29 September 2012

Herbert Lom (1917 - 2012)

Czech born, British actor Herbert Lom (1917 - 2012) died at 27 September 2012. Lom has always been a reliable and eminently watchable villain in international films. He is best known as commissioner Dreyfus, Inspector Clouseau's long-suffering boss in the Pink Panther film series.

Herbert Lom, Der Schatz im Silbersee
German postcard, no. E 77. Photo: Constantin. Still from Der Schatz im Silbersee/Treasure of Silver Lake (1962, Harald Reinl). In this Winnetou adventure Lom plays the bad colonel Cornel, On the postcard he has found the treasure of the film title in the cave of the Silver Lake. He and his four mates have overpowered the old and blind Indian guard.

Villainous Roles
Herbert Lom was born as Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru in Prague, Austria-Hungary (now Czech Republic) in 1917. He was the son of a genteelly impoverished count, whose title dated from 1601. He studied medicine at university, more at his parent's insistence than any true calling, and his path to a career as a doctor was quashed the moment he set foot inside the dissecting room. His true vocation was acting. While at university, he organised a student's theatre group, both acting in and producing shows. He also worked part-time at the Prague film studios, a job which led to small roles in a few Czech productions. He made his film debut in Zena pod krízem/Woman Under the Cross (1937, Vladimir Slavinsky). According to Robert Sellers in his obituary in The Independent, it urged one critic to write, "A newcomer, Herbert Lom, is no asset to our screens." He made one more film in Czechoslovakia before a rising tide of anti-Jewish feeling following the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 led Lom to flee to Britain. In London he auditioned - in Czech - at the Embassy School of Acting, and he was admitted. There then came an offer to join the company at the Old Vic, but the War had started, and he had another job offer: to join the BBC's Czech and German section, as an announcer. The day after the War ended, Lom became a British citizen. Throughout the 1940’s he made many appearances in British films. He usually played villainous roles, although he later appeared in comedies as well. His good looks, cultured accent and mannerisms, and intense eyes got him cast in such unusual roles as Napoleon Bonaparte in The Young Mr. Pitt (1942, Carol Reed) opposite Robert Donat, and again in War and Peace (1956, King Vidor). His breakthrough role was in the psychological drama The Seventh Veil (1945, Compton Bennett), as Dr. Larsen, the psychiatrist treating neuroses of the pianist portrayed by Ann Todd. In a rare starring role, Lom played murderous twin trapeze artists in Dual Alibi (1946, Alfred Travers). Lom often played highly motivated villains in the 1950's. In Night and the City (1950, Jules Dassin), he brought surprising humanity to the role of a brutal, vengeful gangster. He played roles opposite Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers in The Ladykillers (1955, Alexander Mackendrick), Stanley Baker in the crime drama Hell Drivers (1957, Cy Endfield), and Richard Todd in the thriller Intent to Kill (1958, Jack Cardiff).

Herbert Lom, Der Schatz im Silbersee
German postcard, no. E 78. Photo: Constantin. Still from Der Schatz im Silbersee/Treasure of Silver Lake (1962, Harald Reinl).

Commissioner Charles Dreyfus
Herbert Lom’s career really took off in the 1960’s. He landed supporting parts in El Cid (1961, Anthony Mann) and an especially showy role in Spartacus (1960, Stanley Kubrick) as a pirate chieftain contracted to transport Spartacus' army away from Italy. He also played Captain Nemo in Jules Verne's Mysterious Island (1961, Cy Endfield) featuring the special effects of maestro Ray Harryhausen, and he got the title role in The Phantom of the Opera (1962, Terence Fisher). Another popular hit was the Karl May adventure Der Schatz im Silbersee/Treasure of Silver Lake (1962, Harald Reinl). This was the first film of the Winnetou series starring Pierre Brice. The 1960’s was also the decade in which Lom secured the role for which he will always be remembered: Commissioner Charles Dreyfus of the Paris surété in the Pink Panther films. He started with A Shot in the Dark (1964, Blake Edwards), where his long-suffering bureau chief Dreyfus was literally driven mad by Inspector Clouseau's (Peter Sellers) cheerful ineptitude. The world-wide success of the Pink Panther series (Lom appeared in seven out of the eight made) gave Lom a popular image with cinemagoers everywhere, a firm identity his many diverse other roles failed to provide. Lom played Prof. Abraham Van Helsing opposite Christopher Lee in Nachts, wenn Dracula erwacht/Count Dracula (1970, Jesus Franco) followed by many horror movies for Hammer Films in the 1970’s. Lom played a retired Russian agent opposite Walter Matthau in the comedy Hopscotch (1980, Ronald Neame). A standout role was that of Christopher Walken's sympathetic doctor in The Dead Zone (1983, David Cronenberg). Lom has been taking it easy since then, though he returned to his familiar role of Commissioner Charles Dreyfus in Son of the Pink Panther (1993, Blake Edwards). He has written two historical novels, one on the playwright Christopher Marlowe (Enter a Spy: The Double Life of Christopher Marlowe, 1971) and another on the French Revolution (Dr. Guillotin: The Eccentric Exploits of an Early Scientist, 1992). His final screen appearance was an interview for the TV documentary Chris & Don. A Love Story (2007, Tina Mascara, Guido Santi). Herbert Lom was married three times, a.o. to Dina Schea (1948-1971). He was 95 when he passed away and had three children and seven grandchildren.

Trailer for The Ladykillers (1955). Source: BritishRulingClass (YouTube).

Trailer for The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976, Blake Edwards). Source: THX1968 (YouTube).

Trailer for The Dead Zone (1983). Source: HDtrailerMan (YouTube).

Sources: Robert Sellers (The Independent), Brian Viner (The Independent), Brude Eder (AllMovie), Brian McFarlane (Encyclopedia of British Film), Frankfob2 (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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