Sunday, February 28, 2010

Michael Gough

Michael Gough, 93, is a man everyone has seen, either on film or television. He’s probably one of the most successful character actors out there. His name is in over 171 credits! Now, you’re probably thinking, “Alex, please, he’s just one of those actors you’ve become fixated on.” Sort of true, but then again, I’ve known this actor’s filmography for years and he still amazes me. So let’s get his most famous works out of the way (to prove I’m right about the above statement) and then move to his prolific but little known works. 

For Americans, most people would identify him as Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s trusted butler in the original Batman film franchise. Starting his role in 1989 in Tim Burton’s “Batman” he became the best “Alfred” in my opinion. Michael Caine has nothing on this man. Even after Burton left the franchise, Gough stayed until the dreaded “Batman and Robin.” He would work again with Burton when Burton asked him to play a character in “Sleepy Hollow” (1999), effectively pulling Gough out of a very short retirement. Gough then lent his voice in “Corpse Bride” (2005) and will be seen/heard in “Alice in Wonderland,” coming out next week. I have a feeling Burton likes Gough, too.

Now here’s where else I’ve seen him and come to love his other works. I am a huge fan of Hammer Horror Films, a British film production company that released B-level horror movies that have become classics. After seeing his almost grandfatherly performance as Alfred, it was a shock to see him as a villain! It was like a breath of fresh air to see such class and elegance in a villain. I first watched him in “Horror of Dracula” (1958), as a very young, haughty English aristocrat. I loved watching him act opposite Christopher Lee who played the dreaded Count Dracula. Lee towered over Gough, but Gough’s character never let on that it bothered him. He played another aristocrat villain, a Lord, in “The Phantom of the Opera” (1962) staring Herbert Lom. If you want to see a very trippy version of "Phantom" this is the movie for you! To be fair, it is the farthest from Leroux's story as imaginatively possible. I still liked it but then again I do have odd taste. [I can go on with about 20 other "Phantom" movies, but I'll leave that for another day.]

 Now I was looking up old “Doctor Who” episodes, trying to find downloads or clips on YouTube, when I spied his name in a list of Doctor Who Villains. I’ve been on a Doctor Who spree, watching anything I can get my hands on before I fall asleep at night (practically the only time when I can watch my cult stuff). I love watching the classic shows of the 60s. Gough played the “Toymaker” a villain of the First Doctor (William Hartnell)! I know this is my age showing through, being amazed that he was in the very first seasons of Doctor Who in 1966. Gough then appears in several parts of “Arc of Infinity” with the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) in 1983 as a Timelord, Councilor Hedin. From a frightening looking toy maker to a Timelord, this guy knew how to choose his roles well. 

What I’ve written about is only a very, very small part of his impressive resume. I have never seen a bad performance by this man. I’m a bit amazed he’s not more well-known. I know it is because he is a character actor, always in the background, delivering a good performance, and silently stepping away from the fame of “superstars.” He's shown he could act with the best having many roles with screen legends like Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Johnny Depp, George C. Scott, and many others. 

What's not to like about a guy who has been in films with names like "Satan's Slave," "Horror Hospital," and "The Corpse?" [You can bet I'll be looking for those films now.] 

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