Vale and RIP Christopher Lee (1922- June 7th, 2015) and Ron Moody (1924- June 11th, 2015)
Dracula will always be the role most linked to Christopher Lee but for me his best is the one he (ahem) staked his career on – Lord Summerisle, the urbanely barking squire in The Wicker Man (1973). This neopagan-horror-mystery-folk-musical (yes, it’s all of those) is the must-see peak of the Rural Weird genre and a towering high point in British cinema generally. I’ve heard it was Lee’s favourite of all his movies; the erudite content appealed to him so much that he invested 5000 pounds into pre-production, determined, as he wrote, ‘to Draculate no more’.
Whether you’re into film, horror, comparative religion or 1970s British pop culture, I strongly recommend Allan Brown’s book Inside The Wicker Man for the bizarre tale of how this cult classic was made and almost lost.
The screenplay was by Anthony Shaffer, whose fiendishly clever play Sleuth became another brilliant early 70s British movie (starring Olivier and Caine). The dancer Lindsay Kemp, who taught Kate Bush and David Bowie, plays The Wicker Man’s publican, and Britt Ekland (voice and nudity ‘dubbed’) is his saucy daughter. Like Lee, Edward Woodward in the lead role – a policeman investigating a missing child on a remote Scottish island – gives perhaps the best performance of his acclaimed career. Then there’s the peerless soundtrack by Paul Giovanni, which could be some great lost Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span album.
Now don’t get me started on Lee’s Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun….
I can’t shut up without similarly saluting the wondrous Ron Moody, who died four days after Christopher Lee but lives forever as Fagin in Carol Reed’s spectacular mega-musical Oliver! (1968). A witty reviewer once pointed out this was the most G-rated film ever made about non-G subjects (murder, theft, child abuse, prostitution, etc, etc). Christopher Lee and Ron Moody: true talents and true celebrities. And both truly enriched the world they have just left.