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  • Carrie Specht

Peter Cushing is the October Star of the Month on TCM

1960s and 70s horror film super star, Peter Cushing is TCM's Star of the Month. The British actor has been credited for transforming horror movies into an art form. A performer of considerable range and experience, Cushing (1913-1994) appeared in more than 100 movies in a career that spanned six decades.



Selecting Cushing as the Star of the Month for October is so brilliantly fitting that its surprising TCM hasn't picked this essential representative of the horror genre before now. After Boris Karloff, Bela Lagosi, and Vincent Price, who's more fitting to represent the month of ghouls and things that go bump in the night than the King of Hammer Films? The low-budget British production company is responsable for Cushing achieving international stardom. He starred in a series of colorful and flamboyant monster movies made by Hammer that bordered on camp. Many of these films costarred his great friend Christopher Lee, and most are considered minor masterpieces.


Elegant and refined in real life, Cushing is known to his followers as "The Gentle Man of Horror." In addition to other Hammer vehicles, he played Baron Victor von Frankenstein in six films and Dr. Van Helsing in five Dracula movies. The role of (Doctor) Frankenstein, in particular, established him as a horror actor for the ages, performing a version of Baron von Frankenstein as proud, arrogant, and secure in his intelligence. And on a completely different note, the man is also remembered for his work as Dr. Who (yes, that Dr. Who) in two films of the 1960s. And don't forget his magnificent portrayal of Grand Moff Tarkin, commander of the Death Star in the original Star Wars (1977). If that weren't all, the man is also remembered to fans of vintage British television for his 1960s Sherlock Holmes mysteries series.


Cushing's whole life was acting. He spent a brief time in Hollywood as a young man and succeeded in landing minor roles, including his movie debut as a messenger in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), and a bit in the Laurel and Hardy comedy A Chump at Oxford (1939). Then Cushing felt the call to return home to England with the advent of World War II, but health problems prevented him from serving on active duty, so he performed with the Entertainments National Service Association to entertain the troops. During this time he was cast in Noel Coward's Private Lives, which was soon followed by Laurence Olivier casting him in a major role in his 1948 Academy Award winning version of Hamlet.


The legendary association with Hammer Films began in 1957b when Cushing was cast in The Curse of Frankenstei, with Christopher Lee playing the monster. This film marked the beginning of the acting partnership and the deep and lasting friendship that developed between Cushing and Lee. The Curse of Frankenstein was a box-office hit that set the tone for the Hammer horror films that followed. Critical reception was mixed, although most reviewers praised the film's showy direction, cinematography, costumes and music. A reviewer for Variety wrote that "Peter Cushing gets every inch of drama from the leading role, making almost believable the ambitious urge and diabolical accomplishment."


A follow-up film, Horror of Dracula (1958), again featuring Cushing and Lee, was another big success. All together, Cushing made twenty-two films for Hammer, with Lee as a frequent costar. Cushing tried to include non-horror roles that would vary his work as an actor, although he was proud of some of his "monster movies" and often fell back into the genre with which he was most associated. Regardless of the role, the man is unforgettable in everything in which he appeard. Looking back on his reputation as a horror actor, the mild-mannered Cushing once said that "People look at me as if I were some sort of monster, but I can't think why. In my macabre roles I have either been a monster-maker or a monster destroyer, but never a monster. I've never harmed a fly."


Listed below are the other titles from the Hammer collection that are featured in Cushing's Star of the Month salute:


The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), based on the 1902 Sherlock Holmes adventure with Cushing as Holmes and Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville


The Mummy (1959), with Lee in the title role and Cushing as the archeologist forced to deal with him


Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960), with Richard Greene as Robin Hood and Cushing as the Sheriff of Nottingham


Cash on Demand (1961), an atypical and well-received contemporary dramatic vehicle for Cushing as a dedicated bank manager threatened by robbers


She (1965), an adventure film about a lost city in Northeast Africa, with Cushing as an explorer, Lee as a priest, and Ursula Andress as the immortal "She"


Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), with Cushing as the Baron and Susan Denberg as a woman who commits suicide and is brought back to life by Frankenstein


Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), with Cushing's character blackmailing a young couple into helping with his terrible experiments


Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) stars Christopher Lee as Dracula appearing in modern London and hunted down by a descendant of Van Helsing (Cushing)


And the TCM premiere of The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) marks the final entry in the Dracula series to feature Cushing and Lee, again set in the 1970s with the latter-day Van Helsing again on the vampire's trail.


Non-Hammer Cushing movies in the TCM tribute include:


Violent Playground (1958), a crime thriller set in Liverpool with Stanley Baker as a policeman attempting to rehabilitate a juvenile delinquent (David McCallum) and Cushing as a helpful priest.


John Paul Jones (1959) is an American biopic about the Revolutionary War naval hero, with Cushing as Jones adversary Captain Richard Pearson.


Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966) are the two big-screen features starring Cushing as Dr. Who. In Cushing's case, the character is a human doctor who invents a time machine and must cope with a race of deliciously evil mutants called the Daleks.


Cushing and Lee reteam for Nothing but the Night (1973), a British crime drama set in Scotland with Cushing and Lee teaming up to investigate a series of deaths that, on the surface, look like suicides.


10/5 - Early Works

Cash on Demand, The End of the Affair, John Paul Jones, Hamlet, A Chump at Oxford, and Vigil in the Night


10/12 - Non-Horror Roles

Sword of Sherwood Forest, Dr. Who and the Daleks, Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., She, Violent Playground, and Corruption


10/19 - Hammer Horrors

The Hound of the Baskervilles, Horror of Dracula, The Mummy, The Curse of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Created Woman, and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed!


10/26 - Horror Icon

Nothing But the Night, Madhouse, From Beyond the Grave, Scream and Scream Again, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, and Dracula A.D. 1972