Saturday, March 19, 2011

Goodbye to Michael Gough, Bizarro-Worthy Character-Acting God

The Bizarro Freak flag flies at half-mast in honor of actor Michael Gough, who passed away at age 94 on St. Patrick's Day.

Gough's most high-profile role was that of Alfred the butler, Bruce Wayne's avuncular and paternal Man Friday, in the 1990's Batman movies. And with all due respect to Michael Caine, Gough captured that character's combination of old-school English elegance and mischief more artfully than anyone. Even when Joel Schumacher reduced the franchise to a jackhammer-paced, stunt-casted, empty-headed series of eyesores, the venerable actor always classed up the joint (or, more appropriately, the Batcave). Gough also lent solid supporting work in some truly great films over the years, including Out of Africa and the affecting British drama, The Dresser.

But for Ye Olde's money, Gough's finest moments onscreen were in the many horror films he graced from the 1950's through the 1970's. For a good couple of decades, he rivalled the great Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as a presence in British thrillers, playing villains with welcome versatility. He could chew the scenery with over-the-top Vincent-Price-ian relish one minute; then deliver characters of icy-cold, quietly terrifying malevolence the next. Farewell, dear Mr. Gough: You knew how to chill the world to the bone.

Officially-Bizarro-Worthy Michael Gough:

Horror of Dracula (1958): Gough's solid work in this classic Hammer chiller makes the throwaway character of Arthur Holmwood, skeptical sibling of vampire-bait Mina Holmwood, believeable and sympathetic.

Horrors of the Black Museum (1959): Gough, in sublime form, plays a mystery writer prone to re-enacting some of his most gruesome written murders for reals in this deliciously nasty British shocker.

Konga (1961): Sleazy villains don't come any more heartless and cut-throat than Gough's mutant-gorilla-wrangling Dr. Decker in this ridiculous (and extremely entertaining) Herman Cohen B-flick.

Phantom of the Opera (1962): I've always been fond of Hammer's unfairly-ignored redux of the old Gaston LeRoux chestnut (go here for a more detailed assessment of the movie), in no small part due to Michael Gough's perfectly-realized and thoroughly chilling Ambrose D'Arcy, an impressario who robs artists, crushes careers, and attempts murder with disdainful and disarming ease.

Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965): In one of the greatest anthology horror movies ever, Gough plays a tortured artist driven to suicide by the cutting derision of (and accidental mutilation by) art critic Christopher Lee. It's an affecting performance perfectly in keeping with the film's pulp-horror nightmare archetypes.

Horror Hospital (1973): In one of the most absurd and trashy exploitation movies of the Bell-Bottom Era, Gough sinks his teeth--ravenously--into the role of Dr. Christian Storm, a thoroughly nutty medico fond of hacking up victims, in the name of crazed mind-control experiments. Bonus points for the sedan with the attached head-lopping blade.

Sleepy Hollow (1999): Tim Burton earned major Bizarro props for reviving Michael Gough's career when he hired the actor to play Alfred in the 1989 Batman. Burton also utilized Gough's distinctive voice as the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland, and as Elder Gutknecht in Corpse Bride. Sleepy Hollow marks one of Gough's last onscreen appearances, and in his brief moment on camera he plays grizzled Notary Hardenbrook with pitch-perfect geezerly crustiness.

No comments:

Post a Comment