Peter O’Toole, RIP
posted at 8:06 pm on December 15, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
And for that matter, RIP Tom Laughlin, too, the star of the Billy Jack films, which no one would confuse with High Art, but which have a cachet all their own. Mike Huckabee and I discussed the man-card value of Billy Jack a few years ago.
Peter O’Toole was one of the greats of the cinema and stage, offering memorable roles for decades — Lawrence of Arabia, My Favorite Year, The Stunt Man, to his recent role in For Greater Glory, which told the story of the Mexican government’s war on the Catholic Church nearly a century ago. He has at least one film in the can, Katherine of Alexander, and perhaps another in Mary, although it’s not clear whether any filming has taken place in that production yet.
My good friend Scott Johnson cites My Favorite Year as his O’Toole favorite, and it’s a delicious satire on Hollywood, television, and “heroes” of the screen who have feet of clay, and maybe a little heroism down deep. But for my money, O’Toole at his best comes in The Lion in Winter. O’Toole stars as the beleaguered Henry II, post-Becket murder, in what is arguably the worst family Christmas in cinematic history. O’Toole excels and stands out in this role, despite being surrounded with top-drawer talent. Katherine Hepburn plays Eleanor of Acquitaine, and his sons are portrayed by Anthony Hopkins (Richard), John Castle (Geoffrey), and Excalibur’s Nigel Terry (John). A very young Timothy Dalton plays the French prince Philip II. The entire film revolves around the love-hate relationship between Henry and Eleanor, with their sons used as pawns.
It’s an ensemble tour de force, but O’Toole owns the role in a way that forces anyone else attempting to portray Henry to measure himself against O’Toole. (Incidentally, the same is true of Paul Scofield’s performance as Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, which debuted two years prior to The Lion in Winter.) That, to me, is the best O’Toole we ever saw — although we saw a great deal of great O’Toole over the decades.
And with all of that, how many Oscars did this great actor receive from his colleagues across a 57-year career? None, except for a consolation “honorary” Oscar, despite eight nominations. Peter O’Toole and his body of work got the last laugh anyway.