|The Passing of a 70mm Hero - at 91|
Christopher Plummer was a great Shakespearian. He made his mark with his Henry V, hailed as the greatest Shakesperian performance since Olivier. His Hamlet, broadcast live from Elsinore, the most impressive and original location shoot of them all, made an indelible impression on a worldwide audience of millions.
By the mid sixties,
“He bestrode the world like a colossus.”
“Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go.”
So said Robert Shaw, as Claudius to Plummer’s Hamlet.
It certainly did not go unwatched in the first of his 70mm rôles as the mad Roman Emperor Commodus in "The Fall of the Roman Empire". Then came his greatest part, the rôle for which he will forever be remembered, in Todd-AO, no less.
"The Sound of Music" was a true historical landmark, in a number of ways. Helicopter mounted MCS 70 camerawork, aerial cinematography steady as a rock, resulting in the most iconic imagery in the history of cinema. Location shooting was taken to new heights, effectively making Salzburg a character in the picture and creating a formidable tourist industry, into the bargain.
At the very heart of the film, however, was the chemistry between Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews. Only the greatest players in screen acting and singing could pull such a feat off. Here was power, here was magic, here was The Sound of Music.
The public loved it. It marked a decisive parting of the ways between critical and public opinion, as witnessed by the phenomenal box office, $160, 000,000 in sixties money. It was the quintessential box office smash, in spite of the best efforts of the “influential” New Yorker Magazine film critic Pauline Kael, known by some as The Wicked Witch of the West Side. Plummer later ruefully admitted that he had jokingly dubbed the film The Sound of Mucus, by way of disarming the critics. The spell was broken.
For 70mm fans, a terrific performance as The Duke of Wellington was to follow in "Waterloo", released, appropriately in 1970. It is hard to imagine any actor coming close to Plummer in delivering Wellington’s famous reply to:
“By God, sir, I've lost my leg!" with:
"By God, sir, so you have!"
With grace, charm and power, he was to entertain the world in many more memorable and magnificent screen performances, in all the years to come. Notably, he dazzled and shone as Eddie Chapman in "Triple Cross", as Kipling in "The Man Who Would be King", co-starring Michael Caine as in Hamlet, as Horatio, Dr Goines in Terry Gilliam’s "The Twelve Monkeys" and as Dr Parnassus, a haunting Tolstoy in "The Last Station", Prospero in his own production of The Tempest, John Paul Getty in "All the Money in the World", much appreciated by Sir Ridley Scott for rescuing the production at the last moment; and stealing the show as Harlan Thrombey in "Knives Out", just the other year.
“So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.”
In Todd-AO, no less.
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