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Donald Pleasence - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

November 2007

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Today mostly remembered for his roles as James Bond-villain Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1967, Lewis Gilbert) and as Doctor Sam Loomis in the Halloween-series, Donald Pleasence was actually nothing short of a great actor, and on stage he played in many an acknowledged classic with many of the greatest actors of his time, in particular Laurence Olivier, who was his acting idol. Yet on film and television he was most often reduced doing character roles in formulaic genre movies that did no justice to his talent (with of course a few notable exceptions). Still, his filmography spans more than 200 credits on both the big and the small screen, and Pleansence would always turn in an impressive performance in one way or another (even though he would on occasion just ham it up), and at times he would even save a movie by his sheer presence.

 


 

Early Life, Early Career

 

Donald Pleasence was born the younger of two brothers in 1919 in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England, but his family later moved to the industrial town of Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire, England, where he was mainly brought up. His head set on becoming an actor at a relatively early age, he quit school one year prior to his graduation and applied for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He was even accepted but had to give up on it when he failed to get a scholoarship to cover tuition and living expenses.

 

Pleasence, the son of a railroad stationmaster, then became a railroad station manager for the next few years. However, he hadn't given up on acting yet, and eventually he somehow got the job os assistant stage manager at the Playhouse on Jersey, one of the Channel Islands.

From here on it was only a small step to an actual acting job, and eventually, he debuted at the Playhouse in 1939, in a stage version of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, which won him some acclaim. Pleasence continued stage acting over the next few years, and finally he made it to London in 1942, playing Shakespeare. It seemed as if Donald Pleasence was a made man - when desaster struck in the form of World War II, which at that time started to hit England really hard.

 

At first, pacifist Pleasence refused to serve in the army and as a conscientious objector was sent to work in lumbering to help the British war efforts. Six months in lumbering changed Donald Pleasence's mind, and he enlisted in the RAF (Royal Air Force) to serve his country. Bad luck however struck again in 1944, when his plane was shot down over France and he was taken to a German prisoner-of-war camp, Stalag 1 in Pomerania, where he spent the rest of the war, subjected to mental and physical torture by his German captors. It is said that during that time he wrote and produced several stageplays to entertain his fellow prisoners.

Eventually, Pleasence was freed by the Russians in 1945, and after the war he was quickly discharged from the army with the rank of flight lieutenant.

 

Pleasence pretty much immediately returned to the stage, as he thought this the best way to recover from his traumatic experiences during wartime. Given Pleasence's natural acting talent, it was not difficult for him to find roles over the next few years, and his star was soon on the rise again. Soon enough, he played in the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Company, plus he journeyed to New York alongside Laurence Olivier (his idol) and Vivien Leigh for a couple of plays in 1951.

Over the years, Pleasence' career gained enough momentum that he even started to produce his own plays and quite successfully so, but about the mid-1950's, he turned to television and motion pictures, allegedly because he couldn't get any more good roles ...

 


 

TV- and Movie-Actor in Great Britain: The 1950's

 

Donald Pleasence' first TV-appearance dates back to 1952, in Arrow to the Heart (Rudolph Cartier), an episode of BBC's Sunday Night Theatre based on a play by German pastor/writer Albrecht Goes - the show is above all else remarkable though because it was the first work of writer Nigel Kneale (of later Quatermass-fame) for the BBC. Since back in the early 1950's, TV-dramas were still broadcast live, stage actors like Pleasence, who could memorize their lines and were experienced in performing live, were in high demand ...

 

In 1954, Donald Pleasence made his big screen debut, The Beachcomber (Muriel Box), a film based on a story by W.Somerset Maugham starring Glynnis Johns and Robert Newton. Pleasence however did fail to leave a lasting impression in this film since his role was on one hand too small, on the other hand he played a (darkened up) native (!) ...

Plesence had another small role in the movie Orders are Orders (1954, David Panltenghi), but during the mid-1950's his future was more with television than with feature films, as he appeared in several more BBC-productiosn, including some more episodes of Sunday Night Theatre, and he got the recurring role of Prince John on the ITV-series The Adventures of Robin Hood (1956 - 1958), whom he played as a mentally unstable wannabe monarch. His most memorable role during this time though might have been his appearance in the Sunday Night Theatre-episode 1984 (1954, Rudolph Cartier), based on the famous science fiction novel by George Orwell, scripted by Nigel Kneale and starring a (relatively) young Peter Cushing (in fact he was already 41, but his career was just taking off then). The show was a tremendous success and succeeded in making a household name of Peter Cushing, yet strangely enough, when Michael Anderson adapted the novel for the big screen two years later and no doubt tried to cash in on the TV-show's success, he asked Donald Pleasence back but not Peter Cushing (his role was taken over by Edmond O'Brien), but he gave Pleasence another, less fitting role ...

 


In the latter half of the 1950's, Pleasence' big screen career finally did take off, but the films he was in were hardly special and he was quite often just hired to add a little colour to the otherwise monotonous proceedings in a supporting role. Still, his many film and TV-appearances during the era soon earned him the nickname The Man with the Hypnotic Eye, thanks to his gazing stare and his always charged expression.

Pleasence' films from the second half of the 1950's were the romantic comedy Value for Money (1955, Ken Annakin), the war drama The Black Tent (1956, Brian Desmond Hurst), the Ealing-production The Man in the Sky/Test Pilot (1957, Charles Crichton), Manuela (1957, Guy Hamilton) starring Trevor Howard, Elsa Martinelli and Pedro Armendáriz, the Ealing-comedy Barnacle Bill (1957, Charles Frend) starring Alec Guiness, Look Back in Anger (1958, Tony Richardson) starring Richard Burton and Claire Bloom, the Charles Dickens-adaptation A Tale of Two Cities (1958, Ralph Thomas) starring Dirk Bogarde, the India-set World War II romance The Wind Cannot Read (1958, Ralph Thomas), again starring Dirk Bogarde plus Japanese Yoko Tani, the crime thriller The Man Inside (1958, John Gilling) starring Jack Palance and Anita Ekberg, the film noir The Shakedown (1959, John Lemont) starring Terence Morgan and Hazel Court, the World War II espionage drama The Two-Headed Spy (1958, André de Toth), Richard Thorpe's Killers of Kilimanjaro (1959) starring Robert Taylor, and the Peter Sellers-comedy The Battle of the Sexes (1959, Charles Circhton) which also stars Robert Morley, Constance Cummings and Ernest Thesiger.

 


 

Rise to International Stardom: The Early 1960's

 

The 1960's proved to be an especially successful decade for Donald Pleasence, who was still waiting for his ultimate breakthrough: In Great Britain he quickly became a household name in 1960 when he hosted the series Armchair Mystery Theatre, a spin-off of the popular ITV-series Armchair Theatre (in which he had made infrequent guest appearances from 1957 onwards).

