The actor Herbert Lom—best known for his role as Charles Dreyfus, Chief Inspector of the Sûreté and Inspector Clouseau’s boss in the Pink Panther films—has died at the age of 95. Although Lom spent most of his 60-year career making British movies and was most famous for playing a Frenchman, he was actually born in Prague to members of the Austrian nobility; his father was a count, and Lom’s full birth name was “Herbert Karel Angelo Kuchacevic ze Schlunderpacheru.” After beginning his acting career on the Czech stage and in movies, he fled the country in 1939 as the Nazis were planning to invade. He landed in London, where he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and restarted his film career with the 1942 historical drama The Young Mr. Pitt, directed by Carol Reed. He played Napoleon, a role he played again in the 1956 Hollywood version of War And Peace.
With his heavy-lidded good looks and intense glower, Lom was a good fit for adventure epics, romantic melodramas and crime films, including The Seventh Veil (1945); the Jules Dassin classic Night And The City (1950); The Black Rose (1950), a Tyrone Power vehicle featuring Orson Welles as a Mongol warlord; John Huston’s The Roots Of Heaven (1958); Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960); Anthony Mann’s El Cid (1961), the 1961 Mysterious Island, in which he played Captain Nemo; and the 1962 Hammer Films version of The Phantom Of The Opera, in which he played the title role.
He also starred as a psychiatrist in the British TV series The Human Jungle, which ran for two seasons in 1963 and 1964, and played the King of Siam in the original 1953 London production of The King And I. However, he was forced to turn down offers of work in Hollywood when he was rejected for an American visa. Of the many films he made before being offered the role of Dreyfus, one of the best—and one that hints at the direction his career would take—is the 1955 black comedy The Ladykillers, in which he got to play his menacing aura for laughs as a member of a criminal gang that proves inept at disposing of a little old lady.
In 1964, Lom first played opposite Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau in A Shot In The Dark, an adaptation of a French farce that the director, Blake Edwards, and his co-screenwriter, William Peter Blatty, shaped into a sequel to 1963's The Pink Panther. The movie established Dreyfus as the uncomprehending Clouseau’s true antagonist, a boss so frustrated by his underling’s constant bungling and his habit of succeeding in spite of it all, that in film after film he went nuts and was driven to try to murder him. Lom appeared again in The Return Of The Pink Panther (1975), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), Revenge Of The Pink Panther (1978), and Trail Of The Pink Panther (1983), this last film assembled from scraps of old and new footage three years after Sellers’ death. A year later, he returned for Curse Of The Pink Panther, Edwards’ attempt to reboot the series with Ted Wass in place of Sellers.
In between trips to the offices of the Sûreté, Lom spent much of the ‘70s working in horror movies, including a number of films for Hammer or its British rival, Amicus Productions. These include Mark Of The Devil (1970), Dorian Gray (1970), Count Dracula (1970), Murders In The Rue Morgue (1971), Asylum (1972), Dark Places (1972), and And Now The Screaming Starts (1974). He also appeared in the 1980 comedy Hopscotch; the 1983 David Cronenberg film The Dead Zone; King Solomon’s Mines (1985), starring Richard Chamberlain as Allan Quatermain and a young Sharon Stone; a 1989 TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop; and the 1991 dark comedy The Pope Must Die which, after protests, was reissued under the title The Pope Must Diet. He was also in two different versions of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (one made in 1989, the other—under the title And Then There Were None—in 1974). His final role was in the 2004 TV film The Murder At The Vicarage, starring Geraldine McEwan as Christie’s Miss Marple.
Lom also wrote two novels, Enter A Spy: The Double Life Of Christopher Marlowe (1971) and Dr. Guillotin: The Eccentric Exploits Of An Early Scientist (1992). His final big-screen appearance was as Dreyfus in the 1993 Son Of The Pink Panther—one more attempt by Blake Edwards to get the Clouseau series going again, this time with Roberto Benigni.