Wednesday, October 17, 2012

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Casting Coup Tuesdays: Theatre of Blood

Vincent Price is my favorite actor.

I don't remember when I realized this, exactly, but I know it must have been around middle school. While my fourth grade teacher playing a Vincent Price-hosted clip show of classic horror on Halloween excited me, I was a Chaney, Sr. man then, and a Lugosi faithful by the end of elementary school. Somehow, though, as my adolescence began and my knowledge of film grew past 1941, Price took over.

Do you think it might have been the films? Not to sound unsophisticated or anything, but much as I admire Chaney's silent-era physicality and Lugosi's early-sound histrionics, Price got to ham it up in the colorful 60s and 70s, when bare breasts began bouncing on-screen alongside close-up gore effects and bizarre Hollywood concepts of the drug scene. His movies were campy and dark, funny and violent, sexy

We could talk for ages about his Wm Castle flicks (The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill), his Poe vehicles for Roger Corman (House of Usher, The Tomb of Ligeia), his work in more prestigious fare (The Song of Bernadette, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex), or his contributions to early Tim Burton ("Vincent", Edward Scissorhands). But I think any Price fan worth his or her salt knows that nothing beats his one-two punch of Dr. Anton Phibes and Edward Lionheart, the anti-heroes of 1971's The Abominable Dr. Phibes, 1972's Dr. Phibes Rises Again and 1973's Theatre of Blood. Both men seek to avenge perceived wrongs by murdering those he begrudges in the most creative ways possible. In the first Phibes, it's according to the Plagues of Egypt. In Theatre of Blood, it's the works of William Shakespeare.

It's really quite a phenomenal idea for a film: Vincent Price as a hammy Shakespearean actor who attempts suicide when the Critics' Circle Awards snub him in favor of a young Method actor. Unbeknownst to everyone else, he survives, and he plans his revenge on the nine members of the jury according to the plays he performed in his final theatrical season. And in between killings, he performs scenes from those very plays to a rapt audience of homeless drug addicts who "rescued" him from his botched drowning.

This is my favorite Vincent Price film, and I've always loved that it was his, too. Of course, it was here that he met his third wife Coral Browne, and realized his dream of performing Shakespeare on film. I am not lying or exaggerating when I say that I always just heard Hamlet's soliliquoy in legitimate film versions of the Bard's work; only with Price's recitation after losing the coveted prize did I fully "get" the import of the words, and the beauty of the writing.

Lionheart goes from a darkly comic villain to a tragic hero, a man who only wants to be recognized for his hard work and dedication, to be celebrated for pursuing his dream with such single-mindedness...and they laugh at him. These people who dare not try their hand at performing, who make their living scoffing at struggling performers and eviscerating the efforts of hard-working craftsmen, these butchers (as Edwina puts it) laugh at him. Perhaps Lionheart puts it best:

And if those two scenes aren't enough to convince you of this movie's greatness:

So awesome.

But Price isn't the only one with a great part. The critics are a colorful ensemble of pompous prigs, the policemen are the right balance of competent and befuddled, and Lionheart has a beautiful daughter (played by Diana Rigg) who may or may not be working with him. It's a film ripe with character parts, which is why I'm a little surprised no one's tried to remake it. There was a stage version a few years back, with Jim Broadbent and Rigg's daughter Rachael Stirling as the Lionhearts, but otherwise, no one else dares to touch the film. Is it the daunting task of even equaling Price's performance? The difficult tone? The logistics of rounding up an ensemble not only willing to do a slasher flick but giving said flick an air of legitimacy and class?

Perhaps. But this is Casting Coup Tuesday. We gotta try. But let's at least do it after the jump:


Who is She: Devlin's loyal secretary.

Originally played by:
Madeline Smith (Taste the Blood of Dracula, Live and Let Die)

My Choice:
Romola Garai (As You Like It, TV's Great Performances: King Lear (2008))

Who is She: The wife George Maxwell, she begs him not to leave the house due to a foreboding horoscope and nightmares.

Originally played by:
Renee Asherson (Rasputin: The Mad Monk, The Others)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Julia), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best British Actress (Morgan!) and Best Supporting Actress (Prick Up Your Ears)
Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus, Anonymous)
The Maxwells open the film, and I cannot think of a better way to open a slasher film than with two respected stars, especially since they've previously played opposite each other. But you'll just have to wait and see who I've got for Ms. Redgrave's hubby. In the meantime: I love Vanessa Redgrave's voice.