 

More importantly though for Pleasence' international career was his move back to stage, where he took a role in Harold Pinter's play The Caretaker alongside Robert Shaw and Alan Bates at London's Arts Theatre Club ... and the play became an instant success and ran for 14 consecutive weeks. In fact the play was so successful that it then moved to New York's Broadway (including its original cast) where it had a run of 165 performances. Eventually, the play was also made into a film, The Caretaker/The Guest in 1963 by Clive Donner, featuring its original cast, but the film did not match the success of the play - not that it mattered all that much to Donald Pleasence because at that time his career was already going places ...

 



From 1960 onwards, Donald Pleasence would become a regular in British horror films, a genre that, mainly thanks to the success of the Hammer-films, was booming at the time:

  • The Flesh and the Fiends (1960, John Gilling) was a shocker based on the true life exploits of graverobbers Burke and Hare in 19th century Great Britain, with Pleasence playing Hare to George Rose's Burke and Peter Cushing's Doctor Knox, the man the graverobbers used to deliver their corpses to.
  • Circus of Horrors (1960, Sidney Hayers) is one of these wonderful British shockers with wonderfully absurd plots: Here a plastic surgeon (Anton Diffring) takes over a circus and operates disfigured criminals and prostitutes to make them stars in his circus - but when they want out, he has them die (circus-related) deaths ...

  • The British/French co-production The Hands of Orlac (1960, Edmond T.Gréville) stars Mel Ferrer as a pianist who after an accident loses his hands and instead is transplanted those of a murderer ... and suddenly it seems he has become a murderer himself - or has he ? Christopher Lee is in this one as well. As in Circus of Horrors, Pleasence' role is rather small and of minor importance in this one though.
  • What a Carve Up! (1961, Pat Jackson) is an ok but not really memorable horror spoof starring Kenneth Connor, Sid James, Shirley Eaton, Dennis Price and Michael Gough that above all else illustrates how much of a horror mainstay Donald Pleasence has become by this time.
  • And then there was of course Doctor Crippen (1962, Robert Lynn) which has Pleasence in a rare lead as the seemingly mild-mannered doctor who has actually poisoned his wife (Coral Browne) to then (unsuccessfully) escape to the USA with his secretary and mistress (Samantha Eggar).




Sure, during the early 1960's, Donald Pleasence had also roles in non-horror films, like the Hammer crime thriller Hell is a City (1960, Val Guest) or the D.H.Lawrence adaptation Sons and Lovers (1960, Jack Cardiff) starring Trevor Howard and Dean Stockwell - but besides his theatrical success with The Caretaker it must have been predominately his horror films that got him his first parts in US-television shows - particularly anthology shows like One Step Beyond (1961), Twilight Zone (1962) and The Outer Limits (1963), that were proof of US-television's newfound fascintation with the fantastic.

 



Of special interest might also be another film during that time, John Sturges' classic POW-movie The Great Escape (1963), in which he is part of an ensemble cast headed by Steve McQueen and featuring James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson and James Coburn who are all playing prisoners of war in a German POW-camp, Stalag Luft 3, during World War II - which is especially interesting since as mentioned above Pleasence really was a German prisoner of war (in Stalag Luft 1 though). According to some rumours, Pleasence was also given the function of technical advisor on the film, since he was the only one in the cast and crew who was actually a POW during that time, but according to other rumours, his advice was constantly ignored - which above all else would prove that too much realism isn't always good for a movie (even though the film was based on a true story).

As mentioned above, the film is about a group of prisoners of war planning a daring break-out (hence the title). Among them is Pleasence, who is actually blind as a mole, because of which the others ultimately decide to leave him behind - which of course gives his role much more depth than that of lead Steve McQueen ...

By the way, in 1988, the film received a made-for-TV sequel/remake, The Great Escape II: The Untold Story (Jud Taylor, Paul Wendkos), this time starring Christopher Reeve. Of the original cast, only Donald Pleasence returns for the sequel, but this time he seems to have switched sides and now plays a member of the SS.

 



As mentioned above, it is at least rumoured that director John Sturges by and large ignored Donald Pleasence technical advice on The Great Escape. This however did not hurt Pleasence respect for Sturges, and the two would work together again on The Hallelujah Trail (1965), a light-hearted Western comedy starring Burt Lancaster and Lee Remick about a wagon train transporting barrels over barrels of Whiskey being pursued by both the Temperance League and a tribe of native Americans. Add to that some local miners and the US-cavalry and you pretty much know what you're in for.

 

In between the Sturges-films, Donald Pleasence also made an appearance in the all-star Bible-adaptation The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965, George Stevens) which features Max Von Sydow as Jesus and Pleasence as a hermit who turns out to be Satan, plus Carroll Baker, Pat Boone, Victor Buono, José Ferrer, Van Heflin, Martin Landau, Angela Lansbury, Roddy McDowall, Sal Mineo, Sidney Poitier, John Wayne, Shelley Winters, plus Charlton Heston as John the Baptist, Claude Rains as King Herod and Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate.

 


 

Making Classics: The Late 1960's

 


The period from circa 1966 to roughly 1970 would prove to be the probably most prosperous in Donald Pleasence' career as he played in a string of films that were either masterpieces, box office successes or forgotten gems (or a comdination of the above, actually) - beginning with what was probably the best film he ever made and the best role (in a film) he ever got: Roman Polanski's Cul-de-Sac (1966), in which he plays a miserable little man (and big coward) living in a castle on a coastal landstrip that turns into an island during tide with his wife (Francoise Dorléac), and whose life gets totally messed up by a gangster (Lionel Stander) who wants to use the castle as hideout. At the end of the film, Pleasence' character goes totally bonkers, and it's no small feat to play the character not as a one-dimensional caricature but a multi-layered persona. Add to that a great ensemble cast, a great script and director Roman Polanski at the height of his game and you've got one great film, and probably the Donald Pleasence film to watch ...

 



Richard Fleischer's Fantastic Voyage (1966), a film about a miniaturized submarine injected into a dieing man's body to do a bit of internal surgery, is of course nowhere near as intelligent nor as artistic as Cul-de-Sac, yet despite the silliness of its plot it's a very likeable piece of science fiction - and not just because it stars Raquel Welch. Since the film was produced in the mid 1960's, it had of course also a Cold War/espionage set-up, and consequently Donald Pleasence ultimately turns out to be a foreign agent here to sabotage the whole operation, but is himself  ultimately killed by a white corpuscle, which is giant in size compared to his miniaturized self.

 


One of Pleasence' best-remembered roles however must be that of James Bond-nemesis Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1967, Lewis Gilbert), a film of the classic period of the series starring Sean Connery (who else ?) in the lead, plus Mie Hama and Karin Dor [Karin Dor bio - click here] as Bond-girls.

