May 31, 2013

The Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon : Day Seven

And so we come to Day Seven. I’ll be posting new links today and the Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon will wrap up around midnight.

To start off, if I may — my turn! — let me tell you about Peter Cushing…

I was introduced to Peter Cushing as a pre-teen one fabulous summer day in 1961, at a neighborhood second-run theatre. They were running a triple-bill. Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula and The Mummy. Can you imagine? A crash course in Terence Fisher, Jimmy Sangster, Cushing, Lee and the supremely talented crew at Hammer Films, all in one afternoon. It remains one of the most vivid, magical days of my life.

In my first exposure to Cushing, I saw him as the valorous Van Helsing, the intrepid John Banning wrestling Chris Lee’s relentless Mummy, and the driven, cold-hearted Baron Frankenstein. A few weeks later, they ran The Revenge of Frankenstein, and I was all caught up with Hammer. Soon after, I saw The Curse of the Werewolf, first run, and I would go on to see all the Hammer films, usually on the very day they came out, over the next two decades.

I loved Hammer Films. I loved the busy, wallpapered Victorian sets, stuffed with props and drenched in dark colors. I loved the percussive score that punctuated the inevitable carriage escape by The Baron, or Van Helsing’s race to reach Dracula’s coffin before the sun went down. I loved Frankenstein’s steampunk labs, the whirling Wimshurst generator. I loved how there was always a wheel stuck, a sticky lever or some piece of unreliable equipment bursting into flames. I loved Frankenstein’s dysfunctional creations, the spastic Chris Lee, the big blue Kiwi Kinston, the gorilla-like Dave Prowse and all the others. I loved the Hammer heroines, cleavage and all. I loved Christopher Lee, his magnificent presence as Dracula, as tall and still as the 2001 Monolith, turning animalistic after feeding, face smeared with gore, tears of blood. Most of all, I loved Peter Cushing. That gaunt skull face, those killer cheekbones. Those blue eyes.

As Van Helsing, dressed in baggy tweeds, carrying a doctor’s kit stuffed with holy water, a bible, a mallet and a supply of wooden stakes, Cushing’s blue eyes were soulful. As Baron Frankenstein, trust up in a tight waistcoat, narrow suit, turned up collar, seemingly starched head to foot, Cushing’s blue eyes were as cold as death itself.

Late in his career, Cushing played Grand Moff Tarkin in the first Star Wars film, introducing him to a whole new generation of fans. Perhaps more people have seen him in Star Wars than all his other films combined. I remember watching him up on the big screen. Hammer Films had disintegrated, but I was happy that he was still active, older, yes, but in full control, perfectly cast, a formidable villain with a bird of prey profile.

I often wondered what Cushing’s appeal was, what made him so compelling to watch, what made him so damn cool. I wondered what drove him to be so rigorous, so meticulous in his work.

In real life, by all accounts, Peter Cushing was a gentle soul, a generous sort, perfectly unassuming, and one who very much liked to laugh. When you read up on Peter Cushing, you like him even more. What made him so compassionate, so genuine?

I think I found the answer. Peter Cushing himself told us.

When Cushing wrote letters, when he signed an autograph, he always used the same formula. He would write, “May God’s blessings be with you always…” and then three word, followed by his signature.

Those three important words described his approach to acting, his dedication. Three words that oriented his private life and revealed his true heart. Three words…

In all sincerity”.

At The Cameraman’s Revenge, James Russell offers smart appraisals of Cushing’s two mid-Sixties sorties as Dr. Who.

Did you know that Peter Cushing was originally cast as a co-lead with Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes? And he could have been Dr. Loomis in Halloween, or Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars

Brian Solomon of The Vault of Horror contemplates the last stretch in Cushing’s career, and the missed opportunities in a piece called What Might Have Been.

Join Bryan White at Cinema Suicide as he offers up a video review of That Time Peter Cushing was Doctor Who.

