May 2, 2011

Why, Thank You, Thring!

Frank Thring as The Collector in "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome."

I was going over a transcript of an interview I did ages ago with the late Angelo Rossitto, whom you may remember was Bela Lugosi's dwarf man-servant in such bargain basement programmers as SPOOKS RUN WILD and SCARED TO DEATH. When I did the interview, Angie, as he liked to be called, had just done a big budget film in Australia you may remember called MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME. He was simply unforgettable as the "master blaster". However, he was not the only colorful character in the film. There was another actor, a native Australian whose larger than life visage was also unforgettable. He played the "collector" a devilish figure who trafficked in human life and death in Tina Turner's Thunderdome. By this time, the actor known as Frank Thring, had changed considerably in his appearance from what made him an international presence back in the 1960s.

As Herod Antipas in "King of Kings."
Frank was always flamboyant whatever his weight, with or without hair. He created a dazzling array of villainous performances, especially in epics, both Biblical or historic. He was, perhaps, the definitive Pontius Pilate in William Wyler's BEN-HUR, a wonderfully leering Herod Antipas in Nicolas Ray's KING OF KINGS, as well as playing Al Kader in EL CID, not to mention his debut in THE VIKINGS with Kirk Douglas, playing King Aetta.

I had, of course, seen all these films first run in theaters and marveled at his villainy as a child, growing up at the movies. I did not connect him with his later work in Australian films since he changed so much in his physical appearance, yet that voice of his should have given me a clue that this was indeed the same actor that left such a vivid impression on me as a child.

"I'm the biggest queen you know, deary!"
The first of the Australian films to bring Frank Thring to my attention was what may be Phillipe Mora's best film, MAD DOG MORGAN with Dennis Hopper as the title character. Dennis gives one of his better performances in that film as well. By this time, Frank was big, bad, and bald with a timeless delivery of the most outrageous dialogue this side of Monty Python. As Supt. Corham Frank, he requests how he wants Morgan's remains to be dealt with, " by all means, off with his head and don't forget the scrotum." He plays with that last word like nobody else in films. Mora knew what a treasure he had in Frank so he used him whenever possible. The last time would be near the end of Thring's life when he lampooned the great Hitchcock in Mora's comic HOWLING III.  By this time he was known far and wide for his dramatic attire, always in black with high collars, a devil without a red dress, at least in public or on the talk show circuit where he had the hosts eating out of his hand. Frank was an openly gay actor who made his sexuality work on his own terms. This was, of course, part of his genius, both as an actor, as well as, a showman.

As Pontius Pilate in "BEN-HUR."
Frank Thring could have been the successor to Charles Laughton if he had remained in Hollywood after the success of BEN-HUR, but instead he returned to Australia and became a national treasure in his native land, like his father before him who had been a much respected producer in the film business. Frank had the pleasure of working with Orson Welles in his famous interpretation of MOBY DICK, playing a completely
unhinged Capt. Ahab in a cast that included an then unknown Christopher Lee.

Frank worked with ease on the stage as well, making a name for himself long before he ever left Australia for films. He played Capt. Hook opposite Peggy Cummings of CURSE OF THE DEMON and GUN CRAZY fame. It is our loss that many of these performances were not repeated on film.

I, for one, will always remember Frank Thring as one of those unique performers that never attempted any role unless he could create something special and unforgettable in the process. I will leave you with a quote from 'little Angie Rossitto' who remembered Frank with such affection on the shoot for THUNDERDOME:

"Frank Thring was a consummate actor at all times and was the only one in the cast who could out drink Mel Gibson and still be a gentleman. It got so bad with Mel that Tina (Turner) wrote Mel a letter begging him to stop drinking. This shoot nearly killed me as I was nearly 80 at the time, as well as, going blind, but Frank always looked after us, as if being in Australia made it his responsibility to make sure we were taken care of. He was a prince."


Frank Thring being his delightful and 
fruity self on Australian TV's "Tonight Live." 


2 comments:

  1. Thank you Mr. Del Valle for supplying reading I cannot find anywhere else. You are The King.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great article on a chap I knew nothing about. Thank you so much.

    ReplyDelete