Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, that column where we look at the careers of character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.
Up today it’s Michael Gough, the actor who has been described as “Hammer Film’s hammiest actor,” an apt description, since Gough has been known to ham it up on occasion, especially in those horror movies in which he appeared in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.
In his later years, Gough also played Alfred the butler in both Michael Keaton BATMAN movies, and also in BATMAN FOREVER (1995) with Val Kilmer, and in BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997) with George Clooney.
And while Gough is best known for his over the top villainous roles in horror movies, my favorite Gough performance is in Hammer’s HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, in which Gough portrayed Arthur Holmwood, a heroic character, not a villain.
Here’s a partial look at Gough’s 195 screen credits, focusing mostly on his horror movies:
ANNA KARENINA (1948) – Nicholai – Gough’s first big screen credit is in this romance based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy, starring Vivien Leigh and Ralph Richardson.
THE HOUSE IN THE WOODS (1957) – Geoffrey Carter – Thriller about a couple dealing with a strange landlord and an unsettled spirit. Co-starring Patricia Roc and Ronald Howard.
HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) – Arthur Holmwood – The big one, Hammer’s first and best Dracula movie, and arguably their best horror movie period, features Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and Christopher Lee as Dracula. Gough hams it up as the emotional Arthur, in a role that is beefed up from Stoker’s novel, as this version kills off Jonathan Harker and reduces Dr. Seward to a bit part. He shares some key scenes with Peter Cushing, like the infamous staking of Lucy scene, one of the more violent horror sequences of its day, and later when a border official refuses Van Helsing’s entreaties for information on Dracula’s whereabouts, Holmwood saves the day with some conveniently placed paper currency, prompting the official’s cooperation.
HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959) – Edmond Bancroft – Gough is at his hammy best here as a writer who uses hypnosis to commit violent crimes, and the crimes are indeed over the top violent. They include the use of ice tongs and a deadly pair of binoculars.
KONGA (1961) – Dr. Charles Decker – Once again playing an over the top villain, this time a doctor with a serum that changes his pet monkey into the giant and deadly Konga! Not a very good movie. The giant ape sequences are particularly bad, but it is fun to watch Gough ham it up, as always.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962) – Lord Ambrose d’Arcy – Gough returns to Hammer horror, here playing the main villain in the movie, as Herbert Lom’s take on the Phantom is a heroic one. Hammer’s version of the classic Phantom of the Opera tale features some of director Terence Fisher’s finest work during the first half of the movie. Second half drops off considerably, as the mysterious phantom’s story is explained and he becomes more sympathetic and heroic, in a role that was originally intended for Cary Grant.
BLACK ZOO (1963) – Michael Conrad – Gough is back at it again, this time as the owner of a small zoo who uses his animals to kill his enemies. Again, the main attraction here is Gough’s over-the-top in-your-face acting.
DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965) – Eric Landor – while Gough only has a small role here in this anthology horror film by Amicus Films, which also starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, he does have one of the film’s best moments, as he humiliates Christopher Lee’s pompous art critic, which leads Lee’s character to commit a heinous crime in the segment “Disembodied Hand.”
THE SKULL (1965)- Auctioneer – reduced to a cameo in this superior thriller by Amicus Films starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. This is a film that has only gotten better with time. Definitely worth a look.
THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE (1967) – Master of the Moon – Science fiction flick directed by Freddie Francis is one of Amicus’ worst movies.
BERSERK (1967) – Albert Dorando – Murder at the circus! Stars Joan Crawford in the lead role.
THE CRIMSON CULT (1968) – Elder – co-stars with Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee in this witchcraft thriller which also stars Barbara Steele. In spite of the star power here, not a very good movie.
TROG (1970) – Sam Murdock – once again co-stars with Joan Crawford in this sub par thriller about a murderous missing link on the loose. Crawford’s final movie. The film initially performed well at the box office and has since become something of a cult classic.
CRUCIBLE OF HORROR (1971) – Walter Eastwood – Gough plays a sadistic husband and father, whose wife and daughter plot to kill him, and for a time believe they have, but suddenly he shows up for breakfast looking very much alive. Hmm. Well, that didn’t work out well.