Pleasence was not the first actor to play Blofeld though (neither would he be the last), the character was played in the previous James Bond-films From Russia with Love (1963, Terence Young) and Thunderball (1965, Terence Young) by Anthony Dawson, but in neither of these films his face was shown and he was actually voiced by Eric Pohlman - so with some legitimacy it can be argued that it was Pleasence who finally gave Blofeld a face ... and he did so with a gusto, just as if he, who in private life was a rather jovial man, was born to be bad - and following You Only Live Twice, he could be seen primarily in bad guy roles (at least in his more memorable films) for more than a decade, when another film changed all that, but more about that later ...

 


One also must not forget Mister Freedom (1969), a French movie by American avantgarde director William Klein about an US American superhero (John Abbey as Mr. Freedom) who invades and ultimately blows up France simply to import and install his perverted version of freedom. Donald Pleasence plays Mr.Freedom's boss in this political satire that to this day is unfortunately totally underappreciated despite its striking parallels to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 orchestrated by George W.Bush and his cronies ...

 



Besides making all of these classics though, Donald Pleasence hasn't exactly been idle, he has also been in the horror films Eye of the Devil (1966, J.Lee Thompson) starring Deborah Kerr and David Niven plus Sharon Tate, David Hemmings and John Le Mesurier of all people, and the obscure Creature of Comfort (1968, Graham Driscoll), the World War II dramas The Night of the Generals (1967, Anatole Litvak) starring Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif, and The Diary of Anne Frank (1967, Alex Segal) with Diana Davila in the title role and Max Von Sydow and Lilli Palmer, the Italian sci-fi-espionage spoof Matchless (1967, Alberto Lattuada), the Western Will Penny (1968, Tom Gries) starring Charlton Heston with Lee Majors, Bruce Dern, Ben Johnson and Slim Pickens, and he period drama The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969, Bryan Forbes) starring Katherine Hepburn, Paul Henreid, Oskar Homolka, Yul Brynner, Richard Chamberlain and Danny Kaye in a small role, plus The Other People (1968, David Hart) and Arthur! Arthur! (1969, Samuel Gallu), in which Pleasence plays the title role, a total everyman for a change, besides Shelley Winters and Terry-Thomas. And besides all of this, Pleasence made a few appearances on TV as well ...

 


 

The 1970's

 





Flix.com

As exciting as his films were in the latter part of the 1960's, the 1970's would offer considerably less interesting jobs - not that Donald Pleasence wasn't high in demand, quite the contrary (he made approximately 50 motion pictures plus some television during the decade), just his films weren't all that great - and many of them were actually horror films of the B-variety ...

Some of the better/more interesting were:



  • The postmodern, revisionist Western Soldier Blue (1970, Ralph Nelson) starring Candice Bergen and Peter Strauss, a film framed by two rather violent and well-staged massacres. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is mainly Bergen and Strauss walking and talking, trying to deliver a feminist message by using one cliché after the next, and only Donald Pleasence (as a crooked trader) manages to give the film some much-needed colour.
  • THX 1138 (1971), the somewhat overrated first feature by the definitely overrated George Lucas is pretty much a lifeless version of George Orwell's 1984 in 1970's design with lots of bald heads. Robert Duvall stars.
  • In the Australian thriller Wake in Fright/Outback (1971, Ted Kotcheff) Donald Pleasence plays the friend-turned-nemesis of a cultured British teacher who through some misfortune is relocated to a small town in the Australian outback - and before long violence ensues.
  • The period adventure film Kidnapped (1971, Delbert Mann) is based on two books by Robert Louis Stevenson (Kidnapped and David Balfour) and stars Michael Caine.
  • In the weird horror thriller Death Line/Raw Meat (1972, Gary Sherman) Donald Pleasence leads the cast playing a police inspector investigating a series of cannibalistic murders and ultimately detecting a tribe of cannibals living in the London subway system - and he's at his amusing best in this one. Christopher Lee has a small role in this one too.
  • The period drama Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972, Waris Hussein) has Pleasence playing Thomas Cromwell, chief minister, to Keith Mitchell's Henry VIII.Charlotte Rampling co-stars. The film by the way is not based on William Shakespeare's famous play.
  • The Pied Piper (1972, Jacques Demy) is the (not always successful) attempt to make a political satire and a children's movie at the same time out of the tale of the Brothers Grimm. Donovan stars as the title character, plus Diana Dors, John Hurt and Roy Kinnear.
  • Innocent Bystanders (1972, Peter Collinson) is a James Bond-imitation that is interesting mainly for the fact that for the first time, Donald Pleasence plays a character called Loomis, a name that would stick with him from the Halloween-series onwards. By the way, the film stars Stanley Baker in the lead and Geraldine Chaplin.
  • From Beyond the Grave (1973, Kevin Connor) was one of production company Amicus' last omnibus movies, a fine little horror anthology movie based on stories by R.Chetwynd-Hayes hosted by Peter Cushing and with Diana Dors and Pleasence' own daughter Angela Pleasence co-starring in his segment.
  • Pleasence also had a role in Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde (1973, David Winters), the ill-adviced musical version of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic horror tale. This one, a TV-movie, stars Kirk Douglas in the lead plus Susan George and Michael Redgrave.
  • In another TV-production Any Old Port in a Storm (1973, Leo Penn), Donald Pleasence plays the villain to Peter Falk's Columbo. Cult horror director Larry Cohen wrote the story for that one by the way [Larry Cohen bio - click here].
  • Interestingly enough, Pleasence also had a role in an episode (Murder is a Parlor Game [1979]) of the ill-adviced and short-lived series Mrs.Columbo, in which Kate Mulgrew plays the often-mentioned wife of the unconventional inspector who, wouldn't you know it, solves crimes in her spare time.
  • Tales that Witness Madness (1973) is yet another horror anthology directed by Freddie Francis [Freddie Francis bio - click here], who had made quite a few of those before this one - but this is not one of his better ones. Suzy Kendall, Kim Novak, Joan Collins and Mary Tamm are all also in this one.

  • Flix.com

  • For Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974, Bruce Beresford) Donald Pleasence travelled once more to Australia to play a villain spoofing his role in the James Bond-film You Only Live Twice. The whole movie is actually a giant spoof of pretty much everything dreamed up by popular Australian comedian Barry Humphries, who (among other roles) also plays his most famous character Edna Average in this one. Barry McKenzie by the way is played by Barry Crocker.
  • The espionage/kidnapping thriller The Black Windmill (1974) is one of legendary director Don Siegel's lesser films, the story of a British agent (Michael Caine) turning rogue to free his son from kidnappers. Donald Pleasence plays Caine's boss, who even turns against him in the course of the proceedings.
  • Altrimenti ci Arrabbiamo/Watch Out, We're Mad (1974, Marcello Fondato) is actually a Bud Spencer/Terence Hill comedy, and the film, in which they play stunt drivers, is pretty much tailored to their demands. Still, Pleasence turns in a funny performance as psychiatrist.
  • La Loba y la Paloma/House of the Damned/The Wolf and the Dove (1974, Gonzalo Suárez) is a rather obscure Spanish thriller with Donald as the main villain, an escaped convict looking for a treasure in an old mansion and terrorizing the family living there.


