Stream These Great Christopher Plummer Movies
The Canadian actor Christopher Plummer, who died Feb. 5 at 91, made his first appearances on the Broadway stage and in Hollywood movies in the 1950s, when he was still in his 20s. He left behind a wealth of unforgettable work in film, theater and television, including Oscar-, Emmy- and Tony-winning performances.
Originally introduced to the public as a dignified leading man in the classical English mold of Laurence Olivier and James Mason, Plummer would go on to play a range of roles — from adventure heroes to villainous creeps — and would find some of his greatest success in supporting parts. In his later years especially, Plummer specialized in bringing a sense of depth and weight to characters who sometimes appeared on-screen for just a handful of scenes. He only needed a few minutes to leave a lasting impression.
Here are 10 of Plummer’s best roles, all available to stream:
Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, Plummer focused much of his creative attention on theater in the U.S. and the U.K., while dabbling only occasionally in television and cinema. Then he played a stuffy Austrian naval officer and widowed father in the film version of the musical “The Sound of Music,” and he became a bona fide movie star. In the decades that followed, Plummer would sometimes dismiss the film, one of his biggest box office hits, as cloying and simplistic. But the picture is beloved for many reasons, one of which is the rich romantic chemistry between its leading actors: Julie Andrews as a headstrong governess, and Plummer as a heartbroken grump who melts when he hears her teach his children to sing.
Plummer became the oldest actor ever to win an Academy Award when he took home his first Oscar at 82 for the writer-director Mike Mills’s semi-autobiographical drama “Beginners.” He plays Hal, a septuagenarian who belatedly comes out as gay and subsequently strengthens his bond with his mixed-up middle-aged son Oliver (Ewan McGregor), who learns a lot from his dad’s embrace of radical honesty. At once gently funny and tearjerking, this is a film about how people subtly affect each other’s lives.
‘The Silent Partner’
Plummer was proud of his Canadian roots, and though he worked all over the world, he frequently returned to make movies with some of his home country’s finest filmmakers. In the cult favorite “The Silent Partner,” he plays a brutal thief who matches wits with a devious bank teller (Elliott Gould) after a heist goes awry. The director Daryl Duke focuses primarily on the teller, treating Plummer’s master criminal as a shadowy force of evil, applying pressure from the periphery. The actor leans into the assignment, delivering a performance dripping with menace.
‘Murder By Decree’
Another venerable Canadian director, Bob Clark, guided Plummer through one of his juiciest roles, playing Sherlock Holmes in a movie about the Jack the Ripper murders. James Mason plays the part of Dr. Watson, while Donald Sutherland plays the real-life medium Robert Lees, who claimed to have solved the case via psychic visions. But the star of the show is of course Plummer, who conveys the steely persistence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth, but also gives the character a bit of joyful bounce whenever he gets to outsmart somebody.
‘An American Tail’
One of Plummer’s most useful tools as a performer was his voice: deep and resonant, with just enough rasp to add a little edge. He was in-demand as a voice-over artist for documentaries and commercials; and he brought gusto to several classic animated films, including “Up” and “My Dog Tulip.” His first turn in a cartoon was a charmingly kooky one, playing a French pigeon who encourages the hero to follow his dreams by singing the can-do ditty “Never Say Never.” It’s a refreshingly light performance from Plummer, spotlighting his showman’s spirit.
In this docudrama about how the tobacco industry’s lawyers pressured the producers of the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes,” Plummer plays the reporter Mike Wallace, known and feared for his dogged interviewing style. The actor doesn’t attempt a Wallace impression. Instead he embodies the contradictions of a famous journalist, who believes in the pursuit of truth but also fears losing corporate sponsorship. Plummer captures Wallace’s natural charisma, along with his deep insecurities.
In one of Plummer’s final performances, he plays a popular mystery novelist whose accidental death causes problems for his greedy, scheming family. Plummer’s character Harlan Thrombey only appears in flashbacks, but his friendship with his nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) — and his keen understanding of his heirs’ failings — help to fill the writer-director Rian Johnson’s clever murder plot with both genuine warmth and a sharp point-of-view. Harlan comes across as so wise and so kind that the audience will believe anything he says.
‘The Thorn Birds’
Plummer notched one of the 11 Emmy nominations earned by this popular TV mini-series adaptation of Colleen McCullough’s novel. (He lost the “Outstanding Supporting Actor” award to his castmate, Richard Kiley.) Reunited with Duke, who had directed “The Silent Partner,” Plummer plays a very different kind of character: a high-ranking Catholic Church official who mentors a young priest (Richard Chamberlain) struggling with his desire for a woman (Rachel Ward) in the Australian farmlands. The elder archbishop has a small but vital part to play in this sweeping saga, serving as a voice of conscience and compassion to a man in spiritual crisis.
‘The Last Station’
It took until 2010 — 52 years after his movie debut — before Plummer picked up his first Oscar nomination, for playing Tolstoy in the writer-director Michael Hoffman’s adaptation of the Jay Parini novel “The Last Station.” The story is set during the last year of the Russian author’s life, and mostly concerns how his wife Sofya (Helen Mirren) battled with her husband’s devotees over whether his work should fall into the public domain after he died. Though he’s at the center of the intrigue, Plummer’s Tolstoy remains a fascinating enigma, enjoying the raging argument around him, which recalls many of the themes of his work.
‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’
Plummer brings some Shakespearean brio to what may be his best bad guy role, as the one-eyed Klingon general Chang. One of the great “Star Trek” nemeses, Chang takes advantage of a moment of mercy from his sworn enemies to upend their peace negotiations, and gives the Federation and the starship Enterprise one of their toughest tests. Between Chang’s blustering monologues and his ruthless machinations, Plummer makes villainy look fun.
www.nytimes.com 2021-02-06 00:35:40