Friday, April 18, 2014

Spock-blocked


Stop everything! Someone just complicated Spock and T'Pring's love life, but who did it? Here are a few clues...

He chauffeured for Harlee McBride's titular character in Young Lady Chatterley as well as for the Donald Pleasance baddie in Escape to Witch Mountain.



He sailed with this Guy in Captain Sindbad and played the flute for him in Damon and Pythias.



He portrayed a suave psychologist who owns the world's coolest car in The Psycho Lover.



He provided necessary Diversions in The Great Escape and in real life was friends with the star.



And, in Star Trek TOS, he requested the glory of the kill from his Romulan commander in Balance of Terror, and not only cuckolded the Enterprise's first officer big time in Amok Time, he was originally cast as Spock before Nimoy decided to take the role.


If you grew up in the 60's like I did, you could not escape his ubiquitous, guest-starring presence on TV. Usually portraying a troublemaking second tier henchman or villain in network genre fair, he was continuously popping up, even on the same show, in different roles. In Quinn Martin's original FBI  series alone, he played seven different characters in seven separate episodes during the course of its run. He also appeared in The Invaders, The Time Tunnel, The Fugitive, The Outer Limits, Combat!, Perry Mason, Hogan's Heroes, Batman, Mission: Impossible, The Flying Nun, I Spy, Lassie, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Daniel Boone to name just a few. But what he's most known for are his two guest roles on the original Star Trek series and a near miss with iconic fame. His name is Lawrence Montaigne.


How different would the universe have been if Leonard Nimoy had not exercised an option in his contract which allowed him to assume the part of Spock on Star Trek after leaving the Mission Impossible television series? Well, for one thing, Lawrence Montaigne would have become a household name. He had already been hired as the number one Vulcan by Roddenberry, but was bumped out of the part when Nimoy decided to eschew the IMF and join the Trek cast. Montaigne subsequently did get the pleasure of stealing Spock's fiancee as the rival Vulcan, Stonn, in the classic Amok Time episode, and nearly got to blow up the Enterprise as the upstart underling Romulan, Decius, in Balance of Terror, but missed the chance of becoming a cultural icon by a contract clause.


Despite this, or maybe because of it, I've always been a fan of Lawrence Montaigne and am always pleased when he shows up in a TV show to complicate things. Recently, I've been checking out Montaigne's film work which is as varied and interesting as his television gigs. He made many appearances in movies from the 60's on, the most notable of which was a co-starring role in The Great Escape as the POW, Haynes, aka 'Diversions'. Prior to this he acted in several Italian cinema productions including one of the more substantive peplums, Damon and Pythias (1962). Although, technically average, this sword and sandal movie is ambitiously scripted with themes of brotherhood and honor running throughout the story which give the film much more weight than is typically found in the genre. In addition, co-star Guy Williams and Montaigne look to be having an excellent time in their respective parts playing rogue-ish buddies who each discover a higher calling in life. Montaigne would act with Williams again a year later in the colorful Byron Haskin adventure Captain Sindbad. In it, he has a much more modest role but does get a scene to himself where he's menaced by fake crocodiles. One of his most substantial roles would come in the 1970 American thriller, The Psycho Lover. A prime example of exploitation cinema of the day, the film mixes giallo-like death scenes and plot twists with ample sleaze and a distinctly early 70's psychedelic atmosphere. Robert Vincent O'Neill, who directed the first two Angel movies and co-wrote the notorious Vice Squad, is the writer/director and delivers a much better than expected exploitation piece with Montaigne as the suave, playboy lead. He portrays a wealthy psychiatrist stuck in a bad marriage who has just begun treating a serial killer suspect. He decides to take advantage of this situation by manipulating the killer to his own ends. Although Montaigne gets upstaged a bit by the kill scenes, which are disturbingly realistic, he really gets to do a variety of stuff including a couple of love scenes.


Watching Psycho Lover and Damon and Pythias had me wishing Montaigne had returned to Italy and done a lot more genre work there as he definitely has a European character actor's mug (despite being Brooklyn-born) and some acting chops as well. He could easily have pulled off the tough cop or crook character in a poliziotteschi or giallo. On the other hand, if he had left the States, it would have deprived me of the pleasure of seeing him routinely complicate some protagonist hero's life on network TV. I guess things worked out for the best. Although he never put the beat-down on Tomas Milian or Maurizio Merli and never did get to kick Mr. Spock's tight ass, he did get the girl in the end, and that's all that really matters.






















2 comments:

  1. Excellent article and great pictures.
    Lawrence Montaigne (26 February 1931 Brooklyn New York - 17 March 2017)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Trevor.
      R.I.P. Mr. Montaigne.

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