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Peter O’Toole Retires: 6 Underrated Performances

Peter O'Toole may have been best known for "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The Stunt Man," but he gave some great performances that rarely pop up on his resume

Peter O'Toole, the icy blue eyed, gloriously idiosyncratic star of "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The Stunt Man," announced he was stepping out of the spotlight Tuesday and retiring from acting. 

Getty ImagesSince first blazing onto the big-screen in 1962 as the vainglorious T.E. Lawrence in David Lean's epic, O'Toole has given richly etched performances in a variety of films.

Also read: Peter O'Toole Retiring From Acting: 'The Heart of It Has Gone Out of Me'

He was a megalomaniac film director in "The Stunt Man," an aging King Henry II in "The Lion in Winter," a younger and more rakish King Henry II in "Beckett" and a dying lothario in "Venus," earning Oscar nominations for all. He would receive eight nominations in all, but amazingly never won the "lovely bugger," in his words. 

To be sure, there were duds, a fact O'Toole alluded to in his statement announcing his retirement — reflecting on "the inevitable lot of all actors: flops and hits." Yet, there were unheralded gems too, many of them unlikely to be recounted in the appreciations that are certain to greet Tuesday's announcement and, yes, his eventual death. 

Here's a look at six of O'Toole greats that deserve to be rediscovered. 


O'Toole enjoyed something of a career resurgence thanks to his Oscar-nominated work in "Venus," but for our money, his last great film performance came as the haughty restaurant critic Anton Ego in this Pixar masterpiece. The way his rave review of the rodent chef plays out over the climax of the film is a testament to the RADA trained actor's mastery of diction and voice. If only they gave performance awards for animated films, he'd have been a lock.


Technically a filmed version of a stage play, "Jeffrey Bernard" is worth watching thanks to O'Toole's funny and moving performance as a perpetually soused columnist. One senses that the legendary rabble rouser drew on personal experiences to portray a person who might have gone farther in life an career had he not been always suffering from hangovers. 


O'Toole portrays Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the "Sherlock Holmes' stories, in this children's film about the Cottingley Fairies, a series of sprites that famously appeared in hoax photographs in the early 20th century. 

As the legendary mystery writer, O'Toole conveys a quiet dignity and a yearning to believe in the supernatural. The story itself is mushy, playing fast and loose with some of the historical circumstances and amping up the whimsy, but the acting legend makes it stick. 

"CALIGULA" (1981)

Tinto Brass' drama about the notorious Roman emperor drowns in sex and gore, courtesy of additional scenes filmed by Penthouse founder Bob Guccione. But before the whole thing flies off the rails in a barrage of beheadings and gratuitous nudity, O'Toole manages to stand out as the Syphilis-riddled Emperor Tiberius. 

It's only a glorified cameo, but O'Toole leaves an impression as a mad monarch, awash in sexual depravity and bored by power. It almost makes the whole picture worth watching… well, almost. 


O'Toole romances Audrey Hepburn in this buoyant art heist films. The two leads glide by on charm and sex appeal, and everyone wears Givenchy. It makes you long for the days when movie stars seemed to have been plucked from the aesthetic heavens. 

"LORD JIM" (1965)

Richard Brooks adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novel is a big-budgeted mess, but O'Toole still manages to give a subtle performance as a sailor struggling to atone for an act of cowardice. It's no "Lawrence," but it's a very different role for a man who excelled at playing dashing heroes that always exuded confidence. 

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