Seeing Donald Pleasence
As a (slightly rusty) artist, I’m always people watching. I don’t sketch as much as I used to, and now it’s mostly dogs, but I still find myself looking deeply at people features, their body language, attitude, smile, and gate… but mostly I look at their eyes.
And it’s for that reason why my entry for the What A Character! Blogathon is the English Actor Donald Pleasence.
Donald had a remarkable demeanor which complemented any role he took on…with his bald, distinct look, his smile that could run the gamut from a sneer to a broad grin, and his eyes… eyes that could telegraph with equal weight and emotion… humor, madness, delight or sincerity. Couple that with his acting range and you find a memorable on screen, stage, and tv personality who will live on for generations.
Though he played a range of wonderful characters in his day, he became known as someone who could pull off the more extreme of character archetypes, from a fanatical President in Escape from New York (1981) to a double agent in Fantastic Voyage (1966) to the arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1969).
But far and above my favorite role was an early one, that of Colin Blythe, a mild-mannered prisoner of a German POW camp in The Great Escape (1963)
He isn’t an exaggerated character in this role, but a struggling one, a gentle, quiet, intelligent, prisoner, who while playing a vital role in a choreographed escape, starts to rapidly go blind. And just as his blindness is discovered and his only hope of escape vanishes, his friend (James Garner) steps in with an offer to take care of him and to lend him his sight. It is throughout all of this I see Donald’s eyes, so expressive in humor, grief, fear, despair, and friendship.
Beside Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid (1969), and the trio of friends in Gunga Din (1939), this is my favorite buddy relationship in any film. My reasoning, the characters are heroic and sweet, charming and good-natured, burdened and generous. You feel their growing friendship and leave no man behind promise. To my mind, it’s THE most authentic of any buddy relationship I’ve had a chance to view on film.
And throughout the film, as he experiences and expresses a range of emotion, from his early scenes forging documents for the escape, to when his realizes he would be a liability to the group, on up until the final moment when Colin meets his untimely end at the hands of a German patrol, I look at his eyes. For it’s there that I find the spirit of this character actor, time and again.
The above article and original artwork is a guest post- created by Gary Pratt. In addition to being my husband, Gary would likely describe himself as a Santa Claus wanna-be, who grew up on a pig farm, then became an artist. He has spent a majority of his adult years leading innovation in the corporate world, and loves being a dad when he’s not otherwise watching old movies and scribbling cartoons.
This post is a contribution to the 8th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, hosted by Kellee Pratt @IrishJayhawk66 of Outspoken & Freckled, Aurora @CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen, and Paula @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club. Be sure to read all the entries from this multi-day event.
5 thoughts on “Seeing Donald Pleasence”
My heart is bursting with this unique and lovely tribute to the actor and the memorable role.
Thanks SO much, Paddy! Cannot wait to share your glowing feedback to my hubby!
Love the artwork that accompanies this ! I totally agree with the Great Escape description, and how Garner and Pleasance bring a very human, fragile relationship to a dramatic war picture. Your husband’s a very talented — and lucky — guy!
Ahhh Donald Pleasance – what a great choice! Now if you’re a Brit of a certain age, we all know Donald Pleasance as The Spirit of Deep Water! This was a public information film that scared the bejaysus out of us in the 70s: https://youtu.be/Vb00H6mCTM8