Bob Leddy: Some actors never escape from typecast characters

By Bob Leddy

The Providence Journal

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

"I'm fed up to here with the whole Bond bit." — Sean Connery

Over nearly 20 years, the names of Sean Connery and James Bond were entwined, the virile movie actor with the suave super-hero. Connery played Bond in seven films, beginning with "Dr. No" in 1962. He soon found himself fronting a lucrative franchise that has continued through 23 films. (Agent 007 celebrates his 50th cinematic anniversary this year with the release of "Skyfall" starring Daniel Craig, who has played Bond in two previous films, and has reportedly signed on for two more.)

Connery was determined to take on heftier parts during his Bond years. He did not want his screen image confined to one cardboard character — hence his "fed up to here" comment. Sensing that he might forever be typecast as a Bond type, Connery starred in a few decidedly dark films, all of which are, unfortunately, mostly forgotten.

In 1965, for example, he made "The Hill" for director Sidney Lumet. This is a stark and brutal account of inmates in a British stockade during World War II. Connery plays an arrogant soldier imprisoned for assaulting one of his superior officers, and is forced to endure humiliating punishment by prison guards.

In 1964, he starred in Alfred Hitchcock's disturbing psychological drama "Marnie" as a man obsessed with a troubled young woman. Also that year, Connery played a villainous relative plotting to murder his millionaire uncle in Basil Dearden's chilling "Woman of Straw."

In arguably his finest and most complex part, Connery again worked with Lumet in "The Offence" (1972), in which he plays a British detective on the trail of a child molester. Connery's character is a repository of bottled-up violence and questionable morality as he relentlessly pursues the suspect. Connery's tour-de-force performance proved beyond a doubt that he was more than just a cool guy.

Connery chose to go outside popular expectations, though even today his name and the James Bond persona are inseparable.

Some other actors either gave in reluctantly to typecasting, or embraced it. Tony Perkins was a successful actor before Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960). And he went on to play other parts, though he also starred as Norman Bates in no less than three "Psycho" sequels. Bela Lugosi was a respected stage actor in his native Hungary before coming to Hollywood and becoming Count Dracula. For the rest of his career, Lugosi played "Dracula" spinoffs and "mad scientists." He considered himself so closely associated with Dracula that he was buried in 1956 in full count's regalia.

Clayton Moore portrayed "The Lone Ranger" in a 1949-57 television run, and never took another part after the series ended. Afterward, he became The Masked Man in public appearances through the rest of his life. (He died in 1999 at age 85). In his autobiography, "I Was that Masked Man," Moore proudly mentioned that the doorbell to his home chimed the opening notes to "The William Tell Overture" — theme music of the TV show.

And what of George Reeves? He entered films wanting to be a serious actor. (He did do 1939's "Gone With the Wind" and other movies, among other projects.)

By the early 1950s, Reeves was wearing a badly tailored costume while jumping out of windows from a springboard as "Superman." The children's TV show took off almost overnight, sealing Reeves' fate:

He was "Superman" until his untimely death in 1959 (a rumored suicide said to be caused by despondency over a failed career).

It might seem enviable for an actor to settle in to an iconic screen character, with moviegoers preferring consistency from their stars.

Not all actors, however, practice such conformity. They prefer playing against type over playing it safe.

Bob Leddy is a film historian.

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