hammer’s film didn’t exactly shy away from showing severed body parts and surgery. Here, by contrast, all this is skipped over. One minute Orlac has his accident; the next he’s waking up with his hands wrapped in bandages.
There is also exactly one murder scene in the entirety of THE HANDS OF ORLAC, a few minutes before the end. It leaves matters up to the imagination, a spreading pool of blood the indication that a magic trick involving sticking swords into a cabinet has gone wrong.
Again the more modern, explicit approach is lacking: There’s no shift from black-and-white to colour to emphasise the blood, as with JACK THE RIPPER (1959), while the position of the scene within the narrative means that there’s no exploitation of it (come and see a fatal ‘accident’), as with CIRCUS OF HORRORS (1959).
Much the same can be said of THE HANDS OF ORLAC’s attitude towards ‘sex’: Most notably, whereas Dany Carrell provided a brief flash of breast in MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN (1960), she doesn’t oblige us here.
Despite the datedness of the filmmakers’ approach, there are some moments when THE HANDS OF ORLAC is inadvertently modern almost despite itself, such as the frequent use of mirror-based compositions and the strangler’s fetishistic gloves, both of which seem to foreshadow 1970s gialli.
One place where the filmmakers make a more conscious effort to be contemporary is in their choice of a jazz-based score. While this makes for a nice contrast with the diegetic classical pieces played by Orlac, it doesn’t really help in terms of creating the right kind of atmosphere. Nor is it distinctive enough to be memorable, in the manner of Maurice Jarre’s deliberately idiosyncratic scoring for EYES WITHOUT A FACE.
It’s the perfect summation of THE HANDS OF ORLAC’s position: There were many classic horror films released in 1960, but it isn’t one of them.
THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1960). Directed by Edmon T. Greville. Adaptation by John Baines and Edmond T. Greville, dialogue by Greville; based on the novel by Marice rand. Cast: Mel Ferrer, Christopher Lee, Dany Carrel, Lucile Saint-Simon, Felix Aylmer, Peter Reynolds, Basil Sydney, Campbell Singer, Donald Wolfit, Donald Pleasence.
In Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND Christopher Lee has a brief one line “cameo” as the voice of the dragon-like Jabberwock, so it was interesting to note that Lee himself has recently suggested he might play the voice of Smaug, the dragon, in the upcoming two-film adaptation of THE HOBBIT, being produced by Peter Jackson in New Zealand. Unfortunately, with the recent departure of director Guillermo Del Toro it now appears a start date for the filming of THE HOBBIT will be delayed for some considerable time, so as the 88-year old Lee noted in a previous interview at CFQ about HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, if they want to use his voice in THE HOBBIT, “they better hurry up.”
I recently re-viewed the three extended LORD OF THE RINGS movies on Hi-Def which has inspired me to post Christopher Lee’s extensive comments about his work on the THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy that first appeared in a drastically edited version in the December, 2003 issue of CFQ, which did not even include Mr. Lee’s reaction to the unpleasant shock he received in late 2003 when he first discovered that Saruman’s important death scene was being removed from the theatrical version of THE RETURN OF THE KING. Ironically, Lee was the most vocal cast member when the first two movies failed to win the best picture Academy Award, a mistake that was finally corrected when RETURN OF THE KING won a record 11 Oscars in 2004. Unfortunately, Christopher Lee was no longer a part of the third movie (although his footage was eventually restored in the extended DVD version).
