Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Oliver Reed Film Festival, Pt. 3: the '80s 'Til Death

In Part One and Part Two of "The Oliver Reed Film Festival," Ollie rose to glory as "The Biggest Film Star in Britain." While other contenders for the title fled England as tax exiles, Reed stubbornly stayed behind. By the end of the '70s, Reed had at last come to America, but he was past his prime as a leading man.

DR. HECKYL & MR. HYPE (1980)
In this comic variation on Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Charles B. Griffith, Reed plays a deformed podiatrist who sets out to lose his virginity by ingesting a serum that turns him into a suave ladykiller. Imagine if you will, The Nutty Professor with Ollie instead of Jerry Lewis. Featuring Corman regulars Dick Miller and Mel Welles, former Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas, and Jackie Coogan as "Sergeant Fleacollar."

Mommar Khadafi helped finance this epic story of guerilla leader Omar Muhkta (Anthony Quinn), who fought ferociously against Mussolini's occupation of Libya during the Second World War. Reed plays Italian general Rodolpho Graziani. One of Ollie's favorites. With Rod Steiger, Sir John Gielgud, and Sky Dumont.

This Disney-made stinker reunited Reed with Michael Crawford, his co-star from The Jokers. Ollie preferred to call this movie "Condom Man."

VENOM (1982)
Cool suspense flick about a kidnapping gone awry, with Reed as Dave the chaffeur. Co-starring Klaus Kinski, Sarah Miles, Sterling Hayden, Susan George, and a deadly black mamba snake. Original director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) got fired from the movie, perhaps because he had a more difficult time working with a drunken Reed and the certifiably insane Kinski than he did working with Leatherface.

Having famously turned down the role of Doyle Lonnegan in 1973's The Sting with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Ollie finally got to play the part in this belated sequel, but instead of Newman and Redford, his co-stars were Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis.

TWO OF A KIND (1983)
John Travolta. Olivia Newton-John. Oliver Reed. Better than Grease 2, not as good as The Sting II. With Charles Durning, Scatman Crothers, and Gene Hackman as the voice of God.

SPASMS (1983)
Ollie returned to Canada to make this godawful gorefest, which makes The Brood look like Citizen Kane in comparison. With Peter Fonda.

Ollie is brilliant in his last great starring performance as Gerald Kingsley, the self-proclaimed "Sex Pest of the South Seas." Based on Lucy Irving's book. Irving (Amanda Donohoe) responds to an ad in the classifieds placed by Kingsley, who seeks a companion to live on a deserted island with him. They spend a turbulent year roughing it, walking around naked, and fighting a lot.

Reed in his final leading role, as Roderick Usher in this undistinguished Poe adaptation, done in by a cheesy '80s synth score. Produced by exploitation vet Harry Alan Towers. With Donald Pleasance.

As his career waned, Ollie's legend grew. He began appearing on British chat shows and making a drunken spectacle of himself, culminating in his 1991 appearance on Channel Four's After Dark in which he sparred verbally with feminist author Kate Millet, telling her "I've had more fights in pubs than you've had hot dinners," and kissing her full on the lips. And though he was brilliant in Castaway, Reed's days as a leading man were over. And so it was that he filled out the remainder of his screen career with supporting roles, such as his brief-but-memorable turn as Vulcan in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Direct-to-video sequel to the mid-70s Musketeers movies, reuniting much of the principal cast with director Richard Lester, only to prove how badly most of them had aged. After a fight scene had to be rewritten because of his debilitated physical condition, a dispirited Ollie apologized to the director, saying "Sorry I'm such a fat cunt." Tragically, the wonderful and round character actor Roy Kinnear was killed during the making of the movie, after a fall from a horse, which lent an air of doom to the proceedings. There would be no roadshow theatrical run for Return of the Musketeers, only straight-to-video ignominy. Has its defenders, me among them. But watching the film and knowing the backstory, I couldn't help but feel bad for Kinnear and think back to his performance as Algernon in The Beatles' Help!...Sad.

Superlative made-for-TV adaptation of RL Stevenson's tale, and much more faithful to its source material than, say, a film like Dr. Heckyl & Mr. Hype. Starring Charlton Heston as Long John Silver, Christian Bale as Jim Hawkins, with Ollie third-billed as Billy Bones. Co-starring Reed's Hammer Horror co-hort Christopher Lee as Blind Pew. Directed by Heston's son Fraser.

Israeli schlockmeister Menahem Golan helmed this obscure thriller about a gang of criminals in Berlin who plot the perfect bank job.

In another small part, Reed is nonetheless a memorably menacing presence as the heavy of the piece, gay gangster Dolly Hopkins. But, like they say, there are no small parts, only small actors. With Oliver Platt and Jerry Lewis.

Reed plays an inept professional killer in this alleged comedy, his sixth and final collaboration with director Michael Winner, whose career paralleled Ollie's in many ways. With Diana Rigg, Felicity Kendall, and John Cleese.

"We are but shadows and dust." Triumphant swan song from Mr. England, as the gladiator pimp daddy Prospero. Reed's death in a Maltese pub, mid-production, led to a hastily written death scene using a CGI simulacrum of Ollie, at an additional cost to the production of over three million dollars. A fitting end to a checkered career. With Russell Crowe.
Originally posted 24 August 2007.

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