  • Flix.com

  • In The Mutations/The Freakmaker (1974, Jack Cardiff), Donald Pleasence can be seen as a mad scientist who tries to cross humans with plants, assisted by Tom Baker [Tom Baker bio - click here], and heading a cast that also includes Brad Harris [Brad Harris bio - click here], Julie Ege and Michael Dunn. Now granted, the story doesn't sound like much, but the cast leaves little to be desired ...
  • I Don't Want to be Born/The Monster (1975, Peter Sasdy) is a British shocker starring Joan Collins, Ralph Bates and Caroline Munro [Caroline Munro bio - click here] with more than a few parallels to It's Alive (1974, Larry Cohen [Larry Cohen bio - click here]),  The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin) and Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968) - however, considering pure quality, this film doesn't even come close ...
  • The Count of Monte-Cristo (1975, David Greene) is a British-Italian made-for-TV-adaptation of the popular novel by Alexandre Dumas sr starring Richard Chamberlain in the  lead, Tony Curtis, Trevor Howard and Louis Jourdan - who played the lead in the Italian 1961 adaptation Le Comte de Monte Cristo/The Count of Monte Cristo (Claude Autant-Lara).

  • Escape to Witch Mountain (1975, John Hough) is a Walt Disney Production, meaning a family (read kiddie) feature about two kids (Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann) who have supernatural powers, and are thus chased by a scheming millionaire (Ray Milland). Eddie Albert is also in the cast.
  • Journey into Fear (1975, Dniel Mann) is a thriller based on the popular novel by Eric Ambler (which has previously been filmed in 1943 by Norman Foster starring Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles and Dolores Del Rio, and in 1956 as an episode of the TV-series Climax by Jack Smight). This one stars Sam Waterston, Zero Mostel, Yvette Mimieux, Shelley Winters, Vincent Price and Jackie Cooper, popular child-star of the 1930's.
  • Hearts of the West (1975, Howard Zieff) is a light hearted and pointless comedy that features Jeff Bridges as a farmboy who becomes a silver screen cowboy rather by chance. Andy Griffith, Blythe Danner and Alan Arkin are also in this one.
  • In Trial by Combat (1976, Kevin Connor), Pleasence plays the head of a group of British aristocrats who have decided to take justice into their own hands - and start killing people. Fortunately the film doesn't take itself too seriously. Peter Cushing and Barbara Hershey are also in this one.

  • Flix.com


  • Peter Cushing is also in the British-US American-Greek co-production The Devil's Men (1976, Kostas Karagiannis), a cheap horror film in which he plays the head of a Satanic cult while Donald Pleasence plays his chief adversary, a priest (what else ?).
  • The Passover Plot (1976, Michael Campus) is yet another retelling of the Jesus-story. This time around, Donald Pleasence is Pontius Pilate while Zalman King plays the son of God.
  • The Last Tycoon (1976, Elia Kazan) is a high prestige adaptation of the popular novel by F.Scott Fitzgerald with a screenplay by none other than Harold Pinter. Robert de Niro plays the lead in this film that also stars Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum, Jeanne Moreau, Jack Nicholson, Ray Milland, Dana Andrews, Peter Strauss, Theresa Russell and John Carradine in a small role [John Carradine bio - click here].
  • In Hindle Wakes (1976), a TV-movie directed by Pleasence' friend and idol Laurence Olivier and June Howson, Donald Pleasence is the focus of attention and allowed to pull all the stops, which he does with great gusto. The film itself is based on a play by Stanley Houghton from 1912 about a girl who is impregnated after having premarital sex and the social consequences this has on those close to her ...


  • In John Sturges' The Eagle has Landed (1976), Michael Caine heads a paratroop commando to kidnap Winston Churchill during World War II. Donald Pleasence can be seen as Heinrich Himmler, commander or the SS in a film that also features Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall and Jenny Agutter.
  • In 1977, Donald Pleasence can be seen in his 3rd Jesus adaptation. This time he plays the role of Melchior of the Three Wise Men in Franco Zeffirelli's all-star cheesy TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth with Robert Powell in the title role and Anne Bancroft as Mary Magdalene. The film also features Ernest Borgnine, James Earl Jones, Stacy Keach, Claudia Cardinale, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Christopher Plummer, Anthony Quinn, Fernando Rey, Michael York, Ralph Richardson, Peter Ustinov, Olivia Hussey as Virgin Mary, and Rod Steiger as Pontius Pilate, the role Donald Pleasence played just a year ago.

  • Flix.com

  • With The Uncanny (1977, Dénis Heroux) it was back to horror again for Pleasence. The film essentially tells three stories about cats (!) wanting to take over the world held together by a framing story starring Peter Cushing and Ray Milland. In Pleasence' story he, a famous moviestar,  and his mistress Samantha Eggar dispose of his wife live on the set of his latest film - which clears him of all suspicion. Only his wife's cat knows the truth and has her revenge. This of course sounds like good fun, but apart from solid performances (especially Donald Pleasence turning in a poignant characterisation) the film has little to go for it.
  • Oh God! (1977, Carl Reiner), which stars John Denver as a supermarket assistant who suddenly finds himself chosen to be God's (George Burns) messenger on earth, is little more than a wholesome (read cheesy) comedy that does not stand the test of time.
  • Telefon (1977, Don Siegel) is a cold war thriller about KGB-drilled sleepers living undercover in the USA with the sole purpose to one day commit acts of sabotage under hypnosis. Donald Pleasence plays a KGB agent who has stolen the notebook containing the identities of the sleepers and has defected to the USA - but not to hand the notebook over to the authorities but to activate the sleepers. The KGB, fearing an international crisis if the whole thing is uncovered, send their best man Charles Bronson after Pleasence to stop him. A somehow amusing film that does not rank among Siegel's best though. Lee Remick co-stars.


  • For the TV-movie The Defection of Simas Kurdika (1978, David Lowell Rich) - another Cold War thriller, incidently, but this one based on a true story and starring Alan Arkin, - Donald Pleasence was actually nominated for a Primetime Emmy as Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Special - but ultimately lost out to Howard Da Silva in Verna: USO Girl (1978, Ronald F.Maxwell), a drama/musical starring Sissy Spacek.
  • The French-Canadian co-production Les Liens de Sang/Blood Relatives (1978) is an old-fashioned yet highly intelligent murder mystery directed by French star director Claude Chabrol, who for this film had a quite stellar international cast at hands, including Donald Sutherland as the investigating police inspector of the film, David Hemmings and Stéphane Audran. Donald Pleasence has a small but effective role as a child molester in this one.
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978, Michael Schultz), a film based on the milestone album by the Beatles starring Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees is probably best described with the words What were they thinking ? I mean really, Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees ? Others who star in this mess are comedien Frankie Howerd, Steve Martin (who probably also qualifies as a comedien), rockstar Alice Cooper, and the bands Earth, Wind & Fire and Aerosmith.
  • L'Ordre et la sécurité du Monde/The Concorde Affair/Last in, First out (1978, Claude d'Anna) is a bizarre French politidal thriller starring Bruno Cremer, Laure Dechasnel, Dennis Hopper, Joseph Cotten, Michel Bouquet, Pierre Santini and Henri Serre.
  • The rest of the films Donald Pleasence made in 1978 though saw him stranded with B-horror, films like Tomorrow Never Comes (1978, Peter Collinson), Night Creature (1978, Lee Madden) and Power Play (1978, Martyn Burke).

