Herbert Lom, the Czech-born film and television actor best known to modern audiences for playing the long-suffering Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus in the successful Pink Panther movies for United Artists, has passed away less than three weeks after celebrating his 95th birthday.
Born Herbert Karel Angelo Kuchacevič ze Schluderpacheru on September 11, 1917 in Prague to parents of Austrian nobility, Lom started out acting in mostly supporting roles (with an occasional lead) in the Czech cinema, but was forced to flee to England in 1939 due to the country’s invasion by the Nazis. After training at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art he began appearing in British comedies and dramas throughout the following decade and made his American film debut in Jules Dassin’s 1950 film noir classic Night and the City. Five years later he first appeared alongside future on-screen adversary Peter Sellers in the great Ealing Studios comedy The Ladykillers (awkwardly remade by the Coen Brothers in 2004). After the smashing success of the first Pink Panther movie, UA gave the green-light for a sequel – a practice that was hardly as common in the film industry as it is today – and in 1964 Lom made his debut as the harried Inspector Dreyfus in the Blake Edwards-directed A Shot in the Dark. The actor’s gift for red-faced bluster made the inspector an invaluable addition to the series. He would go on to play the role in each subsequent sequel ending with 1993’s Son of the Pink Panther, which had Italian comic actor Roberto Benigni taking over the role of perennial pain in Dreyfus’ backside since Sellers had died in 1980 and which would also be Lom’s final feature film.
During his career Lom also had prominent roles in films such as John Huston’s The Roots of Heaven, Spartacus, Captain Nemo in Mysterious Island, El Cid, the title role in the 1962 Hammer Films adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, the drive-in horror gem Mark of the Devil, and the Jess Franco exploitation flicks 99 Women and Count Dracula (in the latter he played Van Helsing). Although Lom specialized in playing villains and anti-heroic characters, one of his finest performances was as Dr. Sam Weizak, a doctor as well as a caring friend and conscience to Christopher Walken’s troubled psychic Johnny Smith, in David Cronenberg’s 1983 film adaptation of the Stephen King novel The Dead Zone. Lom also made appearances on television shows like Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Hawaii Five-O, not to mention starring in his own British TV series The Human Jungle for two seasons in the early 1960s.
Gifted with a great talent for creating characters who could be both painfully human and nightmarishly evil with his stone face and deep and menacing voice, Herbert Lom was one of the finest working actors in world cinema. He lived an amazing life, acted in many classic films, and will be sorely missed. I just his eye doesn’t start twitching when he meets Sellers on the other side.
RIP – Herbert Lom September 11, 1917 – September 27, 2012