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What do you think accounts for the tremendous interest in fantasy films these days?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: I think it’s because we all love to dream. We don’t live in a particularly attractive world. I don’t really remember, except as a small boy, anything but a pretty grim world. I’m old enough to have seen Hitler in the flesh. I’m old enough to have been in Munich in 1934, on the night of the long knives, when Hitler butchered so many of his own people. I’m old enough to remember the Second World War and all the other things. So I’m not being a Cassandra, who prophesied nothing but evil and misery; I’m simply facing reality. So, yes, let us not lose faith, let us be optimistic, let us believe in the good things, but we still have to face the world as it is. When you live in a world like that, what do you want? You want to escape, to get out of this world from time to time, into another world, a magical world, an enchanted world, where things happen we dream about, a world of fairy stories and wizards. It is like the conjurer, the enchanter, or magician who says, “Look, nothing up my sleeve. When I do this, you will come into my enchanted world!” Dreaming, escaping, that is what we’re talking about. I firmly believe that is why this kind of film is so universally popular, and always will be, because people like to get into another world.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You first read THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING when it came out in 1954?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, and I was immensely impressed with what I read. I still think THE LORD OF THE RINGS is the greatest literary achievement in my lifetime. Like so many other people, I couldn’t wait for the second, and then the third book. Nothing like it had ever been written. Other authors like T. H. White and Lewis Carroll invented imaginary worlds, but Tolkien not only invented an imaginary world, he invented imaginary races, which you can easily believe in. And he created very long appendices with all the family trees and the names of the previous Kings and so-forth. It’s quite incredible, really, the scholarship and imagination that went into the writing of it. And what is even more remarkable is that Tolkien, who was a professor of philology, invented new languages. The Elf languages are two: Quenya and Sindarin. Quenya is based on Finnish, and Sindarin is basically Welsh. Most of the Elves speak Sindarin. And if you want, you can learn to read it, to write it and to speak it, just like English or any other language. I always thought the books would make a wonderful film, but I also felt it would probably never happen, because of the enormous amount it would cost to make. But if they ever were made, I dreamed that I would be in them. It just goes to show you, that sometimes dreams do come true.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You actually met J. R. R. Tolkien, didn’t you?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, quite by chance, really. I met him with a group of other people in a pub in Oxford he used to go to, The Eagle and Child. I was very much in awe of him, as you can imagine, so I just said, “how do you do?” I also met T. H. White who wrote The Once and Future King.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Having read the book so many times, you must have had a thorough understanding of Saruman’s history and his place in the story.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, from reading the books I naturally knew Saruman and all of the other characters intimately. And the way he is presented in the scripts is the way he is presented in the books. Saruman is one of the great Wizards. When they first came to Middle-earth there were five Wizards. Two of them, the Blue Wizards, are not mentioned. The other three are Saruman the white, who is the greatest of them all. Then, there is Gandalf the grey and Radagast the brown. We don’t see Radagast in the book or in the movie. So basically we have two wizards, Gandalf and Saruman. They have human bodies, but they are immortal. They were sent to Middle-earth by the Valar, who are the creators and guardians of the world. Saruman is number one, the most powerful and the most brilliant of them all. And at the very beginning, Saruman was a good Wizard. He was given the land for his tower at Isengard, and he is the head of the order of Wizards, the Istari, as they are called. He also has one of the seven great seeing stones, a Palantír. He and Gandalf have been friends for hundreds of years. But, as Gandalf first discovers in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, he has been corrupted by the dark power of Sauron. Saruman’s ambition causes him to think he can take over as the Lord of the Rings, because at some stage, he feels that he is more powerful than Sauron. But it’s the biggest mistake he makes in his life, which is many thousands of years. So it’s a question of a great Wizard, one of superior intellect and brilliance, being tempted until the temptation finally overcomes him. He of course pretends to be a servant of Sauron, but Sauron sees through this. It’s a very complex character, superbly written by Tolkein, although a lot of people don’t realize whom the actual Lord of the Rings is. Who do you think it is?
