Nationality: British. Born: Christopher Frank Carandini Lee in London, 27 May 1922. Education: Attended Summerfield Preparatory School; Wellington College. Military Service: Served in the Royal Air Force and in British Intelligence during World War II; mentioned in dispatches, 1944; Family: Married Birgit Kroencke, 1961, daughter: Christina. Career: 1947–51—contract with J. Arthur Rank: film debut in Corridor of Mirrors, 1948; early 1950s—appeared regularly in the TV series Douglas Fairbanks Presents; 1957—first horror film role, that of the Creature in The Curse of Frankenstein; many later horror films, often for Hammer Productions; 1972—founder, Charlemagne Productions, Ltd.; 1991—in TV mini-series Sherlock Holmes and the Incident at Victoria Falls. Awards: Officier, Ordre des Arts et Lettres, France, 1973. Agent: c/o James Sharkey and Associates Ltd., 21 Golden Square, London W1R 3PA, England.
Films as Actor:
Corridor of Mirrors (Terence Young) (as Charles); Scott of the Antarctic (Frend) (as Bernard Day); Hamlet (Olivier); One Night with You (Terence Young); Penny and the Pownall Case (Hand) (as Jonathan Blair); A Song for Tomorrow (Fisher) (as Auguste); Saraband for Dead Lovers (Saraband) (Dearden); My Brother's Keeper (Roome)
Trottie True (The Gay Lady) (Hurst)
Prelude to Fame (McDonnell) (as newsman); They Were Not Divided (Terence Young) (as Lewis)
Captain Horatio Hornblower (Walsh) (as Spanish Captain); Valley of the Eagles (Terence Young) (as detective)
Paul Temple Returns (Rogers) (as Sir Felix Reybourne); The Crimson Pirate (Siodmak); Top Secret (Zampi)
Innocents in Paris (Parry); Babes in Baghdad (Ulmer); Moulin Rouge (Huston)
That Lady (Terence Young) (as Captain); Man in Demand (McDonald); Crossroads (Fitchen—short) (as the ghost); The Dark Avengers (The Warriors) (Levin) (as Captain of the Guard); Storm over the Nile (None but the Brave) (Korda and Young) (as Karaga Pasha); The Cockleshell Heroes (Ferrer); Private's Progress (Boulting) (as German officer)
Port Afrique (Maté) (as Franz Vermes); Beyond Mombasa (George Marshall) (as Gil Rossi); The Battle of the River Plate (Pursuit of the Graf Spee) (Powell and Pressburger) (as Manola); Moby Dick (Huston); Alias John Preston (MacDonald) (title role)
The Curse of Frankenstein (Fisher) (as the Creature); The Traitors (The Accursed) (McCarthy); Fortune Is a Woman (She Played with Fire) (Gilliatt) (as Charles Highbury); Bitter Victory (Ray) (as Sgt. Barney); Ill Met by Moonlight (Night Ambush) (Powell and Pressburger)
A Tale of Two Cities (Thomas) (as Marquis de St. Evremonde); The Battle of the V 1 (Unseen Heroes) (Sewell) (as Brunner); The Truth about Women (Box) (as François); Dracula (Horror of Dracula) (Fisher) (title role); Corridors of Blood (Day) (as Resurrection Joe)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (Fisher) (as Sir Henry Baskerville); The Man Who Could Cheat Death (Fisher) (as Dr. Pierre Gerard); Tempi duri per vampiri (Uncle Was a Vampire; Hard Times for Vampires) (Steno); The Mummy (Fisher) (as Kharis); Treasure of San Teresa (Hot Money Girls) (Rakoff) (as Jaeger)
The City of the Dead (Horror Motel) (Moxey) (as Professor Driscoll); Too Hot to Handle (Terence Young) (as Novak); Beat Girl (Wild for Kicks) (Greville) (as Kenny); The Two Faces of Doctor Jekyll (House of Fright) (Fisher) (as Paul Allen); The Hands of Orlac (Les Mains d'Orlac) (Gréville) (as Nero)
Taste of Fear (Scream of Fear) (Holt) (as Dr. Gerrard); The Terror of the Tongs (Bushell) (as Chung King); The Devil's Agent (Carstairs) (as Baron von Staub); Das Rätsel der röten Orchidee (The Puzzle of the Red Orchid) (Ashley); Ercole al centro della terra (Hercules at the Center of the Earth; Haunted World) (Bava) (as Lichas)
