165 years at 15 Marino Crescent in Clontarf, a coastal suburb on the north side of Dublin, Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley gave birth to the third of her seven children. You have probably never heard of her of her six other children, but you may now the third, Abraham “Bram” Stoker. In 1897 at the age of fifty, he published his fifth and most famous novel Dracula. Over 200 actors have played Dracula in around 300 films and TV episodes. My favourite of these has always been Christopher Lee. The English Knight played the Transylvanian Count numerous times mainly in Hammer movies. Is it because he is the best or just the first actor I saw play the part, probably a bit of both! When I was about ten years old I was introduced to Christopher Lee, I had no idea who he was. A few months later Channel 4 started showing a series of old Hammer Horror movies starting with Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Not only was this my introduction to Dracula, but to horror movies in general, for that reason, I can think of no better way to celebrate Stokers birthday that to talk about one of my favourite Hammer Horror movies.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
“There’ll be no morning for us”
The movie starts with a prologue made up of the closing scenes of the previous film (the first Hammer Dracula) complete with a voiceover explaining the destruction of Dracula (Christopher Lee). We cut to a group of English tourists including Charles Kent (Francis Matthews, a sort of low rent Cary Grant type) who are stranded by a superstitious coach driver whist on their way to Carlsbad. After a coach and horses turns up out of nowhere, they find themselves rescued and accepting the “hospitality” of a dead count in his mysterious castle. I won’t give the plot away but I think you can guess that the castle belongs to Dracula and it is no accident that they have found their way to his castle.
An interesting movie, the story is original but holds many similarities with the original, this is evident in the characters. The traditional Van Helsing character (played by an un-credited Peter Cushing in the prologue) is replaced by Father Sandor (Andrew Keir who went of to play Prof. Quatermass in the Hammer movie Quatermass and the Pit). Charles and Diana Kent (Francis Matthews & Suzan Farmer) are a good stand in for Jonathan and Wilhelmina Harker. Ludwig (Thorley Walters) fills the Renfield part. The movie did two things for the genre: it set the template for the Hammer Dracula movies and also opened the floodgates for Dracula (and vampire movies in general) to move away from the original Bram Stoker novel. Directed by Hammers greatest director Terence Fisher the film has a perfect blend of carefully manipulated tension and just enough gore and horror to make this a great atmospheric movie that only Hammer could have made. There has been some contention as to why Christopher Lee’s Dracula is mute, whatever the reason it just makes it more sinister. A Must for all classic horror fans. The significance for this movie for me goes beyond the film itself, had I not seen it, I would not have become interested in Hammer Horror and certainly would never have read Bram Stokers original novel.
Read Full Post »
Posted in James Bond, tagged Aston Martin, Barry Norman, Casino Royale, Christopher Lee, Daniel Craig, Diamonds Are Forever, Die Another Day, Dr No, From Russia with Love, George Lazenby, GoldenEye, Goldfinger, Hoagy Carmichael, Ian Fleming, James Bond, Licence to Kill, Live and Let Die, Michael Fassbender, My Favourite James Bond, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Pierce Brosnan, Quantum of Solace, Radio Times, Roger Moore, Sean Connery, Skyfall, The Living Daylights, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Thunderball, Timothy Dalton, Walther PPK, You Only Live Twice on September 15, 2012 |
12 Comments »
Talking about James Bond in last weeks Radio Times, film critic Barry Norman made the statement: Ask anybody: who is your favourite James bond? I guarantee the answer will be the first one they ever saw”. I’m not sure if I am more discerning or just awkward, but it isn’t true of me. To the best of my knowledge and memory the first Bond I saw was Roger Moore in Live and Let Die. Moore is far from my favourite Bond, but I have recently come to the conclusion that I don’t know who my favourite Bond is! For years I have always claimed it is Sean Connery with the caveat that Timothy Dalton is the closest to the character from Ian Fleming’s novels.
I hold with the popular opinion that George Lazenby was the worst Bond, and this is a great shame as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the best Bond films despite him. He is closely followed by Roger Moore whose comic version of Bond just doesn’t work for me. He did however make some decent movies, Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me were both really good films. The Man with the Golden Gun isn’t as good but does benefit from a fantastic performance from Christopher Lee as the villian Scaramanga.
So Back to who is my favourite Bond, Sean Connery certainly had the best stories with relatively faithful adaptations of Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball. You Only Live Twice is the point where the franchise started to get silly and even became a parody of itself, it was however still a good film in its own right. Connery’s only misstep was Diamonds Are Forever that was both silly and dull.
