For many horror fans, THE EXORCIST is the greatest horror film of all time. Back in 1973, the film horrified audiences, and its reputation precedes it nearly 40 years later. A big part of its success lies in the character of conflicted priest Father Merrin, and credit must to go actor Max von Sydow for his portrayal. Today, von Sydow turns 81.
von Sydow’s presence in genre films goes back several decades prior to THE EXORCIST and across the Atlantic. The Swedish born actor first made his name in Ingmar Bergman’s classic THE SEVENTH SEAL, as a soldier stalked by Death himself. The director and actor cemented their importance in tandem in 1960, with THE VIRGIN SPRING, the basis for Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.
In the years following THE EXORCIST, von Sydow would appear in lighter fare, including CONAN THE BARBARIAN, JUDGE DREDD and the adaptation of Stephen King’s NEEDFUL THINGS. He also provided the voice for Vigo in GHOSTBUSTERS 2.
von Sydow’s credits extend beyond the genre. He was generally well-received in the role of Jesus Christ in THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, and last year appeared in several episodes of THE TUDORS on cable. In 1989, he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his lead role in PELLE THE CONQUEROR, a film that brought him back to his Swedish roots.
Max von Sydow has been a presence in film for more than 50 years. Though his movies aren’t always classics, he’s been consistently excellent throughout his entire career. And he played Ming the Merciless in FLASH GORDON. For that I applaud him.
Happy Birthday, Max! May you enjoy 81 more!