Monday, January 30, 2012

Fan-Boy Icon #61: Oliver Reed

I am a little disturbed at how little mention of Oliver Reed I have made on this blog. Reed is one of those mythic figures in my world. An awesome yet untrained actor and drinker or epic proportions. His career ran the gamut of styles from Hammer Horror to action films, period pieces and even a bit of science fiction. Apparently he was considered as a replacement for Sean Connery as James Bond by Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. For unknown reasons Reed did not get the role, which The Guardian Unlimited called "one of the great missed opportunities of post-war British movie history." Also, Reed apparently turned down a role in Steven Spielberg's Jaws, certainly to play mad shark hunter "Quint." While fellow Englishman Robert Shaw was awesome, I would have loved to see Reed play such a mad man.

Now, I have not seen many of Reed's films, but two that certainly define his breadth of skill are The Three Musketeers as the tragic Athos, and the musical Oliver! as ├╝ber-villain Bill Sykes. They have their similarities of course; neither is a man you want to fuck with and they come to be what they are from opposing sides. Athos is a caring man who becomes rather crazed and dangerous after being wronged by a woman, while Sykes is a crazed dangerous man who fights his desire to care for one. Athos plays the games of society well, appearing jovial and serious when needed while Sykes is a mad dog that needs to be put down, though just as this happens he is beginning to become more human. These two roles really define Reed's art for me.

Reed died during the filming of Gladiator in 1999 from a heart attack, supposedly after a night of heavy drinking and arm wrestling sailors. He was well know as a serious alcoholic but it did not seem to effect his performance. Frankly, in Gor (1987) he looks a bit bleary eyed but still delivers like a pro. His late career was less fortunate than his early one, possibly through his association with schlock-meister and Jess Franco conspirator Harry Alan Towers, as well as Ken Russell who was a bit of an outlaw in film circles. Look for him as Vulcan in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, another role that lets him stretch his acting legs. Personally, I am on the lookout for Reed as Billy Bones in the 1990 Treasure Island and Ken Russell's 1971 film The Devils.


Keir said...

One of the greatest moments on British TV; unfortunately edited- he enters with a carafe of orange juice:

Darius Whiteplume said...

Some of those old spots are pretty hard to watch. You have to wonder what is going on with someone who does that to themselves. This clip of him on Letterman from a while back is both funny and tragic.

T. Roger Thomas said...

That Letterman appearance is tough to watch

Darius Whiteplume said...

Very. I did not make it all the way through.

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