Many lovers of classic cinema mourned the loss of the late Christopher Plummer, who passed away in his home on Feb. 5. It was the end of a cold week, and the world witnessed the burning wick of a passionate soul softly doused.
Immortalized for The Sound of Music (1965), Plummer has an impressive litany of productions to which his name is attached including Rian Johnson’s popular movie mystery Knives Out (2019).
Here’s a list of movies that, if you’re only familiar with Plummer in The Sound of Music, will show you a wider range of the man’s acting abilities. From the antagonist in some to minor parts in others, Plummer never ceased to carry himself convincingly on-screen, no matter the role.
The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
The year before The Sound of Music broke across the silver screen, Plummer had appeared in a very different film. The Fall of the Roman Empire is relatively self-explanatory: we see the beginnings of Rome’s political and societal collapse, particularly in the wake of Marcus Aurelius’ death.
Reminiscent of Ben-Hur (1959), the film falls into that category of biblical-era epics and offers battles, sordid characters hungry for power, and a rich love story. Christopher Plummer’s Commodus and the protagonist Livius (Steven Boyd) start out as veritable brothers, but Marcus Aurelius’ demise brings about strife, rivalry, and hatred.
Commodus becomes the next Emperor, and Plummer goes full-on crazy mode with the character, giving him emotional outbursts of anger, giddiness, and maniacal amusement. Ultimately, it is the fragmented leadership under Commodus that (at least cinematically) puts the wheels of disaster in motion.
The Scarlet and the Black (1983)
The made-for-TV movie The Scarlet and the Black is arguably one of the best-produced films dealing with rigorously Catholic characters. Set at the locale of the heart of the Church, the historical story takes place in Rome and, more specifically, the Vatican.
During World War II, the Nazi regime has occupied Rome, making for an extremely difficult set of relations between the neutral Vatican City and the tyrannical Third Reich – and a threatened public.
The protagonist, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, was played by none other than Gregory Peck. Plummer, the once-head of the Von Trapps who escaped the confines of Hitler’s rule, found himself in the shoes of a Nazi colonel. He played Col. Herbert Kappler, Fr. O’Flaherty’s most dangerous adversary.
This actually wasn’t Peck’s first time portraying a Catholic priest; he had played a Catholic missionary decades earlier in The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), another fine film. As we’ve already seen, this also wasn’t Plummer’s first time playing the part of a deranged man in power.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Ron Howard’s remarkable, award-winning A Beautiful Mind really leaves a long-lasting impact on you. The movie may serve as a splendid commentary on eros, marriage, and perseverance.
All the acting is top-notch. Russell Crowe is the brilliant yet troubled John Nash. Paul Bettany (WandaVision) is the rambunctious but charming college friend, Charles.
Plummer’s character, Dr. Rosen, does not frequent the screen here per se. But his appearances are often at crucial crossroads in the development of Nash’s mental health. Ultimately, it is not really what Dr. Rosen is capable of doing, so much as what Nash’s wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) is willing to do, that helps the protagonist continue to live his life.
Nicholas Nickleby (2002)
Nicholas Nickleby, an adaptation of a Charles Dickens story, is a story not unlike the English author’s cliché genre: a story focusing on the struggle of the social classes. Plummer is Ralph Nickleby, Nicholas’s crotchety, conniving, money-loving uncle. As much as he does behind others’ backs, there is a terrible and ironic secret which he does not know.
Other notable performers among the cast include Anne Hathaway, who plays Madeline Bray – the love interest of both Nicholas and his uncle, and Jamie Bell, who plays the dearest friend of Nicholas.
Plummer is clearly in the role of the antagonist: the monster of the family, who is best to be avoided like a disease. Something like Pride and Prejudice and a bit similar to A Christmas Carol, Nicholas Nickleby comes up with a dramatic climax that really grabs you.
National Treasure (2004)
There are few Nicholas Cage movies that cinephiles can generally agree to be good movies, but National Treasure seems to be a category all of its own. A film about legacy, history, and patriotism, National Treasure is an adventure like no other.
Just allude to the idea of “stealing the Declaration of Independence,” and you will have undoubtedly put the image of Ben Gates running from the law with a document of near-sacred writ into people’s minds.
This iconic movie also has a cameo from an iconic actor. Yep, Ben’s grandfather, whom he idolized in his youth, is played by none other than Plummer himself. Though his screentime is rather limited, his character, John Adams Gates, inspires young Ben to delve into the mysteries of history.
The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
Nicholas Nickleby wasn’t the end of Plummer’s Dickensian film acting. The Man Who Invented Christmas, which covers many of the biographical details of Charles Dickens’ own life and has the author interacting with many of the fictional characters presented in A Christmas Carol, is a unique tale of the whimsical and of hardship.
As Dickens starts talking to his fictional characters in his study – as if they were really there – he comes at last to confronting a very cold character: Scrooge. And who else could fit the bill but Plummer? As always, he gives a stellar performance. The Man Who Invented Christmas, like all the movies here, is worth the watch.