Archive for January, 2013

Tanganyika

I wonder how many ever saw this film or remember it. Van Heflin starred in a very good African jungle adventure.

As a very young teenager I saw this film in St. Albans where we spent our summer holidays each year – and very good it was there too !!

and still is – no doubt but sadly my holidays are not there anymore.

Made in Hollywood by Universal Pictures, TANGANYIKA  released in the USA in the summer of 1954  has its action taking  place in 1903 in the territory of East Africa  and  Tanganyika. The story centres on a hunt for a fugitive white man who’s stirred up the “Nukumbi” tribe of natives into making raids on white settlements and outposts.   Leading  the hunt is  John Gale (Van Heflin) who leads a group of native porters from East Africa into Tanganyika.   On the way he picks up Peggy Marion (Ruth Roman), a schoolteacher from Canada, and her young niece and nephew (Noreen Corcoran, Gregory Marshall), after rescuing them from a native attack that killed Peggy’s brother. He also picks up a wounded white man, Dan Harder (Howard Duff) who, we learn early on, is the brother of the renegade white man, although he keeps that little fact a secret.   Gale leads the party back to his camp to drop off the whites only to find it plundered and his partner Duffy (Murray Alper) dead. So they all forge on into Tanganyika to locate the village where Abel McCracken (Jeff Morrow), the wanted white man, holds court and rules the natives.

Plenty of action follows and it is exciting.

Much of the film was shot in or around Hollywood with stock footage cleverly cut in – and the result was very effective.

Above – Ruth Roman seems in a spot of bother !

It is not a film that is available on DVD although I do have a copy.

Jeff Morrow

Jeff Morrow started out as a radio and stage actor thenturned to film acting relatively late in his career, commencing with the The Robe in 1953.          He spent much of the 1950s appearing  in a  mix of   A-budget  epics  in supporting parts,  or B Westerns such a The Siege of Red River (1954)   Morrow carried over much of his acting persona from his radio days to his film acting roles, where his ability to rapidly alter both the tone and volume of his voice for dramatic effect frequently gave sound editors fits. He entered the science fiction genre with the 1955 film This Island Earth  probably the film he is best known and then The Creature Walks Among Us, The Giant Claw, and Kronos. I have to say that although it is a while since I saw The Giant Claw it does have the most laughable special effects and ludicrous story but is great fun !!

The Giant Claw is one of the best so-bad-it’s-good movies of the 1950′s. When you first see the giant wooden puppet bird, you won’t be able to curb your laughter , even though it isn’t supposed to be a comedy.
The cast includes 50s sci-fi regulars Jeff Morrow (This Island Earth), Morris Ankrum (Invaders From Mars)and Mara Corday (Tarantula).

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The River 1951

Now the number of times I have said that this was ‘one of my favourite films’ before BUT this one definitely is just that. Filmed in India and beautifully filmed at that – this must be a cine photographers dream.  The Colour is just out of this world and the setting takes us to dreamland almost – certainly for any of us who have fallen in love with India. I have never been I am sorry to say but must be in love with the dream I think.

 

 

 The story is from a novel by that wonderful author Rumer Godden who spent a lot of her life living in India, and it wasdirected by Jean Renoir.  Filmed entirely on location in India,  The River is the story of an English family living in Bengal during the last years of the Raj.   Shot in glorious Technicolor by Claude Renoir, it beautifully captures the rhythm and energy of life on the banks of the Ganges.

 Three teenage girls are living in Bengal  near to the river : Harriet is the oldest child of a big family of English settlers. Valerie is the unique daughter of an American industrialist. Melanie has an American father and an Indian mother. One day, a man arrives. He will be the first love of the three girls.

“It is the story of my first love; about growing up on the banks of a wide river. First love must be the same everywhere but the flavour of my story would have been different…”

An older, wiser voice introduces Jean Renoir’s 1951 adaptation of Rumer Godden’s coming-of-age tale of a teenage girl living with her English family on the banks of the Ganges. This film seems to have  all the elements of a ‘first love’ narrative- the arrival of a young man into a group of female rivals for his attention, the young people’s embarrassing efforts to appear mature, the  worlds of children and adults in real contrast to each other, and a  real tragedy to bring us back to reality.   No one writes about the power of adolescent emotion better than Rumer Godden  just think of ‘Black Narcissus’ and later  ‘The Greengage Summer’

Here India seemed to be portrayed as if in a 1950s travelogue  athough Renoir chose to follow the novel closely. The adult stories that weave through the narrative hint at the deeper problems caused by the  colonial culture, but these are not expanded on as they are really nothing to do with the story.

