Recently Rated Movies: Catching Up with Christopher Lee (the actor, not my brother…) Pt. 1

In resurrecting many of the old regular columns on this blog, my favorite was often Recently Rated Movies, wherein I would shorthand my usual long-winded blathering and comment oh so very briefly on a series of films I had recently seen and rated on IMDb. To begin this column regularly again, I am tying it into a project in which I have been engaged for the past three weeks. I have been employing the Charts function on Flickchart to create lists that show me which films of one of my favorite actors I have yet to see. Because I have watched so many films overall (11,000+), for there to be films for someone like, say, Boris Karloff, they would either have to be films I have intentionally putting off for one reason or another, films that were harder to find in the past, or simply something I had little interest in viewing.

I began the project with Bela Lugosi, and quickly knocked out eleven of his films in short order (luckily most of them are barely over an hour long), including the infamously terrible (and justly so) Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla and Mother Riley Meets the Vampire. I then leaped over to the aforementioned Mr. Karloff (there was some slight crossover), and not only also took down eleven of his films, including three out of four of his late ‘60s Mexican flicks (where all of his scenes were directed at the same time by Jack Hill and then inserted into the films proper), but also four of his Mr. Wong films from the late ’30s and early ‘40s.

And now, I am on the chart for the recently departed Christopher Lee. He has 133 films listed on Flickchart (overall, he has 278 acting credits listed on IMDb), and of those 133 films, until the other day, I had seen ONLY 68 of them. That leaves a massive amount of his films left to see, and I doubt I have the time left or the energy to see them all. Lee himself had a quote he was fond of repeating where he is regularly told by fans, “I have seen all of your films!” His reply, “No, you haven’t.” Well, now I have ticked nine more films off that list over the last few days.

[Editor's note: All films are rated on a scale of 9.]

The Puzzle of the Red Orchid
[German title: Edgar Wallace: Das Rätsel der roten Orchidee | Alt. English title: The Secret of the Red Orchid]
Dir: Helmut Ashley
TC4P Rating: 4

When is it called for to have the very British legend Christopher Lee, with his deep and memorable speaking voice, to have his dialogue dubbed into English? Specifically, an American accent? When he originally recorded his dialogue for this would-be thriller based on an Edgar Wallace story (as many European films were in the ‘60s), it was reportedly into what I have read in some places as some rather decent German. That aside, it is incongruous to say the least to watch Lee in numerous scenes while hearing a ridiculously square and far too rigidly pronounced American accent pour from his lips (and obviously not matching what he is really saying), especially given that there is no attempt at all to try and match the timbre of his famous voice. 

A minor plus is that this film moves pretty fast, though the characters are involved in a mystery I don’t really care about while Chicago gangsters are kidnapping people in London. There are some fairly stilted attempts at comic relief, but like everything else in this movie, the dubbing also kills the chance for any humor to translate properly for the viewer. It’s not as horrid as you think it will be going into it, but it’s still a bit of a chore to watch.

Hannie Caulder (1971)
Dir: Burt Kennedy
TC4P Rating: 6

Let’s not get carried away here. Sensei Tarantino loves this film and has pointed to it as an inspiration for Kill Bill. It is easy to see why he loves it, and it is also easy to see the inspiration it served. But this is not a great lost classic. It’s merely a fairly decent western with an excellent male lead in Robert Culp, and some good, disgusting supporting roles for Strother Martin, Ernest Borgnine, and especially Jack Elam. 

There is also a dandy small part for Christopher Lee as the expert gunsmith that Culp and female lead Raquel Welch call upon to customize pistols with which Welch’s title character can exact revenge on the raping and murdering trio played by Martin, Borgnine, and Elam. The movie has some wit to it, and is engaging from start to finish. Welch is hardly believable in her gunslinger role, especially in what she is allowed to wear during the era in which they purport to be, though I mark this up to the ‘70s and the need for the studio to sell her remarkable exterior (if only they knew how). 

