Dan O'Herlihy: An Underrated Actor
Updated: Apr 13
Dan O’Herlihy is one of my favorite actors. He’s been in so many great films, but he’s mostly known for Robocop (1987). There’s nothing wrong with that, since the film is a classic. I like Robocop. I’m not a diehard fan, but I think it’s good overall. However, O’Herlihy barely makes an impression in it. I recently went through most of his filmography last month and I discovered so much great cinema. He had that deep commanding voice that actors just dream for. He was very versatile with every performance. In all the films I saw, he always gave it his all, & was always my favorite part.
In February, I was in the mood to watch some Universal Monster Films. I want to write a piece on those films since I watched all 35 of them back in 2020. Anyway, in February, I was watching some of them and eventually started watching some of Boris Karloff’s films and ranked them on my Letterboxd. At the end of the month, I watched about 20 of his films. I enjoyed doing that because I watched some good films that I never would’ve watched if I didn’t do that marathon. As March quickly approached, I wanted to continue this new project of watching another filmography from one of my favorite actors, so I picked Dan O'Herlihy. I watched 21 of his films and discovered some really good cinema. I would like to talk about some of my favorite films of his.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982): My favorite horror film. I will dive deeper into why I love this film so much in a later piece, so for now we’ll talk about O'Herlihy. This is the film I first saw him in, and it’s what sparked my interest in watching his other films. He plays the villain, Conal Cochran, and he’s absolutely brilliant. Conal Cochran is an Irish warlock who plots to bring Halloween back to it’s sacrificial roots. Now, on paper that sounds hokey, but O'Herlihy brings intensity and charisma to the role. Cochran can be charismatic and friendly, but he can turn dark and intimidating with ease. If O'Herlihy didn’t take the role as seriously, the film wouldn’t have succeeded as much in my opinion. His monologue about samhain is one of my favorite film monologues. He really transforms into the role, because when I watch the film, I don’t see O'Herlihy; I see Conal Cochran. I can go on and on, but I’ll end this by saying Dan O'Herlihy as Conal Cochran is my favorite movie villain, and it’s my favorite performance of his.
Home Before Dark (1958): One of the best films I’ve ever seen. Like Halloween III, I plan on writing a piece on this film. The film is about a woman who is released from a mental hospital, and we see her life unfold at home, while also witnessing how she is treated by her family and society as a whole. The film was truly ahead of its time. O'Herlihy plays the husband of Jean Simmons’ character. I guess you could call him the antagonist, but his character has so much depth. He’s fantastic in this film. I’m surprised he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, as was the rest of the film. Anyway. I don’t want to spoil too much about this film so all I’ll say is go watch it because I think it’s a perfect film.
Fail Safe (1964): Sydney Lumet’s cold war masterpiece. I actually saw this back when I was in high school, and didn’t remember much of it. I watched it again after so many years and was blown away. What a film! It’s no surprise that Lumet can make an intense film when it’s mostly dialogue. I was literally on the edge of my seat while watching it. O'Herlihy plays a General with certain ideologies who clashes with other characters. I love his scenes where he faces off against Walter Matthau’s character. The film is full of fantastic performances, but I’d say that O'Herlihy is my favorite. Fail Safe is a phenomenal film and I can’t recommend it enough.
The Cabinet of Caligari (1962): The remake to the 1920 classic silent film. Now I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen it. I know I know, but it’s something I plan on watching this year for my October 2021 Watches. When I looked up the 1962 version, all I saw were negative reviews calling this a pointless remake of the original. Since I had no bias from seeing the original, I felt like I would be giving it a fair chance. After watching it, I had no regrets. This is a really good film! Not just that, it’s a fantastic horror film. I loved the story and found it quite frightening. Now, I’ve seen images and clips of the original silent film with the expressionist sets and filmmaking. The 1962 doesn’t shamelessly copy the original. Based on what I’ve seen, the only similarity is the story. Why dismiss this version without giving it a chance? The acting across the board is top notch. Glynis Johns as the lead was great. We’ve seen types of characters like her before in other horror films, but she stood out in my opinion. Dan O'Herlihy as Caligari was my favorite part of the film. He was revolting, horrifying, creepy, and more. He steals every scene he’s in. If you’ve seen the original classic, give this a chance, because it deserves it. If you’re a fan of horror films, then I highly recommend it.
That Woman Opposite (1957): Also titled City After Midnight, is an underrated film noir. If you don’t know, film noir is my favorite film genre. I plan on talking more about that in another piece. Anyway, it’s about an insurance investigator helping a woman, who is suspected of robbing and killing an art collector, free her name. So far, from what I saw of O'Herlihy’s films, he’s played mostly villains and serious dramatic roles. In this film, he plays the hero as a sly investigator. I could tell he was having fun with this role. His character is really cool, so that helps add some charm to the film. I really enjoyed his performance and this film overall. If you’re a fan of film noirs or films in general I’d recommend it.
100 Rifles (1969): A western starring Jim Brown & Burt Reynolds. I'm a western fan & I really liked this one. Dan O'Herlihy plays a slimy business man & he's good. Unfortunately, he's not in it much. Jim Brown and Burt Reynolds have great chemistry. If you like westerns, then I'd recommend checking this out!
Macbeth (1948): Orson Welles' beautiful take on the classic story. This film is pure cinema. The sets are awesome. The cinematography is gorgeous. All of the acting is fantastic. I'm not a fan of Shakespeare, but I really liked this adaptation.
The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954): Dan O'Herlihy's only Oscar nominated performance. It's good. It's like a Disney version of Cast Away. O'Herlihy is fantastic & did deserve the Oscar nom. However, he should've been nominated (& won) for Home Before Dark in my opinion.
I can go on about Dan O'Herlihy, but I don’t want to make this too long. My intention with this piece was to bring more attention to this wonderful, yet underrated actor. He’s been in some fantastic films and I’m glad I went through most of his filmography. I hope this helps bring more recognition to this underrated actor and some recommendations for more good cinema.