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10 actors who achieved immortality in just one movie


Some of the actors who left us wanting lots more...

Some of the actors who left us wanting more...

Many film actors have become box office stars thanks to one character, but while Sean Connery and Christopher Lee managed to break away from 007 and Dracula, Anthony Perkins’ was forever overshadowed by his infamous alter ego Norman Bates. For some actors, one film role was enough to give them lasting cinema immortality; if it hadn’t been for their performances as the Wizard of Oz and Ming the Merciless, Frank Morgan and Charles Middleton would have been long forgotten.

The following ten actors achieved their cult status in the horror and fantasy genre on the strength of one film. Although these working actors appeared in a variety of movies, it is that particular character and their well received performance that has pushed any other notable film work into the background!

Max Schreck (Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens – 1922)

Max Schreck (inset as self) as 'Nosferatu' F W Murnau’s unofficial version of Dracula has survived the decades, even after Bram Stoker’s widow successfully sued the producers over copyright. Now fully restored, this stylish horror classic still has the power to fascinate, and its all down to Max Schreck’s truly frightening performance as Graf Orlok, a vampire that looks so ghastly in appearance, you can almost smell his rank breath! A veteran of Max Reinhardt’s Deutsches Theatre in Berlin, Schreck came into films late in his career, and remained busy until his death in 1936. With most of his film output now lost, one would be hard-pressed to find another role to equal his remarkable portrayal. As it is, Schreck’s Orlok remains the definitive epitome of evil.

Rafaela Ottiano (The Devil-Doll – 1936)

Rafaella Ottiano Tod Browning’s enjoyable chiller has also stood the test of time. Escaping from Devil’s Island with disgraced scientist Marcel (H.B. Walthall), Paul Lavoud (Lionel Barrymore) learns of his friend’s experiments in miniaturizing humans to only a few inches. When the scientist dies, Lavoud disguises himself as elderly Madame Mandilip and sets up a toy shop in Paris where he uses Marcel’s work to take revenge on the men who framed him. Brilliant though he is, Barrymore is upstaged by Rafaela Ottiano’s OTT performance as Marcel’s loopy wife Malita. After years of playing (occasionally sinister) matrons and housekeepers, Ottiano, with her white streaked fright-wig and eye-rolling expression, has a barnstorming time of it. She may not be the best-known actor in the list, but her ham-slicing turn was a forerunner to the sinister housekeepers and murderous femme fatales that Gale Sondergaard made her career with a decade later.

Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz – 1939)

Margaret Hamilton in 'The Wizard Of Oz' (1939) Along with Irish actress Una O’Connor, hatchet-faced Margaret Hamilton cornered the market in town gossips, twittering spinsters, nagging wives and formidable schoolmarms, although her characters were less sympathetic. Like Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood, Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West is the prototype for all future witches, right down to the pointy hat, broomstick and cackling voice! Green-faced and clad in black, she is the stuff of nightmares. Hamilton also had one of Hollywood’s most iconic death scenes when she dissolves into a pile of green slime after having a bucket of water thrown in her face – to the cries of “I’M MELTING! I’M MELTING! OH WHAT A WORLD!”

Stanley Ridges (Black Friday – 1940)

Stanley Ridges ('Black Friday', 1940) Former Broadway matinee idol Ridges entered films in early middle-age as a reliable character actor, mostly playing professional types interspersed with the odd sadistic villain. The one film that gave him the rare chance to shine was this routine horror flick. His role as Professor Kingsley was meant for Boris Karloff, but in a last-minute change in casting, the horror veteran ended up playing Dr Ernst Sovacs, the role Bela Lugosi was earmarked for (Lugosi ended up playing a gangster). The kindly professor is left fighting for his life after being hit by a stolen car driven by gangster Red Cannon. When the dying Cannon tells Sovacs about a hidden fortune, the scientist fuses part of his brain into his friend’s during a life-saving surgery. With the gangster’s memories lodged in Kingsley’s brain, Sovacs uses mind manipulation to turn the professor into Cannon so he can get his hands on the loot. But the gangster has his own agenda – killing the men who double-crossed him. Ridges grabs his duel role with both hands, effortlessly alternating from sweet English academic to brutal American gangster. If anything Karloff’s stiff acting and Lugosi’s hilarious miscasting has made Ridges’ performance all the more memorable.

Hurd Hatfield (The Picture of Dorian Gray – 1945)

Hurd Hatfield in 'The Picture Of Dorian Gray', 1945) After achieving major stage success, this debonair American actor moved to Hollywood where his movie career promised more than it actually delivered. Ideally suited to playing elegant rogues in period costume, his breakthrough came as Oscar Wilde’s handsome but morally corrupt Victorian gentleman, whose eternal youth hides an uglier side eventually revealed in a hidden portrait, which becomes more ghastly with each sin he commits. Although perfectly cast as Dorian, Hatfield’s cold presence and almost mask-like good looks worked against him in other roles, so not surprisingly his film career faded rapidly. At least he kept working, and, rather like Dorian, Hatfield kept his youthful appearance well into old age. Did he have a portrait hidden in the attic?

