Nigel de Brulier: Holy Man for Hire

I’m sure I was prompted to investigate Nigel de Brulier (Francis Packer, 1877-1948) by his role as Rajah the Fortune Teller in Mae West’s I’m No Angel (1933). But I quickly realized that I knew him from dozens of movies dating back through the silent era with a career beginning nearly 20 years earlier.

de Brulier is easily spotted. Tall, wistful, emaciating looking, he was often cast as priests, Holy men, missionaries, poets, philosophers and fanatics. He looks a LOT like Antonin Artaud to me. For a contemporary reference, I would LOVE to see Adrien Brody play some of these kinds of roles. de Brulier played Richelieu no fewer than four times, in The Three Musketeers (1921), The Iron Mask (1929), The Three Musketeers (1935) and The Man in the Iron Mask (1939). Similar roles include Paster Manders in Ibsen’s Ghosts (1915), Father Francisco in The Dumb Girl of Porticici (1916), a Priest in The Romance of Tarzan (1918), a monk in Foolish Wives (1922), Jokaanan the Prophet in Nazimova’s Salome (1923), Dom Claude in The Hunchbank of Notre Dame (1923), Reverend Hammond in St. Elmo (1923), an Astrologer in The Beloved Rogue (1927), The Padre in The Gaucho (1927), a Bishop in The Red Dance (1928), a High Priest in Noah’s Ark (1928), a Lama in The Wheel of Life (1929), a Temple Priest in The Green Goddess (1930), a Witch Doctor in Golden Dawn (1930), Elijah in Moby Dick (1930), a Yogi in Chandu the Magician (1932), a Priest in Rasputin and the Empress (1932), a Hindu Fakir in The Monkey’s Paw (1933), a Padre in Robin Hood of El Dorado (1936), Father Gonzalez in White Legion, an Archbishop in Marie Antoinette (1938), an Archbishop in Tower of London (1939), Father Fisher in The Mad Empress (1939), Shazam in the 1941 serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel, and Father Zachary in Wrecking Crew (1942).

Other notable films de Brulier appeared in (out of over 120) included The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin (1918); The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), A Doll’s House (1922), Ben-Hur (1925), Don Juan (1926), Viva Villa (1934), Charlie Chan in Egypt (1934), San Francisco (1936), Mary of Scotland (1936), and Hal Roach’s One Million B.C. (1940).

de Brulier was originally from Frenchay, England (near Bristol), and is said to have gotten some stage experience in the home country before emigrating to the U.S. by way of Canada. Montreal was the usual port of entry for immigrants in Canada. Perhaps this explains the Francophile screen name? To learn the true answer, let us reach out to de Brulier’s spirit through the medium of the crystal:

For more on show biz history please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic film read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.