The Top Ten Films of Peter O'Toole
The one and only Peter O’Toole passed away on December 15, and one hopes he’ll find whatever he may thirst for in that great big pub in the sky.
And while we will indeed miss him, we are mercifully left with his films, his performances.
Here, in chronological order, are my 10 favourites:
Lawrence Of Arabia
O’Toole was 30 years and a handful of small films old when he got the defining role of his career, that of TE Lawrence and his experiences during the first World War.
Albert Finney passed on the role, Marlon Brando was too busy and it was Peter O’Toole who thrilled director David Lean enough to win the part.
In what is considered one of the greatest cinematic epics of all time, O’Toole is incandescent.
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Image: Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia
Directed by Peter Glenville, this adaptation of Jean Anouih’s play Becket Or The Honour Of God saw O’Toole as King Henry II, a fine counterpart to Richard Burton’s Thomas Becket.
The two legendary actors played drinking buddies, and took their roles very seriously indeed: both claimed in later life that they were drunk throughout filming.
Both still won Oscar nominations, though.
Image: Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole in Becket or The Honour of God
How To Steal A Million
In William Wyler’s heist comedy, O’Toole turns on the charm so overwhelmingly that the beautiful Audrey Hepburn melts into a puddle -- and she has the audience’s empathy.
It’s essentially just witty dialogues spoken by pretty people, but so luminous are they both that they strike up movie magic just by going through the loopy motions.
Image: Peter O'Toole and Audrey Hepburn in How To Steal A Million
The Lion In Winter
With Anthony Harvey’s The Lion In Winter, O’Toole became the only actor to get nominated for the Best Actor trophy twice for playing the same character.
He reprised his role of Henry II, and the film is notable for the fascinating dramatic confrontations conjured up by O’Toole’s Henry and Katharine Hepburn’s Queen Eleanor.
Both actors were at the height of their considerable powers, and the film remains one to marvel at.
Image: Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn in The Lion In Winter
Goodbye, Mr Chips
The actor’s wonderful, wonderful voice came to the fore in this Herbert Ross musical, and the way O’Toole sang What A Lot Of Flowers... ah.
It was more of a recitation, admittedly, but so gorgeous.
A man never sounded better singing about violets. And his character, Arthur Chipping, is both inward-looking and yet a charmer.
Image: Peter O'Toole in Goodbye, Mr Chips
The Ruling Class
Opinions remain divided as to the cinematic virtue of Peter Medak’s black comedy, but presented with a truly, theatrically extreme character -- that of a man who has inherited a peerage and starts believing in his own divinity -- O’Toole was magnificently unhinged and fantastically evocative, delivering a chillingly real performance with tremendous vim.
Image: Peter O'Toole in The Ruling Class
Man Of La Mancha
Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, Arthur Miller’s ambitious film might have bitten off far more than was realistically chewable, but both O’Toole as Don Quixote and co-star Sophia Loren as Dulcinea are quite delightful in the project, the actor in particular bringing a mad energy to the production.
Enough to make windmills go around, even.
Image: Peter O'Toole in Man Of La Mancha
The Stunt Man
In what has over the years become my favourite O’Toole film, the actor plays a highly erratic and dictatorial filmmaker called Eli Cross.
It’s an amazing performance, characterised by the fascistic and omnipotent way in which he exercises control over a movie production, and with it O’Toole creates a singular, highly original character that actors should indeed study.
Image: Peter O'Toole (right) in The Stunt Man
My Favorite Year
Based apparently on apocryphal stories of Errol Flynn’s drunken times on a movie set -- though O’Toole himself is no stranger to stories of surreal sloshedness -- this film saw him play a dashing actor, Allan Swann.
It is a fine script and director Richard Benjamin would have doubtless made a solid comedy out of it, but it is O’Toole who lends the film wings and makes it soar.
Image: Peter O'Toole (left) in My Favorite Year
Sometimes criticised for being too theatrical, it seems only just that O’Toole’s last truly great cinematic performance would come with a film where he’s playing a washed-up old actor, one who is having trouble dealing with the fact that he’s reduced to playing greying emperors and pompous props in period movies.
In this film, where he befriends and is enchanted by a young girl, O’Toole brings sensitivity and pathos to the part, making us all fall in love with him one more time.
Image: Peter O'Toole with Jodie Whittaker in Venus