From Dracula to Saruman



By Ankit Sinha 

 From my earliest childhood memories, one image which remains etched deep within my subconscious is that of the foreboding aura of Dracula. The feared vampire of Bram Stoker’s eponymous novel was brought alive on screen in 1958 by the legendary Christopher Lee – an actor who defined the horror genre in cinema.

It was in 1957 that a 35-year-old Lee was cast in Hammer Film Productions’ “The Curse of Frankenstein” as Frankenstein’s monster – the character which was destined to attain immortality in the annals of horror cinema.

The charismatic actor passed away on Sunday at the age of 93 in London after suffering respiratory and heart problems.

As a fan, Lee’s death came as a shock as since I had long revered the veteran actor for his versatility and panache. With his impeccable portrayals of Frankestein’s monster and Dracula, the actor had become a household name in the horror genre and had developed an enviable fan following in India and across the globe.

Born Christopher Frank Carandini Lee in London on May 27, 1922, the actor had an illustrious career which spanned nearly 70 years. His towering personality – he was 6′ 4″ – distinguished good looks and rich baritone made him an enviable and respectable figure in Hollywood. Lee had a predilection for the sinister and macabre, as he admitted being “fascinated by the nature of evil” during a 2003 interview.

“There is something sad about malevolence, to be wicked,” the “Lord of the Rings” actor was quoted as saying in the interview with the Guardian.

Although cinephiles fondly remember the actor for his portrayal of Dracula, Lee’s first break came in Terence Young’s 1948 drama “Corridor of Mirrors”. He played secondary and anonymous characters in various low-budget films for 10 years before finding his mark in the industry.

As the years passed, Lee’s acting career took even a bigger curve as he branched out to play several memorable roles. If he was famous for portraying Dracula and Frankenstein’s creature in the late 1950s, he attained fame in the 1960s as Fu Manchu, in the 1970s as the pagan Lord Summerisle “The Wicker Man” and Scaramanga in Bond-movie “The Man with the Golden Gun” and in the 2000s as the evil wizard Saruman in “The Lord of the Rings”.

His career witnessed a renaissance at the turn of the new millenium, but the film which acted as a silent precursor to his resurgent popularity was the highly controversial “Jinnah”. Directed by Jamil Dehlavi, the 1998 biopic saw Lee in the role of Pakistan’s historic founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Lee left an everlasting impression with his sincere portrayal of the Pakistani national icon.

The veteran actor was reintroduced to a new generation of film lovers in the 2000s with his role as Saruman in the hugely popular “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and as Count Dooku in the “Star Wars” series.

Lee was knighted in 2009 and received a Bafta fellowship in 2011. He never intended to retire as he had stated in an interview: “I hate being idle. As dear Boris (Karloff) used to say, ‘When I die I want to die with my boots on’.”

With Lee’s death, an era of cinematic brilliance has come to a closure. Yet, the memories of his stellar career will continue to inspire fans of his works till eternity.

The Dracula isn’t dead, he is sleeping in his coffin, waiting to arise again.