Patrick O’Neal (Chamber of Horrors – 1966)

Patrick O'Neal in 'Chamber Of Horrors'With his piercing eyes, immaculate appearance, well chiselled features, distinctive mid-Atlantic voice (reminiscent of Vincent Price) and the ability to alternate from comedy to drama and hero to villain with comparative ease, Patrick O’Neal deserved to be a big star. But apart from a couple of interesting movies (King Rat [1965], The Kremlin Letter [1970]), his later career consisted of bland TV guest appearances. His performance as serial killer Jason Cravatte in this cool piece of American Gothic illustrated what the actor could do with a really meaty role. O’Neal is very effective because he imbues  Jason with a sardonic edge that makes him all the more terrifying. Why this never led to further high-profile horror roles is something of a mystery.

Fenella Fielding as Valeria Watt in 'Carry On Screaming'Fenella Fielding (Carry On Screaming – 1966)

With her spectacular figure, imperfect beauty and husky voice, Miss Fenella was an ideal femme fatale for period dramas and comedies, had she been around 20 years earlier. British film-makers didn’t know what to do with her after her West End success, so her movie career was confined to sexy-but-extravagant decoration. It took the Carry On gang to give Fenella the role of her career as the vampish Valeria Watt in what was to be one of the best films in the series. With a figure-hugging scarlet dress, Miss Fielding, along with besotted suitor Harry H. Corbett, acts the regulars off the screen. Her finest hour has to be when she exudes ectoplasm in front of Corbett’s Superintendent Bung. “Do you mind if I smoke..?”

John Carson (Plague of the Zombies – 1966)

John Carson as Squire Clive Hamilton in Hammer's 'Plague Of The Zombies' This was one of four Hammer films made back-to-back. Rasputin, The Mad Monk (1966) and Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966) may have had the lion’s share of the budget, but it was the second features The Reptile (1966) and Plague of the Zombies (Also known as The Cornwall Classics) that were the better films, the latter featuring a superb villain in John Carson. With his silky smooth James Mason voice and elegant presence, Carson often played suave villains on TV, but rarely got the chance to shine on film. As Squire Clive Hamilton, Carson is the ultimate civilised sadist, whose aristocratic manner and noble bearing hides a thoroughly decadent, persona as he turns the village locals into a zombie workforce for his tin mine. Hamilton is attractive, affable and evil. But despite a couple of interesting roles for Hammer, he never equalled his villainous squire. At least the he remained busy on television.

Ferdy Mayne (The Fearless Vampire Killers – 1967)

Ferdy Mayne Roman Polanski’s horror spoof may have divided critics and horror fans straight down the middle, but everyone was unanimous in praising Ferdy Mayne’s legendary performance at Count Von Krolock. After playing the debonair villain in many British second features, this handsome German actor moved into character roles in various international ventures such as Where Eagles Dare (1968). Securing his cult status as Von Krolock, Mayne has an icy but menacing charm, which is extremely effective during the film’s more humorous moments. He remained a busy working actor, but never came close to equalling what many fans consider the perfect Dracula, in all but name.

Sir Robert Helpmann (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – 1968)

Sir Robert Helpmann in 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' (1968) If you think the Wicked Witch of the West is scary, well the real stuff of nightmares is the dreaded Child Catcher, brilliantly played by the great ballet dancer Robert Helpmann. After a distinguished career in the Royal Ballet, that included the choreography for the films The Red Shoes (1948) and Tales of Hoffman (1950). Helpmann directed for the theatre with equal success. His few film appearances consisted of eccentric character roles, but it was with this popular adaptation Ian Fleming’s novel that he went way beyond cinema immortality. Dressed in a black top hat and cape, his lank hair, long nose, wild-eyed grin and his evil catch phrase “I smell children!” has frightened generations of youngsters. But like most creepy villains he gets his just deserts in the end. Mind you he would have his work cut out catching the kids where I live!

Sweet dreams readers - don’t forget to look under the bed before you go to sleep!


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#1 Another immortal one movie F.e.sader 2012-01-08 20:48
Linda Blair in the exorcist
#2 Good Point Mark Iveson 2012-02-15 15:27
Quoting F.e.sader:
Linda Blair in the exorcist

I toyed with Linda Blair but she wasn't exactly a villian, just possessed. Mind you I would probably mentioned Mercedes McCambridge who was Miss Blair's voice during those possession scenes!
#3 RE: 10 actors who achieved immortality in just one movie Albert 2012-12-27 23:43
Stanley Ridges was also a memorable Professor Siletsky in the original "To Be Or Not To Be" (1942). And what about Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, and Jack Haley from "The Wizard of Oz"?

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