Christopher Lee's top 7 movies from Dracula to The Face of Fu Manchu
Cinema has lost one of its most forceful and idiosyncratic talents with the passing today of Christopher Lee. Here we look at some of his most essential roles.
1: Dracula (1958)
Lee played the vampire count not as a camp monster or metaphor for repressed sexuality – but as a scary man who slept in a coffin and wanted to sink his fangs into your neck. Some of the later Dracula two-handers in which he starred opposite Peter Cushing were formulaic and dreary. However, the 1958 Hammer original remains powerful and shocking – Lee elevating the material above mere hokiness.
2: The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)
Posterity has not been kind to this adaptation of Sax Rohmer's pulp novels, which nowadays carry a whiff of 'yellow peril' racism. Still, the film is worth mentioning because of Lee's curiously charming take on the criminal mastermind – and because it was shot in Dublin, the city serving as a stand-in for Victorian London.
3: The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Reminding us he could play heroic as convincingly as he could conjure hellish villainy, Lee was perfect as Dennis Wheatley's demon-exorcising white knight the Duc de Richleau. On paper, the tale of Satanists plotting in the English countryside ought to have been ridiculous. But Lee believed in the film so utterly the audience couldn't help but be convinced too.
4: The Wicker Man (1973)
Still unsettling, this account of bonkers pagans unleashing vile horrors on a remote Scottish island arguably gave us Lee's greatest ever performance. As cult leader Lord Summerisle he was both suave and chilling, his turn affording us a glimpse into the dark heart of pure evil.
5: The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
"Come come Mr Bond… You get as much fulfillment out of killing as I do." There's a case that Scaramanga is one of the outstanding Bond villains and his climatic tangle with Roger Moore (who seemed to raise his game opposite Lee) was a highlight of the series before its plunge into camp self-parody.
6: Star Wars Episode II: The Attack of the Clones (2002)
While there was little to admire about George Lucas' Star Wars prequels Lee's Count Dooku made for a memorable nemesis in the second entry in the saga. The role demonstrated his uncanny ability to invest even the creakiest dialogue with passion. "It is obvious that this contest cannot be decided by our knowledge of the Force... but by our skills with a lightsaber," he said just before a thrilling duel with Yoda and made it sound as if he was quoting Shakespeare.
7: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit (2001– 2014)
Lee was a devotee of Tolkien and made a point of reading LotR on an annual basis. Thus he completely understood the character of Saruman, a weak man seduced by the promise of limitless power. He was also a sparkling presence in the otherwise underwhelming Hobbit movies – the sequence in last year's The Battle of Five Armies in which Saruman tangled with The Necromancer was a fitting final bow for this giant of the screen.