Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 19 February 2016

'60s / '70s British cinema: Olly and David

Lets now look at those two interesting British actors Oliver Reed and David Hemmings through the decades. Both were young jobbing actors at the dawn of the Sixties, and were established by the middle of the Swinging Decade .... thanks to directors like Antonioni, Michael Winner and Ken Russell. They worked together several times and their ends were rather similar too. They are both in THE SYSTEM (left) in 1964, THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER in 1977 and GLADIATOR in 2000. Both took to the hell-raising life as their careers waxed and waned and both died in their early sixties (Reed at 61, Hemmings at 62), no doubt from all that excess - at least David left an enjoyable and fascinating memoir.

It was an exciting time for young actors as the likes of Peter O'Toole, Albert Finney, Alan Bates, Tom Courtenay came to prominence in the early Sixties, with Michael York, Terence Stamp and more following .... Oliver with his striking looks had lots of small parts, including that hilarious moment when his camp ballet dancer invades Jack Hawkins' LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN in 1960, he was more typically cast as werewolves or bullies (as in THE ANGRY SILENCE) and had a good role in Losey's THE DAMNED in 1961. Michael Winner's THE SYSTEM in 1964 was a terrific role for him, and it a terrific British 1960s film ushering in that Swinging Era. David Hemmings is also in THE SYSTEM in a rather nondescript role - who would think two years later he would be starring for Italian maestro Michelangelo Antonioni who made him the face of the decade in BLOW-UP ? Hemmings also came up in small parts in films like NO TREES IN THE STREET, SINK THE BISMARCK!, SOME PEOPLE, PLAY IT COOL, WEST 11, TWO LEFT FEET etc - see Hemmings label. I had a good conversation with his then girlfriend Jane Merrow (star of THE SYSTEM) in the summer of 1966 when she was doing a West End play, about the time he must have been filming BLOW-UP - 50 years ago. 
The Antonioni classic did not hit London until 1967 when it became the talk of the town and it was the film (and still is) one had to see and have an opinion about. Being 21 at the time it was like seeing oneself up there in the screen, as Antonioni transformed David into that decadent dissatisfied cherub. He was soon seen in more '60s classics like CAMELOT, BARBARELLA, THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE and kept busy into the 1970s, was married to Gayle Hunnicutt, also directing (RUNNING SCARED, JUST A GIGOLO with Bowie and Dietrich) as well as lots of American TV series like MAGNUM PI and THE A-TEAM as he had re-located to America and became a top action director for TV. 

Oliver did more Michael Winner films (THE JOKERS, HANNIBAL BROOKS - did anyone see that?, and that magnum opus I'LL NEVER FORGET WHAT'ISNAME) and then Ken Russell stepped in, not only with WOMEN IN LOVE and the notorious THE DEVILS (see Ken Russell/Reed labels) but he also impressed in Ken's 1967 BBC film on Dante Gabriel Rossetti DANTE'S INFERNO. His popular movies continued with THE HUNTING PARTY, THE TRAP, his Bill Sykes in OLIVER!TOMMY, ROYAL FLASHTHE TRIPLE ECHO and THE CLASS OF MISS MACMICHAEL, both again with Glenda Jackson, and American movies like BURNT OFFERINGS and THE SHUTTERED ROOM, and of course his brooding Athos in the Richard Lester MUSKETEERS films. 
They are both in the 1977 PRINCE AND THE PAUPER reboot, fun but not much more, and both turned up again in Ridley Scott's GLADIATOR, both rather aged now with no vanity at all, though just in their early sixties. Oliver had become a feature on the chatshow circuit where his increasing drunken antics make sad viewing now - there was a compilation on last week: THE OLIVER REED INTERVIEWS, it simply was too depressing to watch it all. Perhaps he was being encouraged to drink too much and go over the top to make car-crash television?
 He died of a heart attack in Malta during the GLADIATOR shoot in 1999 and was buried in Cork, in Ireland, where he had been living with his second wife. Hemmings kept going until 2003 - he had an effective role in Scorsese's THE GANGS OF NEW YORK, and the Brit film LAST ORDERS with peers Courtenay, Caine, Hoskins, Mirren, Winstone - and he also died of a heart attack on location in Romania. His memoir, published in 2004, is a fascinating read for anyone interested in British Cinema and his early life as a boy opera singer for Benjamin Brittan - he sang Miles in the first opera production of THE TURN OF THE SCREW. Hemmings talks about BLOW-UP (as does a still miffed Terence Stamp who had been promised the part) in that 1993 BBC series HOLLYWOOD UK, as do Vanessa and Monica Vitti too ... you also get Polanski, Roger Corman, Truffaut (with Julie Christie) and those other foreign directors wanting to be a part of Swinging London. 
We continue to like Hemmings and Reed and like seeing them on screen. Like Richards Harris and Burton they paid the price for all that excessive drinking, but kept going and working to the end -  of course like most working actors they did their share of rubbish and routine programmers (JUGGERNAUT, THE SQUEEZE, SITTING TARGET, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE), but we need not linger on those - more on them at labels. VENOM in '81 was a choice one for Olly - with the deadly snake going up his trouserleg ...

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