THE PLEASENCE MASTERWORKS
He's just the best there is. Everything he does is polished and always very interesting.
---Ernest Borgnine commenting on Donald Pleasence
Below I have given you a baker's dozen of the films and teleplays which I feel possess the finest performances ever given by the late Donald Pleasence -- one the finest and most underrated actors of the twentieth century.
NOTE: This list is presented in chronological order. Keep in mind that this list was compiled
with the performances in mind and not the overall film or teleplay.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTOPHER WEEDMAN
THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1959): Pleasence never commented much on his horror output, but he was vocally proud of his contribution to this underrated retelling of the grizzly Burke and Hare saga. Pleasence is at his psychotic best as the real-life grave robber and murderer William Hare, who, along with his equally crazed partner William Burke (George Rose), feasted on the villagers of 19th-century Edinburgh and sold the bodies to a scientist (Peter Cushing) for research purposes.
THE TWILIGHT ZONE - The Changing of the Guard (1962 TV): In this episode of the groundbreaking television anthology series, Pleasence is unforgettable as Professor Ellis Fowler, an elderly schoolteacher who contemplates suicide when he is discharged after 51 years of service. In excellent aging makeup by William Tuttle, Pleasence takes a stock character and turns in an unforgettable performance which (forgive the cliche) pulls at the viewer's heart-strings.
THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963): This highly popular P.O.W. actioner marked Pleasence's first foray into big-budget Hollywood filmmaking. Pleasence gives a tender and heartfelt performance as Colin Blythe, a mild-mannered forger of documents who slowly finds himself losing his eyesight. While Steve McQueen received all of the attention for his amazing motorcycle stunts, the moving onscreen friendship between Pleasence and James Garner gives the film its true heart.
THE CARETAKER (1964): Pleasence reprised his renown stage performance as the repugnant and vile Davies, a tramp taken in by two mentally unstable brothers (Alan Bates and Robert Shaw), in this superb film version of Harold Pinter's acclaimed play. Pleasence manages to excite both utter disgust and, surprisingly, considerable pathos as a corrupt man who is not afraid to manipulate others to improve his own livelihood. If you are fortunate enough to view this extremely rare film, you are in for quite a filmgoing experience.
CUL-DE-SAC (1966): What do you get when you mix two wounded gangsters, a stunningly beautiful nymphomaniac, and an enigmatic and effeminate hermit who has isolated himself and his wife in a remote castle in Britain? You get this darkly humorous film masterpiece from director Roman Polanski, which showcases Pleasence's greatest film performance. Pleasence is simply brilliant as Francoise Dorleac's kooky husband, who is unable to stand-up to the brute gangsters who take him and his wife hostage in their own home. Highly recommended!
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967): The James Bond fan community is split on Pleasence's performance as 007's scarred, arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld. While some believe that Pleasence is the ultimate Bond villain, others feel he lacked the overpowering masculinity of Blofeld from the Ian Fleming novels. Not to anyone's surprise, I tend to agree with the former. Pleasence is stunning as the cat-loving mastermind, a flamboyant characterization which has been often imitated and satirized (a'la Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers films) but never equaled.
WILL PENNY (1968): Charlton Heston once referred to this film as one of the best he ever made. Boy, was he right! In this story of an aging cowboy (Heston) who finally discovers what he missed by not settling down, Pleasence is completely frightening as the psychotic Preacher Quint, who swears revenge on Heston when he kills a member of his crazed family in a shoot out. Pleasence's no-holds-barred portrayal makes Quint one of his juiciest villains ever.
DEATH LINE (1972): What could possibly be more amusing than this scenario? An irritable and sarcastic police inspector (Pleasence, of course) is sent to investigate a murderous cannibal running amok in the London tube tunnels. Pleasence's quirky performance as Inspector Calhoun adds a welcomed comedic dimension to this rather grizzly and unsettling horror classic from first-time director Gary A. Sherman.
WEDDING IN WHITE (1972): This critically acclaimed Canadian drama, which captured the "Best Picture" nod at the Canadian Film Awards, features Pleasence as the hot-tempered and uncaring father of a naive young girl (Carol Kane) who is raped by her brother's best friend. Pleasence gives a bone chilling performance which suggests, as film critic Vincent Canby stated in his New York Times review, "the existence of evil in the most commonplace of personalities." A performance and a film that is not easily shaken.
THE RAINBOW BOYS (1973): Before he went on to direct the cult animated film Heavy Metal, Canadian animator Gerald Potterton wrote and helmed this low-budget, live-action comedy about three unlikely friends (Pleasence, Kate Reid, and Don Calfa) who form a close bond while searching for a lost gold mine. Pleasence is able to show off his excellent flair for comedy as the eccentric Ralph Logan, the son of the mine's late owner. The scene with Pleasence playing the violin for Calfa is a real gem!
COLUMBO - Any Old Port in a Storm (1973 TV): In an episode that Peter Falk considers amongst the top-five ever produced, Pleasence floats back and forth from child-like glee and unstable hostility as an obsessed wine collector who becomes Lieutenant Columbo's prime suspect when his half-brother is found murdered. The closing scene with Falk and Pleasence toasting their wine glasses is quite touching and memorable.
HALLOWEEN (1978): Pleasence became an overnight horror icon with his performance as Dr. Sam Loomis, the psychiatrist obsessed with eliminating psychotic killer Michael Myers, in this terror classic from director John Carpenter. Even though his scenes are minimal, Pleasence's sympathetic yet slightly sinister performance contributes greatly to the viewer's anticipation of the horrific sights they are about to endure. Pleasence would go on to reprise this memorable role in four Halloween sequels.
THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES (1982 TV): After years of being unfortunately typecast as either a neurotic or a psychotic villain, Pleasence was given the delectable role of the saintly Reverend Septimus Harding in this critically acclaimed 1982 BBC mini-series (based on the novels Barchester Towers and The Warden by Anthony Trollope). Pleasence exudes a great feeling of warmth and gentility as Harding, which reminds us of the excellent sympathetic portrayals that he gave us early in his career. Not to be missed!
Text © 1999 THE MAN WITH THE HYPNOTIC EYE. All Rights Reserved.
Photos courtesy of Tim Murphy, John Ellis, Kent Burton, and Stephen Burns
Photos are the property of their respective owners.
Title and logo designed by Karen Rappaport
[ ARTICLES / INTERVIEWS | HOME ]