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Sauron.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, absolutely, but a lot of people don’t realize that. It is Sauron, because there were many rings made, and as the poem says, “One ring to rule them all… and in the darkness bind them”. Sauron forged the one ring and it’s when Sauron discovers that Frodo now possesses the ring that he attempts to recover it. Saruman knows this and he wants the ring for himself.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What do you think accounts for Saruman turning to the dark side and joining Sauron in a union of the two towers?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Tolkein never explains that. Possibly it is the Palantír and the all-seeing eye of Sauron. Saruman thinks, “if Sauron can do this, so can I” although I don’t’ think Saruman fully realizes that Sauron is always one step ahead of him. But when we first see Saruman, you think he is a very agreeable character. He meets Gandalf in the garden at Isengard with a smile and when they start talking about the ring, he says, “Are you sure about all this—the ring of power has been found?” There is absolutely no indication at all of Saruman’s true character to the audience. He only reveals it in his chamber at Orthanc, when he says, “why don’t we join Sauron” and Gandalf is so horrified. Up until then, Gandalf has not even remotely thought about Saruman going over to the dark side. He still regards him as his superior and as the head of the order. That scene was also my first day on the picture and it subsequently had to be done over, because when we did it the first time there were some Orcs in the garden. Gandalf is surprised by this and he says, “Orcs in Isengard?” So that was re-shot to show it without the Orcs.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Before doing THE LORD OF THE RINGS you played another Wizard in a television series, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: That’s right, and the only reason I did that was to show anyone who was watching that I could play a Wizard and that I would be ideal casting for THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: And you sent a photo of yourself as the Wizard from ROBIN HOOD to Peter Jackson?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, I sent him a picture of myself all made-up in the Wizard’s role, but it was more in the nature of a joke, really. “This is what I look like as a Wizard, don’t forget this when you cast the movie.” It wasn’t me putting myself forward at all, because I think Peter had already made up his mind. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway, that he never thought of anybody else for Saruman, except for me, so it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Had you met Peter Jackson before that?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, I first met Peter when I was the President of the Jury at the Avoriaz Film Festival in 1993. Peter Jackson’s movie, BRAINDEAD was in the competition, and I thought it was very funny, very humorous, very close to the Monty Python kind of comedy. As I was head of the jury, we decided to award BRAINDEAD the grand prize. Since then, I think his career has gone through a constant artistic growth. He started with these bizarre horror-splatter movies, and then he made HEAVENLY CREATURES, which was beautifully done. He’s a great director, who improves himself each time he makes a movie.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: So Peter Jackson eventually contacted you about appearing in THE LORD OF THE RINGS?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, he asked me if I would do a reading. Some people would have said no, but I certainly didn’t. I met with Peter here in London, in the back room of an old Church. He was there with a casting director and Fran Walsh, his partner, who is also one of the screenwriters on the movies. They asked me to read a scene in front of a video camera, and I read a scene between Gandalf and Frodo. It was one of the first scenes in the book. I think he was just asking me to read something from the book to give him a general idea, and my passion and love for the work was quite obvious to him. Of course I would have loved to play Gandalf, but I don’t think he ever had me in mind for Gandalf, because but that time I was too old.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You must have enjoyed working with Peter Jackson, since he knew the books so well and he wanted it to be as faithful as possible to what Tolkien wrote.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, he certainly shares my passion, as indeed we all did. The whole cast and the whole crew had such a dedication to this work, I’ve never experienced anything like it. And Peter knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it. I’ve very seldom met a director who was so absolutely convinced about what should, or should not appear on the screen. He always seemed to know exactly what he wanted and he wasn’t going to let a shot go until he got it exactly as he wanted. Sometimes this meant a lot of takes. But it could be the pace of the scene, it could be the inflection of the dialogue, it could be many things. Peter’s intuition is extraordinary, in terms of how to deliver dialogue and how to play the scene. When he finally got the shot and said, “right, let’s print it,” you knew that was as good as it was ever going to be, which is very encouraging. A good director is someone who cares about what the end result is going to be, and Peter Jackson is certainly a director who cares. So what was on the printed page is what I did. And if Peter Jackson wanted to change any of it, I did so. If he wanted a different interpretation or a different meaning or a certain emphasis given to a line, or a phrase, or even a word, I did it. To me, he always seemed to be right.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In THE TWO TOWERS we are introduced to your new accomplice, Grima Wormtongue, played by Brad Dourif.