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January 26, 2012


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James Keepnews

Man, and never better than here -- OK, once, I guess -- as Little John in Mr. Lester's criminally under-discussed gem, perhaps equally unworthy of the Criterion treatment, but, I mean, Sir Sean AND Audrey must be worth a discussion, yes? Plus Robert Shaw and Richard Harris, and, yes, Nicol W., and that's plenty to talk about. I missed his penultimate performance in Terry Jones' WIND IN THE WILLOWS, itself well received I recall by the three or so people lucky enough to see it upon release.

Peaceout, NW and here's to "difficult" actors.

Paul Duane

For some reason, as a teenager, I thought Nicol Williamson was famous, or at least well-known. Probably because Inadmissible Evidence turned up on tv at around the same time as Excalibur was on general release, not to mention the photo of him on the cover of my copy of The Human Factor. It wasn't until I went out into the larger world that I realised it was entirely untrue, and in fact I completely lost track of him until I went to a press screening of the entirely atrocious Spawn in 1997. Looking at his IMDB now I see he was in Return to Oz as well - another reason to check out that oddity. I've always put him in the Patrick McGoohan category of actors undone by alcohol and a certain innate querulousness, but like McGoohan, I'd hoped for a late resurgence that never came. I'll be tracking down The Bofors Gun and Laughter in the Dark, if possible, instead.


Robin and Marian...sigh. Connery and Hepburn and Shaw and Williamson and Harris...AND Ian Holm and Denholm Elliott. And David Watkin cinematography and a John Barry score (though a replacement score Lester wasn't happy with) and William Hobbs swordfights. All in a Richard Lester film.

If nothing else, it demonstrates the historic malleability of the Robin Hood story that the incident that begins this final-days-of-Robin-Hood story (Richard's death) was also used as the beginning of Ridley Scott's first-days-of-Robin-Hood in 2010.

And Nicol Williamson/Patrick McGoohan is a scarily apt comparison. They will both be missed (pardon the banality).

Rand careaga

I saw Laughter in the Dark at the old UC Theatre in Berkeley around 1980. Apart from a sex scene so clumsily staged that the audience broke into loud jeers, it as beautifully done. I can't imagine why it has appeared to vanish into some cinematic black hole.


Yes Williamson is very good in THE HUMAN FACTOR. Score one for both auterism and cinephilia, since I wouldn't have watched the movie last year on TCM if it wasn't Preminger's last movie and if Dave Kehr hadn't praised it so much.

Speaking of people who didn't get the Criterion treatment, the death of Theo Angelopoulos was very distressing for me. It also wasn't lucky for him that his films were distributed by New Yorker video. It's a pity that critics like Hoberman, Rosenbaum and Klawans didn't particularly care for him. It's also bad luck that David Thomson, who did particularly care for him, didn't do more to promote him or his underrated European favorite, Jacques Rivette.

Robert Cashill

The DVD of Venom (82) has a rollicking commentary track. The original director, Tobe Hooper, put together a cast packed with "issues"--Williamson, Sarah Miles, Oliver Reed, Klaus Kinski, and Sterling Hayden--then fled at the first sign of trouble, leaving Piers Haggard (Blood on Satan's Claw) to pick up the pieces. Haggard says Williamson, whom he had worked with before, lived up to his promise to be on his best behavior, as Reed and Kinski went (hilariously) to war, Miles retreated into her own space, and Hayden smoked prodigious amounts of pot in his dressing room. (Amazingly he came up with a tight, underrated thriller, better than its premise suggests.)

Williamson is also excellent in The Reckoning, a Sony MOD disc. A lot his late 60s output has gone the way of The Human Factor.

Glenn Kenny

Actually, I'm so crazy about "Robin and Marion" that I DO think it warrants a Criterion edition. So much Lester is just criminally underrated as far as I'm concerned...

Partisan, I'm certainly mixed on Angelopoulos but I do wish his work gets a more respectful treatment in general. I think "Landscape in the Mist" is pretty much unimpeachable and was glad he was still active, and rattled to hear of his death. I didn't believe I had the means to say anything meaningful about it, though, so I held off, but I'm glad you mentioned it.

RC, that IS one helluva commentary for one helluva motion picture. The main problem with "Venom" is the snake itself, alas...


"Venom" was pretty forgettable for a film featuring Oliver Reed and a killer snake, but I do fondly remember the optimistic tagline from the commercials, which was something like "See it before the lines form."

