No, really. At 88 years of age, Angela Lansbury is a grand old lady of film and television. Best known nowadays for Murder, She Wrote, it’s easy to forget she had an illustrious film career and still turns up in the odd movie today. Who could forget Mr. Popper’s Penguins (2011)? Although she was born a Brit, she moved to America at the start of the war and it’s there her career started. But what, we hear you ask, has this got to do with Starburst? Well when you’ve made as many films as our Angela has, you’re bound to stray into the fantastical territory we all love so much. Needless to say you’ll be wanting a top 10 of Angela’s genre work so here you go; you might be surprised.
10 - The Last Unicorn (1982)
This was one of those Bass/Rankin animations that are so loved by Americans. They did that version of The Hobbit in 1977 that hardly anyone in the UK has ever seen. It was based on Peter S. Beagle’s novel of the same name but its classiness doesn’t stop there, oh no. It tells the story of a unicorn looking for the last of its kind but the mild perils it encounters along the way include being captured by a witch voiced by our Angela. Stay with us, these get better.
9 - The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The 1965 episode, The Deadly Toys Affair features Angela as the brilliantly-named Elfie van Donck, an eccentric film star protecting her genius-nephew from those evil THRUSH agents. She even pilots a helicopter. Now we’re getting somewhere.
8 - Beauty and the Beast (1991)
You know this one. Angela voices Mrs Potts the talking teapot, of course she does. Always good for anything with a song is our Angie. But everyone can do voice acting nowadays; we can do better than that.
7 - Nanny McPhee (2005)
This Emma Thompson vehicle featured no end of British luviness so it comes as no surprise to see Angela turn up as evil Aunt Adelaide. Seriously, who did you expect?
6 - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1982)
Long before Tim Burton did that secret musical with all his usual chums (secret because the trailers did a fairly good job of disguising the fact), this Stephen Sondheim show opened on Broadway with none other than Angela Lansbury as Mrs Lovett. It won awards and everything. In 1982 it was immortalized on film so you can still see how Sondheim had originally envisioned the pie-maker next door. She is a versatile woman; did we mention she could sing?
5 - Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
She also does witches. Here she’s a nice one in a film that, if you’re a certain age, you may have once believed was the greatest movie of all time. Come on, apart from all those suits of armour walking about, it even had villainous Nazis (which is pretty much the only kind, come to think of it). It was like somebody had taken everything you ever saw on telly round your Gran’s on a Sunday afternoon and made it for kids. It just wouldn’t have been the same if they’d done the obvious and put Julie Andrews in it. It must also be noted that it featured Roddy McDowell (Planet of the Apes) and Sam Jaffe (The Day the Earth Stood Still) so it is, technically, unmissable.
4 - Gaslight (1944)
Yes, we’re calling this one part of the genre. It’s creepy and it’s gothic and that’s close enough for us. The British production of Gaslight (1940) was such a success that the Americans had to do their own version. Arguably, this was a fairly pointless exercise as they cast a load of Europeans in it. However, this one also turned out to be Angela’s film debut as Nancy, the maid. This is one of the most subtle portrayals of a “bad girl” you’ll ever see and got Angela her first Academy Award nomination.
3 - The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
Oh, you know the plot. Angela plays Sibyl Vane whom this version transformed from the novel’s Shakespearean actress into a music hall singer. Some may well argue that this slightly missed the point from the original story but it does mean you get to see Angela wow a music hall crowd with her version of Little Yellow Bird. It rocks. OK, it doesn’t but that really is Angela singing. Oddly enough, her singing voice was dubbed in a couple of later films but not here. It also got her a second Oscar nomination.
2 - The Company of Wolves (1984)
They don’t come more gothic than this Neil Jordan foray into dreams and emerging sexuality via, naturally enough, the werewolf story. Angela adds a nice bit of acting class in the pivotal role of Rosaleen’s storytelling grandmother.
1 - The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
If you’ve not seen this original cold war classic then you need to. Apart from a brilliant plot and some of the best dream sequences committed to celluloid, it also features what is, in our not-so-humble opinion, Angela Lansbury’s finest acting performance. Not only is she utterly convincing as Eleanor Iselin, the wife of an ambitious anti-red Senator and mother of a Korean War veteran, at 36 she was only three years older than Laurence Harvey who played her son. It’s a brilliant portrayal that rightly got her a third Oscar nomination (again for best supporting actress) and, frankly, she was robbed by child actress Patty Duke for The Miracle Worker (1962). Alright, that’s not entirely a fair observation but Angela is so good in The Manchurian Candidate that it would have been nice to see her win it with her third (and what is probably her final) nomination.
Angela Lansbury, we salute you.
So there you go, wasn’t such a mad idea, was it? Mind you, that Boris Karloff top 10 would have been a darn sight easier.