... and on the surface, the next film that came along for Donald Pleasence in 1978 was just another shocker with a moderate budget, yet it was probably one of the most important films of his career and some kind of turning point. 

To the better ?

You be the judge of that, but the effects of this little 1978 shocker are undeniable, and its name is Halloween (1978, John Carpenter) ...

 


 

Halloween, the Sequels, and John Carpenter

 


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It was 1978, and director John Carpenter, then a relative newcomer, wanted to make a movie based on both Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and the giallos of Italian master director Dario Argento, but the formula of all of these movies pretty much stripped to the bone: Basically, John Carpenter's resulting film Halloween was about pretty young girls being stalked and slashed by a masked maniac, Michael Myers, first and foremost Jamie Lee Curtis - though ultimately she is not slashed. Of course, this plot sounds highly formulaic, and ultimately, Halloween would wind up to be one of the first (but by no means the first) - and certainly one of the best - movies of the slasher subgenre, a genre that as such didn't even exist in 1978. Plus, as bare-to-the-bone as the film may be, John Carpenter proves himself one of the best suspense directors there are and handles the film's story, simple as it might be, with enough style to set it apart from similar genre fare.

In Halloween, Donald Pleasence did get to play not the villain but the good guy for a change, a character called Sam Loomis (named after the character in Psycho), the expert and father figure of the whole film, a role Pleasence handled with so much dignity that after this film he was asked to play similar roles in tons of movies. Interestingly enough though, Pleasence was allegedly only the third choice for the role and was approached only after both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee turned it down ...

 

 

Halloween, simple as it was in plot and structure, would turn out to be an enormous box office success, maybe the biggest in Pleasence' career, so it was only a matter of time before a sequel (or rather sequels) would follow:

  • Halloween 2 (1981, Rick Rosenthal), which John Carpenter co-produced with Debra Hill, picks up directly where Halloween left off, with Jamie Lee Curtis' character being rushed to the hospital, and Michael Myers, against all odds having survived his death in the former movie, starting to slash teen girls again, and eventually making it to the hospital where Curtis, who is rather unnecessarily revealed to be his sister, is kept. Loomis in this film is to be driven out of the picture at one point, but returns in time for the finale, even if he has to turn against authorities to do his thing.
  • There is no Sam Loomis (Pleasence) and no Michael Myers in Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982, Tommy Lee Wallace), an ill-adviced, ill-fated and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to break away from the tried-and-true formula, but both returned for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988, Dwight H.Little), which was little more than a rehash of the first film, with Jamie Lee Curtis gone, of course.
  • Same can be said about Halloween 5 (1989, Dominique Othenin-Girard) and Halloween 6/Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995, Joe Chapelle), both rather brainless slasher movies from a time when slashers had already gone out of fashion, and that apart from Donald Pleasence still giving his all despite not being the youngest anymore (he was 75 when he shot part 6) had little to offer.


Donald Pleasence died not long after the completion of Halloween 6, and with him the series should have died ... but not so, in 1998 a birthday movie was made called Halloween H20 (Steve Miner), which was followed in 2002 by Halloween: Resurrection (Rick Rosenthal), both films returning Jamie Lee Curtis to the series and both trying to cash in on the new interest in slasher films initiated by Scream (1996, Wes Craven) - with only moderate success though. And to add insult to injury, Carpenter's original Halloween was remade in 2007 for the popcorn crowd by the overrated Rob Zombie. Well, at least Zombie had the good sense to have someone like Malcolm McDowell fill Donald Pleasence' boots as Sam Loomis.

 

Let's go back to 1981, when John Carpenter was filming the science fiction spectacle Escape from New York: This was the story of Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), a notorious loner and all-around tough guy, who is forced to get the president of the USA out of New York, which by the time the movie is set is totally overrun by evil gangs and where law is pretty much suspended. Most of the film deals with Russell risking his life in various situations and barely surviving his mission - which in John Carpenter's back then decidedly and enjoyably twisted universe meant that to contrast Russell's tough-as-nails antiautharian character, the president as a figure of authority had to be an opportunistic coward full of empty phrases ... and who better to play such a character than Donald Pleasence, whose performance as Mr President is more than a little reminiscent of his character in Cul-de-Sac - before that character snapped, anyways ...

 


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Flix.com

It is said that John Carpenter also wanted to hire Donald Pleasence for his rather unnecessary remake The Thing (1982), but Pleasence had to turn the offer down because of conflicting schedules, so it wasn't until 1987 that the two worked together once more. Unfortunately, Prince of Darkness, their third and last collaboration, is not one of Carpenter's better films, the story about a group of university researchers investigating a cylinder containing the son of Satan (in liquid form !) and releasing hell on earth (literally) in the process seriously lacks substance (despite being very well made), and Donald Pleasence, playing another character called Loomis, this time a priest, is given little to do than make a few comments here and there ...

 


 

B-Movie Realm: The Late 1970's, 80's, 90's

 

As mentioned above, Halloween was a box office success, and it gave Donald Pleasence' career, that had gone a little rigid for a while, another boost - but it also nailed down the role cliché that he had to play from now on until his death in 1995 (with only very few exceptions): That of the father figure and/or authority figure in predominantly B-movies while with the years progressing, roles in A- or prestige-movies got rarer and rarer, and when he did get them, the roles weren't always too great or interesting in the first place. Nevertheless, according to all interviews Pleasence gave during that time, he always saw the whole situation from the funny side.