This was Renoir’s first colour film and was shot entirely in India. A new restoration revitalises Renoir’s achievement and his nephew Claude Renoir’s wonderful photography, making sense of the director’s stated aim.

“I shot The River so that I could either create a narration and stay with a book-like tone.’ he said

For a taste of the film – See film trailer BELOW :-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-DxgFYOVM0&feature=player_detailpage

 

Rumer Godden and Jean Renoir on the set of The River.

Rumer Godden – Writer of The River – Below.

Rumer Godden at 88, 1998Rumer Godden in her study at Dove House, Kashmir, 1942Rumer Godden, portrait for Vogue magazine, 1947Rumer Godden with her daughters at Speen, Buckinghamshire, 1949Rumer Godden with her daughter, Jane, 1950'sRumer Godden at London House, Highgate, 1958Publicity photo for Jackets, 1980'sRumer Godden Filming BBC's Bookmark, Calcutta, 1998Rumer Godden was born in Sussex in 1907 but, at six months old, was taken out to India where her father ran a Steam Navigation company so that she and her three sisters spent most of their childhood on the banks of the great rivers of Assam and Bengal (now Bangladesh) where they lived in Narayangunj, a jute trading town.They had a halcyon childhood. “I always thank God” wrote Rumer “that we did not have sensible parents”. This childhood time gave her real love of India that is so obvious in her writing.She could never remember a time when she did not write. There were no libraries or schools or bookshops in this remote place so the sisters wrote their own. It was a good thing their father said that there were plenty of wastepaper baskets in the house.The dreaded day came and the girls were sent back to England which felt anything like home and were sent to boarding school – too late. They were twelve and fourteen and could not settle. They went to five schools in two years!Rumer Godden trained as a dancer in London and then went back to India where she ran a mixed race dancing school. She married and lived in Calcutta.She returned to Britain for the birth of her two daughters and the publication of Black Narcissus which was met with great acclaim.Back in India she continued with her dancing school and parted from her husband.This was now wartime and it was not possible to go back to England so she took her two small daughters to Kashmir where, as she had no money, she rented a little Kashmiri house far in the country by the Dal Lake. and they lived cheaply and like the local indians.The house had no electricity , no running water and no road up to it. It was a full life. She had not only to look after the children but to teach them and to try earning a living by writing and running a herb farm but, as she wrote, “these were years of beauty and contentment”.

Rumer returned to England in 1947 and lived in various houses both in London, Buckinghamshire and Sussex and she remarried. It was at this time that she entered the London and American literary scene.

She sat on book judging panels, gave talks on writing and toured America giving lecture tours. She went to the famous Foyles Lunches and made broadcasts. She appeared on Desert Island Discs and maybe this one is still available to hear from the BBC archives.

In 1994 she went back to India with her daughter and the BBC to make the Bookmark programme of her life in the subcontinent.

Rumer was a strict disciplinarian over her writing. She worked every morning and most evenings and always in longhand with a fountain pen.  She said that as an artist has to dip his brush into the paint so a writer should dip his pen into the ink and this gives time for thought.

She thought many modern books were too wordy as authors just ran away with words on their computers.

She was awarded the OBE in 1994 and won the Whitbread prize for children’s literature, many other awards and her her books have been published in over forty countries.

Rumer Godden had many interests but her greatest were for dancing and for Pekinese dogs, which she kept for most of her life, and for children – she ran junior poetry workshops which kept her in touch with the young and entertained her young great grandchildren to doll’s tea parties where she made miniature food and everyone dressed up.

She also loved opera and good whisky! Rumer studied the great religions of the world and became a Roman  Catholic in 1957.

One of her favourite axioms came from an Indian proverb that says – “everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person”. She quotes this in her autobiography A House with Four Rooms.

