This year saw the publication of “What Fresh Lunacy is This?: The Authorised Biography of Oliver Reed” by Robert Sellers, a fully-rounded portrait of Britain’s beloved, notorious actor/drinker/hellraiser, the self-proclaimed “Mr. England.” Starting out as a contract player for England’s Hammer Studios, Reed’s matinee idol good looks were transformed after the actor was attacked with a broken bottle at the Crazy Elephant nightclub in 1964, leaving him with the facial scars that nearly ended his career.
Oliver Reed gave a series of epic screen performances in a career that spanned 40 years and nearly 100 films. He once said, “My only regret is that I didn’t drink every pub dry and sleep with every woman on the planet.”
Reed died on May 2, 1999, while drinking in a Maltese pub on an off-day near the end of production on Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator,” leaving behind an enduring legacy, both on film and in the tabloids.
“We are but shadows and dust…Shadows and dust, Maximus!” Triumphant swan song from Mr. England, as the gladiator pimp daddy Prospero. Reed’s death during an epic drinking session, mid-production, led to a hastily written death scene using a CGI simulacrum of Ollie, at an additional cost to the production of over three million dollars. A fitting end to a checkered career.
The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
In his first starring role, Reed plays a young nobleman with a problem: he keeps turning into a werewolf, running off, and diesemboweling people. The first of several films he made for Hammer, including “Paranoiac” and “The Pirates of Blood River.”
The System a/k/a The Girl-Getters (1964)
The first two of Reed’s collaborations with director Michael Winner. In The System, Ollie plays Stephen “Tinker” Taylor, a womanizing photographer in a seaside resort, who gets his comeuppance when he falls for an upper-class fashion model named Nicola. Great theme song by the Searchers.
Reed growls and sports epic mutton chops as the villainous Bill Sykes, and is great in the role, even if his one song got cut due to the fact that he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. His death scene is eerily similar to the one he did in The Curse of the Werewolf. Directed by his uncle, Sir Carol.
The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974)
Swashbuckling epic with an all-star cast, including Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Frank Finlay and Michael York as the Musketeers, plus Raquel Welch, Faye Dunaway, Spike Milligan, and Charlton Heston as Cardinal Richelieu. The best sword fights ever captured on film, even if Ollie did nearly kill Christopher Lee, several stuntmen, and himself in the process. “Oliver Reed is f***ing God in this movie” — Quentin Tarantino. Filmed as one movie, it was split into two films released separately (the actors had to sue producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind to get properly compensated for both halves)
At the time of Tommy’s release, Ollie took heat from Who purists for his horrible singing voice. Seeing it again 30 years later, it’s clear that he’s one of the best things about Ken Russell’s flawed adaptaion of Pete Townshend’s rock opera, whether he’s leering at Ann-Margaret, blowing smoke in Jack Nicholson’s face, or kicking Sally Simpson upside the head. Reed’s part got bigger and bigger as Keith Moon’s got smaller and smaller, probably due to Russell’s familiarity with Oliver, and the fact that he could drink himself into oblivion at night and show up on time and in top form the next morning, while Moonie remained stuporous. Nonetheless, Reed and Moon became bosom buddies, their drunken carousing continuing after both relocated to Beverly Hills.
Women in Love (1969)
Ken Russell brilliantly adapts D.H. Lawrence’s novel about two sisters and their ill-starred loves, starring Reed as brooding industrialist Gerald Crich. Glenda Jackson emotes for the ages as Gudrun while Alan Bates and Ollie have a nude wrestling match by the fireside.
Ollie is brilliant in his last great starring performance as Gerald Kingsley, the self-proclaimed “Sex Pest of the South Seas.” Based on Lucy Irving’s book. Irving (Amanda Donohoe) responds to an ad in the classifieds placed by Kingsley, who seeks a companion to live on a deserted island with him. They spend a turbulent year roughing it, walking around naked, and fighting a lot. Funny and touching. Not to be confused with the Tom Hanks movie.
I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Isname (1967)
Director Michael Winner and writer Peter Draper conceived this underrated gem as a sort of sequel to 1964’s “The System.” Reed plays Andrew Quint, a successful director of TV commercials who rebels by quitting his job, breaking up with his mistresses, and taking a editorial position at a failing literary magazine. Mayhem ensues. With Harry Andrews, Carol White, Marianne Faithfull, and the great Orson Welles as Jonathan Lute, Quint’s Machiavellian boss.
The Devils (1971)
Reed is mesmerizing as Father Urbain Grandier, a lusty priest who tries to protect his city from an unholy union of church and state fomented by the evil Cardinal Richelieu (see also The Three Muskeeters) in Ken Russell’s audacious take on Aldous Huxley’s “The Devils of Loudon.” Naked nuns, bearing false witness, lead to Ollie being burned at the stake. Russell’s masterpiece, unjustly hacked up by the censors. With Vanessa Redgrave as the hunchbacked Mother Superior.