RIP Herbert Lom

For the second time this month we must take a pause and mourn the loss of an actor whose very presence was guaranteed to lift any film they were in. Early this month I paid tribute to Michael Clarke Duncan, and now I'd like to do the same to Herbert Lom, who died in his sleep today aged 95.
In a career spanning more 60 years, Lom built himself a reputation as one of the finest supporting and character actors of his time. He did occasionally get top billing, being the original King of Siam in the stage version of The King & I, playing Napoleon Bonaparte twice (a perfect piece of casting), and winning acclaim and a cult following for his performance as The Phantom in Hammer's The Phantom of the Opera. But the vast majority of his best work was done in supporting roles, allowing Lom to craft a series of murky and intriguing roles that would very often steal the film from under the nose of its stars.
Lom was particularly adept at playing villains. In The Ladykillers, he gave Alec Guinness' 'Professor' Marcus a run for his money as the vicious continental gangster Louis Harvey. In the little-seen version of Dorian Gray from 1970, he was compelling as Henry Wotton, the smarmy cad who leads the main character astray. And in the 1975 version of And Then There Were None, based on the Agatha Christie novel, he was typically intense as Dr. Edward Armstrong, the Harley Street practioner accused of murdering one of his patients.
But of course, Lom's most famous performance is as Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfuss in The Pink Panther films. Lom appears in every film but the first, and his performance is one of the main reasons that the series works so well and survived so long. Partly this is because the character's madness and constant desire to kill Inspector Clouseau gave the series some form of continuity and character development even in its later, more episodic stages. But mostly it is because Dreyfuss reflects the audience's reaction, tracing the point where laughter turns to exasperation, desperation and finally despair at his incompetence. Lom and Peter Sellers had a love-hate relationship, but in both Pink Panther and The Ladykillers their chemistry is impeccable.
If you want to pay tribute to Lom's memory, I would suggest you either track down Hammer's Phantom or hold a Pink Panther marathon. You can read my review of A Shot in the Dark, Lom's first appearance in the series, here. RIP.