Rumer Godden lived her later years in Rye Sussex in Lamb House, once the home of Henry James. In her old age she moved to Moniaive in Southern Scotland to be with her daughter where she spent the last twenty years of her life, writing and enjoying the river which ran under her study window.

Her last novel Cromartie vs. the God Shiva was published just before she died in 1998

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The African Queen

 

For a long time I had not known that this was a COLOUR film because it used to be shown on TV in the pre-colour days but when I did I realised just how good it looked in glorious Technicolor.  Even so it is a cracking good adventure film.

The African Queen was the first Technicolor  film in which Bogart appeared.   He was actually in relatively few colour films during his long career  which continued for another five years.  The role of Charlie Allnutt won Bogart an Academy Award in 1951 and he himself thought that this was his best ever film performance

See the film trailer here:-

                                                                                             http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7cWpLd1-dc&feature=player_embedded

One of the lasting images from this film is this one below. If ever I think of cinema at its best I think of this scene. It is iconic. It has been used in advertisements too.

Humphrey Bogart pulls the African Queen through the marshes – above – I love this shot !!

Although filming was generally done in Africa, this scene was a studio set at the Isleworth Studios and in fact there were some shots done on the river at the studios.  In 1951, shortly before the studios closed for good, much of The African Queen was filmed there.

Even so for a film made in 1951, there’s a surprising amount of location filming out in Africa even though much of the African jungle  was recreated at Worton Hall Studios, Worton Road in Isleworth, southwest London. The site is now an Industrial Estate. The interior of Robert Morley’s ‘First Methodist Church at Kungdu’ was built here in the studio grounds, to match an exterior constructed in Africa and when called for in Africa a double stands in for Robert Morley, who never left England.  He was probably too busy in the theatre for this to happen.

 

 

 

 

Above and Right- Robert Morley in The African Queen

 

 

 

 

This is a clip from the film :-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kno7sZsqWzE&feature=player_detailpage

 The above scenes in the film clip are just after the African Queen had come through the waterfalls, and with great relief at their survival the two embrace one another. Although they didn’t realise it by this time, they had already fallen in love.

There were certainly more adventures for the two of them though before the film reaches its conclusion.

One particularly moving moment in the film is , when they appear to have lost the fight to pull the African Queen through the reeds and are utterly exhausted, Rosie kneels down in the boat while Charlie Allnutt sleeps, and she prays for forgiveness and asks that despite her sins the gates of heaven would be open for her and Charlie.  As we know though they survive and the rains come and eventually float the boat and then they can reach the lake – and indeed they do.

As they both are utterly exhausted Rosie prays – Above.

When the two of them are captured by the Germans and are on the boat on the lake,  the captain of the Louisa is played by British character actor Peter Bull. He was the son of a famous MP of the time and his acting career took in varied  films – one of which is this one. Apparently he was a good friend of Alec Guiness because they had served together in the war.

I thought I remembered him in an Alice In Wonderland film and in fact he played The Duchess in the 1972 version with Fiona Fullerton among a distinguished cast.

In charge of the colour photography on The African Queen was none other than the legendary Jack Cardiff who was almost universally considered one of the greatest cinematographers of all time.  Jack Cardiff was also a notable Film Director. In fact it was Errol Flynn who turned to him to direct The Story of William Tell in 1953.   This is a well known story of the Cinemascope production getting under way in Italy and about 30 minutes of the film being completed when Errol who was financing the film himself ran out of money and was unable to raise more – so the film was never completed. I understand that the 30 minutes or so are safe and a friend of mine who is a big Errol Flynn fan has actually got a copy of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above TOP – Errol Flynn on the set of William Tell and Right Jack Cardiff points out the way forward as Director

When making the ill-fated William Tell with an excited Jack Cardiff as director and cinematographer on the CinemaScope movie in Europe in the early ’50s. Flynn put up half the money for the movie amounting to around 450,000 US Dollars and he had also persuaded  the Italian govt. into giving him a further 145,000 dollars on top of that as well as an incentive to boost the postwar Italian economy. When the financing fell through on William Tell due to some questionable bookkeeping  from some of the Italian money men,  a heartbroken Flynn had to abandon the project–even after he had advanced more of his own cash to keep the project afloat.   It does make you think that a film man like Errol Flynn was probably out of his depth in the financing department and you would have thought that with the backing maybe of a big studio he could have pulled it off and given us a cracking good Adventure film in Cinemascope and Techicolor – and in those days that was  big plus.

