I know it’s become common to note the passing of every sixties and seventies actor & actress. Social media lights up like a Christmas tree at the death of the smallest character actor from the rarest cult cult film. Such is the power of nostalgia.
But I’m genuinely saddened by the death of Christopher Lee. Given he was 93 years of age, it is no surprise, but somehow it felt like he would be around forever.
Lee has been a dominant film figure for me since my early teens. I remember many Saturday nights when my parents dragged me to some long, boozy dinner party they were attending. I would always be placed in the den or rumpus room and left to my own devices in front of the television until late at night. There was usually a horror movie on. More often than not it had Christopher Lee in it. I wasn’t much of a film connoisseur. Who is when they are 13 years old? But there was something about this tall, imposing, deep voiced man that commanded my attention. Like one of the young maidens he frequently sunk his teeth into, I was totally in his sway. Those early Christopher Lee horror films had a profound impact on me, on a cinematic par to the first time I watched Bogart in The Big Sleep or my first viewing of John Boorman’s 1967 classic, Point Blank.
Lee was in some of my favourite films. He was easily one of the best Bond villains as Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun, despite the film itself not being great. And let’s be honest Bond should have been no match for him. Roger Moore Bond even less so. I also loved him as the unhinged pagan overlord in The Wicker Man and the whip cracking hooded man in the wonderfully campy 1961 British noir, Circus of Fear. And, of course, as the evil Count Dracula in numerous Hammer films.
Lee apparently hated his role as Dracula. The son of an Italian mother and a English father, he led an upper class life until he was 13 when his stepfather went bankrupt. After a stint in the air force he decided he wanted to be an actor but was told by casting directors he was “too tall and foreign-looking” to play an Englishman. Hence the start of a lengthy career playing Asian criminal masterminds, vampires, mummies, warlocks and other exotic, usually ill intentioned, characters. Most of his career took place in low budget films until towards the end of his life when he was cast as Count Dooku in the Star Wars:Attack of the Clones and Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Whatever the case, for myself and countless it was his horror films that defined Lee’s screen presence. Everyone has their own favourite Dracula film. Mine is probably, Dracula 72AD, when Dracula is resurrected by a group of hippies in (then) present day England. The fusion of gothic horror and post-swinging sixties London is like a New English Library novel come to life.
The other movie I have a special fondness for is the first of the Dracula series, the 1958 film, The Horror of Dracula. When my daughter graduated from cartoons and started watching real films, this was one of the first ones I showed her. She loved it and through her, I got to appreciate many of his performances all over again.
I could talk forever about how much I loved Lee as an actor.
The world is less interesting with his passing. A terrific screen presence and by all accounts, a true gentlemen. This IS the end of an era. Travel well, sir, and thanks for all the memories.