Sir Christopher Lee’s Top Five Movie Roles.

For many, British actor Sir Christopher Lee seemed like one of those ageless people who might go on forever, a person who might actually be as immortal as the infamous vampire whom he portrayed so many times on the big screen. On June 7th, 2015, however, Lee’s body finally failed what seems like an unstoppable spirit, and one of the most interesting men of this era died.

Christopher Lee

The news of Lee’s death only became public on June 11th, 2015, and nerds all over the globe lamented his passing and remembered him with revered fondness . . . a man both charming and intimidating at once. Yesterday, active members of The Pandora Society Facebook Group, were polled with regards to their favorite on screen roles of Sir Christopher Lee, and here are the results . . .

5. Count Dooku – Star Wars (2002 to 2014)

Dooku_CISIn 1999’s The Phantom Menace, the new villainy of the Star Wars universe was the stoic Darth Maul and the mysterious Darth Sidious, but in 2002 Darth Tyranus, aka Count Dooku, gave a new face to the dark side of the force, and a soothing seductive voice to go with it. Dooku is a former Jedi, described as “a political idealist,” it is revealed that Qui Gon Ginn (Liam Neeson) was Dooku’s padawan, and that Yoda was Dooku’s master, but little exposition is given as to why he left the Order.

Dooku emerges in Attack of the Clones as the open leader of the newly formed Separatist Planets who wish to secede from the Republic; he is in essence the Jefferson Davis of Star Wars. In secret, however, Dooku is the latest apprentice of the evil Darth Sidious who is plotting the internal downfall of the Jedis and the Republic. In Revenge of the Sith, Dooku only has a short appearance, leading up to his betrayal by Sidious, but in The Clones Wars animations and TV series Dooku (voiced by Lee) gets far more screen time and character development than both of the live action films combined.

4. King Haggard – The Last Unicorn (1982)

king-haggardThe Last Unicorn, adapted from the book by Peter S. Beagle of the same title, seems to reside in a similar nerd space as The Princess Bride (1987) for being a fantasy sword and sorcery tale that is more popular with female audiences than male. Released in 1982, there is something distinctly 70’s in the film’s production, the style, the soundtrack, and that post-hippie movement vibe.

Christopher Lee voices King Haggard, the ruler of a dreary kingdom who has never been happy, save for when he looks at unicorns. Beagle described Lee as “the last of the great 20th Century actors, and either the most-literate or second-most literate performer I’ve ever met.” When Lee came in to work, he brought his own copy of the novel wherein he took note of lines that he believed should not be omitted. Lee, who was fluent in German, also voiced King Haggard in the German dub of the film.

3. Lord Summerisle – The Wicker Man (1973)

Lord Summerisle

NOT to be mistaken with the 2006 remake with Nicolas Cage, The Wicker Man is a strange thriller in which police sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodwood) is sent to Summerisle, a Scottish island village, in search of a missing girl whom the townsfolk claim never existed. Stranger still are the rites that take place there.

Christopher Lee plays the leader of the village, the eccentric and charming Lord Summerisle, third generation Laird or “owner” of the island. Descended from his grandfather who came to the isle full of “mid-Victorian zeal” as he put it, Lord Summerisle has maintained and encouraged the pagan beliefs instilled in the island’s population by his father and grandfather. The island’s seemingly unnatural ability to sustain tropical plant species, abundant crop yields, and fruitful orchards is attributed by all to their worship of “the old gods”. As the plot progresses and the investigation unfolds, the conflict between Summerisle and Howie becomes a showdown between Paganism and Christianity.

2. Count Dracula (1958 to 1973)

Lee DraculaDespite Lee’s 70 year acting career and numerable roles, the role of Dracula is the most prominent part of his legacy. Between 1957 and 1976, Lee was a regular troupe member of the Hammer Horror Studio that created numerous horror films in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. His first appearance as Count Dracula was in 1958 with Dracula, and for the following 15 years he played the infamous vampire in seven sequels: The Brides of Dracula (1960), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (May 7, 1970), Scars of Dracula (November 8, 1970), Dracula AD 1972 (1972), and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). 

Lee’s Dracula is the third step in the character’s onscreen evolution. The first incarnation of Dracula was Max Schreck in Nosteratu (1922) as Count Orlok, a very sub-creature being, and then in 1931 came Bela Lugosi in Dracula who added sophistication and seductive charm to the role, but still had that “foreigner” non-Anglo look which signaled to a 1930’s audience racial inferiority. Standing at almost six and a half feet and with chiseled facial features, Lee brought an entirely new level of powerfulness to the role, and for three decades he dominated the standard against which all over Dracula performances would be measured.

 1. Saruman – The Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit (2001 to 2014)

sarumanAfter his tenure as Dracula, Christopher Lee was constantly busy with numerable films and TV shows per year, but in 2001 Lee seem to undergo a renaissance in the public eye with his role as the wizard Saruman in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Saruman is leader of the Istari, wizards sent to Middle-earth in human form by the godlike Valar to challenge Sauron, the main antagonist of the novel, but eventually he desires Sauron’s power for himself and tries to take over Middle-earth by force. His schemes feature prominently in the second volume, The Two Towers, and at the end of the third volume, The Return of the King. His earlier history is given briefly in the posthumously published The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.

From the set of The Return of the King, comes the now legendary tale of Christopher Lee’s being an utter bad ass! Director Peter Jackson was blocking a scene in which Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) stabs Saruman in the back. After Jackson’s long explanation about how he wanted Lee to react, Lee calmly asked, “Have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody’s stabbed in the back?” and then stated, “Because I do.” Honoring his oaths of military secrecy from World War II, Lee never spoke in detail about his work as a British secret agent, but the myth is that he was actually the real life inspiration for Ian Fleming’s super spy James Bond.

In a career that lasted 70 years, there were clearly far more than five films suggested by the active members of the Pandora Society. Runners up in the poll included The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) as Scaramanga, an adversary with more panache than Bond, Alice in Wonderland (2010) as the voice of the Jabberwocky, To the Devil a Daughter (1974) his last film with Hammer Horror, and The Color of Magic (2008) in which he was the voice of Death . . . a role that he embraced on June 7th, 2015.

Even though we all realistically knew that Sir Christopher Lee was a mere mortal like the rest of us, he exuded such a larger than life presence, but without any sense of inflated ego or arrogance, that he did seem like he would never leave us. Lee was from a rare breed of man who possess skill, vitality, and commands respect while behaving like a perfect gentlemen to all whom he meets. On the screen he was the most charming and scary villain whom we all feared and loved at the same time . . . to badly quote Shakespeare . . . Goodnight sweet Prince [of Darkness].


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