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, Brad Dourif is a brilliant actor. He plays my right hand man, you might say, who is spying for me, while advising King Théoden of Rohan. He gives a wonderful performance, as he did in films like ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and MISSISSIPPI BURNING. He’s a marvelous person to work with and tremendously enthusiastic about everything he does.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In THE TWO TOWERS although you don’t have as many scenes, you are a bit like Harry Lime in THE THIRD MAN, since all the other characters are constantly talking about you and what you are planning to do.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, Saruman does hover over everything like a kind of menacing dark cloud. Everyone talks about Saruman’s armies and Saruman’s forces. They talk about him all the time, so although there isn’t as much of me as there was in the first film, where you had to establish the character, the shadow of Saruman still looms large over everything that happens. So even though he is something of an invisible presence, when you do see Saruman, he is immensely powerful and he still goes through all the emotions that are in the book: the feeling of power, the actual power, the hypnotic effect of his voice and what he says and does. THE TWO TOWERS is really a kind of confirmation of Saruman’s downfall, which is achieved partly by his losing the power after which he lusts so much. Also, several of my scenes that were cut out of THE TWO TOWERS are now restored in the extended DVD. You now see me meeting with the leader of the Wild Men and Grimma telling me about yet another ring, the ring of Barahir that is worn by Aragorn. Barahir was one of the great lords of the north in the first age. He had this ring that was handed down over thousands of years and eventually it came into the possession of Isildur.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It must have been exciting to work with Ian McKellan on the three movies. He said he was really thrilled to be working with you.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Ah, Ian is such a nice man. He always said very nice things about me and I’m happy to return the compliment. Not only is he a very distinguished and eminent actor, with a wonderful record—mainly in the theater—but also to a certain extent in film. He is a major actor and if you find yourself, as I did, playing scenes with him and he’s already had some weeks to get into his part while I’m doing my first day, it can be difficult, to put it mildly. My introduction to the picture was the scene in the garden at Isengard, where I come down the stairs and meet Gandalf. I was up until three in the morning that day, working with Ian McKellen. But Ian was immensely supportive and very encouraging. That doesn’t happen very often these days, where you’re working with a major actor, and they help you and guide you along. But that’s exactly what Ian did with me at the beginning of the film. I was so glad that most of my scenes were with Ian, especially after I got quite badly injured, when a door slammed on two of my fingers. My hand was all bandaged and bloody, so I had to hide it and if you look very carefully, you can see that in the film. It was really very difficult, because I was in extreme pain, but Ian was enormously helpful, very encouraging. He’s a tremendous person to work with and you don’t find that very often these days. People are so concerned about what they consider to be rivalry, or confrontation. They only think about themselves, and they don’t give a damn about the other people who they are working with. But the word is collaboration, not confrontation, and Ian McKellen is a shining example of that. So many people think another actor might be some sort of threat to them, in terms of performance. There are some big stars that won’t have anybody else in the film with them, because they are so unsure of themselves and you can see that in their films.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Ian McKellan said you startled him in one scene, where you sneaked up behind him and snarled at him, as if you were playing Dracula.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: No, not at all. That’s quite a good story, but I didn’t sneak up behind him. What he said was to be within three feet of a Lee snarl is rather unsettling.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: So you didn’t try to scare him by playing Dracula?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: No, not at any time. That part was last played by me over 30 years ago! I have no connection with it whatsoever. Nor do I wish to have.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Actually, I thought it would have been marvelous if Francis Ford Coppola had used you to play Dracula at the beginning of his movie version. You could have played the Count in Transylvania, exactly the way Stoker described him, as an old man with a mustache. Then, when Dracula arrives in London and starts drinking blood, he would grow younger and be transformed into Gary Oldman!
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Well, there’s no point in going over the past. These things either happen or they don’t and it’s too late now. I did see Coppola’s version, and while he’s done some wonderful films, his DRACULA was not the Stoker novel. Nobody has ever made a movie about Dracula, from the book, exactly as Stoker wrote it. They’ve come close at times, but it’s never been done. The nearest I ever got, was when I did COUNT DRACULA in Spain, with Herbert Lom and Klaus Kinski. I had a mustache and I even managed to say some of Stoker’s lines, but it was a mess, for production reasons. In Coppola’s movie, Gary Oldman did not have a mustache, and he was wearing what looked to me like a red dress! He also had a hairstyle that I thought was absurd. It certainly wasn’t how Stoker described the character. In the book, Stoker describes Dracula as wearing black from head to toe, without a single speck of color about him. But as far as I’m concerned, that character is very much in the past for me, and I’m really not all that interested in talking about the past, only the present and the future.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You were widely quoted as saying you just wanted to still be around in 2003 to be able to see the final part of the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy…
