Christopher Lee, the courtly British actor who died at age 93 this week, was a prolific performer who made more than 275 movies during a screen career stretching back to the 1940s. And while he played such diverse characters as Sherlock Holmes, Georges Seurat and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Lee will forever be remembered as an expert in evil.
With his imposing 6-foot-4 frame and sonorous voice, Lee brought some of cinema's most memorable villains to life, imbuing them with a unique combination of menace and charm. Here are six to behold.
The Creature in "The Curse of Frankenstein"
Lee was an unknown character actor when he booked the role of Frankenstein's monster in this 1957 movie from horror purveyor Hammer Films. Although he didn't have any lines, Lee managed to evoke surprising pathos via facial expressions and pantomime as the ill-fated creation of an overly ambitious scientist.
An international hit, "Frankenstein" became the first of many Hammer movies for Lee. It also marked his first credited film opposite Peter Cushing (as Victor Frankenstein), who would become a close friend and frequent collaborator.
Count Dracula in "Horror of Dracula"
Following the success of "Frankenstein," Lee took on the role of the notorious Transylvanian bloodsucker a year later (with Cushing playing his archenemy, Abraham Van Helsing). A quarter-century after Bela Lugosi brought Dracula to the screen, the character had taken on an aura of camp, but Lee helped restore the Count to his proper place as a darkly dangerous sex symbol.
Lee would reprise the role, with somewhat diminishing returns, in a string of films including "Dracula: Prince of Darkness" (1966), "Taste the Blood of Dracula" (1970), "Dracula A.D. 1972" (1972) and "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" (1973).
Comte de Rochefort in "The Three Musketeers"
A skilled fencer, Lee guessed that he participated in more sword fights than any other actor in history. Even hampered by an eye patch, he made for a swashbuckling antagonist in 1973's "The Three Musketeers" and 1974's "The Four Musketeers." His Rochefort was so integral that he was resurrected from what seemed like a sure death in the second film for the 1989 threequel "The Return of the Musketeers."
Scaramanga in "The Man With the Golden Gun"
Picture a classic James Bond villain and what comes to mind? An island hideout, probably. Henchmen, certainly. Diabolical schemes, lasers, a cool name. Lee's suave assassin Francisco Scaramanga had all those and more in 1974's "Man With the Golden Gun," which pitted him against Roger Moore's Agent 007.
If the film was admittedly a bit schlocky — Moore doing kung fu, anyone? — Lee was not. Of all the Bond villains over the years, Scaramanga is one of the few who truly seemed like a threat to the super-spy (well, almost).
Incidentally, Lee was a stepcousin of Bond creator Ian Fleming.
Count Dooku in the "Star Wars" prequels
Lee once again dusted off his fencing skills and won over a younger generation of moviegoers as the refined but ruthless Count Dooku — aka Darth Tyranus — in the "Star Wars" prequel films "Attack of the Clones" (2002) and "Revenge of the Sith" (2005). Even as a septuagenarian bad guy, Lee outclassed Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi and Hayden Christensen's Anakin Skywalker in a two-on-one lightsaber duel.
Saruman in "The Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" movies
A longtime J.R.R. Tolkien fan who once met the author in a pub, Lee entertained the notion of playing the noble wizard Gandalf earlier on in his career. By the time Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" films came around in the 2000s, he had to settle for Gandalf's corrupted rival, Saruman. (Ian McKellen, 17 years Lee's junior, played Gandalf.)
Once again, Lee brought an ominous gravitas to his role, while also pulling off flowing white robes, mane and beard. Although his Saruman scenes were cut from the final "Rings" installment, "The Return of the King," he returned for the first and third of Jackson's "The Hobbit" movies.
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