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Pleasence, Donald (1919-1995)


Main image of Pleasence, Donald (1919-1995)

A bald-headed actor with intense, staring eyes, associated with nervy, unstable characters, Donald Pleasance was briefly a railway worker, made his stage debut in 1939, and returned to stage after WW2 service in the RAF. He began to appear in TV drama in the '50s, including 1984 (BBC, 1954), and as Prince John in Robin Hood (ITV, 1955-57).

In film character roles from 1954 (he was never going to be a handsome leading man), he was excellent as grave-robber Hare in The Flesh and the Fiends (d. John Gilling, 1960) and in two 'B' film roles: a timid accountant in The Big Day (d. Peter Graham Scott, 1960), and the weak father devoted to his pet rabbits in The Wind of Change (d. Vernon Sewell, 1961). He was a perfect Dr. Crippen (d. Robert Lynn, 1962), and, in The Caretaker (d. Clive Donner, 1963), reprised his acclaimed stage performance as the tramp Davies. In Roman Polanski's bizarre, darkly humorous Cul-de-sac (1966), he played an ineffectual husband, living in isolation on Holy Island, finally left weeping and hunched on a rock as the tide moves in.

After The Great Escape (US, d. John Sturges, 1963), he appeared in US films regularly, notably in Halloween (US, d. John Carpenter, 1978), the success of which made him a horror specialist, often in low-budget films, many of the shlocky Italian slasher variety. He was excellent as saintly Rev. Harding in TV's The Barchester Chronicles (BBC, 1984), reminding viewers he was capable of more than gore and horror. He was awarded an OBE in 1993, and his daughter is actress Angela Pleasence.

Roger Philip Mellor, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Caretaker, The (1963)Caretaker, The (1963)

Donald Pleasance, Alan Bates and Robert Shaw star in Pinter's classic

Thumbnail image of Circus of Horrors (1960)Circus of Horrors (1960)

Lurid horror about a deranged plastic surgeon

Thumbnail image of Cul-de-Sac (1966)Cul-de-Sac (1966)

Roman Polanski's black comedy about a couple terrorised by gangsters

Thumbnail image of Hell is a City (1960)Hell is a City (1960)

Tough thriller with Stanley Baker on a murder hunt in Manchester

Thumbnail image of Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)

Keith Michell's virtuoso performance as the much-married monarch

Thumbnail image of Lonely Water (1973)Lonely Water (1973)

Alarming film warning children of the dangers of playing near water

Thumbnail image of Look Back in Anger (1959)Look Back in Anger (1959)

Richard Burton stars as archetypal disaffected youth Jimmy Porter

Thumbnail image of Tale of Two Cities, A (1958)Tale of Two Cities, A (1958)

Dirk Bogarde stars as an idealistic lawyer in this Dickens adaptation

Thumbnail image of You Only Live Twice (1967)You Only Live Twice (1967)

James Bond goes to Japan to investigate the theft of spacecraft

Thumbnail image of Barchester Chronicles, The (1982)Barchester Chronicles, The (1982)

Beautifully-observed adaptation of Trollope's church intrigue

Thumbnail image of Blade on the Feather (1980)Blade on the Feather (1980)

Meditation on loyalty and treachery by Dennis Potter

Thumbnail image of Falklands Factor, The (1983)Falklands Factor, The (1983)

Dramatisation of the Falklands conflict of 1770-71 and the role of Dr Johnson

Thumbnail image of Jesus of Nazareth (1977)Jesus of Nazareth (1977)

Robert Powell plays Jesus Christ in Franco Zeffirelli's famous miniseries

Thumbnail image of News-Benders, The (1968)News-Benders, The (1968)

Short drama set in a near-future world where news is determined in advance

Thumbnail image of Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954)Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954)

Highly controversial - in its day - Orwell adaptation by Nigel Kneale

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