Leonard Nimoy meant a lot of things to a lot of people. To most people, he was probably best known as the logical Commander Spock of Star Trek, a character he played for just shy of forty years. As Spock, he represented a multitude of human struggles – from unjustified prejudice to defining oneself as an individual to finding a sense of belonging between two radically different cultures. In many ways, he came to be a symbol for what Star Trek and its creator Gene Roddenberry aimed to accomplish. While his work as Spock is incredibly meaningful and iconic, there is much more to Nimoy’s career than his work on Star Trek. He was a talented photographer, an eloquent public speaker, an accomplished director, and an entertaining musician – and his acting career was far more varied than just Spock.
This is a little known B-movie western based on a Louis L’amour novel – and you can tell its a B-movie because Yul Brynner is meant to be the “hero” of the film. In reality, he’s the charming outlaw Catlow, trying to pull off a heist despite constant interference from the ruthless mercenary Miller (Nimoy) and Catlow’s friend Marshall Cowan (Richard Crenna). The movie itself is nothing special aside from being odd and entertaining, and does happen to include a fight scene featuring a naked Leonard Nimoy. I can’t help but think Cronenberg got his idea for the over-the-top naked-Viggo fight scene in Eastern Promises from this movie, but that’s probably a stretch.
This movie is ridiculous and horrible, but that’s exactly why I remember it so fondly. Not only is the film distinctly 70s in style, but its one of those “stuff everything cool into one movie so its awesome” kind of messes that results in incredulous hilarity. Nimoy stars as the dashing, playboy race car driver who suddenly turns psychic and, despite his skepticism, must solve a deadly mystery. I’m pretty sure the screenwriters just threw every “cool guy” convention into the movie hoping something would stick. The movie, unsurprisingly, was meant as a pilot for a television series that never happened, which explains its formulaic plot and characters.
Mission: Impossible (1966)
Before the slick Tom Cruise movies, Mission: Impossible was a show featuring a team of experts who carried out a different secret mission in a new fictional country – along with it’s accompanying generic foreign accent – every week. Leonard Nimoy appeared in seasons four and five as Paris, the resident magician/master-of-disguise. The show classically avoided much in the way of character backstory or development, focusing mostly on the mission details, plot, and complications. Aside from a dramatic two part episode, not much is revealed about Paris and his past, allowing Nimoy to play a different character every week in his “master-of-disguise” mode. Another intriguing aspect of the mission heavy/character light nature of the show, particularly for fans prone to shipping, is that you tend to attach high significance to small actions. I swear, despite really no evidence at all, that Nimoy’s Paris and Lesley Ann Warren’s Dana were an item by the end of season five.
If you ever questioned Nimoy’s artistic talent, any doubt would be erased after seeing this filmed one-man stage play starring Nimoy, directed by Nimoy, and adapted by Nimoy. The play is about the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, his life and works, and his relationship with his sponsor and brother Theo. The play is based on an extensive correspondence between the brothers, illuminating not only Vincent’s work, personality, and mental health struggles, but the deep bond between the two men and Theo’s struggle to support his mercurial brother. Nimoy plays both roles of Vincent and Theo brilliantly, shifting between the two with ease and subtlety. As a writer and director, Nimoy has a talent for highlighting the poignant and revealing the meaningful in characters and their relationships with others. This is perhaps also what makes Star Trek: The Search for Spock one of the best in the TOS motion picture series.
This one is pretty obscure and there’s really only two reasons why you might have seen it: either you’re a big fan of Leonard Nimoy, or you’re a huge theater geek and love Jean Genet. A third reason might be that you have an interest in portrayals of homoeroticism and homosocial relationships on screen. Basically, this one ticks my boxes big time. Deathwatch is a screen adaptation of an overwrought Jean Genet play in which two prisoners battle over their strapping new cellmate. The young Leonard Nimoy is a vision of beauty in simple black and white cinematography and the interaction between the three men is a ballad of relentless sexual tension and subtext. Incidentally, Deathwatch was released the same year Star Trek premiered on TV, so no one can say that Nimoy wasn’t versatile or drawn to projects for their intellectual value.
Easily one of the best science fiction series in the last few years, Fringe is the story of Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and her investigations into unusual happenings – or “fringe events” – and how they relate to a larger conspiracy. Nimoy plays the mysterious William Bell, the co-founder of a scientific company called Massive Dynamic, and his possible involvement in or propagation of this greater conspiracy. Fringe, despite its deceptively simplistic X-files-like premise, is incredibly complex and constantly breaks the rules of most conventional television – including drastic retcons, dropped storylines, unanswered questions, plot restructuring, and dynamic mythology. Nimoy’s participation in this unusual show attested to his continued interest in intrepid television and unconventional storytelling – an interest for Nimoy that goes back beyond his Star Trek days. Also, if you happen to live in or are familiar with Boston, you can watch Fringe and laugh and laugh and laugh as they pretend to live and work in the city without apparently having any knowledge of geographic or stylistic relationships between neighborhoods. I can’t remember whether they ever called route 95 “the 95” or not (its just 95, thank you), but that’s a dead giveaway for natives – of which Leonard Nimoy was one, a Bostonian born and bred.