 

Some of Pleasence' A- and/or prestige productions from his later life were:



  • Dracula (1979), a new version of Bram Stoker's novel directed by (of all people) John Badham fresh from Saturday Night Fever (1977), who gave the film some trendy visual flair (that on closer inspection is highly artificial) but robbed it of all its substance. Dracula is here played by Frank Langella, his nemesis Van Helsing by Laurence Olivier, while Donald Plesence plays Doctor Seward, the father of Lucy (Kate Nelligan), the woman so pivotal to the plot. In an interview, Pleasence stated that he and Olivier agreed to do that movie only to have a good laugh ... and well, the nicest thing to say about the film is that isn't quite a disaster as Francis Ford Coppola's version of the story from 1992 - but that's quite another story ...
  • All Quiet on the Western Front (1979, Delbert Mann) is a new version of Erich Maria Remarque's novel of the same name already made into a milestone movie in 1930 by Lewis Milestone. Why the story needed a new adaptation, and for TV too, quite escapes me ...
  • Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff (1979, Marvin J.Chomsky) is a rather clumsy message movie set in the 1950's about a spinster in her 40's (Anne Heywood) who is raped by a black student - but gets so aroused by it that she actually starts an affair with him ... but what will the neighbours think ? Robert Vaughn is also in this one.
  • The little known British TV-drama Blade on the Feather (1980, Richard Loncraine) is one of the rare exceptions at this stage of his career that gave Pleasence the opportunity to show off his acting skills in a story in which he plays an old writer visited by one of his admirers (Tom Conti) - and rather unexpectedly the situation soon turns into a story about espionage and treachery. The script for this movie was written by famed and controversial writer Dennis Potter.
  • Witness for the Prosecution (1982, Alan Gibson) is a made-for-TV adaptation of the famous play by Agatha Christie, which saw a far better big-screen adaptation in 1957 by Billy Wilder. Still, at least this one features a good cast including Diana Rigg, Ralph Richardson, Deborah Kerr and Beau Bridges.
  • The comedy Where is Parsifal ? (1983, Henri Helman) is mainly notable for being one of Orson Welles' last films as an actor. It also stars Tony Curtis, Erik Estrada and Peter Lawford.
  • The Ambassador (1984, J.Lee Thompson) is a political thriller about the Middle East peace efforts that tries a little too hard to be intelligent to not be run-of-the-mill and far-fetched. It stars  Robert Mitchum, Ellen Burstyn, Rock Hudson (his last big-screen appearance), Fabio Testi, Michal Bat-Adams, and Zachi Noy and Yftach Katzur from the popular Israeli Lemon Popsicle series..

  • Flix.com


    Flix.com

  • Phenomena (1985, Dario Argento) on the surface looks like little more than another slasher movie with Pleasence playing another expert (this time he's an entomologist) to another teenage girl (a young Jennifer Connelly, who in this one is an insect lover), but director Argento turns this one, which is essentially a slasher movie following every rule of the book (though Argento might have written a few of these rules himself in the first place), into a fairy tale-like experience. Sure, it's still gory and simplistic as these films tend to be, but somehow there is also another dimension to it, and at least Pleasence and Connelly turn in good performances not usually found in this sort of film.
  • For Basements (1987), arthouse director Robert Altman adapted two short plays by master playwright Harold Pinter - who was also responsible for Donald Pleasence' breakthrough performance The Caretaker - for television. In the story The Room, Pleasence shares the screen with Linda Hunt, Annie Lennox and Julian Sands while the other episode, The Dumb Waiter, features John Travolta and Tom Conti (but no Donald Pleasence). In both cases, the results are quite fascinating.

  • Ten Little Indians (1989, Alan Birkinshaw) is yet another adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel of the same name, probably her best novel anyways. However, the resulting film does the novel little justice, probably thanks to producer Harry Alan Towers, not a man of subtlety an adaptation of the novel might need. Cast includes Frank Stallone and Herbert Lom - who also had a role in an earlier adaptation of the novel, Ein Unbekannter rechnet ab/And Then They Were None/Ten Little Indians (1974, Peter Collinson), which unfortunately was also produced by Harry Alan Towers.
  • Speaking of Agatha Christie: In 1989, Donald Pleasence also had a part in A Caribbean Mystery, an episode of BBC's long-running Miss Marple-TV-series starring Joan Hickson. But while the series is often praised for being true to Christie's novels (sometimes to the letter), Hickson's portrayal of the lead character simply pales compared to Margaret Rutherford's amusing (if admittedly very free) characterisation of the amateur sleuth (click here).
  • Again for television, this time French television, Pleasence played Winston Churchill in Moi, Général de Gaulle (1990, Denys Granier-Deferre) based on a story by William Faulkner, with Henri Serre playing de Gaulle.

  • In 1992, Pleasence was hired by Woody Allen to act in his Shadows and Fog, the film's stellar cast also inclulding Allen himself of course, Mia Farrow, John Malkovich, and in small roles Madonna, Lily Tomlin, Jodie Foster, Kathy Bates and John Cusack. Now normally, a role in a Woody Allen-movie would be the highlight of pretty much anybody's acting career, but unfortunately, Shadows and Fog, a film partly based on Allen's own play Death and supposed to be a hommage to vintage horror, would turn out to be one of Allen's less accomplished (and today by and large forgotten) films, and Pleasence might only have been in it because of his long association with the horror genre.
  • The Hour of the Pig (1993, Leslie Megahey) is a rather off-beat medieval thriller that starts with an animal trial (such things did really exist long long ago) and evolves into a murder mystery. Colin Firth and Ian Holm star in this one as advocate and educated priest actually. For some reason though, this film is by today largely forgotten.
  • The US-American TV-movie Guinevere (1994, Jud Taylor) is little more than the umpteenth adaptation of the King Arthur-legend, but this time from a feminist revisiionist point of view based on the novels by Persia Woolley (for better or worse), with Sheryl Lee playing the title character, Sean Patrick Flanery is Arthur, Noah Wyle Lancelot, Brid Brennan Morgana Le Fay, and Donald Pleasence can be seen as Merlin.

As mentioned above, these were only the higher profile films of Donald Pleasence done from the late 1970's onwards, besides these he leant his talents to virtually dozens of films that were not as prestigious - even if some of them were actually better movies or at least more amusing than the above-mentioned. Also, his performances in films like those were somewhat uneven. If he found an access to his role, he could still be great, in other films he gave a solid but run-of-the-mill performance, and occasionally he let loose and hammed it up royally - which is also a sight to be seen ...

The more interesting of these films are:

  • Gold of the Amazon Women (1979, Mark L.Lester) is one of those truly awful (but in a way hilarious) jungle pictures they (whoever they are) put out in the late 1970's/early 80's. Nothing to be proud of actually, but still, this one stars Bo Svenson and Anita Ekberg way past her prime.



