Friday, March 18, 2011

R.I.P.: Michael Gough

Michael Gough
23 November 1916 – 17 March 2011

After a year of ill health, the British actor Michael Gough died at the age of 94 on March 17, 2011. Born in Kuula Lumpur in 1916 to British nationals, he made his film debut in 1948 in the costume crime drama, Blache Fury. Most people know the name Michael Gough – if they know his name at all – from his extremely effective four-film stint as an understated Alfred the Faithful Butler in Tim Burton's excellent Batman films and Joel Schumacher's less than good Batman films. But even amongst those who don't know his name, many know his face from the numerous entertaining horror and cult films, mostly English productions, which he graced throughout the 1960s. Usually his acting was enjoyably less than understated in those films, although he did gain an ability for effective but understated acting in his later films, so perhaps his early "style" was more a product of the directors than the actor. A reliable character actor and occasional lead – or, as he called himself, a "jobbing actor" – Michael Gough, a presence that was always noted and enjoyed, appeared in over 150 films and did innumerable voice-over jobs.

Here are some of his films of note – and of lesser note. He retired from acting in 1999, though he did resurface long enough to lend his pleasant voice to Tim Burton's last two animated projects.

(1951, dir. Marc Allégret)

Three years after his debut in Marc Allégret's crime costume drama Blanche Fury, Michael Gough makes it onto a film poster! Yes, that's his name in small print on the poster above, and him in person (as "Maurice Edwards") on the German film program below. Anyone know what the film is about?

The Man in the White Suit
Michael Gough didn't make it onto this groovy poster for a comedy by the director of the original version of The Ladykillers (1955). The trailer can be seen here at; regrettably, the embedding function has been disabled. A young Michael Gough (as " Michael Corland") can be seen glowering over the shoulder of the film's lead star a couple of times in the trailer.

(1958, dir. Terence Fisher)

Finally, his first true classic – and what a classic it is! Alone for this film, Gough earned his place in film history.

Model for Murder
(1959, dir. Terry Bishop)
A year later, he (alongside great Hazel Court was in a "[…] mundane second-feature thriller that fails to excite despite the best efforts of a spirited cast." (Britmovie) Love the posters.

Horrors of the Black Museum
(1959, dir. Arthur Crabtree)
In this cult classic, he plays the lead as the killer – a role he was often to play.

What a Carve Up!
No Place Like Homicide!
(1961, dir. Pat Jackson)
Plays Fisk, the Butler, in a forgotten horror comedy loosely based on Frank King's novel The Ghoul, previously filmed in 1933 with Boris Karloff as The Ghoul (trailer).
Here is the full version of What a Carve Up! at AMC.

(1961, dir. John Lemont)
Once again, the bad guy – in a trash classic fondly remembered by many a trash fan. As Gough himself said about the film (at Cinefantastique): "Konga was such a howler: no one that saw it could ever let me live down my dialogue, once Konga had me in its paw – simply unforgettable." At this point in his career, subtle acting was no longer an option for Michael Gough.
Beneath the trailer below, a cover from the comic book the film inspired.

The Phantom of the Opera
(1962, dir. Terence Fisher)
Two posters from the film, the flop – but then, there has never been a version that comes close to being as effective as the original with Lon Chaney (here's the original full silent film at Internet Archives).

Black Zoo
(1963, dir. Robert Gordon)
Another fun film produced by the great producer Herman Cohen, who produced both Konga and The Horror of the Black Museum, amongst many. Director Robert Gordon also directed the fun nature takes revenge film, It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955 / trailer), famous for its six-tentacle monster octopus by Ray Harryhausen (octopi have eight tentacles). Of the five films Gough did for Cohen, he has the following to say of Black Zoo: "The best experience I had on a film produced by Herman Cohen. […] I will always have a fondness for that film […]." Below, a murder scene from the film – without Gough, who played Michael Conrad, the lead and villain of the movie.

Dr. Terror's House of Horrors
(1965, dir. Freddie Francis)
The first of the famous series of anthology horror films from Amicus. Gough is in episode 4, Disembodied Hand, in which he plays a painter who loses his hand and whose hand then terrorizes the man responsible for the "amputation," the pompous critic Christopher Lee.

The Skull
(1965, dir. Freddie Francis)
Gough is in the opening pre-credit scene, as the man who robs the grave of Marquis de Sade and then strips the flesh from the skull of the great writer. He doesn't survive long...

Alice in Wonderland
(1966, dir. Jonathan Miller)
The full television play, with Gough as the March Hare. More art than children's story, for sure, but oddly fascinating at times.

(1967, dir. Jim O'Connolly)
Joan Crawford! Diana Dors! Director Jim O'Connolly went on to direct The Valley of Gwangi two years later. Michael Gough meets a great end in the film, helping to prove that smoking can be deadly. The trailer can be seen here, at the great Herman Cohen memorial website.

