Friday, March 27, 2015

Christopher Plummer Makes an Impression

Today the fiftieth-anniversary celebration of The Sound of Music will bring Captain Von Trapp to his knees. As part of the festivities, Christopher Plummer has been invited to leave his handprints in the forecourt of Hollywood’s famous Chinese Theatre. And he’s tickled pink about the honor.

I’ve been a bit in love with Christopher Plummer since long before I ever saw him perform. As a stage-struck kid in SoCal, I read plays and kept up with Broadway news. Several of the shows in which Plummer starred were so entrancing on the page that I knew he must have been wonderful. My tastes were rather literary, and I loved J.B., a verse drama by the poet Archibald MacLeish that used a circus tent as a setting for a stylized rendition of the Biblical story of Job. Under Elia Kazan’s direction, Pat Hingle played an Everyman figure caught in the middle of a tussle between a God-like Raymond Massey and a Satanic Plummer. Of course it was the dark role played by Plummer that captured my imagination. In the following decade, he took on another near-demonic figure in Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt for the Sun. This time he was the ruthless conquistador Francisco Pizarro, butting heads with the noble and doomed Incan lord Atahualpa (played in a loincloth by, of all people, David Carradine!)

I never saw Plummer perform the great Shakespearean roles: Iago (opposite James Earl Jones), Macbeth, King Lear. I was, however, dazzled by his portrayal of the swashbuckling Cyrano de Bergerac, in a version of Rostand’s play televised in 1962 on the wonderful old Hallmark Hall of Fame.  

And of course the man has made movies. The Sound of Music was one of his very first feature films, and the role of the gloomy widower who blossoms into Julie Andrews’ romantic swain never struck me as ideal casting for Plummer. But he plunged into movie-making, appearing in many guises in everything from Inside Daisy Clover to The Return of the Pink Panther to A Beautiful Mind to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In 1999’s The Insider (based on a true story about the evil machinations of Big Tobacco) he won acclaim for his impersonation of TV journalist Mike Wallace. He was first nominated for an Oscar in 2010, playing a dying Tolstoy in The Last Station, then took home a statuette two years later, as another dying man who owns up to his homosexuality in the rueful Beginners. (At 82, he was the oldest person ever to win an acting Oscar.)

Now he’s featured in the new Al Pacino film, Danny Collins. This and other upcoming roles appeal to him because, as he told the L.A. Times, “they're not all boring, old men dying.  Even though I am kind of 85 now, I think I can pass for late 60s, 70, so maybe there's a few more years yet. I'd love to play a dashing young thing, though, who jumps in and out of Rolls Royces, who has a huge wardrobe that I could take home afterward.”

Plummer’s still-youthful spirit was well on display a year ago when he brought to L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre a selection of brilliant words, brilliantly spoken. A Word or Two is a one-man show devoted to his love of the gorgeous language of poets and playwrights. It’s highly personal but not confessional: we learn next to nothing about his three marriages nor his feelings toward Julie Andrews. What we do learn is how a lonely little boy took to Lewis Carroll, and to Shakespeare, finding joy in speaking great words aloud.   


  1. I'm a big fan of Christopher Plummer - have been since watching his turn as a psychotic bank robber in a Canadian movie called The Silent Partner (1979) in the early 80's on VHS. My wife introduced me to The Sound of Music a year or two ago - it was the favorite movie she watched with her late grandmother. I have also enjoyed it when Mr. Plummer has gone slumming in outer space - as in Starcrash - an Italian Star Wars rip off with Mr. Plummer supplying his own voice but having to say things like:

    Emporer: "You know, my son, I wouldn't be Emperor of the Galaxy if I didn't have a few powers at my disposal. Imperial Battleship, halt the flow of time!"

    I also really liked his Shakespearean Klingon villain Chang in the last movie of the original cast - Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - which he did because back in Canada in the 1950's he was once understudied for a theatrical role by a young man named...William Shatner.

  2. Not being a Star Trek aficionado, I would have missed all this if not for you, Mr. C. Many thanks!