HOWARD JACKSON asks why Christopher Lee has never played Van Helsing
He is very tall and initially he was told he was too tall.
Movie directors like actors to be of average height with large heads.
It makes photography easier.
His height, though, did not bar Christopher Leefrom being the actor identified with the role of Dracula.
They found coffins big enough to fit him, and when he opened his expansive cape he filled a room with dread.
There is no obvious reason why Lee was chosen for the part of Dracula and not Van Helsing unless it was considered essential to have a Dracula with the same dark eyed appearance as Bela Lugosi.
The casting in Hammer pictures, though, was not inevitably conservative.
Prior to the movie, ‘Dracula’, the handsome Lee created an unusual and sympathetic Frankenstein creature.
Nobody was more quintessentially British than Peter Cushing yet it did not prevent him from walking into drawing rooms all over Europe and announcing himself in some strange exotic name.
The two actors are linked.
They fought many times to the death; actually make that extinction.
Both actors also played Sherlock Holmes because they were good at representing authority although in the case of Lee it was usually dark mastery.
In ‘The Wicker Man’, it was more complicated.
Lee plays Lord Summerisle.
He is master of a Scottish island where the natives have rejected Christianity.
Lee regarded this as his best horror performance.
Lord Summerisle is excessively liberal and indulgent.
The over-heated villagers can be compared to vampires, what Bram Stoker feared would happen without bourgeois restraint.
But Lee is not a vampire villain igniting dark desire.
He is the semi-hippie bystander too easily impressed by people having fun.
Lee understands his marginal role perfectly and his self-effacing performance is a real strength in the movie.
Britt Eckland and Diane Cilento, not Lee, have the sexuality and disdain for morality that will challenge the doomed hero.
And ‘The Wicker Man’ has probably the greatest Van Helsing of them all.
Edward Woodward is the tortured puritanical policeman who knows God will not damn him but that the islanders are having better orgasms.
Van Helsing, of course, is not a policeman.
He is a self-sufficient academic who inspires the loyalty of young men.
Cushing, though, played him like Frankenstein, the truth seeker that alienates the deluded, that is everyone else.
Cushing suits this role.
After the death of his wife, the actor was miserable in old age.
But his presence was always a warning against contentment, as if his misery had always been his destiny.
Lee did play the virtuous leader in ‘The Devil Rides Out’.
But Duc de Richleau is unlike Van Helsing.
The aristocrat is haunted by black magic and realises that the true battle is within the self.
Van Helsing is merely the schoolteacher intent on keeping order in the class.
Perhaps that is why Lee never did play Van Helsing.
He was too complicated and remote. Or maybe it was because he was just too tall.
HOWARD JACKSON has been accused of misogyny in the short story ‘The Porn Star’, which is featured in ‘Dracula’s Midnight Snacks’. Is ‘The Porn Star’ misogynistic or is it simply a story about misogyny? Read ‘The Porn Star’ and the other acclaimed stories in ‘Dracula’s Midnight Snacks’, including ‘Life After Death’ which has been compared to ‘Waiting For Godot’, and decide for yourself. The book are published by Red Rattle Books, which can be followed on Twitter here.
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