Who is She: Solomon Psaltery's gorgeous, high-maintenance, younger wife, who enjoys a slow, deep massage every now and then -- but never with a happy ending.

Originally played by:
Diana Dors (Oliver Twist, Berserk)

My Choice:
Geri Halliwell (Spice World, Crank: High Voltage)
Well...because I can, obviously.

Who is She: Horace Sprout's shrewish wife, an even harsher critic than he.

Originally played by:
Joan Hickson (Murder She Said, TV's Agatha Christie's Miss Marple)

My Choice: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (The Dresser), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Gosford Park)
Eileen Atkins (TV's An Age of Kings: Henry VI Part One, TV's The Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus)


Who is He: The man in charge of the case, he actually saw Lionheart perform on the stage. And wasn't that crazy about it, either.

Originally played by:
Milo O'Shea (Romeo & Juliet, The Purple Rose of Cairo)

My Choice:
Simon McBurney (TV's Performance: Henry IV)

Who is He: Boot's right-hand man.

Originally played by:
Eric Sykes (The Others, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

My Choice:
Rupert Graves (TV's A Waste of Shame: The Mystery of Shakespeare and His Sonnets)

in order of disappearance

The Play:  
Julius Caesar
The Method: Hacked to death by Lionheart's gang of homeless squatters in an abandoned warehouse on the 15th of March.

Originally played by: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Slipper and the Rose)
Michael Hordern (Scrooge/A Christmas Carol, Gandhi)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (The Great White Hope), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor - Drama and Musical/Comedy (The Great White Hope, Claudine), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor (Cry, the Beloved Country)
James Earl Jones (TV's Great Performances: King Lear (1974), The Lion King)
Because your first victim has to be memorable, and I love the idea of him and Redgrave as husband and wife -- they did a revival of Driving Miss Daisy, you know.

The Play:
Troilus and Cressida
The Method: Lured to an abandoned theatre by the promise of an exclusive interview with the "resurrected" Lionheart, before being run through with a spear by the actor, who is dressed as Achilles. His body is then tied to a horse and dragged to Maxwell's funeral.

Originally played by:
Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets, Ten Little Indians)

My Choice:
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Other Boleyn Girl)
Cumberbatch has a wonderful voice, and it's perfect for conveying the arrogance of a critic like Snipe. Besides, not all critics are stodgy old men -- not even the theatre ones! Let's reflect that, shall we? (See also: Trevor Dickman)

The Play:

The Method: Decapitated in his sleep so that his wife may make the gruesome discovery beside her when she awakes. 

Originally played by: BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (O Lucky Man!)
Arthur Lowe (This Sporting Life, If...)

My Choice: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actor (Seance on a Wet Afternoon), Academy Award/BAFTA Award Winner for Best Director and Best Picture (Gandhi), BAFTA Award Winner for Best British Actor (Guns at Batasi and Seance on a Wet Afternoon) and Best British Film (Shadowlands), DGA Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Director (Gandhi), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor (The Sand Pebbles, Doctor Dolittle)
Sir Richard Attenborough (Hamlet (1996), Elizabeth)

The Play:
The Merchant of Venice
The Method: Lured to the theatre by a beautiful actress, thinking it's a rehearsal for an experimental version of The Merchant of Venice. In this interpretation, Shylock extracts his pound of flesh from the merchant...played by Dickman.

Originally played by: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best British Actor (The Hill)
Harry Andrews (Nicholas and Alexandra, Man of La Mancha)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (An Education)
Dominic Cooper
Dirty old man, dirty young man...hey, either way, we get a character who thinks he's entitled to all the women in the room, and Cooper could definitely sell that.

The Play:
Richard III
The Method: Lured to a winery for a tasting party. Drowned in a vat of Malmsey instead.

Originally played by:
Robert Coote (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Golden Head)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Adaptation.)
Brian Cox (TV's Great Performances: Henry V at Shakespeare's Globe, Coriolanus)

The Play:
The Method: Insanely jealous of his younger wife, he is tricked by Lionheart into believing her to be unfaithful. He murders her...guaranteeing imprisonment at an age when parole would be impossible.
Originally played by: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best British Actor (Crash of Silence, The Cruel Sea, The Prisoner, The Third Key)
Jack Hawkins (Lawrence of Arabia, Zulu)

My Choice: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Valkyrie), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Love Actually)
Bill Nighy
He could bring the unexpected pathos and fearsome violence this character demands. Hawkins made it a memorable, sympathetic role in just a few scenes; Nighy has the power to do the same.