Devil's Daffodil (Das Geheimnis der gelben Narzissen) (Rathony) (as Ling Chu); The Pirates of Blood River (Gilling) (as La Roche); Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes (Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace) (Fisher and Witherstein) (title role)
La cripta de l'incubo (Terror in the Crypt) (Mastrocinque) (as Count Karnstein); La frusta e il corpo (Night Is the Phantom, What!) (Bava) (as Kurt Menliff)
The Devil-Ship Pirates (Sharp) (as Captain Robeles); La vergine de Norimberga (Horror Castle; Castle of Terror) (Dawson) (as Erich); The Gorgon (Fisher) (as Professor Carl Meister); Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (Francis) (as Franklyn Marsh); Il castello dei morti viva (Castle of the Living Dead) (Ricci and Wise) (as Count Drago)
She (Day) (as Billali); The Face of Fu Manchu (Sharp) (title role); The Skull (Francis) (as Sir Matthew Phillips)
Dracula—Prince of Darkness (Fisher) (title role); Rasputin the Mad Monk (Sharp) (title role); The Brides of Fu Manchu (Sharp) (title role)
Circus of Fear (Psycho-Circus) (Moxey) (as Gregor); Theatre of Death (Blood Fiend) (Gallu) (as Phillipe Darvas); Five Golden Dragons (Summers) (as Dragon); The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (Summers) (title role); Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel (The Blood Demon) (Reinl) (as Count Regula); Victims of Terror (Victims of Vesuvius) (Bain—short); Night of the Big Heat (Island of the Burning Damned) (Fisher) (as Hanson)
The Devil Rides Out (The Devil's Bride) (Fisher) (as Duc de Richleau); The Face of Eve (Eve) (Summers) (as Colonel Stuart); Curse of the Crimson Altar (The Crimson Cult) (Sewell) (as J. D. Morley); The Blood of Fu Manchu (Kiss and Kill) (Franco) (title role); Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (Francis) (title role)
The Oblong Box (Hessler) (as Dr. Neuhartt); The Magic Christian (McGrath) (as Dracula); Vampir (Portobella)
Scream and Scream Again (Hessler) (as Fremont); The Castle of Fu Manchu (Franco) (title role); Julius Caesar (Burge) (as Artemidorus); Taste the Blood of Dracula (Sasdy) (title role); The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Wilder) (as Mycroft Holmes); The Scars of Dracula (Baker) (title role); The House That Dripped Blood (Duffell) (as John Reid); I,Monster (Weeks) (as Marlowe); Eugenie—The Story of Her Journey into Perversion (Philosophy of the Boudoir) (Franco) (as Dolmance); El processo de las brujas (Throne of Fire; The Bloody Judge; Night of the Blood Monster) (Franco) (as Lord Chief Justice); El umbracle (Portobella); One More Time (Lewis) (bit role)
Hannie Caulder (Kennedy) (as Bailey); El Conde Dracula (Count Dracula) (Franco) (title role); In Search of Dracula (Floyd—doc) (title role/narrator)
The Creeping Flesh (Francis) (as James Hildern); Dracula A.D. 1972 (Gibson) (title role); Death Line (Raw Meat) (Sherman) (as Stratton-Villiers); Nothing but the Night (Sasdy) (as Colonel Bingham)
The Satanic Rites of Dracula (Count Dracula and His Vampire Brides) (Gibson) (title role); The Three Musketeers (The Queen's Jewels) (Lester) (as Rochefort); The Wicker Man (Hardy) (as Lord Summerisle); Evlalie quitte les champs (Le Boucher, la star, et l'orpheline; The Star, The Orphan, and the Butcher) (Savary) (as Van Krig); Poor Devil (Sheerer—for TV) (title role)
Horror Express (Martin) (as Professor Alex Saxton); The Four Musketeers (Revenge of Milady) (Lester) (as Rochefort); The Man with the Golden Gun (Hamilton) (as Scaramanga); Dark Places (Sharp) (as Dr. Ian Mandeville)
Diagnosis: Murder (Diagnosis for Murder) (Hayers—for TV); To the Devil a Daughter (Sykes) (as Father Michael Rayner); Killer Force (The Diamond Mercenaries) (Guest) (as Major Chilton); Whispering Death (Goslar) (as Albino); Revenge of the Dead (Evan Lee) (as narrator); Dracula's Son (Dracula, père et fils) (Molinaro) (as Dracula)
