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Baron Samedi was played with relentless panache by Geoffrey Holder (born 1st August 1930).
Holder possessed a huge (6 ft 6 inch) presence; he had a velveteen basso voice; was of Trinidadian descent; and his bald appearance was augmented by striking skull make-up in Live And Let Die. He was a traditional ‘luvvie’ – used to projecting and enunciating clearly and with authority. His delivery was precise, camp & theatrical (which come to think of it, is a good name for a firm of solicitors), and he had the most manic, demonic laugh I had ever heard.
One particular Baron Samedi scene stayed with me for many years. Bond and Solitaire (Jane Seymour) are making their way through an opium poppy field, when they pass the Baron dressed in rags and playing a flute. With apparent charm, he addresses them with the immortal line: “It’s going to be a beautiful day. Yes sir, a bee-uu-t-ee-ful day”, which is then punctuated by that laugh. Never has a simple greeting been laden with such threat.
Sadly, having built up such a huge amount of drama and supposed invincibility, Baron Samedi’s death is far too easy and ultimately disappointing. Having been arisen from his grave by chanting villagers, he is shot in the head by Bond’s impressive .44 Smith & Wesson. Part of Samedi’s skull is blown away and we see his brain smouldering gently, before his eyes eerily fall back into his head. At this point I had already chewed off what was left of my fingernails, and by now was gnawing at my knuckles.
Having had half of his head blown off, the Baron then re-emerged from a different grave to deliver his defiant and demonic laugh once again (yes, he was a bit of a one-trick pony, it has to be said). At this point, Roger simply tips Samedi into an open coffin of vipers, and we witness what looks like Geoffrey Holder ‘dry-humping’ a box full of snakes. It was an ignominious and swift exit indeed. A villain this good frankly deserved better.
But of course, you simply can’t kill a ‘Voodoo God’ that easily. At the film’s end, just as Roger is about to ‘slip Jane the wax tadpole’ (aboard a midnight train), we see a quick cut scene before the end title rolls... Baron Samedi is still alive, and sitting on the front of the train as it hurtles through the midnight landscape! He stares at the audience and laughs, before his head explodes into flames.
Now remember, I was 7 years old here – and had just watched a man (whose skull had already been blown apart once), sitting on a train with his head now on fire. As the lights in the cinema went up, Mum had to prise what remained of my knuckles from the armrests of the seat with a Swiss Army knife (the attachment that gets rid of grit from horses’ hooves, if I remember correctly). She then swabbed my sweaty palms with spent tissues before we left the auditorium, discarded popcorn crackling under foot (or could it have been human bones? So difficult to tell).
For the entire journey home I sat wide-eyed in utter silence – imagining that Baron Samedi was perched on the front of our tube-train as we headed home. If I’d really thought about it, I’d have realised how unlikely that scenario would be; those tunnels were filthy and they had mice and all sorts of scary stuff down there.
The bottom line was: I didn’t sleep for the following two weeks.
Around twenty years later, I found myself in a small bohemian bar, in the back streets of Nice in Southern France... Sitting on a ripped leather sofa, trying to slake my thirst in the oppressive heat with a bottle of beer. A passing trendy, with an unruly Afro and exaggerated limp, thrust a Nightclub flyer into my hand and disappeared into the night. I took another swig of beer and peered down at the handout... and it featured the striking graphic image of Baron Samedi. After all these years, he’d found me again. Once more my nerves jangled like broken glass in a recycling-bin; my skin prickled waspishly in the heat; and I wanted a wee quite badly.
Clearly, The Baron had lost none of his powers to intimidate. In that instant, I became a terrified boy again – and marvelled at the power of a timeless film – and great imagery. Brilliant theme tune too.
Can us mortals ever possess the mystical powers of Baron Samedi? Well, no. But we can celebrate the camp menace of Geoffrey Holders’ alter-ego, by purchasing the Junk Male Baron Samedi Vintage T-Shirt. Today, if you wouldn’t mind... otherwise he might visit you in the night.
Baron Samedi ‘Beautiful Day’ T-Shirt no longer available.
by Junk Male on March 02, 2011