RayRay of WeirdFlix continues to mine the Hammer Frankensteins with Who Wants to Live Forever, his analysis of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), one of the more cerebral entries in the series, and not only in the sense that it’s about a brain transplant!

There's one more review to go from Ray, coming up later this evening.

Joe Thompson of The Pneumatic Rolling-Sphere Carrier Dillusion whips out a calculator and his magnifying glass for a final examination of the Six Degrees of Peter Cushing.

His final computations are titled, And Now the Screaming Stops.

Mike Segretto offers up The Peter Cushing Reader, a compendium of articles devoted to Cushing, his films and TV work previously published on his blog, Psychobabble

From the Frankensteinia Archives, here’s my try at an in-depth article about the making of Frankenstein Created Woman (1967). I called it Who Am I?

Craig Edwards concludes his heroic attempt at cataloguing Peter Cushing’s career through movie posters, some of which have proven damned elusive. The Peter Cushing Poster Gallery, Part 5 is live, on Let’s Get Out of Here! 

Great job all around, Craig!

Zombie Rust, who has been dazzling us all week with his black and white portraits of Cushing in character offers up Dr. Maitland, and a warning… Keep Away From the Skull of Marquis de Sade!

This week, RayRay of WeirdFlix walked us through the Hammer Frankenstein series starring Peter Cushing. Now we come to the end when the Mad Baron, wearing what Cushing called his Helen Hayes wig, undertakes his last experiments, with predictably chaotic results. “This may be his swan song, Ray writes, “but in his final moments on film, he reminds us that he’ll never, ever stop.” 

Ray’s review of Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974) is entitled All Good Things.

Our last Blogathon contribution deals, appropriately, with Peter Cushing’s last film. Biggles, from 1986, was an attempt at revitalizing the classic British pilot hero, with time travel thrown in. 

Peter Cushing’s Last Bow, posted on The Secret Sanctum of Captain Video, features links to a trailer and the whole film, available on YouTube. 

Over the last seven days, I have posted some 80 links from over 30 sources, all discussing and celebrating the exceptional work and the remarkable life of Peter Cushing on this, his 100th Anniversary.

I am amazed by the variety, the originality and the quality of research and writing that I have been privileged to share here. Thank you so much to all the contributors, and thank you to all our visitors — I hope you have all enjoyed the Blogathon as much as I did.

Peter Cushing has been gone now for almost 20 years, but his films are being preserved, his work is widely available and he may very well be as popular today as he ever was. To us, his fans, he remains a vibrant presence in our lives.

I’ll leave the last words of this extraordinary week to Peter Cushing’s colleague and very good friend…
He really was the most gentle and generous of men. I have often said he died because he was too good for this world.
— Christopher Lee, on Peter Cushing.


Court said...

Thank you so much for organizing this blogathon. It was wonderful to read so many heartfelt tributes every day. I can't quite put into words why I love Peter Cushing so much (I didn't even try to blog; I just promoted everyone on Twitter as much as I could!). Reading wonderful, articulate posts like yours has been such a pleasure and a privilege. My only complaint is that the blogathon wasn't longer. :)

Joe Thompson said...

I keep repeating myself, but thank you, Pierre for organizing this blogathon. I have learned a lot from the many and varied postings. I think you made a very good point today about Peter Cushing's appeal: "In all sincerity." Some actors don't seem to believe what they are doing. He was sincere.

Craig Edwards said...

This blogfest has been incredible. So much talent, so much affection. However, your piece today - really crystalized my deep and abiding affection for Peter Cushing and his work - thank you for pinpointing it - it's his sincerity. Thank you for setting this up - we've marked this milestone well, I think.

Caftan Woman said...

Thank you so much for an elucidating and fun time.

RayRay said...

Thanks for hosting the Blogathon and bringing together such diverse and remarkable work. I was truly honored to be able to participate.

wich2 said...

A wonderfully sincere tribute to that sincere man, Pierre.

I would just add that I think that the first seven words of his sign-off mean as much as the final three that you cite...

Their was a spark of The Divine within the man that he shared with us.