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 Post subject: Oliver Reed
PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2014 7:30 am 
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Prince Judah
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 Post subject: Re: Oliver Reed
PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2014 7:35 am 
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Prince Judah
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"He made the air move" - this is reportedly written on Oliver Reed's tombstone. It's a perception shared by many of Oliver's friends and relatives. In real life, Oliver Reed was apparently a 'larger-than-life' personality and in some ways more colorful than even many of his screen characters. Much of this reputation was gained through the indulgence of alcohol; there was a recent book published, called "Hellraisers: The Life and inebriated times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole and Oliver Reed." Obviously, the writer felt that these 4 legendary actors were the top representatives of a certain era and a certain breed of men - the boozers, the madmen, the lunatics and, succinctly, the famous over-the-top personalities. At least, this was the case for British cinema; they had their American counterparts (Lee Marvin, Mitchum), but somehow the Brits were more flamboyant, more 'in-your-face' about it.

And, I think Oliver Reed tops them all in this regard; there are so many incredible stories of his excess - of the special rituals of pub crawling and breaking all the records for one night drinking, that it's really no surprise that it all caught up to him when he was only 61 years old (Burton also died at a young age, when he was only 58). The thing is, it was Oliver's standout personality and presence which garnered him his earliest roles - casting agents and directors took notice of his ability on screen before he became a big star, way back in 1960. Oliver's tendency in his own life towards lunacy and wild unpredictability spilled over into his acting; the audience was never sure what crazed thing he would do next in his roles. Even though his uncle was the famous director Carol Reed, there was no nepotism involved - Oliver wanted to make it on his own. He disregarded any possible work on the stage; for him it was strictly about becoming a film star.
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His uncle did give him some advice, such as formal training at RADA and making contacts at the Ritz grill. Oliver wasn't even interested in training; he opined that such teachers were just those that couldn't make it as actors, so why bother with that? The real reason, though, was probably that Oliver wanted paid work quickly. His only training was to attend the cinema quite a bit - that and the pubs, where all of human life was on display. His first step, in 1958, was getting into the film extras union and a bit part in the musical Hello London (a.k.a. London Calling) and an uncredited bit in The Square Peg, an army comedy. Other bit parts barely paid anything and Oliver was mostly destitute (even though his parents were well off). In the next year, his brooding persona was noticed by agent Pat Larthe, who picked him up. His first speaking role was in The League of Gentlemen (60), a one-scene role he won after another young actor couldn't manage the part of a gay chorus boy for director Basil Deardon.
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At this point, Oliver was ready to find a 'normal' job - he was recently married and there just wasn't enough money coming in. Just then, Hammer Films called him back after a recent audition and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. Oliver had received the usual warnings from others to stay away from horror films (same as with sci-fi films) because an actor can get stuck in a rut there, but he wanted to act and that was that. Oliver began his regular work for Hammer in another one-scene tough guy role - as a pimp, no less - in The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll. After this, he got a larger role as an obnoxious & vicious young nobleman in the latest Robin Hood adventure, Sword of Sherwood Forest, which starred Peter Cushing as the Sheriff. Oliver effected this whispery style of speaking that suggested all kinds of menace. In The Bulldog Breed, he did a bit part as a Teddy Boy gang member who fights with a sailor played by Michael Caine, who was also a few years shy of stardom. Oliver also did a bit part in the comedy The Rebel (a.k.a. Call Me Genius), debating art in a cafe. He kept blowing his lines but when he got 'em right - on the 7th take - it impressed all involved.
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His breakthrough role - the lead part - was in Hammer's update of the wolfman legend, The Curse of the Werewolf (61). Oliver projected a wolfish intensity even when not in the monster make-up and then the make-up itself was outstanding, an upgrade over the old Lon Chaney Jr. version. Now, this did not make Oliver a star - it was a horror film and a box office failure (which explains why there was no series of werewolf films from Hammer, like their Dracula and Frankenstein films), but it did assure Oliver getting decent parts in the next few years - at least in Hammer films. These were in The Damned, an unusually bleak sci-fi drama with him as a Teddy Boy again (release of the film was delayed for almost 2 years), as a pirate in The Pirates of Blood River (62), then heroic in Captain Clegg (a.k.a. Night Creatures, with Cushing again), slightly psychotic in Paranoiac (63) and back to costumed drama for The Crimson Blade. None of these were starring roles, all 2nd or 3rd leads, but they showcased his ability to steal scenes or dominate them (Oliver's American counterpart, in some ways, was Jack Nicholson, who labored in such secondary roles in small films all through the sixties, until suddenly becoming a big star at the end of the decade).