  • The US/Spanish co-production Jaguar Lives!/El Felino (1979, Ernest Pintoff), a showcase for hevyweight kickboxing champion Joe Lewis, is a film pretty much as subtle (and as silly) as the title in combination with its lead makes it to be. Still the film features a rather stellar cast including Christopher Lee, Barbara Bach, Capucine, Woody Strode and John Huston.
  • The French Atlantic Affair (1979, Douglas Heyes) is actually a horrible US American  TV miniseries about a group of terrorists led by Telly Savalas who takes over a luxury liner and hold its crew and passengers hostages but is ultimately defeated by two ten year old (count them, ten) amateur radio experts. If that sounds bad, believe me, the series is much worse, still it (once again) features a stellar cast, including Horst Buchholz, Shelley Winters, José Ferrer, James Coco, Michelle Phillips and Louis Jourdan.
  • The Monster Club (1980, Roy Ward Baker) is a not totally convincing hommage to horror films of old, but it stars Vincent Price [Vincent Price bio - click here] and John Carradine [John Carradine bio - click here], plus Anthony Steel, Richard Johnson, Britt Ekland, Stuart Whitman and Patrick Magee. The film was famed horror production house Amicus' last (first generation) feature by the way [Amicus history - click here].
  • Then there's L'Uomo Puma/Puma Man (1980, Alberto De Martino), an underbudgeted superhero flick in which Pleasence plays the villain to Walter George Alton's (who ?) titular hero ... oh well.
  • The most interesting thing about Race for the Yankee Zephyr (1981) is probably that it was directed by acting legend David Hemmings, but that's about as good as it gets, the film as such, starring Ken Wahl, Lesley Ann Warren and George Peppard, is a rather terrible and badly scripted adventure movie set in the mountains of New Zealand.
  • The US-American made-for-TV sci-fi movie Computercide (1982, Robert Michael Lewis) deserves a mention only because of its stupid title. Computercide ? I mean really ...
  • Just like in Halloween, Donald Pleasence heads a lunatic asylum in Alone in the Dark (1982, Jack Scholder), and just like in Halloween, some loonies escape, but this time they lay siege on Pleasence' house. As a whole the film is silly enough to be almost funny. Jack Palance and Martin Landau are also in this one.
  • Warrior of the Lost World/Il Giustiziere della Terra Perduta/I Predatori dell'Anno Omega/Mad Rider (1983, David Worth) is one of these cheap Italian lensed post doomsday science fiction films that are somehow supposed to cash in on Mad Max II/Road Warrior (1981, George Miller), but are rather laugh-inducing in their effort. In this one, Robert Ginty of all people plays the loner on a motorbike. Blaxploitation hero Fred Williamson is also in this one - as he tended to be in quite a few of these films.
  • The Devonsville Terror (1983, Ulli Lommel) is a modern day witchhunt tale, with Pleasence playing a historian caught up in the events - but actually the film is more of a showcase for its lead Suzanna Love, who also co-wrote the film, and who was not only director Lommel's wife but also his chief financier thanks to her fortune from the Dupont inheritance.
  • In Frankenstein's Great Aunt Tillie (1984, Myron J.Gold), Pleasence gets to play Baron Frankenstein in a totally botched up horror comedy that is about as funny as its title and that interestingly enough also stars Yvonne Furneaux, Zsa Zsa Gabor, June Wilkinson and Aldo Ray.
  • A Breed Apart (1984, Philippe Mora) is pretty much a reworking of Sylvester Stallone's hit First Blood (1982, Ted Kotcheff), but with an ecological message (what were they thinking ?). Rutger Hauer plays the good guy, while Pleasence is the baddie, a collector of rare bird eggs, and Powers Boothe his machine gun carrying henchman. Kathleen Turner and Brion James are also in this one.
  • To Killl a Stranger/Matar a un Extraño (1985) is an US/Mexican co-production directed by Mexican cult director Juan Lopéz Moctezuma (Mansion of Madness [1972], Alucarda [1978]). Unfortunately this is not one of his better films, but fortunately it still is fun. Dean Stockwell and Aldo Ray also star.


  • The Treasure of the Amazon (1985, René Cardona jr) is one of these Mexican trash films you always wonder how they got so much internationally renowned actors to play in (this one also stars Stuart Whitman and Bradford Dillman) - but dedicated trashfans like me are just happy they are in it so it gets international distribution. This one is about - you guessed it - a treasure hunt in the Amazon jungle, featuring everything that can expected from an adventure like this including headhutners, topless Amazon warriors, piranhas and alligators, plus Pleasence gets to play a Nazi who wants to resurrect the Third Reich.
  • The Italian film Sotto il Vestito Niente/Nothing Underneath (1985, Carlo Vanzina) is a giallo (specifically Italian murder mystery with horror undertones and often a serial killer motive) from a time when this genre has already run its course - and is therefore not all that special.
  • Into the Darkness (1986, David Kent Watson) is a rather pointless thriller set on a remote island where a serialkiller is doing his shtick, killing one model after the other and Donald Pleasence and his real life daughter Polly Jo Pleasence try to figure out who the killer is.
  • Cobra Mission/Die Rückkehr der Wildgänse/Operation Nam (1986, Fabrizio de Angelis) is one of the countless (attempted) cash-ins on the success of Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985, George P Cosmatos) starring Sylvester Stallone. As the Stallone film, this is about veterans going back to the 'Nam to free some POWs. But while good Sylvester went all by himself, in this film it's four veterans (Oliver Tobias, Christopher Connelly, Manfred Lehmann, John Steiner) who do the job. Donald Pleasence can be seen as a priest in the jungle here - not that it really matters, the film is still rather terrible. Gordon Mitchell, Alan Collins and action auteur Enzo G.Castellari [Enzo G.Castellari bio - click here] all do cameos in this one.
  • Warrior Queen (1987, Chuck Vincent) is an Italian production by schlock specialist Harry Alan Towers about the destruction of anicent Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius - but actually it's more about contemporary B-movie sexpot Sybil Danning [Sybil Danning bio - click here] fighting, looking sexy or looking sexy fighting, and a few sexy slavegirls, resulting in a film as cheapish, trashy and exploitative as you would imagine. Donald Pleasence can be seen as the ruler of Pompeii.
  • In the Italian shocker Spettri/Specters (1987, Marcello Avallone), Pleasence plays another professor-character - and there's little else that's worth saying about this film.
  • Il Ritorno di Django/Django 2: Il Grande Ritorno/Django Strikes Again (1987, Nello Rossati) is a film nobody has really needed, the long-awaited (as in not) sequel to the spaghetti Western classic Django (1966, Sergio Corbucci), starring once again Franco Nero [Franco Nero bio - click here]. Actually, the less said about this movie the better ...
  • Then there was Doppio Bersaglio/Double Target (1987), an action movie by Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn) [Bruno Mattei bio - click here] starring Miles O'Keeffe - need I say much more ?
  • The House of Usher (1988, Alan Birkinshaw) is one of those Edgar Allan Poe-adaptations that all of a sudden became fashionable in the late 1980's. This one is mainly watchable for Oliver Reed hamming it up as Roderick Usher and Donald Pleasence playing his mad brother Walter who frequently carries a chainsaw. The film was produced by Harry Alan Towers, which should give you some idea about its quality.
  • In Italy again, Pleasence played the inspector in Ruggero Deodato's Un Delitto poco Comune/Phantom of Death (1988), a giallo also starring Michael York and Edwige Fenech. Unfortunately though, Phantom of Death is not among Deodato's better shockers [Ruggero Deodato bio - click here].