They Came from Beyond Space
(1967, dir. Freddie Francis)
Based on the novel The Gods Hates Kansas, the film is a real turkey. If I remember correctly – I saw it a long time ago – for half the film a number of characters run around wearing steel colanders on their heads. Right up there with Thin Air (1969) as one of the truly less noteworthy genre films of the time. Watch the full film to make your own judgment.

Curse of the Crimson Altar
(1968, dir. Vernon Sewell)
To quote Gough from Cinefantastique: "[The film] was an absolute disaster from day one, yet Boris Karloff was such a sweet man and was adored by the crew. […] Barbara worked only a couple of days on it, and I don’t think I worked more than a week myself."

Full Film

Women in Love
(1969, dir. Ken Russell)
A bit part in one of Ken Russell's duller films – though the wrestling scene is enjoyable, if you like hetero bears.

A Walk with Love and Death
(1969, dir. John Huston)
A bit part in the debut film of Anjelica Huston. There is a reason you've never heard of this movie before – it's miserable. Have a laugh at the trailer – in which Gough is nowhere to be seen.

(1970, dir. Freddie Francis)
What do you mean you've never seen it?

The Corpse
Velvet House
Crucible of Horror
(1971, dir Viktors Ritelis)
Michael Gough's character's son and daughter in the film were played by Gough's real life son, Simon Gough, and daughter-in-law, Sharon Gurney.

Savage Messiah
(1972, dir. Ken Russell)
Again, Michael Gough has a minor character role and is not on the poster – but including this film on the list gives me the excuse to include this prolonged scene of an exceptionally sexy and very naked and young Helen Mirren.

Horror Hospital
Computer Killers
A film by the greatly underappreciated exploitation film distributor and director, Antony Balch. According to the website British Horror Films: "Horror Hospital is a wonder. A film unknown by the world at large, and pretty much unknown by fans of general horror films, yet rightly lauded by British horror film fans as one of the greatest - if not the greatest - horror films ever made on these islands."
A scene (in Spanish) from the film… Tell me you don't want to see it after seeing this!

The Legend of Hell House
(1973, dir. John Hough)
I snuck into this film as a child – highly doubtful that the film would get a PG rating were it released today. Gough only appears at the end, and then he is literally stuffed – but the film is fun!

Satan's Slave
Evil Heritage
(1976, dir. Norman J. Warren)

The Boys From Brazil
A tiny part in an outrageous film, but if you keep your eyes open you'll see him in the trailer. Who knew that Gregory Peck could actually overact this well.

(1981, dir. Piers Haggard)

Top Secret!
(1984, dir. Abrahams, Zucker & Zucker)
One of their best comedies – shame it was such a flop.

And an additional scene just because I like the film and it also accurately reflects East Germany before the Wall came down.

(1986, dir. Derek Jarman)
Saw this when it came out – Jarman was de rigor in Berlin – but I dunno anymore what it is about anymore. It's ahhrt dahrling… but Gough is at least in the trailer, too.

The Serpent and the Rainbow
(1988, dir. Wes Craven)
Dunno why this film has such a bad rap, it's a lot better than people like to admit.

(1989, dir. Tim Burton)
OK, it was good and truly influential – but not great. Jack Nicholson is overrated and Kim Bassinger sucks. But for that, Michael Gough is the best Alfred since Alan Napier, and much better than Michael Caine (and I like Michael Caine).

Let Him Have It
(1991, dir. Peter Medak)
Peter Medak can make great art and make great trash – this is closer to the former. An effective message film. Gough is all over the trailer.

Batman Returns
(1992, dir. Tim Burton)
The best Batman film ever. Basta.

The Age of Innocence
(1993, dir. Martin Scorsese)
A frigging great film. Makes me hungry every time I see it.

Batman Forever
(1995, dir. Joel Schumacher)
Not half as bad as people like to claim, but a step down from the two films that preceded it.

Batman & Robin
(1997, dir. Joel Schumacher)
In a perfect world, this film would never exist.

Sleepy Hollow
(1999, dir. Tim Burton)
A great film, simple as that. Gough in his last live film appearance as Notary Hardenbrook.

Corpse Bride
(2005, dir. Mike Johnson and Tim Burton)
Gough supplied the voice of Elder Gutknecht in this amazing film.

Alice in Wonderland
(2010, dir. Tim Burton)
The voice of the Dodo in Tim Burton's visually stunning but oddly dissatisfying riff on the classic tale. Michael Gough's last involvement in a film.

Another fine tribute to Michael Gough is found at at Black Hole.

1 comment:

-Alan D Hopewell said...

Much like John Carradine here, Mr. Gough preferred working to starving artistically.