 

 

 

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Third Man on the Mountain – Disney – revisited

In one of the many magazines of the time I have come across this page with details of the Reception at the Savoy in London for the Walt Disney 1959 film Third Man on The Mountain – although at that time it seems to be promoted under the US title Banner In The Sky.It shows the leading actors and also Director Ken Annakin in relaxed mode.

This film isn’t that well known which is a great pity for what is often described as the ‘best film ever about mountaineering.

My previous post was about the Film Director Ken Annakin – and he directed this one.     Peter Ellenshaw was responsible for the matte painting and was able to give the film that extra edge as he painted in most of the ‘down’ shots during the climbing sequences so effectively that – as I have said in a previous post – members of the audience at a pre-release showing  were affected by vertigo and dizziness such was the quality of some of the sheer face shots.

Third Man on the Mountain was released on November 10, 1959. It was a critical success and was highly acclaimed for it’s magnificent location shooting, great writing and excellent performances.   Unfortunately, it was a box office dud.     It failed to find an audience, which was a shame because it was an expensive film to make.

The film was later edited and shown in parts on the Disneyland TV show although this tended to happen with all Walt Disney’s Live Action films. So in a way long before Video and DVD, Walts Disney was able to have two bites at the cherry so to speak even in those days – he had the cinema release and then his own TV channel release.

It is a great pity that Third Man on the Mountain never enjoyed success in later years because it really is a great film.  Today it is known by most Disney fans as the inspiration for the Matterhorn attraction at Disneyland, but as a film it is well made and very enjoyable. It’s a fairly simple story that is told so well that it’s hard not to find yourself cheering for Rudi. That, mixed with the amazing cinematography and wonderful characters, make this one of the most underrated Disney films of all time. Film buffs should look for a cameo by Helen Hays, James MacArthur’s mother.

Third Man on the Mountain was released on DVD in 2004. Sadly, it contains no bonus features. Also it seems that no restoration work has been  done

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Ken Annakin – Film Director

My previous post concerned Denham Film Studios  and in a way there is a connection with this British Film Director  because in his autobiography ‘So You Wanna Be a Director’ he describes how in 1951 he drove through those large gates into the studios to begin work directing Walt Disneys The Story of Robin Hood which was released in 1952 and starred Richard Todd and Joan Rice.

Ken Annakin’s previous films had been good small budget British films such as The Huggetts and Quartet but this represented a big jump forward to a very large scale colour production – in fact the most expensive film to have been made in England up to that time.

                                                               

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Ken Annakin was educated at Beverley grammar school in East Yorkshire and on leaving he took a job locally in Hull as a tax inspector. Then, happily, he won £100 on the Derby and travelled to Asia, Australia and the US.   He did various jobe to make ends meet  and then  during the second world war he joined the RAF. He was transferred to the Ministry of Information following an injury he received fromshrapnell.

                                                                                                 

Here  he worked alongside such professionals as Carol Reed on many documentaries, thus gaining experience in the movie industry.

Then in 1947 he made his feature debut with Holiday Camp. This was at a time when resorts such as Butlins offered families a great holiday and lots of fun. The film was a comedy drama set at a Butlins resort on the Yorkshire coast at Filey.

                                                                            

There is one brilliantly old fashioned piece of dialogue in Holiday Camp which occurred in the above scene. Jack Warner and Kathleen Harrison play an older married couple with a grown up family all at the Holiday Camp. In this scene Kathleen Harrison (Mrs. Hugggett) asks her husband if he fancies any of the bathing beauties around the swimming pool. And his response is that he does like the look of them but he ‘prefers something plain in the home’ – for which she thanks him and feels happy and assured.   Different times I think.

It spawned the Hugget series, based on the central characters memorably portrayed by Jack Warner and Kathleen Harrison. Here Come the Huggetts was released in 1948, followed by Vote for Huggett and The Huggets Abroad.