People saying nice things about "Robin and Marian" and "Family Plot"...no wonder I come to this site so regularly.

Dan Coyle

Robin and Marian is a pretty swell movie. I'll always remember my late grandmother introducing it to us, and as the film reached its rather tragic denounment, sighing, "Isn't [Connery] romantic?"

So, Williamson's last big role was... Spawn? Well, Roger Ebert called that movie "unforgettable." Perhaps you all can think of another term.


Was Ebert being snarky about Spawn, or did he mistakenly think it was directed by Alex Proyas?

James Keepnews

And with his passing, the stories start rising to the surface, like so much purged venom. Or, so it would seem, Venom: "...Williamson was also quick with his fists. He was once knocked out by an angry circus midget, who had to be boxed off by Sarah Miles. Miles then had to carry Williamson home."

Midget ipse loquitur, and not by his angry, quick-fisted self alone: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/9041813/Will-we-ever-see-angry-young-men-like-Nicol-Williamson-on-the-stage-again.html

That Fuzzy Bastard

The Venom commentary may be better than the movie, and the movie is pretty good! The stories of Kinski vs. Reed battles are hilarious---I crack up when Haggard dryly commences to his imitation of Reed setting off firecrackers in front of Kinski's trailer, shouting "C'm OWT you Nahzi bahstuhd!"


It's unfortunate that the film versions of Inadmissible and Hamlet don't do anything like justice to Williamson's stage performances, at least that's what I understand and hope. I think his career might have turned out differently if he'd had better luck in feature films; like Robert Stephens he didn't make it as a movie star, and I can't believe that didn't hurt.

I thought he did a lot with a small role as one of Theresa Russell's victims in Black Widow. He also did some TV things - from distant memory, miscast as Mountbatten, good fun in a Columbo episode.

John Osborne told a story about Gielgud dropping one of his famous bricks: "That actor, oh, dear me -- young, Scottish, most unattractive . . . He was in that long, terribly dull, boring play. Oh, dear God, of course, you wrote it."


Until you just brought up his stage work, I'd forgotten I'd seen Williamson on Broadway in 1985 in The Real Thing later in the show's run. Glad I got the chance to see him live (though I imagine that infamous performance of I Hate Hamlet was probably a more memorable theatergoing experience).

On Columbo, wasn't Williamson a cinephile who trained his dogs to kill with the trigger word "Rosebud?" (That's another Williamson/McGoohan connection -- they were both 70s Columbo villains).


I think you're right - Williamson was a psychologist. It was pretty contrived even by Columbo standards. But if I remember correctly Williamson only did one episode. McGoohan was one of the special guest murderers who appeared more than once, like Robert Vaughn, and he directed an episode or two as well.

Dan Coyle

Bettencourt: I think he was referring to the film's effects, but he still gave it a big thumbs up.

The Siren

Stephanie said the magic words -- Robert Stephens. Sigh.

Robin and Marion is wonderful, easily worthy of a Criterion treatment, and while it's not of the same caliber I very much like The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. And I'll also bring up his Merlin in Excalibur, since no one else has. The British papers said Williamson and Helen Mirren didn't want to play opposite each other, as they'd once been lovers and it turned out as amicably as you'd expect. But their best scenes are played together.

Paul Duane

Another great, loose-cannon alcoholic nutcase to add to the honor roll on Venom is David Sherwin, screenwriter of If..., who was the original writer on it. His hilarious, unsettling book Going Mad in Hollywood is a chronicle of what it was like going from working with Lindsay Anderson to Tobe Hooper.

Brian Dauth

Williamson was the next-to-last villain on the original "Columbo". McGoohan was a villain four times (twice in the original and twice in the return). Jack Cassidy and Robert Culp were killers three times each in the original. Vaughan was a villain once and a victim once. McGoohan directed what was to have been the last episode of the original series (in which Vaughan was a victim), but "Columbo" returned for two more seasons before it ended for the first time.


Yes, Robert Stephens - sigh, indeed. At least he did have a late-in-life artistic renewal and went out on a high note, even if the praise was more for what-might-have-been than what was.

I thought Kehr overpraised "The Human Factor" somewhat and the book possesses more of the qualities he ascribed to the picture - one of my favorite Greenes - but it is unusual, very well served by the actors (save for Iman who can't act her way out of her caftan in a crucial role, though she's beautiful enough to convince you a man would risk all to be with her), and Williamson is excellent.

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