Wednesday, 2 January 2013


Sometimes you’ll be watching a film and a minor supporting player will suddenly appear and command your attention in a way that is more powerful and immediate than the leading actors. It could a physical gesture they make or a line of dialogue uttered in an unusual way or simply the look of their face or body or both. Milton Reid is one of those actors. His credit is likely to be down toward the bottom of the cast list with the designated role of “The Executioner” or “The Bodyguard” or “The Club Bouncer” or “The Big Pirate” but it’s his mug that will stick in your memory long after the film fades. He appears to be of Asian descent though one biographical reference intimated that his ususual features were the result of Turner syndrome which is incorrect because that rare genetic disorder only affects about 1 out of every 2,500 FEMALE births. But it’s possible that his exotic look was the result of something other than being the son of an Irish father and Indian (as in Bombay) mother.
Strangely enough, my introduction to this imposing character actor wasn’t in a movie but in a series of trading cards issued by Universal in 1963 known as “Spook Stories” which stuck silly captions on stills from the studio’s horror films (here’s a link to an article on Monster trading cards –There were two images of Mr. Reid from the 1962 Hammer film NIGHT CREATURES that conjured up all kinds of crazy scenarios in my mind of who this character was. (The original British title of NIGHT CREATURES was CAPTAIN CLEGG which was a remake of the 1937 British feature; Walt Disney remade it in 1963 for television where it was broadcast in three parts on “The Wonderful World of Disney” as “The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” and Patrick McGoohan played “The Scarecrow” aka Dr. Syn.)
When I finally caught up with NIGHT CREATURES years later Mr. Reid does indeed pop out of the screen during his brief scenes as “The Mulatto,” a huge mountain of a man whose tongue is cut out because of his treachery to the pirate Captain Clegg. He is later used by the relentless Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) to sniff out the incognito Clegg who is behind a smuggling operation in the village of Dymchurch. The film is a rousing and highly atmospheric period thriller with some wonderful visuals (the appearance of the marsh phantoms), and spirited performances (Peter Cushing, Patrick Allen and Oliver Reed have fun with their roles). But Milton Reid’s larger than life presence is mesmerizing. He’s like a caged wild animal here, grunting, growling and desperate, and though his part is relatively small, it’s of crucial importance to the story and leads to Clegg’s undoing.

NIGHT CREATURES, however, is probably an exception to most of the films Reid made where his on-screen time was barely more than that of an extra. And he rarely had dialogue because with a face and body like that who needs it? But even in one scene appearances or minor supporting roles you couldn’t miss the guy. He stands out the way Tor Johnson does in the Ed Wood films. You can’t look at anything else. You might not have known his name but you’ve probably seen him many times – he was the Japanese executioner in THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND (1958), the big pirate in Walt Disney’s SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960), a guard working for DR. NO (1962), the strong man in BERSERK! (1967), the mute dog handler in THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (1971) which will be shown on TCM’s Underground franchise on 3/28, Biederbeck’s man servant in DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972), he played Sabbala in THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) and Sandor in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). 

According to a biography for Reid posted on IMDB by Jim Marshall, Reid was born in Bombay, India in 1917. He moved to London in 1936, married fashion illustrator Bertha Lilian Guyett in 1939 and made his first film appearance in the British propaganda film THE WAY AHEAD in 1944. Then the bio gets extremely interesting: “After the war he trained as a wrestler, turning professional in 1952, firstly as a Tarzan-like character called Jungle Boy wearing leopard skin trunks. He also continued to play small parts in films, usually as a tough guy or bodyguard, often as a cruel henchman such as the Japanese executioner in THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND (1958). His break-through came in 1959 when he was required to shave his head for the role of Yen the pirate in FERRY TO HONG KONG. He remained shaven-headed for the rest of his career, also changing his wrestling image to that of “The Mighty Chang,” an oriental giant. On stage he played in pantomime at the London Palladium as the Slave of the Lamp…However, most people remember Milton Reid as the bodyguard sorting out pretty girls for his boss in a long-running pipe tobacco commercial. In 1964 Milton challenged “The Great Togo” (aka Harold Sakata) to a wrestling contest to decide who would play the coveted role of Odd-Job in G0LDFINGER. Unfortunately, Milton had already been killed off in the first Bond movie Dr No (1962), so the producers were forced to pick Sakata and the “eliminator contest” wasn’t needed.”
Reid’s film career began to wind down in the late seventies and some of his last roles were in such sleazy softcore features as CONFESSIONS FROM THE DAVID GALAXY AFFAIR (1979) and QUEEN OF THE BLUES (1979), his final credited screen appearance. According to a poster on the forums, there is an article on Reid in the book KEEPING THE BRITISH END UP, a survey of British softcore sex comedies. However, Reid’s story becomes much more unusual after 1979. Jim Marshall’s IMDB bio states that “Milton decided to try his luck in “Bollywood” and in 1980 returned to India. However, various problems arose and in 1981 he was arrested by Indian police for “trespassing, damaging furniture and disconnecting a telephone.” The trouble started when he visited his mother and sister in Bangalore, and there was a dispute with tenants at his sister’s bungalow. Police also complained of violence and abuse when they tried to detain him, and there were accusations of a manservant being assaulted. The following year Milton was stated by some reference works to have died from a heart attack, but that was incorrect. The actor’s son (same name) was still receiving correspondence sent by his father from Bangalore up to December 1986. Significantly, nothing was heard after that date, and the present assumption is that Milton Reid died in obscurity somewhere in India during the early part of 1987, although no death certificate or confirmation has been received by the family. Sadly, Bertha died in England in 1997, at the age of 90, still not knowing what had become of her husband. However, research continues.”
Despite the above information, some internet biographical sources have maintained that Reid died of a heart attack in London in 1982 but offer no explanation or evidence of their research. Reid’s grandson, Ian Reid, in fact, has challenged this fact in a web posting that read “I would be very interested to find out where the information about his death came from as this does not agree with how my family and I believe his life came to an end. His death and the location of his death are in fact a mystery. Therefore I would be interested to hear about any proof that backs up the claim that he died in London of a heart attack in 1982.”
We may never know what happened to “The Mighty Chang” but at least we can marvel at his unique presence in more than fifty films. 

IMAGES: Marcus Brooks 

1 comment:

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