A household name? Not in too many households other than mine, I’d wager, and even Madame BOF might not be able to put a name to the face. A definite asset to the films he was in? Damn straight. I’m speaking of Victor Spinetti, who was born and (on June 18, at the age of 82) died in Wales, leaving a legacy of almost half a century in front of the camera. I’m only familiar with the tip of the iceberg, but he left an indelible mark on that handful of films.
Exasperation seemed to be his stock in trade, as demonstrated by the way in which he was driven to delightful distraction by the antics of the Beatles as the television director in Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964), his first of three roles opposite the Fab Four. He also played an army sergeant in their TV-movie Magical Mystery Tour (1967), and outside of the Liverpool set, he was the hotel concierge in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) who thought Peter Sellers’s strangely accented Inspector Clouseau was asking if he had a rhume (French for a cold), rather than a room.
But I’ll always remember him best for his meatier role in Help! (1965), which reunited him with Lester and the Beatles; hell, his character even had a name in that one. He played Foot, the more intelligent–which isn’t saying much–of the two bonkers boffins who are trying to get that sacrifical ring off Ringo’s finger. “With a ring like that I could, dare I say it, rule the world,” asserts Foot, but Spinetti also gets to deliver one of my favorite lines, once again displaying that enviable exasperation as he refers to his colleague, Algernon: “He’s an idiot. Degree in woodwork. I ask you!” Algernon, by the way, was brilliantly played by Lester’s mascot, Roy Kinnear, whose eight films with the director included How I Won the War (1967), which co-starred some guy named Lennon; Kinnear tragically died while shooting Lester’s The Return of the Musketeers (1989).
If Spinetti’s very appearance, with his sharp nose and shifty eyes, could be counted on to provoke laughter in an audience, then Richard Lynch, who died a day later and a decade younger, achieved the opposite effect, inciting chills. As with Reggie Nalder, who gave viewers the creeps in everything from The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Salem’s Lot (1979) to Mark of the Devil (1970) and Dracula’s Dog (1978), Lynch’s unsettling appearance was caused by facial burns. But in Nalder’s case, we’ll hope it wasn’t for the same, equally unsettling reason: Lynch set himself on fire after taking LSD!
Again, I’m only familiar with a handful of Lynch’s credits, and perhaps the first thing I saw him in was one of the least distinguished, in the title role of the TV-movie Vampire (1979), whose inelegantly named director, E.W. Swackhamer, had done the 1977 pilot for The Amazing Spider-Man. Yet I now see that he also directed the underappreciated 1978 miniseries based on Dashiell Hammett’s The Dain Curse, while Vampire was written by an obscure pair of hacks named Bochco and Kozoll…but I digress. Lynch also appeared in films as diverse as The Seven-Ups (1973), God Told Me To (1976), The Ninth Configuration (1980) and, as Turafish will remind us, The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982).
In closing, I’ll just mention that I am officially an old geezer today, having just gotten my first pair of bifocals (or, in my case, “progressives”).