Friday, June 12, 2015

ATM Remembers: Sir Christopher Lee (1922-2015)

1972 promotional ad for Warner Bros.' "Horroritual,"
encouraging exhibitors to induct audiences
into the "Count Dracula Society," during
midnight screenings of Hammer's Dracula A.D. 1972,
featuring Christopher Lee (in his sixth portrayal
of Bram Stoker's vampire character).  This was
advertised as a "double feature" with another
Hammer horror feature released by Warners,
Crescendo (featuring Stefanie Powers).
Christopher Lee, in a publicity photo for his
role of Count Dracula in Dracula A.D. 1972.
At The Matinee remembers distinguished actor Sir Christopher Lee, who died at the age of 93 on Sunday in London.  Lee's death was not made public until Thursday.

The actor appeared in over 250 feature films throughout his career, mostly known for his villainous roles in cult British horror films produced by the Hammer Film Corporation, and for his role as the wizard Saruman in Peter Jackson's adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy film series.

Lee was born on May 27th, 1922 in London.  After serving as an intelligence officer for the Royal Air Force during the second World War, Lee's cousin suggested that he consider acting.  Shortly thereafter, he signed a contract with the Rank Organization, one of  the leading motion picture production and releasing companies in Britain at the time.  This led Lee to minor roles early in his screen career, beginning in 1948 with Corridor of Mirrors, and the filmed adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet, featuring Lawrence Oliver, which was released that same year.

Because of his tall height (6-foot-4), it has been noted that Lee was typecast throughout most of his motion picture career in villainous roles, especially in horror and fantasy films.  Beginning in 1957, his first major role for Hammer Films (in conjunction with Warner Bros.) was his portrayal of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, in The Curse of Frankensteinopposite Peter Cushing.  The film opened to mixed reviews in the United States, but is now considered a "cult classic" by many in recent years.

One year later, Lee would portray one of his most famous roles in another Hammer horror adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, in Horror of Dracula (which was known as Dracula in Britain, but was re-titled for the American market, so that audiences would not confuse the film with the 1931 Bela Lugosi version).

Lee's "Dracula" role would lead to several more films: Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968), Count Dracula . Taste The Blood of Dracula, Scars of Dracula (all from 1970), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). 

He also portrayed the mummy Kharis in Hammer's 1959 adaptation of The Mummy.  Lee also portrayed Sherlock Holmes in the 1962 German film, Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace (which was not released in the United States until 1968, when Columbia Pictures acquired the North American television rights for its Screen Gems subsidiary).

Lee would also portray Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu character, beginning in 1965 with The Face of Fu Manchu.  He would act in four more films in this series, ending with The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969, which was famously mocked on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1992).

Lee's other prolific roles included Lord Summerisle in the 1973 horror film, The Wicker Man, and in the James Bond film franchise, playing villain Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974, opposite Roger Moore as James Bond).

Around the same time  his role in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Lee played the role of villain Count Dooku in George Lucas' Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005).

In 2009, Lee was knighted by Prince Charles, in honor of his acting and charitable work. In 2010, Sir Christopher Lee crossed into the field of recorded concept music, by releasing a heavy metal-classical concept album, titled Charlemange: By The Sword and the Cross.  That same year, he received the "Spirit of Metal" award at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods award ceremony.   Four more concept albums would follow, along with four heavy metal Christmas singles.

In remembrance of Lee, Turner Classic Movies will present a marathon of Sir Christopher Lee's best-known motion pictures on June 22nd.  Here are the films that will be shown on that day's schedule:

6:15 AM- The Mummy (1959)
8:00 AM- The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
9:30 AM- Horror of Dracula (1958)
11:00 AM- Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)
12:45 PM- Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1969)
2:30 PM- Horror Express (1972)
4:00 PM- The Three Musketeers (1972)
6:00 PM- The Four Musketeers (1975)

Farewell to one of the greats of the silver screen, Sir Christopher Lee (1922-2015).

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