I love Nic Roeg movies. Along with Ken Russell he was an artistic touchstone in the British film industry through the 70’s and 80’s, they were provocative, original, broke new ground, caused trouble and most important, were never boring. Nic Roeg died on Sunday aged 90, rest in peace.
From his early years as a clapper boy, Roeg had progressed to world-class cinematographer, working for second unit camera under Freddie Young on David Lean’s masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Roeg’s work on this led to important credits including Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death (1964), Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966) and on John Schlesinger’s Far From the Madding Crowd (1967).
By the late 60s, after a career in cinematography which would have been quite enough for most mortals, he came to directing remarkably late: Performance (1970) Walkabout (1971), Don’t Look Now (1973), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and Bad Timing (1980). And even after that he continued to make excellent movies, including Eureka (1983), Insignificance (1985), the fantasy of Marilyn Monroe meeting Albert Einstein, Track 29 (1988), the sensually charged Dennis Potter drama with Gary Oldman and Roeg’s partner Theresa Russell, and his excellent Roald Dahl fantasy The Witches (1990) with Anjelica Huston.
After his run of brilliant films in the 70s, the British antipathy to experimentation, and films lacking conventional narrative-based realism, resulted in the comparative neglect of Roeg had no liking for self-publicity, which resulted in some projects falling to other directors. As he remarked, he “refused to join the club”.
What an extraordinary film-maker Nic Roeg was, a man whose imagination and technique could not be confined to conventional genres. He should be remembered for a clutch of masterly films, but perhaps especially for his classic Don’t Look Now, not merely the best British scary movie in history, but one infused with compassion and love.
William Claude Rains (10 November 1889 – 30 May 1967) was an English stage and film actor whose career spanned 46 years. He was known for many roles in Hollywood films, among them the title role in The Invisible Man (1933), The Wolf Man (1941), a corrupt senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Mr. Dryden in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and, perhaps his most notable performance, as Captain Renault in Casablanca (1942).
Rains was born in Camberwell, London. He grew up, according to his daughter, with “a very serious cockney accent and a speech impediment”. His parents were Emily Eliza (Cox) and English stage and film actor Frederick William Rains. The young Rains made his stage debut at 11 in Nell of Old Drury.
His acting talents were recognised by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, founder of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Tree paid for the elocution lessons Rains needed in order to succeed as an actor. Later, Rains taught at the institution, teaching John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier, among others. Many years later, after he had gone to Hollywood and become a film star, Gielgud was to quip: “He was a great influence on me. I don`t know what happened to him. I think he failed and went to America.”
Rains served in the First World War in the London Scottish Regiment, with fellow actors Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman and Herbert Marshall. Rains was involved in a gas attack that left him nearly blind in one eye for the rest of his life, by the war’s end he had risen from the rank of Private to Captain.
Rains began his career in the London theatre, having a success in the title role of John Drinkwater’s play Ulysses S. Grant, the follow-up to the playwright’s major hit Abraham Lincoln, and travelled to Broadway in the late 1920s to act in leading roles in such plays as Shaw’s The Apple Cart and in the dramatisations of The Constant Nymph, and Pearl S. Buck’s novel The Good Earth, as a Chinese farmer.
Rains came relatively late to film acting and his first screen test was a failure, but his distinctive voice won him the title role in James Whale’s The Invisible Man (1933) when someone accidentally overheard his screen test being played in the next room. The Invisible Man is based on H. G. Wells’ science fiction novel The Invisible Man, published in 1897, as adapted by R. C. Sherriff, Philip Wylie and Preston Sturges. The film was directed by James Whale and starred Claude Rains, in his first American screen appearance, and Gloria Stuart.
Rains portrayed the Invisible Man (Dr. Jack Griffin) mostly only as a disembodied voice. Rains is only shown clearly for a brief time at the end of the film, spending most of his on-screen time covered by bandages. In 2008 The Invisible Man was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Rains’ portrayal of The Invisible Man is considered to be one of the main Universal Monsters and is often listed with the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Mummy and Gill-man.
Following The Invisible Man, Universal Studios tried to typecast him in horror films, but he broke free, starting with the gleefully evil role of Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), then with his Academy Award-nominated performance as the conflicted corrupt US senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and followed with probably his most famous role, the flexible French police Captain Renault in Casablanca (1942).
The Wolf Man (1941) written by Curt Siodmak and produced and directed by George Waggner; starred Lon Chaney, Jr. as The Wolf Man, with Claude Rains, Béla Lugosi, and Maria Ouspenskaya. The title character has had a great deal of influence on Hollywood’s depictions of the legend of the werewolf. The film is the second Universal Pictures werewolf movie, preceded six years earlier by the less commercially successful Werewolf of London.
In 1943, Rains played the title character in Universal’s full-colour remake of Phantom of the Opera. Bette Davis named him her favourite co-star, and they made four films together, including Mr. Skeffington and Now, Voyager. Rains became the first actor to receive a million dollar salary, playing Julius Caesar in Gabriel Pascal’s lavish and unsuccessful version of Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra (1945). In 1946, he played a refugee Nazi agent opposite Cary Grant and Casablanca co-star Ingrid Bergman in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious.