Alien Encounter (Starship Invasions) (Hunt—for TV) (as Capt. Ramses)
Airport '77 (Jameson) (as Martin Wallace); Meatcleaver Massacre (Evan Lee)
End of the World (Hayes) (as Father Pergado); Caravans (Fargo) (as Sardar Khan); The Passage (Thompson) (as gypsy); Return to Witch Mountain (Hough) (as Dr. Victor Gamon); The Silent Flute (Circle of Iron) (Moore) (as Zetan); Jaguar Lives! (Pintoff) (as Adam Cain); Bear Island (Sharp) (as Professor Lechinski); The Pirate (Annakin—for TV) (as Samir)
1941 (Spielberg) (as Captain von Kleinschmidt); Nutcracker Fantasy (Takeo Nakamura—animation) (as voice); An Arabian Adventure (Connor) (as Caliph Alquazar)
The Salamander (Zinner—for TV); Once upon a Spy (Nagy—for TV) (as Marcus Valorium); Rally (Safari 3000; Two in the Bush) (Hurwitz) (as Lorenzo Borgia); Serial (Persky) (as Luckman Skull)
A Desperate Case; An Eye for an Eye (Carver) (as Morgan Canfield); Dance—Steigler & Steigler
Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story (Goldstone—for TV) (as Prince Philip); The Last Unicorn (Rankin and Bass) (as voice of King Haggard); Massarati and the Brain (Hart)
House of the Long Shadows (Walker) (as Corrigan); The Keeper (Drake); The Return of Captain Invincible (Mora) (as Mr. Midnight)
The Far Pavilions (Duffell—for TV) (as Kaka-ji Rao); Rosebud Beach Hotel (Hurwitz) (as King)
The Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf (Mara) (as Stefan Crosscoe)
The Disputation (Sax); Shaka Zulu (Faure); Desperate Moves (Hellman) (as Dr. Boxer)
The Girl (Mattson) (as Peter Storm); Jocks (Carver) (as President White); Mio, moy Mio (Mio in the Land of Faraway) (Grammatikov) (as Kato)
The Return of the Musketeers (Lester) (as Rochefort); Murder Story (Arno); Treasure Island (Fraser C. Heston) (as Blind Pew)
Gremlins II: The New Batch (Dante) (as Dr. Catheter); The Rainbow Thief (Jodorowsky) (as Uncle Rudolf); Honeymoon Academy (Quintano); L'avaro (The Miser) (Cervi); Il monastero (The Monastery) (de Simone); Shogun Mayeda (Hessler); Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (Sasdy) (as Sherlock Holmes)
Curse III: Blood Sacrifice (Barton) (as Dr. Pearson)
Double Vision (Knights) (as Mr. Bernard); Journey of Honor (Hessler) (as King Philip); Jackpot (as Cedric)
Alistair MacLean's Death Train (Jackson—for TV) (as General Konstantin Benin); Cybereden (Orfini) (as Cedric)
Bandit: Bandit Goes Country (for TV); The No-Tell Hotel; Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow (Metter) (as Commandent Rakov); Funny Man (Sprackling) (as Callum Chance)
A Feast at Midnight (Justin Hardy) (as Major Longfellow/Raptor)
Im Brunnen der Traeume (Lamberto Bava—for TV); Wyrd Sisters (as voice of Death); Soul Music (Flynn—series for TV) (as Death); Moses (Young—for TV) (as Ramses); The Stupids (Landis) (as Evil Sender)
Flesh and Blood (Newsom) (as himself/Narrator); Strictly Supernatural (Graham, Hardy—series for TV); Ivanhoe (Orme—mini for TV) (as Lucard de Beaumanoir); The Odyssey (Konchalovsky—mini for TV) (as Tiresias)
Tale of the Mummy (Russell Mulcahy's Tale of the Mummy) (Mulcahy) (as Sir Richard Turkel); Jinnah (Dehlavi) (as Mohammed Ali Jinnah)
Sleepy Hollow (Burton) (as Burgomaster); The Interactive Rocky Horror Show (O'Brien) (as Narrator)
By LEE: books—
Christopher Lee's Treasury of Terror, London, 1966.
Christopher Lee's New Chamber of Horrors, London, 1974.
Christopher Lee's Archives of Horror, London, vol. 1, 1975, and vol. 2, 1976.
Tall, Dark and Gruesome (autobiography), London, 1977.
Lurking Shadows: An Anthology, edited with Michael Parry, 1979.
The Great Villains, London, 1979.
By LEE: articles—
Interview, in L'Ecran Fantastique (Paris), July/August 1984.