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While Oliver was making a living in Hammer horror, the British New Wave of realistic kitchen-sink drama got its start with Albert Finney in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (61). Oliver knew he wanted to be a part of this - working-class roles were a way of defying his own upper class beginnings (his parents were well off). His first try was as a member of a beatnik group in The Party's Over, a take on youth culture, but it ran into censorship problems, its release delayed (like a previous Oliver Reed film) for a couple of years, and then only limited. He had better luck with Michael Winner's The System (64); Winner spotted Oliver's star quality and cast him as a girl-chasing lothario in a tourist town (a.k.a. The Girl-Getters). This shifted Oliver to the next level of his career, but apropos his wild life, this career nearly ended when a hostile pub denizen thrust broken glass into Oliver's face. This bloody injury required many stitches (mostly in the chin area) and Oliver was pretty sure that his career was over.
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But, Ken Russell cast Oliver in a BBC TV film, The Debussy Film (65), as a famed French composer, and this marked another shift for the actor, as critics now took serious notice of him. He took one last role in a Hammer feature, The Brigand Of Kandahar (65), as a kind of farewell to his old career. He was a star now, but not a very big one; he thought his role in The Trap (66), as a fur trapper in the snowy wilderness, would be his biggest one, but it wasn't seen much. He played a thug again in The Shuttered Room, a horror suspense film which seemed to shift him back to his early sixties roles (Oliver also feared that his new scar would typecast him as villains). Michael Winner gave Oliver more good roles in The Jokers and I'll Never Forget What's'isname (both 1967), which showed the actor's comedic talent. At that point, he was also becoming well known across the pond, in the U.S. He finally worked for Carol Reed in the famous musical Oliver! (68), as the sinister Bill Sikes (odd, too, how the film title matched the actor's name). The film was a huge hit worldwide and even won the best picture Oscar. Oliver Reed was now a big name.
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This led to my favorite Oliver Reed role, in The Assassination Bureau (69), an enjoyable steampunk comedy-adventure in which he was perfect as the debonair scoundrel winking at the audience in a series of escapades. He was teamed with Diana Rigg (of the famous Avengers TV show) and Telly Savalas as the main villain, and his dry line delivery with them was priceless. In a way, this was Oliver's amusing version of the James Bond role, as he was rumored to be one of the contenders to replace Sean Connery in the 007 role (in real life, Oliver, at a restaurant, ran into the eventual replacement, George Lazenby, who decked Oliver when he wasn't looking - at times, life is stranger than fiction). He continued to work with Winner and Russell: in the offbeat Hannibal Brooks, in which he was a prisoner-of-war escaping with an elephant, and in the famous Women in Love, a big hit that propelled Oliver to the front ranks of stardom (it's remembered now for the nude wrestling scene with Alan Bates and the first display of frontal male nudity). Arguably, Oliver hit his peak here, just as the seventies were starting, and inevitably there must come the slow decline.
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As with many stars who hit the real big time and were very in demand, Oliver took a number of disposable roles - just for the money - such as the now-forgotten Take a Girl Like You (70). He did reunite with Ken Russell for the controversial The Devils (71), which caused outcries from the religious sector, also encountering censorship problems and bans. He also starred in his first western, The Hunting Party, as an outlaw who kidnaps Candice Bergen; like Sean Connery in Shalako, he seemed out of place in it. Sitting Target (72), inspired by Get Carter, was a violent thriller with him as an escaped convict, emphasizing his intensity as a criminal-type. There was also the sci-fi piece Zero Population Growth or ZPG for short, a ponderous tale of a depressing future, and he was subdued in it. He was in a few forgettable films at this time, expanding to continental roles such as the Italian Revolver (73), but he had at least one great role left in him and that was as Athos in The Three Musketeers (73) and its companion piece, The Four Musketeers (74). These had an all-star cast, including Heston as the scheming Cardinal, but Oliver was credited first, and he was the heart and soul of these films. Also, perhaps no other role suited him better than Athos, the hard-drinking, morose and explosive member of the Musketeers.
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On the downside, among all the numerous offers he was now getting, some of his choices were questionable: Blue Blood (73) was very low budget, with Oliver as a butler using satanic methods; he was paid little and did it, one supposes, because it was a short work schedule. There was a remake of And Then There Were None (74 a.k.a. 10 Little Indians), which was more interesting for the behind-the-scenes battles (meaning, physical fights, not just verbal disagreements). These did nothing for his career and he rejected opportunities to go to America to improve it, content to remain in his beloved homeland (among the parts he turned down were two roles eventually played by Robert Shaw - the first in The Sting and the other in Jaws; these might have really boosted Oliver's career). He worked for Ken Russell again, to great effect, in the musical Tommy (75) and was amusing as the villain in the period comedy adventure Royal Flash. Less amusing was his goofy Indian role in the comedy western The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (76), with fellow hellraiser Lee Marvin. He finally accepted work in American films, doing an American accent, because work in Britain had dried up.

