"There is so much writing in English on Japanese cinema that can't be accepted at face value — not because the writers are careless, but because the differences in culture and language are just too intricate. When I see August Ragone's name on a piece of writing, it gives me permission to place my faith in it completely. Among Japanese fantasy film historians, he's the best working in English." —Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

Monday, May 19, 2008

John Phillip Law (1937-2008)

Actor John Philip Law made a strong impression on me as a kid — and little did I know it at the time that he was the very same actor in three memorable films of my youth. I wasn't even in grammar school at the time, but one of my older sisters, who swore me to silence, took me with her and he husband to see Roger Vadim's BARBARELLA (1968) at a drive-in. I didn't really understand anything in the film — but three images were burned into my little mind: The frightening Man-Eating Dolls, Anita Pallenberg as the Black Queen and John Philip Law as the Blind Angel. I doubt that these were healthy images for an impressionable child, but I'm still creeped out by dolls (I'm sure that these memories would make intriguing fodder for some Shrink out there.)

Several years later, I saw Mario Bava's delirious and colorful DANGER: DIABOLIK (1968) in a second-run theater on some double or triple feature, and again, the imagery was scorched into my psyche — Diabolik's sinister costume, Law's intense eyes, and Marisa Mell's incredible, stunning beauty. While I only saw the film once, and it was years before I saw it again (when DANGER: DIABOLIK was released by Paramount Home Video on VHS in the early 1990s), those images were very deeply ingrained.

Somewhere around that time, I rushed to see Gordon Hessler's THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) upon its first release, and while I had no idea that the star was the very same actor in both DANGER: DIABOLIK and BARBARELLA, the film made a strong impression on me (and still remains my favorite Ray Harryhausen production). Again, as typical with Harryhausen, there were numerous visual wonders in the film — such as the beguiling and murderous Kali — as well as the villainous Koura, played by Tom Baker (DOCTOR WHO), and the most special effect of all, you guessed it, the mesmerizing Caroline Munro (CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER).

By the time I was in High School, I knew John Philip Law as my favorite screen Sinbad, and connected his name to his other films, including BARBARELLA and DANGER: DIABOLIK; and now I am at a loss in expressing how much these films he appeared in fascinated and entertained me over the years. There were many fans who were fortunate to know Mr. Law and were privileged to interview him in recent years. While I was not one of them, I was — and still am — in awe of an actor who truly was larger than life and cooler than thou.

Sleep well, Mr. Law, you will not be forgotten.


Related stories:
Tim Lucas' Video Watchblog
The Telegraph obituary
The LA Times obituary


Bunche (pop culture ronin) said...

What blew my mind about all of the obits on JPL that I saw — except yours and mine — was the complete lack of mention of DIABOLIK. Is it just that not many Americans have seen it? Considering they knew enough to cover his passing, one would think DIABOLIK would have been right up there next to BARBARELLA. Go figure...

Maurizio Ercole said...

Ciao John!