The majority of Patrick Macnee’s acting work in his younger years was in theatrical, television and radio roles.
He featured in a few films in the early years of his career, but generally these were roles of a minor nature.
A brief look - Patrick Macnee’s career in films
After Patrick was demobilised from the Royal Navy in 1946 at the age of 23, he sought to resume his career in acting. However, in common with the situation in many other professions, actors were faced with high unemployment after the war.
During this period, Patrick was able to win the occasional role in feature films, but often these are “blink and you miss him” affairs. For instance, he appeared as a committee member in The Small Back Room (1948), but his time on screen is fleeting. His potential can be seen in his role as Mr. Vince in All Over the Town (1949), but his name does not even grace the credit captions. A year later he could be seen in Dick Barton at Bay (1950), in which he played Phillips, a young agent, but Phillips gets killed in a telephone box just minutes into the film.
During the same year, he appeared in the Powell and Pressburger production The Elusive Pimpernel (1950), a film which starred David Niven. Patrick secured his role in the film - the minor role of Valiant John Bristow - because he was an excellent horse rider.
Photos from the production:
Photo 1: Patrick Macnee on horseback at the bank of the river Rhone
Photo 2: Patrick Macnee on horseback in riding hall
Photo 3: Patrick Macnee crossing the Rhone on horseback
A definite highlight of those early years is his appearance as the young Marley in Scrooge (1951), the much-admired adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The film starred Alistair Sim as the grouchy Ebeneezer Scrooge and is still considered by most critics and film fans to be the definitive version of the story of those made to date. Patrick’s performance is excellent, but his limited screen time as the character robbed him of a breakthrough into more substantial roles.
Patrick became seen as a reliable supporting actor and while the credits racked up, leading roles contined to be as elusive as David Niven’s Pimpernel! Consequently, he featured in Flesh and Blood (1951), Three Cases of Murder (1955) as an army officer alongside Orson Welles, The Battle of the River Plate (1956) as naval officer Ralph Medley with Anthony Quayle, and Les Girls (1957), a musical comedy in which he turned in a fine performance as prosecutor Sir Percy.
In Mission of Danger (1959) he played the British Grenadier Officer Harrison Trent. This Warner Brothers film was made by combining three episodes of the TV series Northwest Passage. The episode which featured Patrick was The Red Coat.
He can also be seen as a British officer in the fifth episode of Series 6 of Northwest Passage called The Swamp Fox.
Mr Jerico from 1970, where he portrayed the jewels thief Dudley Jericho, is the first feature-length film with him in the main role.
Throughout his career, Patrick’s appearances in major feature films are somewhat limited. The most high profile were in The Sea Wolves (1980) Major 'Yogi' Crossley, co-starring with Roger Moore, Gregory Peck, David Niven and Trevor Howard, and the James Bond film A View to a Kill (1985), where he gave his performance as a sidekick to Roger Moore (an old friend of Patrick’s) as Sir Godfrey Tibbett.
Several films in which Patrick featured have been cult favourites - albeit not always because they were quality films! One of these, a vampire horror film set in the Mediterranean, Bloodsuckers (1970), is one of those films that has attained the label “so bad, it’s good” - but viewers may disagree with the second half of the potted review! Continuing the supernatural theme, Patrick also appeared in cult horror The Howling (1981), one of the werewolf classics.
Patrick has often said that he took on roles in many films based on the lure of the pay cheque over the quality of the script received. One such project was The Creature Wasn't Nice (1981), a hokey space comedy starring Leslie Nielsen, an actor then much in demand in comedy roles following the success of Airplane! (1980). The film has been released under three different titles - The Creature Wasn’t Nice, Naked Space and Spaceship (to cash in on Airplane!) - which is invariably a sign that the producers were milking a turkey. However, once again Patrick Macnee is a highlight, here portraying a rather crazy scientist.
In 1998, Patrick returned to his television hit The Avengers by featuring in the Warner Brothers feature film adaptation which starred Ralph Fiennes in Patrick’s original role of John Steed. Patrick’s role was a highlight of this troubled film, as a scientist who had rendered himself invisible and was therefore known as Invisible Jones. The character was represented visually by an outline of light and Patrick provided the voice for the character. Considering that the film was less than well-received, it was probably to the benefit of Patrick’s reputation that technically he did not appear in the film!
Patrick’s career in film was not extensive, but he crossed genres and played to great effect in all of them, from comedy to horror, from spy caper to science fiction - and in many of these films he is their highlight.