                                                   Ken Annakin

Ken Annakin with Walt Disney – Above.

His career spanned half a century, beginning in the early 1940s  and ending in 2002 with a feature film about Genghis Khan which was never completed.   His career peaked in the 1960s with large-scale adventure films. He directed nearly 50 pictures.

In one of his best-known, The Longest Day Ken  Annakin — with Andrew Marton and Bernhard Wicki — was one of three credited directors. Adapted from Cornelius Ryan’s best-selling book about D-Day, it featured an all-star cast led by Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Rod Steiger, Sean Connery Richard Todd and Peter Lawford.  Ken concentrated on directing the British exterior sequences – and in one of these we have a quite astonishing story.

In the film Richard Todd played Major John Howard who led the paratroopers attack on Pegasus Bridge – but in real life a number of years before the film was made, Richard Todd had himself been a paratrooper on this very mission. In fact he had been scheduled to be in aircraft number 33 but at the very last minute he was switched to aircraft number one and so he was the first man out – so effectively  he was the first paratrooper on the ground in that operation. Then when Pegasus Bridge had been captured and secured in the film there is a sequence wher Major John Howard played by Todd is talking to a young paratrooper who in real life would have been Richard Todd.

 Peter Lawford,Richard Todd, and Leo Genn in The Longest Day

Three years later his work on The Longest Day put Annakin in line to direct another war film, Battle of the Bulge, when the studio’s original choice for director, Richard Fleischer, turned down the job. Meanwhile, Ken Annakin had shot The Fast Lady (1963) and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), the screenplay for which (co-written with Jack Davies) earned him an Academy Award nomination, and the similarly-titled action comedy Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969).

His other comedies included The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968),  starring Robert Wagner, and Monte Carlo Or Bust (1969). He also directed Call of the Wild, a 1972 adaptation of Jack London’s adventure, starring Charlton Heston, and in 1957 his own personal favourite  - Across the Bridge with Rod Steiger.

                                                                                                                                                                    

His best-loved film was probably Swiss Family Robinson, one of a series of “family adventures” Annakin made for Walt Disney starting in the 1950s. Shot on the island of Tobago, with a cast including  tigers, snakes and elephants, the film starred John Mills and Dorothy McGuire as parents of a family battling pirates and struggling to survive after they are shipwrecked. Disney’s nephew, Roy Disney, considered it one of the greatest family adventure films that the Disney studio had ever done.

Above – Ken Annakin chats to Patricia Plunkett on the set of the film ‘Landfall’

He died at his Beverley Hills home and was survived by his wife, Pauline, daughter Deborah, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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The Mummy 1959 – Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee

I love these Hammer Horror Films – and particularly this one. When we get the flashback in the very early stages of the film, to the Princess Ananka being buried many years ago and Kharis High Priest with a dark secret – his love for the princess – it really sets the scene for us as we settle down for the action to come.

Whilst excavating the ancient site in Egypt,  Peter Cushing’s father played by Felix Aylmer, picks up and reads the scroll of life and The Mummy stirs,  this sequence is very erie – sending Felix Aylmers character- Banning - mad – to such an extent that on his return to England he is committed to a lunatic asylum where eventually he comes face to face with The Mummy.

                                                                       

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

 Christopher Lee as Kharis High Priest

After the early sequence in Egypt we return to England, in 1898:   For three years Banning has been confined to a mental asylum unable to communicate with anyone. One day his son John (Peter Cushing), now happily married to the beautiful Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux), is summoned to the asylum at his father’s request. The old man, having suddenly regained the power of speech, warns his son of impending doom. Kharis the mummy will soon come to kill him; John and his father are also marked for death for violating Ananka’s secret resting place. Heartbroken about his father’s condition, John chalks it up as the ravings of a madman.

He begins to realise differently when an The Mummy smashes into the elder Banning’s padded cell and strangles him. In a search for answers John and his uncle begin pouring through the old man’s papers. Meanwhile, Mehemet Bey played by  George Pastell , a secret acolyte of Karnak who’s made a sacred vow of revenge for the desecration of Ananka’s tomb — prepares for vengeance.

 The sets and production values for this film are very high even though the budget must have been limited.

