English actor Leslie Banks' film career would be negligible compared to his prestigious theatrical one if it were not for four exceptions. Hitchcock, for one, gave him the occasion to shine in two of his films, in a sympathetic role in "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934) and in an outright unsympathetic one in "Jamaica Inn" (1938) - a telltale illustration, by the way, of the extent of his talent. The actor is also remembered for "Henry V" (1944), Laurence Olivier's masterful adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy. It is fun to hear Banks roll his r's (hey! The year is 1600 after all!) while he introduces and comments the play to the audience of the Globe Theatre. But oddly enough, the thespian never made a bigger impression than in his first screen appearance, way back in 1932. Who indeed has forgotten the ruthless, ferocious, evil Count Zaroff, specializing in human game hunting, from Cooper and Schoedsack's horror classic "The Most Dangerous Game"? Banks' other movies, consisting mostly of B movies and World War II propaganda fare, did not leave a comparable impact. Maybe because Leslie Banks, always more interested in the theatre of which he was a big name, was not demanding enough in the choice of his films. On the boards, that is where he got great parts in great plays: Captain Hook in "Peter Pan", Petruchio in "The Taming of the Shrew", Mr. Chipping in "Goodbye Mr. Chips", James Jarvis in the Kurt Weill musical "Lost in the Stars", and many many others. Born in 1890 in West Derby near Liverpool, he studied at Keble College, Oxford. First wanting to be a parson, he became an actor instead, making his debut in 1911. His reputation rapidly rose, and Banks never stopped working until his untimely death, not only in England but also in the USA where he toured as early as 1912. With only one interruption, though a big one, due to World War I. Banks, who served with the Essex Regiment then, was wounded in the face, one side remaining permanently paralyzed. Which did not prevent him from quickly resuming his activities, at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre first, then in London, New York and Hollywood. Unfortunately, if the delightfully threatening figure of Zaroff will rest forever in our minds, Leslie Banks physically disappeared in 1952, only aged 61, hit by a sudden stroke. He has been missed since.
- Count Zaroff
- Bob Lawrence
- Joss Merlyn
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