As a card-carrying Hammer Horror obsessive, I'm no stranger to the mighty Christopher Lee. Known to many as the quintessential Dracula of their generation, and known to other of a younger brand as the devious Saruman of THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY, Lee has wore many guises. He's been in more sword-fights onscreen than any other actor, and has played everything from Rasputin the Mad Monk to James Bond's nemesis. In short, the mans a legend.
These are my picks, in no particular order, for some of his greatest characters. I'm focusing on Lee's performances, and the impact he made on me personally in these roles. I don't pretend to have seen anywhere near all of the mans cinematic output, so don't be angered if I missed out some greats, (as I'm sure I have). Feel free to agree, disagree, rant and rave, but remember this is my own personal selection, for reasons of my own. Enjoy..
Lord Summerisle - The Wicker Man (1973)
Considered by Lee himself as his finest work, his Lord Summerisle is chillingly matter-of-fact about his communities philosophies and actions. The ease with which he brushes off Edward Woodward's desperate attempts to locate a missing, possibly dead girl is squirm-inducing. Watching Lee prance around in a dress holding some huge garden shears is a nightmarish vision indeed, and his hair has never been scarier.
Count Dracula - Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)
No matter what the quality of the film, Lee has always brought his Dracula to vivid life. he was robbed of the chance to prove his eloquence by a host of scripts that treat the vampire as a silent monster as opposed to the dark romantic of Stoker work, but he brings a predatory menace to the role that is animalistic, poised and sexual.
Prof. Karl Meister - The Gorgon (1964)
Basing his looks on Albert Einstein, Lee is at his affable best in this role. Its something of a departure for the usually strident, dominating figure, and is all the more refreshing for it. He plays the compassionate professor every bit as well as he plays the cold-hearted vampire.
Kharis - The Mummy (1959)
With no dialogue and under a ton of wonderful make-up, Lee really had his work cut out delivering a performance that was anything other than a special effect in this classic Hammer film. With only the inherent menace of his stature, and his hypnotic eyes, he manages to infuse the shroud-wrapped bad guy with pathos, pain and pity. While never being less than terrifying.
Saruman - The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
Bristling with power yet wreathed in cowardice; Lee got the chance to live out his lifelong dream and star in an adaptation of Tolkien's mighty tome.It's hard to imagine anyone else playing the fallen wizard. He dominates the screen in every scene he's in, and no matter how much visual splendour is going on around him. A quintessential villain.
Sir Henry - The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
Lee jumped at the rare chance to play the romantic lead in one of Hammers finest films. As Sir Henry, he gets to lust after the lady and show his natural grace, but he's rubbish in a fight, (against dog or spider). Its a joy to watch such an imposing figure play such an endangered character.
Duc De Richleau - The Devil Rides Out (1968)
If I had to chose, this would be my favourite of his roles. as De Richleau, Lee is hero, saviour, friend and leader. He brings a sense of compassion and intelligence to his role here that outshines the many great performances the film holds. As the sage-like wise warrior battling the very Devil himself, he;s fragile, head-strong, determined and unswervingly on the side of good. An amazing performance.
Franscisco Scaramanga - The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
As a kid, seeing Dracula face off to bond was something of a terrifying experience for me. His cold, calculated take on the Bond villain was miles from those that had come before. Here was a guy who you actually believed could kill 007. Bond never got this slick again. The man is a bad-ass.
M R James - Ghost Stories for Christmas (2000)
Putting that wonderfully rich voice to fine use, Lee narrates a selection of classic ghost stories by the great M R James, and channels the man while he's at it. On a cold winters night there's nothing quite like pouring yourself a malt wine, dimming the lights and listening to a screen master read from a literary master. Chilling, eerie and somehow soothing, these are the perfect bedtime tales for those long winter nights.