Interview with D. Parra and P. Ross, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), May 1989.
"Interview with the Ex-Vampire," interview with R. Valley, in Scarlet Street, Fall 1991 and Winter 1992.
"Horror after Hammer," interview with D. Fischer, in Midnight Marquee, Summer 1993.
"Christopher and His Kind," interview with Glenn Kenny, in TV Guide, 24 September 1994.
"Blood Brothers," interview with Richard Johnson, in Radio Times (London), 6 August 1994.
On LEE: books—
Pirie, David, Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema 1946–1972, London, 1973.
Eyles, Allen, Robert Adkinson, and Nicholas Fry, The House of Horror: The Story of Hammer Films, London, 1973; rev. ed., 1973.
Pohle, Robert Jr., and Douglas C. Hart, The Films of Christopher Lee, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1983.
McCarty, John, Splatter Movies: Breaking the Last Taboo of the Screen, New York, 1984.
McCarty, John, The Modern Horror Film, New York, 1990.
McCarty, John, The Fearmakers, New York, 1994.
Miller, Mark A., Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and Horror Cinema, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1995.
On LEE: articles—
Current Biography 1975, New York, 1975.
Ecran (Paris), December 1978.
Del Valle, D., "Tall, Dark and Gruesome," in Films and Filming (London), September 1985.
Parra, Danièle and Ross, Philippe, "Christopher Lee: S'évader du mythe," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), May 1989.
Film Dope (London), March 1996.
* * *
Since the mid-1950s Christopher Lee's name has been synonymous with horror, and Hammer horror in particular. It is a pity, although perhaps inevitable, that his association with one of the most critically despised and derided of all film genres has tended to obscure the quality of his performances within numerous horror productions and his activities elsewhere.
Christopher Lee's entrance into the acting profession was hardly an auspicious one. With only minimal acting experience and through the assistance of family contacts, he managed in 1947 to secure for himself a place at what came to be known as the Rank Charm School, an institution devised by British film tycoon J. Arthur Rank to foster and groom new acting talent. There followed nearly ten years of undistinguished small roles in films, television, and the theater, with Lee quickly establishing himself as an actor who did not fit readily into any of the accepted categories for British film actors: too tall (6' 4") to be a matinee idol, with looks altogether too striking to be a character performer.
But with Hammer's 1956 production of The Curse of Frankenstein, British cinema finally found a place for Lee's talents. Cast as the Creature, Lee managed through skillful mime to convey a real sense of physical pain and suffering. While not a performance to rival Karloff's classic Monster from the 1930s (Hammer's filmmakers would subsequently be much more interested in Baron Frankenstein himself rather than his inhuman progeny), it did earn Lee a place in the Hammer team and ensured that he would be a key player in that company's enormously successful construction of a recognizably British horror cinema.
The two most distinctive features of Lee's acting style as revealed in the Hammer films are his ability to project a sense of physicality through stance and gesture and his deep, sonorous voice. These two elements were combined to perfection in Hammer's version of Dracula, the film that finally made Lee a star. In what was one of his most meticulous performances, Lee endowed the vampire count with an overwhelmingly sexual presence that was light years away from Bela Lugosi's more melodramatic posturings in the part.
Lee continued to work in the horror genre throughout the 1960s and 1970s, playing a variety of authority figures, both good and evil, in some of the most noteworthy horror films of the period—The Gorgon, The Devil Rides Out, The Creeping Flesh, and The Wicker Man, to name but a few. He also brought a much-needed dignity to other, less distinguished products of the genre, including, sadly, Hammer's own Dracula cycle which by the late 1960s was increasingly reliant on Lee's charismatic presence to carry some rather uninspired scripts. At the same time, Lee was handing in characteristically assured and precise performances in a variety of nonhorror parts, with perhaps the best of these being the role of Mycroft Holmes in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. (Lee is probably the only actor who in the course of his career has played both Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes as well as Henry Baskerville.)
It is fair to say that despite his undoubted versatility Lee is at his best in fantastic or stylized settings—whether this be Castle Dracula or Scaramanga's exotic island retreat in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun. In more realistically depicted worlds, he appears slightly uncomfortable and out of place. Whatever the reasons are for this (and the main one is probably his height, which handicapped his career for so long) it does seem that Christopher Lee is in every sense a larger-than-life actor who was fortunate enough to have found a space in the horror genre within which he could develop his formidable talent.
—Peter Hutchings, updated by John McCarty