  • Flix.com

  • The war film Der Commander/The Commander (1988) is the third and last part of Antonio Margheriti's Mercenary Trilogy [Antonio Margheriti bio - click here]. The film, which also stars Lewis Collins, Lee Van Cleef, Manfred Lehmann and Brett Halsey, might be nothing great but at least it's solid action.
  • For Pleasence, it was back to the war for Angel Hill: L'Ultima Missione/Last Platoon (1988, Ignazio Dolce), an Italian film lensed in the Philippines (just like The Commander actually) standing in for Vietnam. Richard Hatch plays the no-nonsense hero in this one.
  • Then there was the vampire flick Nosferatu a Venezia/Nosferatu in Venice (1988, Augusto Caminito) starring Klaus Kinski as the titular vampire, Christopher Plummer as his Van Helsing-like nemesis and Donald Pleasence as a priest, while Barbara De Rossi is simply there to look ravishing (which she manages to do admirably). Actually the film isn't half bad and good use is made of the Venice-settings, but at the same time it offers little new insight into the vampire genre as such and the solid cast seems a bit wasted in a formula-movie.
  • The World War II/women's prison movie Hanna's War (1988) is probably the best film infamous producer/director Menahem Golan ever made (not that that's saying much), a film based on a true story about a Hungarian resistance fighter (Maruschka Detmers) captured by the Nazis, thrown into prison and tortured, with Donald Pleasence playing one of her torturers. Ellen Burstyn and David Warner are also in this one.

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  • Another film set in World War II from that time was Sergio Martino's rather weak Casablanca Express (1989), in which Donald Pleasence plays a general who's actually of no real importance to the proceedings.
  • For Paganini Horror (1989, Luigi Cozzi), Donald Pleasence returns to the horror genre, but unfortunately by the late 1980's, the Italian horror genre was lieing in its death throes, and Italian shockers like this one were mostly grossly underbudgeted and featured horrible special effects. Add to that the once great director Luigi Cozzi who has apparently grown tired of filmmaking and you pretty much know what you get. Daria Niccolodi is also in Paganini Horror.
  • River of Death (1989, Steve Carver) is a jungle action film based on a novel by Alistair McLean starring Michael Dudikoff leading an expedition into the Amazon jungle in search for a lost city ... only to find a mad Nazi scientist (Robert Vaughn) instead. Herbert Lom is also in this one, which was once again (co-)produced by Harry Alan Towers.

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  • Harry Alan Towers also produced Buried Alive (1990, Gerard Kikoine) - a film only allegedly based on something by Edgar Allan Poe -, and again Robert Vaughn plays the main villain. The film, a standard slasher about girls disappearing at a boarding school, is of interest mainly because it was the last film to feature horror veteran John Carradine [John Carradine bio - click here] - and he would have deserved a better swansong. Former (and future) porn star Ginger Lynn Allen is also in this one.
  • American Risciò/American Rickshaw (1990) is an Italian murder mystery set in Miami directed by Sergio Martino, who back in the early-to-mid 1970's made quite a few impressive murder mysteries (or gialli, if you may) ... but since the early-to-mid 1970's a lot of water has gone down the drain, and this one turns out to be little more than an underbudgeted, very average crime/action thriller with a distinctly impersonal feel to it.
  • Miliardi/Billions (1991, Carlo Vanzina) is basically a sex drama with Billy Zane sleeping with as many women as possible, there's not much more to it. Lauren Hutton, Carol Alt and Jean Sorel co-star.
  • Diên Biên Phu (1992, Peter Schoendoerffer) is - especially when compared to most other war movies Pleasence did during that period of his career - a quite engaging film about the war the French fought in Vietnam in the mid 1950's based on true events, with Donald Pleasence in the lead playing a war correspondent.
  • The Big Freeze/Umpijäässä (1993, Eric Sykes) is a British-Finnish comedy featurette (ca 45 minutes) about two plumbers (Eric Sykes, Bob Hoskins) trying to fix the heating in a retirement home on the coldest day of the year. The film, which is played entirely without dialogue, also stars, besides quite a handful of Finnish talent, John Mills and Spike Milligan as an over-the-top Hitler impersonator.

 

Fade Out

 

As you can see above, in the latter days of his career, Donald Pleasence hardly got any roles really worthy of his talents, still, to honour his achievements he was OBE in 1993, and deservedly so.

Unfortunately the last two films of his career, both released after his death, would not do him any justice either.


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First there was above-mentioned Halloween 6/Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995, Joe Chapelle), which was little more than a formulaic series movie with Pleasence in the role he could already play in his sleep. 

Pleasence' very last film was the Italian giallo Fatal Frames (1996, Al Festa), a film that tries to be way too hard to be clever for its own good (without achieving much) and that ends up to be little more than an unconvincing collection of genre mainstays that tries hard to look like a Dario Argento-movie without having the soul of an Argento-flick. In the film, which also stars veterans David Warbeck, Linnea Quigley, Rossano Brazzi, Alida Valli and Angus Scrimm, Donald Pleasence is reduced to playing another professor-type character, just like Sam Loomis from the Halloween-series. Pleasence died before the film was finished, which means he leaves the film all of a sudden, and all we see as his exit scene is a stand-in phoning in from the airport bidding farewell because he has to go back to the USA to take care of the Michael Myers case (yes, an obvious hint at the Halloween-series), with a photo of Donald Pleasence being superimposed over the scene ... now that's what I call a weird exit !

 

Sadly, Donald Pleasence died in early 2005 in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Alpes-Maritimes, France from complications from heart valve replacement surgery. During his lifetime, he was married four times (and still, each of his marriages lasted more than 10 years except for his last since he died before he could reach the 10-year mark) and he had five children, all of them girls, three of which, Angela, Polly Jo and Miranda also became actresses (with only Angela Pleasence having really come into her own). Allegedly, shortly before his death, Donald Pleasence planned a production of Shakespeare's King Lear with all three of his actress-daughters ...

 

Besides his daughters, Pleasence also left behind an incredibly wealthy filmography as you no doubt can see above, and even though way too many of his films did by no means match his talents and (on a quality level) his career peaked with Cul-de-Sac, done roughly 30 years before his death, he was until his death one of the character actors who could give an otherwise forgettable film some colour by his sole presence - which is something genre- and trashfilm fans like me will be forever grateful for ...

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD

 

 

Stell Dir vor, Deine Lieblingsseifenoper birgt eine tiefere Wahrheit ...
... und stell Dir vor, der Penner von der U-Bahnstation hat doch recht ...
... und dann triffst Du auch noch die Frau Deiner (feuchten) Träume ...

 

Und an diesem Tag geht natürlich wieder einmal die Welt unter!!!

 

Bauliche Angelegenheiten
ein Roman von
Michael Haberfelner

 

Jetzt kaufen bei
Lulu.com