"Peter Cushing: A Life in Film" Book Review
Written by Robert Gold
Published by Titan Books
Written by David Miller
2013, 192 pages, Non-Fiction
Book released on April 16th, 2013
Hammer Films Studio revived British cinema with their run of gothic horror stories spotlighting the classic Universal monsters Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, etc. These interpretations were the first time audiences were treated to the material in glorious color filled with graphic violence, impressive amounts of blood and later, nudity. While the subject matter varied greatly, there were a few constants that kept the films uniquely anchored, namely the returning faces of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Cushing starred in six entries in the Frankenstein franchise and fought vampires as Van Helsing on at least four separate occasions. He brought a level of elegance to the roles he played on stage and screen that is seldom matched in any genre.
The release of Peter Cushing: A Life in Film is timed to coincide with the centennial of Cushing’s birth (May 26, 1913) and is a splendid addition to the actor’s legacy. Much has been written on this subject, but here the material comes to life in numerous anecdotes that tell a narrative story of the man from his earliest stage performances and work in television through the seemingly endless wave of film work he rode for three decades. The anecdotes are punctuated with selections from interviews and journal entries from the actor himself. Peter Cushing approached each role with an unparalleled professionalism, frequently contributing to the scripts as well as making extensive notes for each character.
Author David Miller revisits his biography The Peter Cushing Companion (2000) with this slightly expanded re-titled version. This revised edition presents the material with a striking new layout that includes many rare photographs of the actor. In addition to the more than 200 black and white stills, this book offers a fresh selection of color images spread across sixteen pages. Actress Veronica Carlson (The Ghoul) provides a thoughtful foreword to the book in which she expresses gratitude for having known and worked with Mr. Cushing.
The filmography presented within this book is not a simple list of titles, nor is it a collection of plot synopses but rather a thoughtful overview of each production. There is a chronicling of events that documents how one film led to another, examining why Cushing accepted certain roles and what was occurring in his private life at the time. When discussing their numerous projects together, a few names that turn up with frequent regularity are longtime friends Christopher Lee and director Terence Fisher.
A generous amount of material is dedicated to the man’s personal life as well, offering several asides that speak to his charm. Cushing was a hopeless romantic and his life was forever changed (for the better) upon meeting his future wife, Helen. She helped shape his career as both an inspiration and motivator for many of the professional decisions that kept him working for decades. Their life together is covered in great detail and there are several anecdotes regarding the effect she had on him.
With this retrospective look at a legendary career, audiences are given the opportunity to gain an insightful glimpse at the man whose film work ranged from Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Who and appeared in memorable performances as Sherlock Holmes. His work in Star Wars introduced him to a new generation of fans and he even managed a few comedic performances over the years, including the backwards bookkeeper in Top Secret! Peter Cushing: A Life in Film is a biography filled with information that moves at a surprisingly rapid rate and will have genre fans updating their lists of films they need to watch.
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