Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Five Best Vincent Price Performances

A little devil provides bad advice!
1. Champagne for Caesar (1950). It's a shame that Vincent Price didn't make more straight comedies because he's hilarious as a business tycoon in this underrated gem. He plays Burnbridge "Dirty" Waters, owner of the Milady Soap company ("the soap that sanctifies") and sponsor of a popular quiz show called "Masquerade for Money." When Burnbridge doesn't hire an overqualified genius (Ronald Colman), the latter gains revenge by winning big on the quiz show. My favorite scene is when Burnbridge contemplates killing Colman's character, getting advice from a little devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other (both played by Price, of course).

Gene Tierney and Vincent Price.
2. Laura (1944). In another atypical role, Price is perfection as Shelby Carpenter, a worthless playboy that lives off older women but somehow manages to get engaged to Gene Tierney's title character (one of the true mysteries in the film!). He and Clifton Webb steal the movie...and get all the good lines, such as: "I can afford a blemish on my character, but not on my clothes."

3. The Baron of Arizona (1950). I'm not sure why Samuel Fuller's fascinating fact-based tale of one of the greatest American scams isn't better known. It provides Price with a dandy role as a meticulous con artist who masterminds an incredible scheme to claim ownership of the Arizona territory (prior to it becoming a state). Like the best villains, Price's character has his good points (he truly loves his wife). In fact, I found myself rooting for him to succeed (despite knowing that he wouldn't).

Price as stage actor Edward Lionheart.
4. Theatre of Blood (1973). Several of Vincent Price's later performances skewed toward being hammy. In this black comedy, he plays a ham--a Shakespearean actor who attempts suicide after being skewered by the critics and ignored at the awards once too often. He survives, though, and with help from his daughter (Diana Rigg), he exacts revenge on those pompous theatre critics. Price is a delight, reenacting death scenes from Shakespeare with relish. It was one of Price's favorite films and, ironically, earned some of the best reviews of his career.

5. House of Usher (1960). Price gave fine performances in several of Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. In fact, one could plug Pit and the Pendulum (1961) or The Masque of the Red Death (1964) into this slot and you'd find no argument from me. I opted for this one because Price is compelling as Roderick Usher and because it was the first of the Price-Poe-Corman collaborations.

Honorable Mentions:  The Last Man on Earth (1964), in which Price plays the lone human survivor after a plague of vampirism.

10 comments:

  1. Interesting list, though "Last Man On Earth" is just a terrible film

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  2. Phibes, Dr. Phibes. Fulfils all the comedy and horror requirements.

    One critic described his Roderick Usher as "a hothouse flower".

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  3. The four I've seen are all terrific, and I really need to see THE BARON OF ARIZONA. Great list, but THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL is a glaring omission. Price was never more frightening, and never hammy; his performance is a masterpiece. I think it's his best.

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  4. Price had to be bullied into his Witchfinder performance by young director Michael Reeves. A literal Price-less performance with none of his characteristic tics - facial and vocal. Unhappy shoot for VP, who relented when he saw the final cut, and planned to work with Reeves again.

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  5. We will be friends for all-time! Champagne for Caesar at #1 is exactly where it should be. When my kids were small I explained to them that this was where he was inspired for Professor Rattigan.

    His total steal of His Kind of Woman deserves some sort of honourable mention, but I say when you are making a list you stick to a set number.

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  6. I caught His Kind of Woman on TCM a couple of years ago, because I like Robert Mitchum; Price steals the movie, his character is a lot of fun. In horror films, I like his performances in The Conqueror Worm,and The House on Haunted Hill.

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  7. My top five are Dragonwyck, The Tomb of Ligeia, Witchfinder General, House on Haunted Hill and House of Usher. I have never seen The Baron of Arizona, will certainly keep an eye out for that one. Maddy

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  8. Vincent Price is underrated. To think he was just good at campy horror is misdirected, I think. I LOVED him in "Champagne for Caesar". Like you said, he was terrific at straight comedy.

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  9. Some great choices here, Rick. I'm a major Vincent Price fan, and it would have been hard for me to pick just 5 for the list! Baron of Arizona is definitely a gem that deserves more recognition. As Caftan Woman and Randy Monk note, he totally steals the show in His Kind of Woman, despite a cast that includes Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Raymond Burr & Charles McGraw! And I love him in House on Haunted Hill, the first film of his I ever saw, back in my younger days.

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    1. Several Twitter followers also mentioned HIS KIND OF WOMAN. I also failed to mention his performance in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, which I quite liked.

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