May 18, 2008

JOHN PHILLIP LAW - Pygar joins the angels

On a grey, overcast morning in London, I read the sad news that John Phillip Law has passed away.

As I understand, the actor never stopped working, smiling and looking younger than his years, up until the end. He always brightened up the Hollywood movies he featured in, but it’s three of his ‘Italian’ starring roles that have kept playing, as cult favourites.

In both Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik (both released in 1968) he nailed the characterisations and appearances of two comic book characters so accurately, that he still personifies them. As Pygar the blind, winged ‘angel’ of Barbarella, he sensitively portrayed a blind and innocent prisoner of the Great Tyrant. His physical performance was magnified by appearing half-naked throughout the film. I was very aware that while there was plenty of male nudity in sixties cinema, not many actors were as attractive. I was so impressed with Pygar, that recently he’s even been my avatar in many movie forums. A choice that currently feels disrespectful.

Barbarella is one of my top three films ever, and I'm surprised it's not more widely popular than a cult status.

I was hoping that the planned Robert Rodriguez remake of Barbarella (currently cancelled) would have thrown Law back into the limelight. As it stands, I don’t even know if he’s been interviewed or recorded for any sort of Special Edition of Barbarella, which is long overdue on DVD. Paramount only have Jane Fonda, Anita Pallenberg and Milo O’Shea left around to interview from the main cast.

In his next film, as Diabolik, he swapped from Angel to Devil, as the greedy super-villain anti-hero, in a world where there was no super-spy or master detective who could touch him. His physical resemblance to the comic book villain is quite uncanny. Danger: Diabolik was a rare movie adaption of a comic strip where the fans are well-served by the result.

There are hardly any spaghetti westerns that I’ve enjoyed that didn’t have Clint Eastwood in them, but Death Rides A Horse is an exception. It’s a shame that Law didn’t garner the same opportunites as Eastwood when he returned to the US.

These films have proved entertaining for forty years so far, and will continue to preserve his memory for many years to come.

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