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, that’s quite true.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: …Which is why it was obviously upsetting for you when you found out that Peter Jackson had cut your final death scene from THE RETURN OF THE KING. Production designer Grant Major told me that the scene was originally supposed to appear at the end of THE TWO TOWERS and after it wasn’t used, Peter Jackson put it at the beginning of THE RETURN OF THE KING, then decided to cut it out because he thought it slowed down the opening of the picture:
GRANT MAJOR: Producer Barrie Osborne and I came up with the idea for Saruman’s death scene. As you know, Christopher Lee is very well known for his parts in the various Dracula films, and of course, Dracula traditionally gets done in by driving a stake through the heart. So Barrie and I thought, “wouldn’t it be cool to quote that same sort of death for Saruman?” The death of Saruman was written in the script to happen at Isengard, where Grimma Wormtongue actually stabs him in the back and he falls off the top of Orthanc tower and goes all the way down to his death, landing on this treadmill structure of his own devising which has these large spikes sticking out of it. So Saruman is impaled on this huge spike. That was originally going to happen at the end of THE TWO TOWERS, as sort of a finale, but it didn’t appear, so now I suspect it’s going to be used in THE RETURN OF THE KING.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, I was really outraged when Barrie Osborne called to tell me I wasn’t going to be in the third film. He told me they were worried about keeping my scene in the third film because everybody would think it was a continuation of THE TWO TOWERS, after you see me and Grimma on the balcony of Orthanc looking horrified as everything around us is being flooded. They felt if they included it in the opening of THE RETURN OF THE KING it would seem like a continuation of THE TWO TOWERS. I thought that was rather strange, because it is a continuation of THE TWO TOWERS and it’s a crucial part of the story. You can’t have Saruman looking frantic on a balcony while everything in Isengard is being destroyed and then never see him again! The audience needed and indeed, they demanded to know what happened to Saruman!
LAWRENCE FRENCH: The restored scene in the extended DVD is quite marvelous, because after you vainly attempt to persuade King Théoden to make peace, you become enraged, shouting at him, “What is the house of Rohan but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek and their brats roll on the floor with the dogs,” which is dialogue taken straight out of the book.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, and even in defeat Saruman can still exert his power and that makes them uneasy. You see, I had to make the audience believe that Saruman is still a very considerable hypnotist, particularly with his voice. There’s a chapter in The Two Towers called The Voice of Saruman and Tolkien describes Saruman’s voice as “low and melodious—its very sound an enchantment.” Saruman is able to hypnotize people with his voice and at first he succeeds. People fall under his spell, but not King Théoden and not Gandalf. They now see him for what he is. He then says to Gandalf, “Oh, you want information do you. I can give you some. You are all going to die!” That is, of course vicious and sarcastic. Later, in the book, Gandalf finally laughs at Saruman, and then the other side of his character is revealed: the hatred and the fury when something doesn’t go the way he wants it too. So part of it is savage and harsh, part of it is sarcasm and contempt and part of it is “I know things you don’t, things you have failed to see.”
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Since you knew so much about the Tolkien books, did you have any kind of capacity on the film as an unofficial advisor?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: No, I don’t recall that. But members of the cast and crew where always trying to catch me out. They’d ask me questions like, “what was the name of Frodo’s father,” or “what was the name of this or that sword.” Things like that. Well, they never caught me out—not once! They tried, but they never did.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You had to go back several times to shoot additional scenes for all three movies?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, I went back to New Zealand four times to shoot pick-up shots. I think everybody else went back, as well, with the possible exception of Cate Blanchett and Ian Holm. But everybody else went back at one time or another, because they can’t take any chances. They can’t take risks. Once they start editing the picture, if they feel an extra scene is needed, or additional bits of dialogue or action are needed, then they have to call us back. It’s in our contract.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It must have been hard on you having to fly back to New Zealand so many times.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, that’s the downside of shooting there. The tremendous length of the journey, even if you break it up, is 25 hours in the air, which is very tiring, particularly to someone of my age. The other thing is that we seemed to have done most of the pick-up shooting in our summer, which is their winter. Many people don’t realize this, but New Zealand is south of the equator, so they were bang in the middle of winter. Before I arrived there in June, they had several weeks of sunshine, but I’m afraid I brought gales and sheeting rain with me. There were 70 mph winds and bitter cold. On the southern island, in places like Christchurch, there were blizzards and vicious cold, because the further south you go, the closer you get to Antarctica. So many of us got sick with the flu, or something like it. Most of the cast, in fact, since if you are working on a set that is hot and dusty and anybody has anything wrong with them it’s going to go around very rapidly. So if you walk out of the set to go to your caravan or to make-up, into the kind of weather we had to put up with, it was murder!