The Play:

The First Part of Henry VI
The Method: When she goes to the salon, she finds everyone gone except for a new hairdresser. She is then strapped to a chair, her hair rollers electrified to deliver a shocking spin on the death of Joan of Arc.

Originally played by:
Coral Browne (Auntie Mame, Dreamchild)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress [Drama] (The Wings of a Dove) and Best Supporting Actress (The King's Speech), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (The King's Speech), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress - Musical/Comedy (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (The King's Speech)
Helena Bonham-Carter (Hamlet (1990), Twelfth Night)

The Play:
Titus Andronicus
The Method: His poodles are his least, after he finishes breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert, with time for snacks in between. Well, with little time to check his food before he eats it, he doesn't realize that the two pies prepared for him by a surprise cooking show...have some furry bits in them. He then choke to death on his own dogs.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Marie Antoinette), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?)
Robert Morley (The African Queen, Topkapi)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Iris), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Moulin Rouge!), SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Iris) and Best Ensemble (Little Voice, Iris)
Jim Broadbent (Richard III)

Who is He: President of the Critics' Circle, Lionheart's bete noire, the man who puts the pieces together and realizes that the old ham is not dead.

The Plays:
Romeo & Juliet and King Lear

The Methods: First, a duel at the fencing club against Lionheart, who wants to put the fear of God into Devlin. Then, kidnapped by Lionheart and strapped to a chair, he can choose between awarding Lionheart the Critics' Circle Award...or losing his eyes.

Originally played by: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Get Carter)
Ian Hendry (Children of the Damned, Repulsion)

My Choice: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actor (A Single Man, The King's Speech) and Best Supporting Actor (Easy Virtue), Academy Award/Golden Globe/SAG Award Winner for Best Actor (The King's Speech), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actor (A Single Man, The King's Speech), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Shakespeare in Love, The King's Speech)
Colin Firth (Shakespeare in Love)
You know he is the most-cast actor on my Casting Coups? It's not on purpose, either: I specifically tried not to cast him in a role here, to give others a chance, but I don't think anyone else would deliver the lines "You did kill Larding and the others, didn't you?", "As Lear said at his greatest moment: 'Never never never never never!'" and "Rosemary? What on earth is the matter?" I can see him convincingly portraying the critic, the sleuth and the swordsman all in one.


Who is She: Lionheart's daughter, a makeup artist devoted to daddy's legacy. Devlin is convinced she must be aiding in these murders, but no one can place her at the scenes of the crimes.

Originally played by: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (The Hospital)
Diana Rigg (On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Great Muppet Caper)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (An Education)
Olivia Williams
I just couldn't stop coming back to her. Her voice, her beauty, her commanding presence, the way she can handle "is she or isn't she?" roles like The Ghost Writer...this was one of the hardest roles to cast, because I kept thinking it had be a younger woman, like Carey Mulligan or someone. But when I saw her face again in a trailer for Hyde Park on Hudson, lightning struck. She's perfect.

Who is He: An over-the-top stage actor who refused to appear in anything but Shakespeare, finally crowning his career with a season of ten productions starring himself, no matter how unsuitable his age makes him for some roles. Humiliated by the Critics Circle, he plunges to his doom -- only to be saved by a group of easily-manipulated bums more than willing to assist in his gory staging of revenge.

Originally played by:
Vincent Price (The Haunted Palace, The Abominable Dr. Phibes)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (Henry V), Best Supporting Actor (My Week with Marilyn), Best Adapted Screenplay (Hamlet) and Best Director (Henry V), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Director (Henry V), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (My Week with Marilyn), SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Othello, My Week with Marilyn)
Kenneth Branagh (Much Ado About Nothing, Love's Labour's Lost)
Yes, I know he's only seven years older than his "daughter" Olivia Williams. That's what makeup is for. I mean, really, it'd be a crime for this not to be Branagh, an actor best known for his Shakespearean work, who's not afraid to go over into ham territory. Oh, how I long to see the fencing scene between him and Firth; the electrifying reunion with former flame Bonham-Carter; his delivery of Lear's mourning speech. I see a Golden Globe nomination for this!


MovieNut14 said...

I would pay good money to see this.

Anonymous said...

Ian McNeice as merridew

Jennifer L. Schillig said...

You might be interested to know that Broadbent played Edward Lionheart in a stage version of the movie in London a few years back.