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A love of Michael Hordern

Friday 3/3/23

Michael Hordern is in so many productions that I love, probably more, I think, than anyone else. And a fantastic range of undertakings. It's uncanny. I wanted to make a little round-up of some of those works that feature Hordern.

He was, of course, Jacob Marley--both "old" (though not old at all, really) and younger in 1951's Scrooge. Obviously I feel strongly about this movie, as I wrote an entire book about it. It's my favorite movie of all-time. Hordern's Marley is crucial to what it is trying to do artistically. He's the ultimate Marley the way that Alastair Sim is the ultimate Scrooge.

The Marley-visitation scene is a piece of horror cinema that ranks with any sequence in the horror medium. Something like the creation scene in 1931's Frankenstein (pay attention to how the scene is edited--that's where much of its power comes from) or the vampire on the ship in 1922's Nosferatu.

Then there's the 1971 animated adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which brought back both Sim and Hordern in their original roles. This is my favorite work of animation of all-time. It's different, creepy, and it doesn't look like any other piece of animation you'll ever see.

Hordern was also Professor Parkins in the 1968 BBC adaptation of M.R. James's Whistle and I'll Come to You that jumpstarted the Ghost Series for Christmas series. When I think about being back in my house in Rockport, trying to motivate myself to keep going, and the things I'll do and love doing there, I often think about watching this episode and the subsequent series in my cozy front room facing the sea.

In 1963, he's also played the part of Parkins in a BBC radio adaptation of James's most famous story.

Then there were all of the readings he made of M.R. James ghost stories, which I also talked about in the Scrooge book.

So that's a lot of M.R. James courtesy of Michael Hordern!

He was Gandalf in the 1981 BBC radio production of The Lord of the Rings, which is one of the best extended radio series, and my favorite way to experience the Tolkien saga.

He was Badger in the 1980s Cosgrove Hall TV series, The Wind in the Willows, which may be my favorite television series. It does you good to watch it. And it's sly and witting and warming. Riverbankers!

He narrates the 1975-1980 Paddington series as only Michael Hordern could.

Then he was Jeeves in the Jeeves and Wooster series of P.D. Wodehouse stories on the BBC in the 1970s. I love all of these things, and Michael Hordern is at or near the center of all of them.

Hordern was born October 3, 1911, so think of how young he was when he made Scrooge. He had four decades of art-making in front of him, but audiences thought of him as old Jacob Marley when he appeared in that adaptation of the Dickens novella.


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