It's a rather strange thing with Oliver in the seventies - he began to lose his youthful slim shape as the decade wore on, and his expanding girth somehow made him less suitable for contemporary roles. For example, he seemed somewhat unsuitable playing modern males in the horror film Burnt Offerings (76) and the thrillers Ransom & The Sell-Out, looking overweight in a suit. But, film him with a beard and in period costumes, as in the Musketeers films and Crossed Swords (77) and he can do no wrong. To this extent, he was similar to Heston, who was also in the latter film, along with several other big stars; it was one of the last truly enjoyable films Oliver was in. Back in a suit as a retiring cop in Tomorrow Never Comes (78) and there's just not much there. He was starting to look rather beefy by the time he took a small role in The Big Sleep remake, for a chance to work with Robert Mitchum. As the '70s came to a close, Oliver was now being seen in either decent small films (The Class of Miss MacMichael, the horror effort The Brood) or truly execrable ones (A Touch of the Sun; Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype). As with most such film careers, time and age wear away the prestige and the gloss.
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___ ABOVE: with Klaus Kinski in VENOM (81); reportedly, the two actors hated each other instantly :comegetsome:

Oliver starred in one more late epic, Lion of the Desert (81), as a general up against resistance fighter Anthony Quinn, before being relegated to supporting roles and TV. The better of these was probably Venom (81), a thriller boasting a big cast (Klaus Kinski, Sarah Miles, Sterling Hayden, Nicol Williamson, Susan George) and a Black Mamba. Oliver played one of the villains; he was also the villain in the super-hero spoof Condorman - it's actually surprising that he didn't play more villains since he was a natural for it. There were villains but the roles got worse - a bad horror film, Spasms (83); the belated sequel to The Sting, in which Oliver, strangely, played the Robert Shaw role; a lame comedy-fantasy, Two of a Kind, in which he played the devil; and a cameo in the erotic Fanny Hill. There was a mini-series for Italian TV, Christopher Columbus (1985). And, there was a chance to return to the glory days of big roles, in Castaway (86), in which he was a big-bellied Falstaff-type - much like himself - who purposely strands himself on a deserted island with a younger woman (14 years later, Tom Hanks would star in Cast Away, but without a female companion). The Castaway role should have revitalized his career, but Oliver sabotaged himself by appearing intoxicated on talk shows, sending the message that he was unemployable.
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Oliver was forced to accept low budget film roles in South Africa; this was the time of apartheid and only desperate actors would take such a route - but that's what Oliver was at this point, to pay the bills: these were the period adventures Dragonard (87) and its sequel, Master of Dragonard Hill (filmed at the same time), as well as Rage to Kill (88) and The Revenger (89). There was also Gor (87), a sci-fi fantasy based on the famous series of books by John Norman, and Skeleton Coast (88). One bright spot here was Oliver's role as the god Vulcan in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (88); Gilliam was a fan and believed that Oliver's talent was being wasted. Oliver brought a lot of humor to his role. The other promising film was the sequel The Return of the Musketeers (89). Oliver was, obviously, a much older Athos now, as were the returning cast (most returned to reprise their roles) and much of the magic was gone, not helped by a rushed schedule and the death of actor Roy Kinnear during filming. The film was released theatrically in Europe but only on cable TV in the USA.

Oliver now leaned towards classy TV films: besides The Lady and the Highwayman (89), he was offered the part of Billy Bones in the now-very respected TV version of Treasure Island (1990). This marked the 4th film that Oliver did with Charlton Heston, yet in all 4 films, the two great actors had no scenes together! Oliver then appeared in Prisoner of Honor (91) as (again) a general; this was the last time he worked with Ken Russell. Overall, though, Oliver's career in the nineties was in trouble; besides TV, only offers for low budget action pictures came in and these didn't pay much - stuff like Blind Justice and Hired to Kill (both 1990), and then even those stopped. He finally got one interesting offer, to be in the sequel to the great TV mini-series Lonesome Dove, titled appropriately Return to Lonesome Dove (93). Oliver was still regarded as a high risk, but he was brought in at the last minute to replace Nicol Williamson, who had to pull out. Oliver came through as a cattle baron in this 3-part mini-series, acting opposite a then-very young Reese Witherspoon as his wife (reflecting Oliver's real life situation).
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However, the rest of the nineties were desolate as far as his career; there were a few small films that were barely seen - Superbrain and Russian Roulette Moscow 95 (both 1995), then The Bruce (1996, like a sequel to Braveheart) - and otherwise almost nothing. Most people probably forgot about Oliver Reed the film star. He did a bit part for his buddy Michael Winner when director Ridley Scott asked Oliver to audition for a part in his next film. Oliver was annoyed, having last auditioned for anything back in the early sixties, but complied. He won the role of Proximo in Gladiator (2000) because it required an older Brit actor who plausibly used to be a gladiator. This was a huge big-budget production and would have been Oliver's comeback but, as we now know, he died a week before finishing the role - dying as he lived, arm-wrestling in a pub. Some changes to his character's story arc, the use of a double and a bit of CGI tinkering was required to complete the role but it worked out well for the film - it went on to win the best picture Oscar. Oliver was nominated for a BAFTA. He didn't see these results but he went out swinging and on the rebound. The film was dedicated to him.
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 Post subject: Re: Oliver Reed
PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2014 7:48 am 
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Prince Judah
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The following excerpt is from the biography by Robert Sellers, What Fresh Lunacy is This? Image (the title is a line spoken by Oliver Reed's character in the film The Devils). This portion is about Fraser Heston's experience with Oliver Reed during the filming of Treasure Island (1990):