I have already said Timothy Dalton most closely resembles the character from the books in his portrayal, but there is another actor who probably looks most like Bond, Pierce Brosnan. This may be a bit of a stretch as there is little description of Bonds appearance beyond his short black hair and a resemblance to Hoagy Carmichael. Pierce Brosnan isn’t my favourite Bond either. He is perfect for the films he made and the time they were made, but sadly most of them weren’t actually very good. After a strong opening with GoldenEye the rest of his films got progressively worse culminating with the car crash of a movie, Die Another Day that was as bad as anything Moore did.
This leaves us with two contenders: Timothy Dalton who was hamstrung by only making two appearances both of them being good but not great films, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill. Had he made more films he could well have been my favourite Bond but for reasons to long winded and complicated to go into today he didn’t. And finally Daniel Craig, Casino Royale is certainly one of my favourite Bond films and Quantum of Solace is underrated and will probably age well, but is he my favourite? Not yet but he may well be in future, with three more movies including Skyfall due out next month, he will certainly have a chance before handing his Aston Martin and Walther PPK to Michael Fassbender, my choice for the next James Bond.
Read Full Post »
Posted in James Bond, Movie Blog, Vampires, tagged Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Christopher Lee, Corpse Bride, Dark Shadows, Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, Hugo, I Monster, Incident at Victoria Falls, Rasputin the Mad Monk, Scars of Dracula, Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady, Sir Christopher Lee, Sleepy Hollow, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Taste of Fear, Taste the Blood of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Devil Rides Out, The Hobbit, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Mummy, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The Resident, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, The Wicker Man on May 27, 2012 |
Leave a Comment »
Legend is a word that is used too lightly but with a career that has spanned eight decades and a Guinness World Record of 275 films, Knighted for services to drama and charity in 2009 and receiving the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011, it is a title that fits Christopher Lee very well. As I mentioned a couple of years ago I was introduced to Christopher Lee when I was about ten years old, I had no idea who he was. A few months later Channel 4 started showing a series of old Hammer Horror movies starting with Dracula: Prince of Darkness. This is when I first got interested in horror movies. So today, his 90th birthday here is the briefest overview of his movies.
In the mid 1940’s Lee joined the Rank Organisation and was given a seven-year contract (as was the norm of the day), during this period he made numerous movies. His first significant roles came a decade later when in 1957 he played the monster in Terence Fisher’s The Curse of Frankenstein alongside Peter Cushing as Frankenstein. The following year Fisher made Dracula (1958), he cast Lee in his most iconic role Dracula and Cushing as Van Helsing. He reprised the role in sequels: Dracula Prince of Darkness in 1965, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969), Scars of Dracula (1970), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). Lee’s other work for Hammer included The Mummy (1959), Rasputin, the Mad Monk and the little known classic Taste of Fear (1961). Possibly his best Hammer movie and one of his (and my) personal favourites was the occult adventure/horror/thriller The Devil Rides Out (1967) based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley. He also appeared in two versions of the Jekyll and Hyde story The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960) and I, Monster (1971) (only the former being made by Hammer).
Having already played Sir Henry Baskerville (to Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes) in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) Lee went on to play Sherlock Holmes in the (Terence Fisher directed) German Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962), and Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock’s smarter brother) in Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970). He played Holmes again in the TV movies: Incident at Victoria Falls (1991) and Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1992). A step-cousin of author Ian Fleming, he was rumoured to be in contention to play James Bond, he was offered the part of Dr. No in the movie of the same name (1962) but was vetoed by the movies producers. He did eventually play a Bond villain, Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and was the best thing about the movie. As cinema, particularly horror cinema changed in the 1970’s the gothic horror he was most famous for became outdated he appeared to be moving with the times making one of his best horror films The Wicker Man (1973). Sadly the quality of his roles dried up with a lot of TV movies and lesser work in the decades that followed.
More recently his career has gone through a renaissance with a small part in Sleepy Hollow (1999) leading to further collaborations with Tim Burton: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Corpse Bride (2005), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Dark Shadows (2012). Following Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness who appeared in the original Star Wars (1977) Lee plays Sith Lord, Count Dooku in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). But his most notable role in recent years came in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A great fan of The Lord of the Rings Lee has stated that it was a life long dream to play Gandalf, the Peter Jackson film trilogy came too late for him to realise this ambition but he did get a significant part in the movies playing Saruman. Later this year he will be reprising the in the prequel film The Hobbit. Retuning to the studio that made his name Lee had a small part in the new Hammer movie The Resident (2011). More significantly for a actor who has made so many movies he appeared in Martin Scorsese’s love letter to cinema Hugo (2011).
Read Full Post »