FILMS and TV… Three Pictures of Charles Gray

#1970s #1980s

 

One menacingly debonair Englishman…

 

Three obscure roles from the English character actor who was also a Blofeld, a Criminologist and a Jack Hawkins’ Voice Double.

 

 

Think British character actors with distinctive homegrown accents from way back then, and the Welsh had Richard Burton, Scotland had Ian Bannen, Ireland had Michael Gambon and England had Charles Gray. These often character actors played characters of all sorts in their captivating careers which included versatile performances in more than a few really random roles. But as a role as Jack Hawkins voice double in a 1970s Horror film role Charles Gray tops them all…
 
Charles Gray chilled us as Mocata in Hammer Horror in (1968) and thrilled us as the narrator in a horror musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). In Charles Gray’s obituary HERE, his career was beautifully summed up in The Guardian,
 
Gray endowed toffs, cads, crooks, and braggarts with hauteur and elegance. What gave them authenticity was his belief in them. The voice was commanding, though it rarely needed raising, and its tone belonged to high society.
 
Other genres Gray starred in included biopics, war, detective, TV comedy series and thrillers. He added his presence or his voice to many a movie and TV show ensemble. These films included a possible red herring of a character as the butler in The Mirror Crack’d (1980) with Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak and Rock Hudson. His voice added to the horror in a cast including Robert Morley, Diana Rigg and Vincent Price in Theatre of Blood (1973).
 
Other roles were as versatile as his performances. His cultured English accent led to roles as a future real life Royal’s father, a Prime Minister, and also a Colonel or a Knight or two. Here are three of his more little-known roles from three film and TV homages that I’ve unearthed, and in which he gave priceless performances.
 
 

Thriller (1975) Night is the Time for Killing S4 Ep 3 

Judy Geeson “MURDER ON THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS” 1975 UK TV Movie, Modcinema
The plot is one which Hitchcock and Hammer film aficionados might just recognise and is a not-so-subtle remake from Brian Clemens. It’s a pretty obvious wee screen version of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1969), and it’s a gender swap. Clemens also wrote Hammer horror movies with Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) and er.. the joys of Highlander II: The Quickening  (1991).
 
In this Thriller (1973-76) episode, Night is the Time for Killing S4 Ep 3, Gray is involved in the espionage plot. This episode kind of broke the mould in the series as it was not a horror tale with a twist like the majority of this series. It also had that thrill factor (which always seemed an optional factor too as some of these episodes are more thrilling than others).
 
It begins as a man tries to defect to the UK, and his home country is on alert.. and they try to kill him, and miss. It seems this man has a contact in the UK. Then in a change of scenery, Judy Geeson is Helen, a woman who is now on the verge of a nervous breakdown (again). This is after she boards a train, en route for some rest and recuperation.
 
Then she notices that a fellow passenger Hilary Vance (Gray’s character) has died and she later notices his corpse has gone missing. After she calls the alarm, her fellow passengers question her sanity as Vance is seen to be alive and well. Charles Gray laps up every scene he’s in and his character is as pompous as your average George Sanders character. It seems nobody likes him that much… as then things go all (crazy) Cold War spy story… but who can be trusted??
 
His “murder” doesn’t happen until later in the episode, and there is plenty of time for Gray to chew scenery with the best of them. Sadly his fellow scene chewer, Angela Lansbury didn’t get as much screen time in her role as the titular, The Lady Vanishes (1979) in the Hammer remake 10 years later.
 
As my Darlin Husband knows I can’t resist a TV episode where the guest star steals the show, and Charles Gray does this without even trying. He hams up his performance and steals the show. Although to be fair, Judy Geeson does cash in on that hysterical woman who is never believed role that she did so well in Fear in the Night (1972). So you will easily forget she was that young innocent teen in To Sir With Love (1967). In spooky casting, she starred with Edward Burnham in both this episode and the 1967 movie.
 