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you have to re-dub a lot of your dialogue?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, I did most of it here in London, because it is very difficult to use direct sound in New Zealand, as the studio was a former paint factory that was not sound proofed. It was right bang by the airport runway, so there were planes all over the place and that meant we had to re-record all of the dialogue afterwards in a sound studio. Some members of the cast did their ADR afterwards in a sound proof studio in New Zealand, as hardly any of the direct sound could be used. For people playing major roles that go through all three films, like Frodo, Sam and Gandalf, it means they have to do their entire roles all over again in the sound studio.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Would you prefer not having to re-dub your dialogue?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Well, I’ve done it for years and years, so the technical aspects of re-recording doesn’t disturb me at all. The problem, which is the same for everybody, not just for me, is that it’s not just a question of getting the right lip-sync to the lines, which even experienced actors find difficult. It’s also a question of getting it right in terms of the atmosphere, the tone, the pauses, the voice going up, or going down. You’ve got to repeat all that in a sound studio, following the original soundtrack, which you can hear of course, but it can’t be used. Sometimes you can improve on it, but the problem is, that you’re there alone. If you were playing scenes with other people, which one does all the time, they are no longer there! And the same thing applies to them. I’ve never in my life done any looping or post-synching with another actor, because you can’t get them together at the same time. I think that is the most difficult thing: not having anybody to act with. What must be absolute hell is when somebody has to play a quiet romantic scene and the woman is there without the man, or vice-versa. That is really difficult, although it didn’t apply in my case.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Besides being cut from the RETURN OF THE KING, I was rather surprised your name wasn’t mentioned as best supporting actor in any of the trade ads New Line Cinema ran for the first two films.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Well, that didn’t bother me, because it’s not a question of whether I’m mentioned, or whether my name is in a certain position in the credits. It’s what’s on the screen that is far more important than any critical reviews. You were saying some very nice things about my performance in the film. Well some people have agreed with you and some people haven’t even mentioned that. But it’s what’s on the screen that counts. I keep saying that, because it’s true. It is what’s on the screen that the audience looks at, what the industry looks at and what the Academy members looks at. Isn’t that the really important thing?
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Yes, exactly. And now after your roles in THE LORD OF THE RINGS and the two STAR WARS movies all you need is a part in one of the HARRY POTTER pictures to complete a triple-crown of the three top-grossing fantasy series of the new millennium.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: It’s funny you should say that, because after my agent had seen the script for the first HARRY POTTER movie, she was talking to one of the producers and said to him, “there’s a part in the film that would be ideal for Christopher Lee.” Well, this producer gave her a look of absolute horror and said, “oh, but he’s already played a Wizard.” Now wouldn’t you think that a smart producer might say, “oh, he’s going to play a Wizard in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, that’s going to be an enormous success, let’s get him for HARRY POTTER.” I’ve read the first HARRY POTTER book and it seems to me that it is really for children, although I think grown up people can enjoy it as well. On the other hand, THE LORD OF THE RINGS is not for children, and when I say children, I mean younger children, those under nine or ten years old, although some of them will undoubtedly still go to see it.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Orson Welles talked about being what he called a “King actor.” He felt he was an actor who did his best work when playing people of great power, whether they were Kings, Prime Ministers or Wizards.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, these kinds of parts are very definitely a challenge to the actor. In the case of Saruman you have to make the audience believe in his immense power. You have to make people believe that here is a man who is an immortal in a human body. The question is, what’s he going to do with that power? Does he control it? Does he believe in his own destiny, or are there any doubts? All of these things are in the books.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You’ve said several times that you think THE LORD OF THE RINGS will go down in cinema history.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, I said that on my second day of work on the film, when the executives from New Line Cinema arrived in New Zealand and asked me how I thought everything was going. I said, “You are creating cinema history!” I think everyone connected with the pictures has. These films will be seen for years and years, long after the HARRY POTTER films have—I won’t say faded away—but perhaps, have lost their appeal. It is the soul of Tolkien on the screen. This film is a modern miracle and it will be remembered for a long, long time. Professor Tokien had a vision for a very long period of time. Peter Jackson had a vision. And I have my own vision: I see Professor Tokien walking over to Peter Jackson, shaking his hand and saying, “well done my boy, well done.”