The Abominable Actor, Lionheart

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

As capable and diverse as he was as an actor, let’s face it – you didn’t cast Vincent Price if you were after a restrained, subdued performance. Nine times out of ten, what his directors wanted was his distinctive, instantly recognisable personality, and his ability to break out the ham at a moment’s notice. Ham acting when unintentional is unbearable; when brought to bear on purpose, in its proper place, it’s ragingly good fun, and part of what makes Price’s films so enjoyable is the sense that everyone – including Price – was having fun with them.

Perhaps the best example of this is Theatre of Blood, which is something of a spiritual sequel to The Abominable Doctor Phibes, since it features Vincent Price as a vengeance-driven madman picking off the entries on his enemies list one by one with a series of murders based around a striking central theme or motif. This time around, Price is cast as Edward Lionheart, the hammiest Shakespearean actor of his generation. Convinced of his unparalleled skill, he tops off his career with a retirement run of appearances in various Shakespeare plays, and then sat back waiting for the critical praise to come rolling in. Surely, in the light of his retirement, the hearts of the critics would soften and give him the Critics’ Circle Award For Best Actor he had yearned for for so long?

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