This episode was retitled – and badly revamped, losing even more credibility – for American audiences with the jazzy title, Murder on the Midnight Express. You don’t need to be a detective to recognise what this title referenced…
 
 
 

Bergerac (1985) S4 Ep3 What Dreams May Come 

Archivetvmusings, @archivetvmus71, Twitter,  May 25, 2022
This belter of a Bergerac (1981-91) episode had me desperately wanting to go back in time to see the rest of this series, but just for the guest stars. As a kid, this show draaaaaaaaaaaaaaagged out and felt like the longest show ever. It’s set on Jersey – one of the Channel Islands – home of Detective Sergeant Jim Bergerac (John Nettles). Bergerac is a divorcee – read totty for your mum – who investigates the scum and villainy which populate the island.
 
As a kid, I avoided watching this crime show as (more sceptically) I believed the really wee island of Jersey would have on-screen detectives investigating more mundane, twee and trivial crimes. And that sheep rustling and shady goings-on during the Women’s Institute baking competitions were the order of the day. So had I known it was this thrilling, I might have watched more episodes.
 
Despite my sceptical stance on the show, Darlin Husband convinced me to watch this episode. This was just by telling me that the always superb Charles Gray was a guest star. He then totally got my attention after telling me that Gray was cast as an enigmatic and charismatic black magic cult leader and author. You will be captivated as he is the fantastically named Bart Bellow as Charles Gray channels his role in The Devil Rides Out
 
The action all begins, as you see a man in a panic running for the Jersey ferry…  then he is involved in an accident with Rolls Royce. After he is taken to the hospital, a doctor injects him with a substance, and this man tells the doctor that he’s damned. In the middle of the night, the man then has a nightmare where he sees Charles Gray’s face. He screams in horror but dies mid-scream.
 
At work, the head honcho, Charlie Hungerford (Terence Alexander) is pressing Bergerac to talk to another man who is concerned about his neighbour mistreating animals. Bergerac turns into Bones from Star Trek, and he says he’s a detective, not the RSPCA. But then they have a more urgent call from a French woman about the man who died…
 
After some investigation, Bergerac discovers the man appears to have dated Helene Duvall. She claims that the man who died was known as Jerry Bruce who was a reporter investigating the occult. The French woman believes he was murdered and that they killed him… Things point to Bellows – aka Charles Gray – who is a prolific writer of all things occult who lives on the island and also happens to run a coven. (Please note… Later I met a Jersey inhabitant who claimed that the real-life island was not as thrilling as those Bergerac writers made it out to be.)
 

Charles Gray adds his presence and gravitas to this episode of Bergerac which aired just before Halloween. This actor proved as always that he instantly elevates a film or TV show with his appearance alone. This is just as well as he appears for about 1/4 of this forty five minute episode where nothing was as it seemed…

 

 

Seven Nights in Japan (1976)

“Seven Nights in Japan”: Out on DVD, Network Distributing

And now for something completely different from Charles Gray. It’s a movie that I had originally considered so bad its good fodder.. but I will let you decide. It feels like another reboot, although this has never been confirmed and is again a gender swap of… Roman Holiday (1953). This fact was kind of confirmed by its leading man, Michael York in the Press – as noted HERE – who said,

“There are echos of Roman Holiday,”

Michael York is the (fictional) English Prince George, and heir to the throne, who also is a Naval Officer (but doesn’t this sound familiar??). After he stops off in Japan, he does all the regal stuff and then escapes his royal duties. After a fight in a nightclub for not paying a bill and with two Japanese gangsters out to kill him, Prince George boards a tour bus where nobody recognises him apart from two inept American tourists who naturally do nothing as they think he only kinda looks like a famous royal.

On the bus, he meets the singing tour guide, Sumi (Hidemi Aoki) and they fall in love… and she doesn’t know his identity… Cue sappy montages, subtle and soft focus sex scenes in silhouettes and scenes where he shows that he’s good with kids – and can fish – and is therefore one to love like Maria in The Sound of Music (1965). Yes, Michael York does “sing” and play the guitar.

