World of Westfahl | Encyclopedia Introduction | All Entries | Acknowledgements
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

R Entries
Claude Rains
Rex Reason
Rhodes Reason
George Reeves
Keanu Reeves
Michael Rennie
Dame Diana Rigg
Robby the Robot
Cliff Robertson
Gene Roddenberry
Majel Barrett Roddenberry
 
RENNIE, MICHAEL
(1909–1971). British actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: The Man Who Could Work Miracles (uncredited) (Lothar Mendes and Alexander Korda, uncredited 1936);  Tower of Terror (Lawrence Huntington 1941); I'll Never Forget You (Roy Ward BAKER 1951); The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert WISE 1951); The Robe (Henry Koster 1953); "Foghorn" (1958), "The Silk Petticoat" (1962), episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; The Lost World (Irwin ALLEN 1960); "The Long Silence" (1963), episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. "The Keeper" (two-part episode) (1966), episode of Lost in Space; "Rendezvous with Yesterday" (1966), episode of The Time Tunnel; "The Sandman Cometh," "The Catwoman Goeth" (1966), episodes of Batman; Cyborg 2087 (Franklin Andreon 1966); "The THRUSH Roulette Affair" (1967), episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; "The Innocents," "Summit Meeting" (two-part episode) (1967), episodes of The Invaders; The Power (Byron HASKIN 1968); The Young, the Evil, and the Savage (Anthony Dawson 1968); Assignment Terror (Tulio Demicheli and Hugo Fregonesé 1970).
 
How could a science fiction reference book so long overlook one of the greatest performances in the history of science fiction film? In Robert WISE's The Day the Earth Stood Still, Michael Rennie's Klaatu masterfully blends the cold, strange demeanor needed to convey the character's alien nature with just the right touch of underlying warmth to earn the audience's sympathy as well as its respect. That some commentators can regard Klaatu as a fascist imposing his arbitrary rule on a prostrate Earth, while others accept him as a genuine Christ figure, testifies to the singular skill and complexity of his performance. Rennie functioned as a role model for, and surely influenced, many later actors who undertook to play aliens, prominently including Leonard NIMOY and David BOWIE, and the decision to recast the part with the inept Keanu REEVES was as senselessly repugnant as, say, asking Mel GIBSON to step into Laurence OLIVIER's shoes as Hamlet. (But that is a rant for another day.)

Yet science fiction critics have a powerful incentive to overlook Rennie, because they cannot devote all their time to discussing The Day the Earth Stood Still, but must also deal with the rest of his career, which astonishingly offers almost nothing else to praise. Indeed, a Michael Rennie film festival would be, after The Day the Earth Stood Still, a lengthy ordeal of perfunctory and listless performances in generally wretched films. Among other nightmares, there is his bland piety as Peter in The Robe; a lethargic Lord Roxton who cannot be bothered to display too much concern about blown-up images of lizards in Irwin ALLEN's terrible version of The Lost World; a hapless effort to revisit old glories in Cyborg 2087; a minor role in Byron HASKIN's overpraised The Power; and a final embarrassment as an alien brilliantly seeking to conquer Earth by reviving Dracula and Frankenstein in the unwatchable Assignment: Terror. And then there was that time in the mid-1960s when Rennie went to Hollywood and instructed his agent to find him the worst possible parts in the most terrible television series on the air—which is what one would have to conclude after observing his rapid-fire series of appearances in Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, The Invaders, and Batman. If a critic contemplates this mess, and if the kindest thing he can say is that, well, I guess Rennie's turn as a Bat-villain named the Sandman was not entirely awful, that indeed might drive him to discuss other actors instead.

How, then, can one explain such a miserable record of underachievement? Certainly, it is hard to detect any evidence of grand ambition in the career of a failed factory worker and car salesman who drifted into an acting career after a chance encounter. If he contrived to garner larger and larger roles, that may simply be because he was reasonably handsome, and because chain-smoking kept him appealingly thin when other actors of his generation were putting on pounds; in addition, his regular employment in Hollywood might be attributed solely to the allure of his British accent. One might wish to imagine that being forced into one lousy part after another made him into an actor who didn't care about his work, but it seems more likely to me that he happily accepted all of those lousy parts because he already didn't care. As for his unusual success in The Day the Earth Stood Still, that might have resulted from some fortuitous combination of the excitement of his first starring role in a major film, the manifest richness of the role, and the prodding of director Wise and capable co-star Patricia Neal, all pushing Rennie to work harder at his craft than he had ever worked before, or would ever work again.

In lieu of more idle speculation, then, I will leave it to others to account for the puzzlingly rare ups, and innumerable downs, of his acting career. Still, it is perhaps only fitting that science fiction film's most impressive alien should be the work of an actor who, decades after his death, still remains a mystery.

To contact us about encyclopedia matters, send an email to Gary Westfahl.
If you find any Web site errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to our Webmaster.
Copyright © 1999–2014 Gary Westfahl All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Hosted & Designed By:
SF Site spot art