A Personal Appreciation of the Late David Warner

I was ready to be done with my blogging for the day but then David Warner (1941-2022) had to go and die on me. And predictably, the idiotic headlines issued forth immediately, e.g., “Titanic Actor David Warner Dies”. That’s one I’m seeing a lot. It’s possible that Titanic is his best known film, but he plays a supporting role in it, about 9th down in the pecking order, if that, and only has a couple of lines. I mean, honestly, Headline Writers and Editors, oughtn’t people to be known for their GREATEST accomplishment, rather than just the one a bunch of pinheads recognize? So vast is Warner’s catalog of great roles that this isn’t even his only Titanic movie. He was also in S.O.S. Titanic in 1979. He was a RADA grad with years of Shakespeare under his belt! He’s played Hamlet! So I can’t hold my tongue, I have to toot his horn today.

My first Warner performance as a movie-watcher was in the original 1976 version of The Omen, a movie I’ve probably seen a dozen times by now. He has a flashy, key role in that one as the photographer sidekick to the lead Gregory Peck. The still above is from that film. One of my best friends in high school was into photography and we found Warner kind of glamorous in The Omen, believe it or not. In retrospect, a long-haired, scarf-wearing English shutterbug character was a little dated by the mid ’70s. Knowing what I know now, it seems very 1966, very “Mod, Swinging London”. But maybe that was the idea, he’s gone to seed a little bit.

Anyway, Warner was well into his screen career by that point. As it happens, the other night I rewatched one of his earliest screen performances, in one of my very favorite films, Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones (1963), in which he plays the main character’s loathsome, petty, scheming half brother. Going forward he would often play such roles, by virtue of his world class sneer, the stuff of high, moustache-twirling melodrama. He was often cast in the kind of roles that had once belonged to Henry Daniell and Douglas Dumbrille. Rat men. He played Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich twice, in Holocaust (1978), another of the first places I would have seen him, and in Hitler’s SS: Portrait of Evil (1985). He was also a Nazi in Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron (1977), having already appeared in the director’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) and Straw Dogs (1971). He was hilarious as “Evil” in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981), and typecast as Jack the Ripper in Time After Time (1979).

For just about his whole career he divided his time between Hollywood and British films.

A lot of his early British roles were in classics. Sidney Lumet cast him in A Deadly Affair (1967) and The Sea Gull (1968), and he also starred in Sir Peter Hall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968), and Joseph Losey’s A Doll’s House (1973) opposite Jane Fonda. Later he appeared in tv versions of Love’s Labors Lost (1985), Uncle Vanya (1991), et al.

It is a delight to tally up his roles in moody, Gothic, and Victorian horror and mystery vehicles: From Beyond the Grave (1974), Mister Quilp (1975), the aforementioned The Omen, Nightwing (1978), The Island (1980), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), The Company of Wolves (1984), Waxwork (1988), Cast a Deadly Spell (1991), The Lost World (1992), Body Bags (1993) H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon (1993) and In the Mountain of Madness (1994), Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny (1996), Scream 2 (1997), Houdini (1998, in which he played Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2002) and TV shows like Tales from the Crypt, the Outer Limits reboot, Penny Dreadful, Ripper Street, and The Alienist. Related science fiction stuff included Disney’s Tron (1982), several Star Trek films and tv episodes, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001), and episodes of Doctor Who, Babylon 5, etc.

In addition to Time Bandits his comedies included Steve Martin’s The Man With Two Brains (1982), and My Best Friend is a Vampire (1987), and for some odds and ends, one might include The Concorde …Airport ’79; the 1984 version of A Christmas Carol (the favorite of many, he played Bob Cratchit), and Mr. North (1988). His last screen performance was in Mary Poppins Returns (2018), although the last performance I’ve seen is probably an episode of Midsomer Murders.

Ironically (for a guy who often played Nazis) Warner’s father was a Russian Jew; I haven’t yet been able to learn his real surname. The Warner Brothers of studio fame originally came from Poland; their original surname was Wonskolaser, or Wonsal, though its unlikely they’re related.  

David Warner was 80 years at the time of his passing. He will be hissed.

One comment

Comments are closed.