Peter O’Toole was incapable of playing casual parts. Regal in bearing, flamboyant in behavior, and intelligent in expression, he was the kind of actor who immediately brought grandeur to the lowliest of characters and the most minor of movies. Here’s a journey through some of his best, as well as some of his most underappreciated, performances.
Not long after Lawrence of Arabia made him into a leading man, O’Toole starred in Richard Brooks’s similarly epic adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s tale of cowardice and redemption. Maybe it’s not as epochal a film as David Lean’s masterpiece, but it’s similarly sweeping and beautiful — and O’Toole is magnificent as the conflicted, complex sailor who has to learn to be the master of his fate.
Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection
Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic Oscar juggernaut did not, amazingly, garner a nomination for O’Toole. (He would have lost again – he was up against Sean Connery in The Untouchables.) Playing the Scot tutor to China’s last monarch, the actor took on a less showy role than he was used to; usually, he was the one who played the king. But his quiet compassion and dignity were unforgettable.
The great Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo) disowned this 1990 movie, a surreal, visually striking fable about a thief and an eccentric, prodigal prince (and his beloved dog’s corpse) living in the sewers as they wait for an expected inheritance. Maybe it wasn’t up to the maestro’s visionary standards, but it reunites O’Toole and Omar Sharif, the two stars of Lawrence of Arabia, and for that alone, it’s well worth a visit.