HORROR HOSPITAL (1973) – Dr. Christian Storm – horror comedy in which Gough plays a mad doctor who likes to perform mind altering brain surgery on his victims.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) – Emeric Belasco (uncredited) – appears as a corpse in this superior haunted house tale scripted by Richard Matheson based on his novel, and starring Roddy McDowall, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill, and Gayle Hunnicutt.
THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978) – Mr. Harrington – superior thriller about a Nazi hunter who uncovers a bizarre plot to resurrect Hitler’s Third Reich, starring Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, and James Mason.
VENOM (1981)- David Ball – Horror movie about a kidnapping gone awry, thanks to an aggressive poisonous snake. Starring Klaus Kinski and Oliver Reed.
TOP SECRET! (1984) – Dr. Paul Flammond – spoof of Elvis and spy movies by the same creative team that brought us AIRPLANE! (1980), notable for reuniting Gough with Peter Cushing, who also has a small role in the film.
THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988) – Schoonbacher – voodoo horror movie by director Wes Craven.
BATMAN (1989) – Alfred- received a whole new following of fans as he played Batman’s faithful butler Alfred, in this Tim Burton superhero film starring Michael Keaton as the caped crusader, notable for Jack Nicholson’s performance as The Joker. A hit when it came out, viewed as a darker take on the character compared to Adam West’s campy 1960s version, the film nonetheless hasn’t aged all that well and is nowhere near as dark as the later Christopher Nolan Batman movies.
BATMAN RETURNS (1992) – Alfred- Gough returns as Alfred in this Tim Burton sequel, again starring Michael Keaton as Batman. Michelle Pfeiffer as the Catwoman delivers the best performance in the movie. My favorite of the 1980s-90s Batman movie series.
BATMAN FOREVER (1995) – Alfred – Gough stayed on as Alfred even with a new director— Joel Schumacher— and new actor playing Batman: Val Kilmer.
BATMAN & ROBIN (1997) – Alfred- plays Alfred for the fourth and last time in this bottom of the barrel entry starring George Clooney as Batman, largely considered to be the worst Batman movie ever. However, while I can’t disagree with this assertion, I do have to admit once you realize how bad this one is, it becomes campy fun, reminiscent of the old Adam West days, although theater-goers at the time weren’t really in the mood for this sort of Batman. Also difficult to dislike Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, both of whom chew up the scenery throughout.
SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999) – Notary Hardenbrook – reunited with director Tim Burton in this effective thriller starring Johnny Depp and featuring Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman. Also notable for featuring Christopher Lee in a small role, reuniting him with Gough once again.
CORPSE BRIDE (2005) – Elder Gutknecht (voice) – back with director Tim Burton again, this time lending his voice in this animated feature, which again features Christopher Lee in a small role, lending his voice as well. Starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010) – Dodo Bird (voice)- Gough’s final screen credit is once more a voice credit for a Tim Burton animated feature, again featuring the talents of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
Michael Gough, whose last name is pronounced the same as “cough,” pretty much enjoyed three stages of his film career. He often played the villain in horror movies from the 1950s-1970s, played Alfred in the BATMAN movies of the 1980s-1990s, and finished his film career appearing in Tim Burton movies.
Gough also enjoyed a very successful career on stage, and he even won a Tony Award for Best Actor in “Bedroom Farce” in 1979.
Of course horror fans will remember him for his over-the-top villain roles from those horror movies in the 1950s-1960s especially. As for myself, I remember him most for his portrayal of Arthur Holmwood in Hammer’s HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), and my favorite part of his performance in that movie is how early on he severely criticizes Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing and his vampire theories, but after Dracula attacks his sister and his wife, he’s all ears and becomes Van Helsing’s loyal assistant. It’s a convincing turnaround.
Michael Gough passed away on March 17, 2011 at the age of 94.
Michael Gough – November 23, 1916 – March 17, 2011
Well, I hope you enjoyed this edition of IN THE SHADOWS and join me again next time when we look at the career of another character actor in the movies, especially horror movies.
As always, thanks for reading!
The most remembered actor from my childhood except for Vincent Price….and Jonathan Frid of Barnabus Collins/Dark Shadows fame…