Joseph Failla, my movie-going pal from the late 1960s on, and a sometime DVD reviewer for Premiere back in the early aughts, wrote me with some reminiscences and observations on the late Christopher Lee, which I reproduce below:
It was my mother who first introduced me to the world of Christopher Lee when she bought me the Famous Films issue #2, CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN / HORROR OF DRACULA magazine, which featured both Hammer classics in pictorial form. Except for the cover art, all the pics used were in black and white, the magazine did, however, get across the unique tone of the films. Already having a background in Karloff and Lugosi, I knew (so to speak), I wasn't in Kansas anymore. It thrilled me to read a film in comic book form, in a sense this became my first keepsake of an actual movie.
And this brought me into the orbit of Christopher Lee, who would have such a presence outside the confines of horror and fantasy that when the time came for me to widen my view into other genres, Lee was still there in full force. Although I was never quite able to separate him from the humble Hammer productions where I first learned of him, he remained a recognizable, charismatic and enduring connection to my own youth as my movie appreciation and understanding continued to grow.
To explain the longevity of my relationship with Lee and his films, the first time I saw Lee onscreen in a theatre was in DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS in 1964. The first time I saw HORROR OF DRACULA, it was on Super 8 black and white film, projected on a sheet in a friend's garage, even though it was only snippets of the film's highlights, it was extremely exciting to experience in any form regardless. It would be another 30 years before I could see a 35mm print with slightly faded color, projected properly in a legitimate theater.
While HORROR OF DRACULA cannot be beat for shocks, tautness, and the teaming of Lee with Peter Cushing, I may actually prefer DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE as my favorite Lee Dracula film since it's the most religious of the series, making the struggle between good and evil even more profound.
Lee was the best of all possible Fu Manchus in some of the oddest films made about the character.
He was a great Bond villain in one of the weakest Bond films. Which led to him saying about playing a Bond villain, his only regret was "you can only do it once".
A favorite Lee performance was a rare turn as the hero battling sin and depravity in THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, a wonderful flip side second feature with HORROR HOTEL, starring Lee as his own devil worshipping "opposite number" .
His expert swordsmanship was on full display in Lester's THREE and FOUR MUSKETEERS. It was here he seemed to inherit the same fate of Basil Rathbone, who also could slice up any of his fellow performers but was not allowed to win any of his screen sword scuffles as we could not ask for a more effective villain.
One of the great strengths of Jackson's Rings Trilogy of films is the casting, even down to the smallest of roles. But no actor was made better use of in this series than Lee himself. He was a most believable practitioner of the black arts, having demonstrated an affinity for such mischief in a host of prior films setting the foundation for a evil film persona in stone.
Perhaps now his involvement in the STAR WARS prequels will garner a little more respect for the much disliked recent series of chapters. I for one couldn't have been happier to see Lee join the ranks of STAR WARS in any capacity but his Count Dooku, while recalling his gothic villainy, complete with cape and castle bring more of a sense of symmetry and coming full circle with the original trilogy than any other element I could imagine. Although belated, Lee would now join his former screen partner Peter Cushing once again as a participating co-star, at least in spirit.