#1970s #1980s #1990s
The amazing on screen world of the delightful David Warner…
Thoughts on just some of this illustrious actor’s career on the small and big screen.
Time Bandits: Evil Genius – “That’s a good question”, Russell J. Prahinski
I was devastated to learn that the actor, David Warner passed away recently. I was lucky to meet the supertalented David, a charming and charismatic English gentleman when I attended my first comic con a few years ago. David had an eclectic filmography that surpassed the best in film and television
In my first impressions on meeting him, he seemed a jovial English gentleman with a soft gentle voice and a random lovely sense of humour. I remember chuckling along with him as we talked about his film roles in the horror, The Omen (1976) – one of his personal favourites from his career – and in the Steve Martin comedy, The Man with Two Brains (1983).
However – since meeting David – I’ve rewatched and discovered more films and TV with this English actor. He had an impressive 228 on-screen credits in a film and television career as a character actor, protagonist and voice actor from the 1960s to the current decade. David starred in everything from sci-fi to disaster movies and horror to crime capers.
He added his tall, lanky but always thoughtful presence to cast lists including actors Gregory Peck, Alain Delon, Sean Connery, Leonard Nimoy and Michael Caine. Actresses included Kate Winslet, Angela Lansbury, Lee Remick and Diana Dors. Those that follow are my remembrances, and there are so many more I am adding to my watch list.
In the 1970s, David starred in the Amicus portmanteau production, From Beyond the Grave (1974) as the ill-fated protagonist, Edward Charlton. This was in the first of these four spooky tales set around objects discovered in an antique shop. In this story, The Gate Crasher, Charlton acquires an antique mirror from the mysterious shop owner played by Peter Cushing not realising what horrors will be unleashed. It’s a short and spooky tale with unforeseen and frightening consequences, and it’s probably the most chilling and more unpredictable of this anthology.
David later found many in horror productions, and these included one of his most famous, namely The Omen. In this the first – and arguably the best of this trilogy – David played Jennings, a photographer and journalist. Jennings warns Gregory Peck’s American – and London-based – Ambassador that his photographs have revealed the truth about the devilish intentions of this Ambassador’s son, Damien. Jennings then supports this ambassador, by travelling with him abroad to discover the truth about Damien’s birth.
On television, David also starred with Twiggy and Zelda Rubinstein in an episode called The New Arrival as Dr Alan Goetz. This surprising cast was found in the always chilling all-star horror series, Tales from the Crypt (1989-96). David took a role as a pompous radio child psychologist who hopes to revamp his flagging career by helping Rubinstein’s daughter.
This TV series was just one from his television career as a guest star where he also appeared in a variety of enigmatic roles including both a Hart to Hart (1979-84) episode and a Diagnosis Murder TV Movie pilot. In the latter, an all-star cast whodunnit named Murder on Sycamore Street, he got third billing in a cast with Dick Van Dyke, Mariette Hartley and George Hamilton.
In this TV Movie, he played a plastic surgeon whose partner dies in an apparent suicide. It’s up for discussion whether this character wanted his partner dead or alive… Shortly before his death, Dick Van Dyke and David both then veteran actors reunited to make Mary Poppins Returns (2018), this was David’s penultimate role.
You can debate for hours as to the best of his early 1980s films villains. Memorable films can be listed as Tron (1982) – in a role as Ed Dillinger / Sark / Master Control Program – and as Evil Genius in Time Bandits (1980). But in my favourite of his bad guy roles comes from the 1970s, when he played Dr John Leslie Stevenson – aka Jack the Ripper – in Time After Time (1979).
Time After Time is a time travel romance and crime film. In the first scenes, it’s implicated that his character Stevenson is Jack the Ripper as he attends a dinner party held by HG Wells (Malcolm McDowell). Stevenson then escapes from Victorian England to 1970s New York in his host’s time machine HG W.ells then follows him there hoping to bring him to justice. Another more light-hearted character with villainous motives is suggested in his role in The Man with Two Brains.
David also joined the all-star cast – and George Kennedy and Alain Delon in the cock pit – of Airport 1979… The Concorde (1980) as a pilot on a doomed flight to Moscow. He also appeared in a TV Movie, a time travel movie and a blockbuster film romance and all three films sported a Titanic-based storyline.
In these film projects, David took three completely different roles in Time Bandits (1981), SOS Titanic (1979) and Titanic (1997) respectively. The first is a fantasy and time travel film and the second TV Movie production where he has a more romantic role opposite Susan St James. The third movie blockbuster, you’ll no doubt remember as the ill-fated romantic drama with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
He also starred as two different characters in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) with William Shatner and his buddies. In the latter, David played a Klingon hoping for peace in and acted alongside Christopher Plummer and the Star Trek crew.
Other honourable mentions include Silver Bears (1977), his crime caper with Michael Caine and Cybill Shepherd. This film was the first of two Caine collaborations and these actors teamed up again in The Island (1980). This latter film was based on the Peter Benchley novel. Other on-screen names that David acted with in more than one movie included Ian Holm and Robert Powell.
Before meeting David, I had only reviewed a little of his work, and now after seeing much more there are now so many films I wished we’d talked about when we met. There are no doubt interesting tales about the roles he could have played, such as Freddy Krueger and Doctor Who.
I am also intrigued by those films with quirky plots and titles such as his breakthrough movie, Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966) and Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs (1974). And not forgetting those all-star 1970s disaster films, I’ve loved such as Airport 79 and TV SOS Titanic.
So if you do ever invent a working time machine, Malcolm McDowell and go back to those acting days with David Warner, do count me in. I’d like to know more about David’s remembrances about his smorgasbord of career, as I could listen to this fabulous actor and storyteller, time after time…