Robert Rietti, Expert Voice Dubber for James Bond Villains, Dies at 92

Robert Rietti - H 2015

Known as "the man of a thousand voices," the British actor also stood in, orally, for Orson Welles, Christopher Plummer and many others in his long, and largely unheralded, career.

Robert Rietti, “the man of a thousand voices” who dubbed for several James Bond villains and uttered every single Orson Welles line heard in the 1972 film Treasure Island, died on April 3, The Times of London reported. He was 92.

When filmmakers wanted to re-record dialogue after production was done or if they needed lines translated to other languages for movies to play in other countries, they often turned to the prolific Rietti, who worked for more than seven decades as an actor and voiceover artist.

Many of his 256 acting credits found on IMDb list his character as “voice, uncredited,” and the London native said he spoke for an incredible 98 characters alone on Waterloo (1970), which starred Rod SteigerChristopher Plummer and Welles, a longtime friend.

“Sometimes, a director will be happy with the physical performance of an actor on the screen but not like his voice, in which case one has a great deal of license to change everything,” Rietti said in a Film 94 profile of him that aired on the BBC. “But on other occasions, when the person is well-known on the screen, one doesn’t want to change his voice, so then one must serve him and really take the best from what he does.”

In the latter case, he imitated Welles’ famous baritone as Long John Silver for Treasure Island. “There’s not a word of his on the original track,” he said. “It’s all my voice, I am afraid, doing Orson Welles.”

Rietti also provided the voice of the cold-blooded, eyepatch-wearing Emilio Largo (portrayed onscreen by Adolfo Celi, who spoke with a thick Italian accent) in Thunderball (1965), and he spoke as the cat-loving evil genius Ernst Stavro Blofeld (this time played by Englishman John Hollis) in another Bond film, For Your Eyes Only (1981).

“In nearly every Bond picture, there’s been a foreign villain, and in almost every case, they’ve used my voice,” he once said.

It was Rietti whom audiences heard out of the mouth of British Intelligence chief John Strangways (Tim Moxon), who is killed near the start of the first Bond movie, 1962’s Dr. No. Rietti is then heard a couple of minutes later, replacing the voice of another character at a card table.

His Bond work also includes dubbing as Japanese secret service agent Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tanba) in You Only Live Twice (1967), donating several voices to Casino Royale (1967) and appearing onscreen in Never Say Never Again (1983).

Rietti voiced multiple characters in the Agatha Christie film Ten Little Indians (1974), once again stepping in for, among others, Celi. “When people didn’t realize that was not his voice, he achieved many international films, and I had a job for life,” he said with a grin during the BBC piece.

Rietti appeared as a child actor in such films as The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), starring Leslie Howard, and later was heard (and even seen!) in such films as The Italian Job (1969), The Omen (1976) and Hannibal (2001).

Rietti replaced Plummer's voice for some scenes in The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1969) so that American audiences could more clearly understand his words, and he dubbed for Robert Shaw in Avalanche Express (1979) after the actor died of heart attack.

He voiced “Number Two” in some episodes of the ITV show The Prisoner and often stood in, orally, for veteran English actor Jack Hawkins, who had lost his voice to throat cancer. 

Rietti also can be heard on such noteworthy films as The Guns of Navarone (1961), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), Doctor Zhivago (1965), Barbarella (1968), Frenzy (1972), Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Trail of the Pink Panther (1982).

Of course, few knew the voiceover expert was involved with any of these pictures.

“The simple answer to the question of whether Robert has received the recognition that he deserves is no, he hasn’t,” says Julian Grainger of the British Film Institute in the short documentary The Man With the Thousand Voices. “Hardly anyone knows about the work he’s done, which I think is a terrible shame.”

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