The last of the Great Five is gone. Mr. Lee was a man rescued from obscurity by Hammer. Although the movie business of the time was not designed to make a fellow of Mr. Lee’s literal statue a leading man, the roaring return of gothic horror precipitated by Hammer Studios quickly transformed Mr. Lee into an international icon.
Mr. Lee was never as personable, amiable or loveable as his beloved friend Peter Cushing. No, he was in the Lugosi mold rather than being a Karloff or Price. But the man had charisma pouring out of him. That height, that posture, that voice…good Lord, the voice.
I saw him in person maybe ten years ago, introducing a showing of Horror of Dracula. This was at the Music Box theater, a 1920s movie palace and a bit of a barn (albeit a gorgeous one). Mr. Lee’s mic wasn’t working, but he knew he didn’t need it. People could clearly hear his voice all the way in the back row, less volume than the sheer magnificent timbre elocution of it.
Hollywood belatedly remembered Mr. Lee was alive after his fantastic cameo performance in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. I remained convinced that that his renewed fortune was assured by how he said “Ichabod Crane.” Hell, his pointing in that scene is memorable.
He subsequently got a role the already immortal Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as in the Star Wars prequels. Ah, well, nobody blames him for those, nor do we begrudge him a nice fat paycheck in his autumn years.
Mr. Lee did wet work in World War II, going behind enemy lines to, among other things, shank Nazis. There a great story about Peter Jackson becoming queasy when Mr. Lee nonchalantly demonstrated exactly how one actually grabs hold of a man from behind and sinks a knife into him. Forget his stardom, his looks, his urbanity, his undoubted success with beautiful women. Seriously, how can any of us gentle, sheltered nerds really understand a man who killed friggin’ Nazis with his hands?
My top five Christopher Lee films (out of nearly 300 IMDB acting credits):
1) Horror of Dracula
2) The Mummy
3) The Devil Rides Out
4) Horror Express
5) Horror Hotel
What are yours?
Christopher Lee was 93 at the time of his passing. His kind walk the Earth no more. We are all the poorer for it.