Perfectly Pompous – Cecil Parker (1897–1971)

Posted in Rewind by - November 05, 2017
Perfectly Pompous – Cecil Parker (1897–1971)

Notable for playing dedicated manservants and overbearing authority figures, Cecil Parker was also adept at making these characters rather likable, in spite of their stuffiness. A familiar face in British cinema for four decades, he left an indelible impression in a great number of memorable dramas as well as some of cinema’s finest comedies.

Born Cecil Schwabe, in Hastings, England on September 3rd 1897, Parker first trod the London stage in 1922 and made his movie debut a decade later in 1933. After appearing in a handful of farces, his first notable role came in Hitchcock’s excellent mystery ‘The Lady Vanishes’ (’38), playing the cowardly adultrous Mr Todhunter, and would reunite two years later with co-stars Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood for the superb drama ‘The Stars Look Down’ (’40), directed by Carol Reed.

He was a memorable Britannus in ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ (’45) opposite Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh, and made an excellent Prince Regent in Alberto Cavalcanti’s ‘The First Gentleman’ (’48). A starring role came next with the romantic comedy ‘The Chiltern Hundreds’ (’49), wonderfully playing the butler to David Tomlinson’s political wannabe Lord Pym. A trio of Ealing comedies with Alec Guinness followed; ‘The Man in the White Suit’ (’51), ‘Father Brown’ (’54), and best of all ‘The Ladykillers’ (’55), where he played con-man Major Courteney, one of Guinness’s partners in crime, planning an armoured van robbery. That same year Parker was also very good as the brutal King in the brilliant comedy spoof ‘The Court Jester’ (’55) with Danny Kaye.

A couple of memorable butler roles followed, first with Henry Hathaway’s excellent mystery ’23 Paces to Baker Street’ (’56) joining forces with Van Jonhson’s blind writer, to solve a crime that’s yet to be commited. Then, as a Lord turned manservant when he is shipwrecked with his family and Kenneth More’s dedicated butler, in the role reversal dramady ‘The admiral Crichton’ (’57). After playing Ingrid Bergman’s brother-in-law in Stanley Donen’s Hichcockian thriller ‘Indiscreet’ (’58), Parker popped up as Captain Moreland in the Disney favourite ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ (’60). Comedy parts came next, with a starring role in the enjoyable sequel ‘The Pure Hell of St. Trinians’ (’60), as a professor attempting to take charge of the unruly school girls. Then as the Commander-in-Chief in the Charlie Drake vehicle ‘Petticoat Pirates’ (’61), a battle of the sexes comedy which had Drake hiding on a warship which has been taken over by 150 Wrens.

A war movie followed with the pretty good ‘Guns at Batasi’ (’64) starring an excellent Richard Attenborough and a debuting Mia Farrow, before playing the Prime Minister in the Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper mystery ‘A Study in Terror’ (’65). Interestingly, in all of Cecil Parker’s remaining movies, he would play knighted figures. He was Sophia Loren’s biographer Sir Percy in Peter Ustinov’s sex farce ‘Lady L’ (’65), Sir Huntley Frazier opposite James Garner, in the under-rated romp ‘A Man Could Get Killed’ (’66), and Sir John in the Christopher Lee suspenser ‘Circus of Fear’ (’66). After appearing as another Sir John, in the Morecambe & Wise comedy ‘The Magnificent Two’ (’67), Parker’s final movie was Richard Attenborough’s all-star comedy-musical ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’, again as a character called Sir John.

Married for over 40 years, Cecil Parker died aged 73, on April 20th 1971. A marvelous actor of stage and screen, with flawless diction and manners, Parker portrayed characters from a bygone age which we rarely see anymore. Still, with over a hundred screen credits, at least we have a vast body of his work to continue to appreciate this very talented individual.

Favourite Movie: The Court Jester
Favourite Performance: 23 Paces to Baker Street

This post was written by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *