If you happen to find yourself on a desert island in the new Millennium with nothing special to do, you'll discover in the films of Vincent Price a glorious diversity of entertainment: everything from murder and madness, to love and laughter, to Tinglers & Pendulums & Flies -- Oh, my!

In a career spanning nearly 60 years, Vincent Price (1911-1993) matured from a Broadway matinee idol in the mid-1930s; to a reliable if under-challenged character actor in the '50s; to the baby boomer's ubiquitous, favorite wicked "Uncle Vinnie" in the '70s. Fans may be surprised to learn that only about 30 percent of VP's 100 feature films were actually in the genre that made him famous as the Master of Menace. The rest included swashbucklers, westerns, comedies, even an Elvis movie! A few were truly of Oscar caliber: The Song of Bernadette garnered Jennifer Jones a statue for Best Actress, and The Keys of the Kingdom a Best Actor nomination for Gregory Peck. The Ten Commandments lost Best Picture but remains a perennial holiday favorite. A few were ... well, worthy of inclusion in the Medved Brothers' notorious collection of "The 50 Worst Films of All Time" (fittingly, the titles speak for themselves): Bloodbath at the House of Death (incredibly stupid), and Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (incredibly stupid and dubbed to boot).

As a lifelong VP buff, I can find something enjoyable in just about anything he did. For the less forgiving, I've selected 10 sure-fire hits. My must-haves for Vincent Price desert island viewing enjoyment (in chronological order) are:

Laura (1944)
Clifton Webb, Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Judith Anderson, Vincent Price. Dir: Otto Preminger.

Laura is one of the most highly acclaimed productions in which VP appeared and remains a true classic of film noir. Much more than a glossy Manhattan murder mystery, under the skillful hands of director Preminger, the picture is a meditation (within the bounds of the Production Code) on sexual obsession; virtually all the characters in Laura have some degree of sexual perversity, either well or inadequately hidden. The movie is most famous for the portrait of its eponymous lead, a nifty twist in the central plot, and the evocative score by David Raksin. VP excels in the role of a Southern gigolo with more charm than cash, believable as both an urbane lover and an amoral cad.

The Eve of St. Mark (1944)
William Eythe, Michael O'Shea, Vincent Price, Stanley Prager, Harry Morgan, George Mathews, Anne Baxter, Ruth Nelson, Dir: John M. Stahl.

Unknown to most of his fans, and most moviegoers, for that matter, Eve of St. Mark gave VP what was arguably the best (and best-written) role of his career. Based on Maxwell Anderson's moving Broadway play about war and duty, the film follows World War II soldiers through service training and weekend leave. Posted to remote combat duty, they must grapple with the eternal, unanswerable question: "How close must a man come to being horizontal before he earns the right to be perpendicular?" As a poetry-spouting Southern private whose shield of affected cynicism masks his own poetic soul, Price gives an intelligently conceived, entirely honest performance.

Champagne For Caesar (1950)
Ronald Colman, Celeste Holm, Vincent Price, Barbara Britton, Art Linkletter, Mel Blanc. Dir: Richard Whorf.

A comedy cult classic, as well as VP's most ebulliently comic performance; way ahead of its time as a satire on television quiz shows and an ironic precursor of the Charles Van Doren Twenty-One scandal nearly a decade later. As megalomaniacal soap tycoon Burnbridge Waters, whose "Masquerade for Money" is bankrupted by urbane know-it-all Ronald Colman, VP gets to scheme diabolically, plead pitifully, woo winningly and roar outrageously in perhaps the funniest portrait I know of an unapologetically greedy capitalist. There are rumors in Hollywood about an updated remake ... now that's a scandal!

His Kind of Woman (1951)
Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Vincent Price, Tim Holt, Raymond Burr, Jim Backus. Dir: John Farrow.

A television staple, and with good reason, His Kind of Woman is an odd melange of romance, violent film noir and comedy, with VP hamming it up as a second-rate swashbuckling movie star caught in a real-life drama at a steamy Mexican resort. Although officially playing second fiddle to Mitchum and Russell (a pair of sexy felines who look like they want to claw each other -- then purr), Price has a field day saving the day in the climactic gun battle. His was the favorite character of the producing studio's (RKO) mogul, Howard Hughes.

House of Wax (1953)
Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni, Paul Cavanagh, Dabbs Greer, Charles Buchinsky (Bronson). Dir: Andre de Toth.

The feature film that changed the direction of Vincent Price's career, House of Wax established VP as the quintessential (predominantly sympathetic) villain and set him on a professionally "horrific" path that would be both a curse and a blessing for the rest of his life. A combination of terror and grand guignol melodrama, House of Wax was shot in lurid color as well as the newest cinematic gimmick, 3-D (who can forget the street hawker and his paddle-ball?). As the demented sculptor, Prof. Jarrod, Price runs the gamut: vulnerable and idealistic about his beloved (but unsuccessful) historical creations; avuncular and punny giving a tour of his popular Chamber of Horrors; to quietly, chillingly mad as he promises his terrified captive, Phyllis Kirk, "eternal life" before covering her hot, naked body in hot pink wax.

House on Haunted Hill (1958)
Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, Elisha Cook, Jr., Julie Mitchum. Dir: William Castle

The Vincent Price film that's ideal viewing on Halloween night -- boycott the just-released remake (with brilliant British actor, Geoffrey Rush, in the VP role) and rent this thriller to elicit legit screams from your friends on the 31st. The "cat and canary-esque" plot concerns a millionaire's irresistible offer to any of five strangers who can survive a night in a haunted house ("There's a ghost for everyone!"). The script was perfectly tailored to the talents of an urbane and sardonic VP, and of course, producer/director William Castle's legendary gimmicks (in this case, "Emergo") are the poisoned icing on the funeral cake.

Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Vincent Price, John Kerr, Barbara Steele, Luana Anders, Antony Carbone. Dir: Roger Corman.

VP made seven pictures under contract to American International Pictures (AIP) based on the tales of Edgar Allan Poe; Pit and the Pendulum is the most effective in capturing the writer's foreboding ambience of despair, madness and death. It was the biggest grosser of the series, and (perhaps for that reason!), co-producer Sam Arkoff's favorite. VP gives a full-throttle performance as the scion of an infamous torturer, growing increasingly unstable throughout the story (and the speedy shooting schedule of a Corman production).

Theater of Blood (1973)
Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry, Harry Andrews, Coral Browne, Robert Coote, Jack Hawkins, Michael Hordern, Arthur Lowe, Robert Morley, Dennis Price, Milo O'Shea, Diana Dors. Dir: Douglas Hickox.

VP hailed this stylish, witty black comedy as his favorite of his horror films -- not the least reason for which was that it introduced him to his third wife, Australian actress, Coral Browne. The story of a Shakespearean actor who commits suicide after being panned by a circle of vicious theatre critics, then returns to dispatch his nemeses in murders directly taken from the immortal Bard. Required viewing for every VP fan, as well as every aspiring thespian. In the end, of course, murder is the ultimate criticism.

(The Adventures of) The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
Voice talents of: Vincent Price, Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin, Alan Young, Candy Candido, Melissa Manchester. Dirs: John Musker, Dave Miochener, Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson.

The Disney Studios' 26th full-length animated motion picture was a delightful, exciting pastiche of a Sherlock Holmes adventure, with its brilliant rodent hero sleuth matching wits against his own "Napoleon of Crime" -- the evil genius Professor Ratigan. Originally titled Basil of Baker Street (from the Eve Titus book series it was based on), Great Mouse is a beautifully visualized film; the final duel to the death in the clock tower of Big Ben is a tour de force for Disney animators, employing computer animation for the first time. The unutterable glee Price manifests is infectious, as he leads the audience on an auditory roller-coaster ride. He voiced many cartoon characters in his career, but Ratigan remains a performance as engaging and memorable as the best of VP's live-action roles.

The Whales of August (1987)
Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Vincent Price, Ann Sothern, Harry Carey Jr. Dir: Lindsay Anderson

A somber portrait of old age and last (and lasting) love, Whales gave VP his first purely dramatic role in decades. As a penniless emigre who must rely on charm to survive, he attempts to woo a serene New Englander, Lillian Gish, into letting him become her permanent houseguest, much to the objection of her contrary sister, Bette Davis. It's bittersweet to see these larger-than-life screen legends so frail and elderly; Price's portrayal of a veteran gentleman caller draws on so many of his personal qualities (grace, humor, wit, flawless manners -- even a love of fishing) that I sometimes think we're watching the real Vinnie here, Russian accent and all. I like to think so.

A list like this must by definition be subjective. Also-rans for inclusion: Dragonwyck (a great theatrical turn by Price, although insufficient screen time); Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (believe it or not, laugh-out-loud funny, bearing no resemblance to its awful sequel); The Abominable Dr. Phibes (art deco serial killing, narrowly beaten out by its story-twin, Theatre of Blood); and the curious cult-favorite of testosterone-laced buffs, Withchfinder General (a.k.a. Conquerer Worm).

Finally: players of the game "Desert Island Books" usually staunchly insist they would lug along a Bible, so I'd coyly suggest you pack along a copy of the VP "bible," The Complete Films of Vincent Price (Citadel Press, 1995) -- in the hope that it will encourage you to create your own "Top 10 Picks" ... let me know what you decide!

(Critical contributions were supplied by Richard Heft, one of those buff boys who votes for Conquerer Worm; infinitely patient editing was provided, as always, by Tom Weaver, who is "unaccountably taken with The Mad Magician".)

Lucy Chase Williams is the author of The Complete Films of Vincent Price

"Leave the children home! And if you are squeamish, stay home with them!"
The Conqueror Worm

"We urge you not to panic or bolt from your seats!"
The Black Scorpion

"Terror stalks! Half monster, half man!"
Giant From the Unknown

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