Review: Theatre of Death

A retired pathologist named Marquis (Julian Glover) has been frequenting the stage productions of a Grand Guignol-esque Parisian theatre called Theatre du Mort. The productions tend to climax in murder of its beautiful young female stars. The chief theatre director is the very intense, demanding, and secretive Philippe Darvas (Christopher Lee). Darvas is currently moulding his latest muse Nicole (Jenny Till) to become the next theatre legend. Meanwhile, Marquis is asked by his inspector friend (Ivor Dean) to consult on a series of recent killings of pretty young ladies. He quickly latches onto a juicy prime suspect: The very serious and very sinister-seeming Darvas himself. In a cast full of non-Parisians, American actress Lelia Goldoni plays Nicole’s roommate and fellow theatre actress.

 

The late Sir Christopher Lee made a heck of a lot of movies (not to mention TV movies etc.) in his career that it’s hard for even the biggest film buff to get around to seeing all of them. However, I’m definitely going to do my best to make a pretty big dent in his filmography at least. This 1967 killer-thriller mystery from director Samuel Gallu (a not very prolific American TV/film director and producer and playwright) is a more than decent film, even if Lee’s role isn’t as large as one would first assume, especially given it opens with his narration. Scripted by Ellis Kadison (mostly an American TV guy like the director) & Roger Marshall (A British TV writer including “The Sweeney” and “Lovejoy”), it’s one of Lee’s non-Hammer outings, and is more a vehicle for veteran character actor Julian Glover (who has fought both Indiana Jones and James Bond, and more recently appeared as a corrupt old bastard on “Game of Thrones”), with an assist from American actress Lelia Goldoni.

 

Looking rather young and dapper, Glover has always been a solid actor, and is a good choice for the lead here. It’s not an especially colourful role, but Glover is a much better actor than say most of the young romantic leads in the Hammer Dracula films. A perfectly cast Lee is dark and brooding as ever, and his Svengali-like theatre director has a bit of Grigori Rasputin about him in the way he hypnotically tries to mould young theatre starlet Jenny Till (whose name will likely amuse emotional adolescents such as myself). His hairdo is decidedly “Curse of Frankenstein”, though. He’s not on screen as often as you might expect, but director Gallu gets a fair bit of mileage out of Lee’s booming, deep voice and intense, possibly sinister gaze. I think this is one of Lee’s best pre-“Wicker Man” performances. He certainly dominates the first half of the film, that’s for sure. As for Ms. Goldoni, she’s certainly a lot more interesting than the rather forgettable Ms. Till, who gets the more important and interesting role. Look out for a small appearance by Austrian-born, long-time Australian resident Joseph Furst as the doctor. He’s always a welcome presence no matter the size or shape of the role.

 

The film is slightly hokey perhaps, and the mystery may not be all that mysterious to you. I was able to cotton on to the culprit by about the midway point and you probably will too. Nonetheless, it’s all rather creepy and very good-looking thanks to cinematographer Gilbert Taylor (who lensed three of my all-time favourites, “Star Wars”, “The Omen”, and “Repulsion”). There’s even some slasher/giallo-like touches from time to time.

 

I’m really surprised that this “Phantom of the Opera”-esque killer-thriller mystery has been largely forgotten. It’s a bit silly at times, but quite well-made and well-acted by a solid cast led by Julian Glover, and stolen by Christopher Lee. A bit underrated, even if the first half is a bit more compelling than the second. A solid B-movie worth seeking out if you can find it, especially for Lee completists such as myself.

 

Rating: B-

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