Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Stanley Baker: The UK's original hard man

Sean Connery considered him an inspiration. He gave Michael Caine his first big role.

A scruffy Welshman with stubble and a glint in his eye, Baker represented a new kind of British screen hero in the 50s. Tough, working class and virile, Baker was far closer to the leading men of Hollywood than John Mills or Kenneth More.

Thanks to the success of films like Hell DriversHell Is A City and Joseph Losey's The Criminal, Baker was at the vanguard of the wave of young British actors (Finney, Courtenay and Stamp) who would overthrow the old guard. While he delivered great performances in films like Accident, Baker is best known for his leading role in Zulu. A massive historical epic about the famous last stand at Rourke's Drift, Zulu was a personal project for Baker -- as well as starring, he also co-wrote and produced the film.

Baker failed to make the transition to Hollywood (he was one of the original choices for James Bond), sticking to British productions in which he continued to deliver a series of interesting, dark performances (check out his work with Joseph Losey for some of his best work). He died in 1976 at the ridiculously early age of 48.

While he is less well known today, Baker's impact in shattering the traditional image of a British leading man continues to be felt in the rugged, blue collar appeal of actors such as the late Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, and younger performers such as Daniel Craig and our lord and saviour Jason Statham.

Signature films: Hell Drivers, Criminal, Hell Is A City, The Guns of NavaroneZulu, Accident

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