A horror icon
A look at a half-dozen memorable films from the late British actor Christopher Lee.
Christopher Lee, the courtly British actor who died at age 93 this week, was a prolific performer who made more than 275 movies stretching back to the 1940s. And while he played such diverse characters as Sherlock Holmes, Georges Seurat and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Lee will forever be remembered as an expert in evil. With his imposing 6-foot-4 frame and sonorous voice, Lee brought some of cinema’s most memorable villains to life, imbuing them with a unique combination of menace and charm. Here are six to behold. The Creature: “The Curse of Frankenstein,” 1957
Lee was an unknown character actor when he played Frankenstein’s monster for horror purveyor Hammer Films. He didn’t have any lines, but evoked surprising pathos via facial expressions and pantomime. An international hit, “Frankenstein” was the first of his many Hammer films. Count Dracula: “Horror of Dracula,” 1958
A quarter-century after Bela Lugosi brought Dracula to the screen, Lee took on the role of the notorious Transylvanian bloodsucker. The character had taken on an aura of camp, but Lee helped restore the count to his proper place as a darkly dangerous sex symbol. Comte de Rochefort: “The Three Musketeers,” 1973
A skilled fencer, Lee guessed that he participated in more sword fights than any other actor in history. Even hampered by an eye patch, he made for a swashbuckling antagonist in “The Three Musketeers” and 1974’s “The Four Musketeers.” His Rochefort was so integral that he was resurrected from what seemed like a sure death in the second film for 1989’s “The Return of the Musketeers.” Scaramanga: “The Man With the Golden Gun,” 1974
Picture a classic James Bond villain and what comes to mind? An island hideout, probably. Henchmen, certainly. Diabolical schemes, lasers, a cool name. Lee’s suave assassin Francisco Scaramanga had all those and more in “Man With the Golden Gun,” which pitted him against Roger Moore’s Agent 007. If the film was a bit schlocky — Moore doing kung fu, anyone? — Lee, stepcousin of Bond creator Ian Fleming, was not. Of all the Bond villains, Scaramanga is one of the few who truly seemed like a threat to the super-spy (well, almost).
Count Dooku: the “Star Wars” prequels
Lee once again dusted off his fencing skills and won over a younger generation of moviegoers as the refined but ruthless Count Dooku — a.k.a. Darth Tyranus — in the “Star Wars” prequels “Attack of the Clones” (2002) and “Revenge of the Sith” (2005). Even as a septuagenarian bad guy, Lee outclassed Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi and Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker in a two-on-one lightsaber duel. Saruman: “The Lord of the Rings,” “Hobbit” movies
A longtime J.R.R. Tolkien fan who once met the author in a pub, Lee considered playing the noble wizard Gandalf earlier on in his career. By the time Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films came around in the 2000s, he had to settle for Gandalf ’s corrupted rival, Saruman. Once again, Lee brought an ominous gravitas to his role, while also pulling off flowing white robes, mane and beard.
IN “HORROR of Dracula,” Christopher Lee turned count back into a dangerous sex symbol.