Making Bela – A Tribute to Martin Landau

I was saddened yesterday to read of the death, at the age of 89, of the fine actor Martin Landau. His was a familiar face from my youth, from Mission Impossible and Space 1999 but I’ll remember Martin Landau best in Ed Wood  an affectionate biopic of the man often described as the worst film director in the history of Cinema, in which he played Bela Lugosi a performance that won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1995. The New York Film Critic’ Circle report noted “The Oscar goes to Martin Landau, its shadow goes to Bela Lugosi.”

I wrote about Bela Lugosi here – blimey, was that really five years ago? – and am a firm admirer of him as an actor. Unfortunately his heavy Hungarian accent made it very difficult to land roles in which he could demonstrate his true talent. That, together with an opiate addiction, led his career into a downward spiral. He was firmly on the skids when he linked up with Ed Wood to make some execrable low budget horror movies.

In Ed Wood, Martin Landau’s performance is remarkable not least because he didn’t look at all like Bela Lugosi. He nevertheless managed to achieve something better than a mere impersonation, largely through his uncannily accurate interpretation of Lugosi’s speaking voice and body language. He somehow captured the essence of the character without merely mimicking him. The make-up helped, but wasn’t the main reason why Martin Landau was so wonderful as Lugosi. It was just great acting.

By way of a tribute to him, here’s a short but fascinating documentary called Making Bela:

R.I.P. Martin Landau (1928-2017)

One Response to “Making Bela – A Tribute to Martin Landau”

  1. I remember Landau well from ‘Space 1999’, which I saw when it was first broadcast. A tremendous actor. (Can’t say the same about Space 1999 as sci-fi – the SFX still stand up today but it was way more fiction than science.) I never saw ‘Ed Wood’ but I was hugely impressed by Landau’s performance in Coppola’s ‘Tucker: the man and the dream’.

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