That great actor Peter O’Toole has retired. He was always a pleasure to watch, even in films that were not that great, and it is astonishing that he never won an Oscar, although he was nominated eight times. There was a gleam in his eye that gave you the sense that at any moment he would do something totally unexpected and even crazy and this made him eminently watchable.
Everyone should see him in the title role in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, which shot him to stardom. It is a magnificent performance in a great film. But he was also terrific in Becket and A Lion in Winter , as well as in comedies such as How to Steal a Million and My Favorite Year.
I had hoped that O’Toole would replace Richard Harris as Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series after Harris died. I thought that he had the right air of scholarly detachment, a look of frailty combined with a gleam of mischievous intelligence that would have been perfect for the role. But the filmmakers went with Michael Gambon instead who was a little too sprightly and energetic for my tastes but serviceable in the role.
A great film that is not as well known now is The Ruling Class (1972), a brilliant dark and surreal satire on the corruption of British elites, in which O’Toole plays a paranoid schizophrenic who thinks he is god and inherits his father’s title and wealth that is coveted by his scheming relatives. Here is a clip that gives you a taste of both the film and his acting virtuosity.
Here’s the official trailer.