I do have a complaint about the blood, which gushes forth from numerous bullet wounds throughout the movie, as being too obviously fake. It rather galls me about the third time it happens. Other than that, watch it for a prime example of just how assured and captivating Robert Culp can be in the right role.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)
Dir: Does it even matter?
TC4P Rating: 5

Let’s talk about product. Pure product. Yes, I am one of those original Star Wars kids from 1977. I read the paperback (with the purple cover and the pre-film character designs by McQuarrie) numerous times before the film was released that summer, and I bought the comics, toys, LPs, trading cards, posters, blueprints, t-shirts, puzzles, games, prints, and what have you without a second thought. Like any other religious convert, I gave up my allowance on a weekly basis to the Force reverently for a handful of years, and it never once struck me I was being manipulated at all as I followed the adventures of Luke, Han, Leia and their pals through the next couple of films. Nor would I have cared if I did realize the manipulation at hand. I was in my teens, I loved what I loved, and I didn’t want to hear otherwise.

Though George Lucas has crippled my opinion of his creation due to his obstinate mishandling of it in recent years, I still maintain a soft spot for the original films, enough so that I am like everyone else who can’t wait to see what J.J. Abrams will bring us come winter. Likewise, I am equally excited about Disney’s plans for a new Star Wars Land in the park. While that might further define me as a “sheeple” in regards to blindly going along with the rest of the flock, the quality of the product is likely to be so high that I couldn’t resist if I wanted, lest I be branded a curmudgeon, hipster, or troll or some unholy combination of the three.

But there is a difference between product of a remarkably high caliber and just mere product, rendered to the blandness of pabulum, still to be considered sustainable entertainment but absolutely lacking in real character or emotional depth. Even more interesting is when product of the second variety spews forth from the same factory creating the higher form. And thus, from that off-white void, crawls out Star Wars: The Clone Wars, animated to the far brink of what was accepted as popular animation in the year in which it was released (but no further), brightly colored, swift moving, and sporting the mind-numbing, political denseness that plagued the three most recent Lucas productions. However, it does have several presumably exciting battle sequences, mostly involving the younger Obi-Wan and Anakin, along with a young Padawan named Ahsoka (sadly, Lucas did not name an older brother for her as Supasoka, but I feel he would have), for those that have not already seen similar scenes in many, many other films. Therein lies the key to the film’s existence, both as product and as a part of Star Wars culture. It is also the same key that explains my reticence to embrace the later productions from my once beloved font of space opera entertainment.

I am no longer twelve years old. I might act like it at times. I may still adore most of the things I loved when I was that age. I may even still own most of the things I owned from that time (and I largely do). But I am no longer twelve. I am a 51-year-old man watching a film designed to attract actual twelve-year-olds to a possible entry point into the Star Wars universe, or to keep the kids already inclined to be inside that universe further entertained and to get them to buy the comics, toys, etc. that go along with it. Just like when I was that age.

So, I am no longer the target audience for Star Wars: The Clone Wars. In fact, I am about thirty years past it. But it does not mean that I can’t watch the film, have an understanding of it, nor speak my piece on it. But I can't embrace it like I did those earlier films. It’s just really no longer mine. I knew this when it was released, and so I put off seeing it. And I only watched it last week because it was film highest up on the Flickchart list of Christopher Lee films I had yet to see, and if there was going to be a Chris Lee flick I hadn’t watched, it was not going to be a Star Wars one. And so watch it I did. Mr. Lee voices his Count Dooku character from the later films, and he does his usual excellent job. He is barely in the film, and the rest is taken up by the politics, battle scenes, and Jedi nonsense I mentioned earlier. What the ads should have read is "Come for the Dooku. Stay for the product."


This is a good idea, and I look forward to your posts as you attempt the nigh-impossible. Any plans to add Vincent Price to that list? He's got an impossible-to-verify number of films that you'll never be able to finish, as well.
Rik Tod Johnson said…
Actually, Vincent Price was next on my list, but I have been having so much success finding Lee films I haven't seen on Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Youtube that I haven't moved on to him next.

Setting up that eventual Price showdown, Flickchart has 97 of his titles listed and I have seen 65 of them. But, of the 32 titles, there are 5 or 6 that are short films or TV specials, and I have seen each of those. (I catalog those items on Flickchart under a separate account.) So, that puts me down to about 25 titles left, which is pretty doable as long as they are available.

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