Meanwhile, Hollander (Charles Gray) is one of the many British dignitaries “looking” for him (ie letting his minions do it), has the “Where the hell is he?” and “Where the fxxxing hell is he now?” side of the dialogue… This is as he is interrupted at work or woken up at silly hours of the morning in day / night (with little continuity between the timelines) by the phone ringing. This device is used solely to update him on the Prince’s shenanigans. Of course, Sumi eventually twigs just who George is…

This film is pure escapism for those of you who adored Michael York as a real royal with a fictional story in The Lady and the Highwayman (1988). Seven Nights in Japan was written by Christopher Wood who had a knack for writing his leading male characters in crazy situations and wrote the screenplay for Bond in Space aka Moonraker (1979). He also wrote some of the Confessions movies including Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1974) and Confessions of a Driving Instructor (1976) under the pseudonym, Timothy Lea.

On the bright side for me, I had Darlin Husband’s riffing this film from the director, Lewis Gilbert of Alfie (1966) and Educating Rita (1983) fame. If you get bored with the love story. there is stunning cinematography to look at. Or there is the amusement of watching Charles Gray staying in a character in this story which is believed to be loosely based on a now King. If you want to know more of what it’s all about.. tune in this time next year, when I give it the Royal treatment as a Main Feature review…

Charles Gray was known for leading roles, supporting roles, guest star roles and even blink and miss it roles in 139 movies and TV shows. This filmography now includes his now credited voice role as he dubbed for Jack Hawkins for his role in Tales that Witness Madness (1973). He also starred in The Jigsaw Man (1983) which I hoped to add as a review here, but then got confused with (again) as much as Michael Caine did with his on-off Russian / Cockney accent throughout this movie.
 
Other Charles Gray roles to look out for include in a case of Never, Say Never Again he starred in two Bond films in two very different roles as Henderson in You Only Live Twice (1967) with Sean Connery and then Diamonds Are Forever (1971). But also in a serendipitous moment, he also starred in two series in their season 4 episode 3… in his sparkling and glittering career.

 


The 11th What a Character Blogathon 2023, No 1
 

This post was entered as part of Paula’s Cinema Club, Outspoken & Freckled  and Citizen Screen’s 11th What a Character Blogathon. Other posts with this cast include Charles Gray in The Devil Rides Out, The Mirror Crack’d, , Theatre of Blood and The Legacy.  Judy Geeson in To Sir With Love. Terence Alexander in The Avengers, Don’t Wait Up, John Nettles in The Liver Birds. Michael York in The Lady and the Highwayman, Murder on The Orient Express and The Austin Powers Movies


 

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16 thoughts on “FILMS and TV… Three Pictures of Charles Gray

  1. My favorite part of the What a Character! blogathoin is getting to know actors who I’ve seen many times but still don’t know. That’s the case with Charles Grey. What a great career in many memorable movies. Thank you for spotlighting him and joining us in the blogathon. Great tribute!

    Aurora

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always did love Charles Gray. He was so commanding, whether playing Mocata in The Devil Rides Out or the Criminologist in RHPS. I have to admit I am less familiar with his television work. About his work in television with which I am familiar is an episode of Danger Man, an episode of Upstairs, Downstairs, and the Sherlock Holmes series on which he played Mycroft. It was then a delight to read about these TV appearances! I will have to check them out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh how I do love me those Brits with the cultured accents! When I saw the name Charles Gray, I drew a blank, but once I put the name to the face and the voice – well, voila! (as they say). A wonderful choice for the blogathon.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A lovely look back at the career of Charles Gray! I have not seen the three performances you focused on, but I have seen the devil rides out. Of course, I know Charles Gray best from The Rocky Horror picture show.

    Liked by 1 person

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