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For many people, the name ‘Angela Lansbury’ conjures up feelings of cozy nostalgia. Due to her long-established role as Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote, as well as her many roles in Disney movies such as Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Beauty and the Beast, and Mary Poppins Returns, Angela Lansbury is seen as one of the ‘good guys’. But although the characters she plays are often ones you wish could be your friend, this isn’t always the case. There are several notable roles (many of which garnered her award nominations and wins) in which Angela Lansbury played a ‘baddie’. Here they are in reverse chronological order:
On May 3rd 2005, Angela Lanbury guest starred in a special two-part cross-over episode involving the two Law & Order spinoffs. The episodes in question were Law & Order: Special Victims Unit “Night” (S6E20) and Law & Order: Trial by Jury “Day” (S1E11). As Eleanor Duvall, Angela Lansbury plays an affluent mother of a serial rapist who tries to cover up her son’s crimes. The appearance in Trial by Jury got Angela Lansbury an Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series”.
Angela Lansbury first played the co-starring role of Mrs. Lovett in the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street on Broadway in 1979 and joined the cast on its first national tour in 1980. Lansbury won the Tony Award for “Best Actress in a Musical” in 1979 for her performance on stage, and was later nominated for an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Individual Performance in an Variety or Music Program” in 1985 for a televised version of the play that was recorded on stage in Los Angeles in 1981.
The original televised version of Sweeney Todd (with Angela Lansbury opposite George Hearn) is available on DVD and streaming services. You can also purchase or listen to the original Broadway cast soundtrack (in which the role of Sweeney Todd was played by Len Cariou).
Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin
Mrs. Iselin in the 1962 film, The Manchurian Candidate, is not just a memorable role for Angela Lansbury, but it is one of the most memorable movie villains of all time. In this political psychological thriller that centers on sleeper agents, Angela Lansbury plays the wife of a politician who will stop at nothing to ensure her husband wins an election. Her stellar performance in this movie got Angela Lansbury an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The Manchurian Candidate (1962) is available on DVD and streaming services.
The 1956 film Please Murder Me! is interesting and notable for several reasons. First, it stars Raymond Burr as a defense attorney one year prior to his taking on his most famous role of Perry Mason. Second, it co-stars Angela Lansbury as Myra Leeds, a cunning woman who tricks Raymond Burr’s character into helping her get acquitted for her husband’s murder.
The movie has fallen into the public domain and you can watch it for free on my YouTube channel. A digitally remastered version of the movie is also available on DVD.
In Angela Lansbury’s first role in the 1994 film Gaslight, she plays Nancy—a house maid who is at least passively aware of her master’s evil machinations against his wife and who plays along with those machinations in order to show her disdain for the wife. This role had garnered Angela Lansbury her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The film is considered a classic and is available to stream and purchase on DVD.
Do you know of any other Angela Lansbury roles in which she plays some less-than savory characters? If so, let me know in the comments!
Pretty cool! 😀
Must watch “Please, murder me”!
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I saw all except for the Law and Order episodes. She’s an exceptional actress.
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Ohhh, can we get an honorable mention for 1946’s “The Harvey Girls” where she plays Em, the antagonist Saloon “worker” to Judy Garland’s protagonist wholesome “Harvey Girl” – she’s not a straight out villain but she gets to wear some gorgeous gowns and her disdainful “tough girl” persona is priceless!
Great suggestion! You’re right, she’s not really a villain, but definitely worthy of an “honorable mention” 🙂