Yeah, yeah, Peter O'Toole was T.E. Lawrence — "El Awrence" as Omar Sharif had it — in Lawrence of Arabia. But while David Lean's windswept epic marked the beginning of his story, it was hardly the end. Here are five films you should catch if you want to see why O'Toole was regarded as one of his generation's most flamboyantly versatile performers:
How to Steal a Million (1966) — Romantic piffle directed by "woman's director William Wyler," so it's really Audrey Hepburn's film. But as the guy who helps her steal a statue from a heavily guarded museum, he's lanky, with liquid eyes and charm to spare.
The Lion in Winter (1968) — Having already gone head to head as a young King Henry II with Richard Burton in Becket, O'Toole donned padding and a graying beard just four years later to play this same King Henry in his dotage, doing battle with Katharine Hepburn's Eleanor of Aquitaine. (Poor guy couldn't catch a break.)
My Favorite Year (1982) — O'Toole's reputation as a heavy drinker, his flair for comedy and his history of broad, nonnaturalistic acting made him a natural to play a sodden matinee idol (loosely based on Errol Flynn) whose looming appearance on a live TV variety show has his handler (Mark Linn-Baker) terrified.
Venus (2006) — His face now lined and craggy, O'Toole is in glorious form as a lecherous old character actor, now reduced to playing dotty ancients and men on their deathbeds. But his taste for nubile young women is undimmed, and when the titular teen comes into his life, it's turned upside down.
Ratatouille (2007) — No, you can't see him (he's been animated by the geniuses at Pixar) but his resonant vocal performance as Anton Ego, the food critic who eviscerates inadequate Paris restaurants, is a riot. And while this is more fun for me than it might be for others, at film's end he articulates what's quite possibly the best explanation of what a critic does that's ever been committed to film.