One interesting offer was the chance to play Captain Billy Bones in an American TV movie of Treasure Island starring Charlton Heston as Long John Silver and directed by his son Fraser . A long-time fan of Oliver, Fraser was delighted when he accepted the job. ‘I had always felt that he was an immensely talented and versatile actor, and he was perfect casting for Billy Bones . He was born to play that kind of period stuff, whether it was Bill Sikes or Athos or Billy Bones: he had that kind of quality. He didn’t have to do anything, he just had to look you in the eye and you’d believe that he could skewer you into the wall with his cutlass. He had that kind of truth about him.’

Fraser approached this new adaptation of the classic tale with the idea of making it gritty and realistic; he didn’t want to do a jolly Disney pirate film. His first meeting with Oliver took place in the large restaurant at Pinewood, which has a separate little bar, ‘and, of course, Oliver knows everybody in the world and people kept dragging him off into the bar, and he’d come back with another gin and tonic under his belt’. Later that day Fraser had arranged for Ollie to have a little time to rehearse his big sword fight in the Admiral Benbow inn. ‘But by the time we finished lunch he was about three sheets to the wind, to use a nautical expression. So we arrived at the rehearsal studio and Peter Diamond, our sword master, was standing there with a fistful of rapiers in his hand and went pale as he saw Ollie stagger in. He looked at me and I looked at him and I said, “Ollie, you know, I think you are actually so experienced at sword fights that you can just watch the lads do it today and see how they get on,” and he said, “Oh yes, bloody good idea.” Fortunately I averted that disaster.’

Then another thought popped into Fraser’s head. ‘I was completely screwed because, oh my gosh, this poor guy really has a drinking problem and it’s too late to replace him: we start shooting in three days.’ So he went to his producer, Peter Snell, who listened to his concerns and then replied , ‘You know, Fraser, I’ve been in this business a long time , and I’ve seen a lot of problems like this come up from time to time, and in this case I would say that you’re actually right, you’re completely screwed.’ As it happened, three days later Oliver showed up on location in Cornwall on time and sober. ‘I never had a problem with him,’ confirms Fraser. ‘He would have one or two beers at lunch and take a little nap and then get on with the day. We learned to really respect Ollie. It was sort of like directing a slightly grumpy and very talented grizzly bear. He was a little prickly at first but I’m kind of a stubborn son of a ***** myself and hung in there with him, and he respected that and we got to have quite a good working relationship, we developed a rapport, and I think he gave us a magnificent performance.’

Ollie dominates the opening of the film, revealing to Jim Hawkins, played by a young Christian Bale, the location of the treasure map before perishing. There’s also a wonderfully menacing scene with Christopher Lee as Blind Pew. For one shot Fraser wanted Ollie looking out to sea and found the perfect spot: it was quite safe but near the edge of a crag some one thousand feet above the rocks. It was decided to wire Ollie into a climbing harness, worn under his costume. It was then that Fraser discovered his star’s phobia of heights. ‘I got Peter Diamond to come and help me rig the harness, and Ollie seemed a little nervous. We were about ten yards from the edge of the cliff and the more we started fiddling with the wire and the shackles the more fidgety he got and pretty soon it turned into a wrestling match, with Peter and I rolling around with him on the ground. And the closer we got to the edge of the cliff the crazier it became until finally I yelled, “Wait a second. We don’t have to do this, guys. There’s another way.” It was clear by then that Ollie was not comfortable, even with a harness.’ A double was used instead.


Sellers, Robert (2013-06-13). What Fresh Lunacy is This?: The Authorised Biography of Oliver Reed (pp. 421-422). Constable. Kindle Edition.


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