Rains remained a popular character actor in the 1950s and 1960s, appearing in many films. Two of his well-known later screen roles were as Dryden, a cynical British diplomat in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and King Herod in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). The latter was his final film role.
Rains died from an abdominal haemorrhage in Laconia, New Hampshire, on 30 May 1967 at the age of 77. He is interred in the Red Hill Cemetery, Moultonborough, New Hampshire.
Sir Alec Guinness, CH, CBE (2 April 1914 – 5 August 2000) was an English actor. After an early career on the stage he was featured in several of the Ealing comedies, including Kind Hearts and Coronets in which he played eight different characters. He later won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai. Guinness was also nominated for a further four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor for what is possibly his best-known role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars movie. Other popular portrayals included Prince Feisal in Lawrence of Arabia, and George Smiley in the original TV adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
His first job in the theatre was on his 20th birthday, while he was still a drama student, in the play Libel, which opened at the old King’s Theatre, Hammersmith, and then transferred to the Playhouse where his status was raised from a walk-on to understudying two lines and his salary increased to £1 a week. In 1936 at the age of 22, playing the role of Osric in John Gielgud’s successful production of Hamlet.
Guinness continued playing Shakespearean roles throughout his career. In 1937 he played Aumerle in Richard II and Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice under the direction of John Gielgud. He starred in a 1938 production of Hamlet which won him acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. He also appeared as Romeo in a production of Romeo and Juliet (1939), Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night and as Exeter in Henry V in 1937, both opposite Laurence Olivier, and Ferdinand in The Tempest, opposite Gielgud as Prospero.
In 1939, he adapted the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations for the stage, playing the part of Herbert Pocket. The play was a success. One of its viewers was a young British film editor, David Lean, who would later have Guinness reprise his role in Lean’s 1946 film adaptation of the play.
Guinness served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in World War II, serving first as a seaman in 1941 and being commissioned the following year. He commanded a landing craft taking part in the invasion of Sicily and Elba and later ferried supplies to the Yugoslav partizans.
Guinness returned to the Old Vic in 1946 and stayed until 1948, playing in The Alchemist, King Lear, Cyrano de Bergerac and Richard II. After leaving the Old Vic, he played in An Inspector Calls, The Cocktail Party and the title role of Hamlet.
Guinness won a Tony Award for his Broadway performance as poet Dylan Thomas in Dylan. He next played the title role in Macbeth opposite Simone Signoret in 1966, a conspicuous failure.
His final performance was at the Comedy Theatre on May 30, 1989 in the play A Walk in the Woods. Sandwiched between April 2, 1934, and May 30, 1989, he played 77 parts in the theatre.
In films, Guinness was initially associated mainly with the Ealing comedies, and particularly for playing eight different characters in the classic Kind Hearts and Coronets. Other notable films from this period included The Lavender Hill Mob, The Ladykillers and The Man in the White Suit.
He won particular acclaim for his work with director David Lean. After appearing in Lean’s Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, he was given a starring role opposite William Holden in The Bridge on the River Kwai. For his performance as Colonel Nicholson, the unyielding British POW leader, Guinness won an Academy Award. Despite a difficult and often hostile relationship, Lean, referring to Guinness as “my good luck charm”, continued to cast Guinness in character roles in his later films: Arab leader Prince Feisal in Lawrence of Arabia; the title character’s half-brother, Bolshevik leader Yevgraf, in Doctor Zhivago; and Indian mystic Godbole in A Passage to India. He was also offered a role in Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter (1970), but declined.
Other notable film roles of this period included The Swan (1956); The Horse’s Mouth (1958) in which Guinness played the part of drunken painter Gulley Jimson as well as contributing the screenplay, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award; the lead in Our Man in Havana (1959); The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964); The Quiller Memorandum (1966); Marley’s Ghost in Scrooge (1970); Charles I in Cromwell (1970); Pope Innocent III in Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972); and the title role in Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973), which he considered his best film performance, though critics disagreed. Guinness also played the role of Jamessir Bensonmum, the blind butler, in the 1976 Neil Simon film Murder By Death.
Guinness’s role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy, beginning in 1977, brought him worldwide recognition by a new generation, as well as Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. He was one of the few cast members who believed that the film would be a box office hit; he negotiated a deal for 2% of the gross royalties paid to the director, George Lucas, who received one fifth of the box office takings. This made him very wealthy in his later life, and he agreed to take the part of Kenobi on the condition that he would not have to do any publicity to promote the film. Upon his first viewing of the film, Guinness wrote in his diary that “It’s a pretty staggering film as spectacle and technically brilliant. Exciting, very noisy and warm-hearted. The battle scenes at the end go on for five minutes too long, I feel, and some of the dialogue is excruciating and much of it is lost in noise, but it remains a vivid experience.”
Guinness died on 5 August 2000, from liver cancer, at Midhurst in West Sussex. He was interred at Petersfield, Hampshire, England.