Movie Magazine International

Vincent Price Tribute

1911 - 1993

Tribute By Monica Sullivan

Vincent Price was a big international movie star who answered his own telephone and correspondence and who required no handlers when he made personal appearances. He played Oscar Wilde onstage in "Diversions and Delights" when he was far too mature for the role, but he projected just the right emotional tone & who would have believed him as a dissolute playwright during the days when he was the healthy-looking star of "The Fly" and "House On Haunted Hill?" Mr. Price was such a congenial man that I hoped he would have the sort of posthumous reputation that Jack Benny or Peter Cushing or Alec Guinness share. When do you ever hear an unkind or reproachful word about any of them?

Lucy Chase Williams wrote the best of the books about him in 1995 (Citadel's "The Films Of Vincent Price"), but some of the other profiles place undue emphasis on his youthful prejudices and private inclinations as if it weren't enough that he was one of the 20th century's most lovable entertainers and a Renaissance Man to boot: he had to be Perfect from infancy to his death at age 82 & who can be Perfect under tabloid-style scrutiny? I asked Mr. Price once what his very favorite films were. Overall, he said "Laura", but for his own performance, the choice was more surprising: Nicholas Van Ryn in "Dragonwyck." He lost thirty pounds to play what SEEMS to be the quintessential Gothic hero: rich, passionate and handsome. Married to a woman {Vivienne Osborne as Johanna) who has displeased him by bearing a daughter (Connie Marshall as Katrina) rather than a son and heir, Nicholas courts his meltingly lovely young cousin (Gene Tierney as Miranda Wells). Miranda has always dreamed of someone like Nicholas, whose skillful seduction of her is accompanied by beautiful manners. It is his manners which win over Miranda's politically liberal parents (Walter Huston & Anne Revere as Ephraim & Abigail), who allow her to live with the conservative Van Ryn family as the governess to little Katrina.

Unlike Edward Rochester in "Jane Eyre", unlike Maxim De Winter in "Rebecca", Nicholas is genuinely evil. He desires a son and heir far more than the woman he believes can provide him with one. Yet because Nicholas is played by Vincent Price, who got the tip for his performance from the Edgar Allan Poe "Alone" poem, quoted in Anya Seton's novel, we are treated to a rich and sensitive portrayal of villainy. Although "Dragonwyck" is not a horror movie, Vincent Price expertly conveys the moral ambiguity that would make his hundred movie characters so memorable. Think of the tortured Professor Henry Jarrod in "House Of Wax" or Dr. Warren Chapin in "The Tingler" or Nicholas Medina in "Pit and the Pendulum" or Robert Morgan in "The Last Man On Earth" or Prince Prospero in "The Masque of the Red Death" or Matthew Hopkins in "Witchfinder General" or Edward Lionheart in "Theatre of Blood" or "The Abominable Dr. Phibes": If they are good, are they capable of evil? If they are evil, are they capable of good? Few actors could walk that moral tightrope as effectively as Vincent Price. I miss him terribly.

© 2001 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 5/30/01

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