Christopher Lee brings a measure of sadness to the character of Kharis / The Mummy because of his great love for the Princess Ananka.

In a thrilling sequence The Mummy breaks through the glass doors of Peter Cushing’s home and proceeds to try to strangle him. He is saved by his wife who enters the room and she bears a striking resemblence to the Princess Ananka. Kharis the stops and looks at her and departs the scene.

This is a good well made film – I must watch it again soon – and one which is recommended. It is in my view probably the best of the Hammer HorrorFilms.

                                               

 Yvonne Furneaux plays Peter Cushings wife and the Princess Ananka.

The climax of the film takes place in a marsh where The Mummy has carried John Banner’s  wife – but he will not harm her. Below:-

Christopher Lee made his film debut in 1948 in Corridor of Mirrors which was directed by Terence Stamp and made in Paris. He was also in Scott of the Antarctic shortly afterwards.

Much more about Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in later posts as these two hold a unique place in British Film History.

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Denham Film Studios – Revisited

These pictures from Mr Smith’s collection show a  visit in 1977 to Denham Film Studios just before the demolition began.

The photographs  show Herbert Smith who had run Denham from 1945 to 1950 and been a very influential person in the Film World throughout his life.

Herbert Smith had been previously working at Beaconsfield Studios for some time when in 1945 he accepted an offer from Two Cities Films to join them at Denham.   He was Executive in charge of productions with a splendid office on the first floor overlooking the entrance – pictured below.   

Herbert Smith Picture

A very famous name in Denham Film Studio’s history is that of Herbert Smith – ABOVE.

Herbert Smith, who was the brother of the late Sam Smith, founder of British Lion Films, was a well known figure in the British film industry with which he has been connected for many years. He continued to control productions at Denham till it closed in 1950.

He was Executive Producer of Walt Disney’s Treasure Island 1950 at Denham – although he is uncredited simply becuse this is the way he seemed to want it. He had his name removed from the credits of quite a few of the classics made at Denham

Pictures show Herbert Smith at his Old Office, Large Sound Stage, Grand Hall – now in ruins, and the Cutting Room.

               

 

Below: A Fire Engine arrives at Denham Film Studios 1941

AFS FILM ACTORS: THE FILMING OF 'UNPUBLISHED STORY' AT DENHAM FILM STUDIOS, DENHAM, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, ENGLAND, UK, 1941

Interesting picture – above top left – of what was Alexander Korda’s office in the old mansion and see how close it is to the River Colne. I remember Michael Powell telling the story that he had attended a film story meeting  for the film The Spy in Black in this very  office at Denham – and present was  Alexander Korda, the author of the book  and another man who he had not met before but who had actually adapted the novel for the screen. Michael Powell said that this man was asked to read out the bear bones of his story – which he proceeded to do. 

Michael said that he thought immediately that this man was a genius in the way he had adapted the story – he had,  from the original,   turned the story completely on its head – but it was good. 

That person turned out to be Emric Pressburger and thus began one of the most famous partnerships in film history – Powell and Pressburger.

 The two great men – above.

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were the most original filmmaking team in the history of British Cinema. The films that they made together under the name of their production company ‘The Archers’ include some of the most critically celebrated and best loved films ever made in Britain. 

Their work from the 40s, included –  ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’, ‘A Canterbury Tale’, ‘I Know Where I’m Going’, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, ‘Black Narcissus’, AND  ‘The Red Shoes’.

These would be good films by any standard and in any era.      They were just so original in style. 

                                                                                                      

Kathleen Byron  who starred as Sister Ruth in Black Narcissus above  - from the novel by Rumer Godden – said that when Michael Powell offered her the role he said that it was a great part  – but he added  ‘make the most of it Kathleen because you will never get a part as good again’.   And she said that he was quite right – she never did get as good a part as that again even though her career lasted for many years afterwards.   Interesting little story I think.

 

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Cockleshell Heroes 1955

This film was shown on British TV over the Christmas period, and a friend of mine watched it after I had mentioned the film version of this daring raid some months ago. He agreed that it was a very good film – actually with his family he had gone to the St.Nazaire area of France a year or more ago so was familiar with the location of the action.

The Fifties were Jose Ferrer’s peak years as an actor and he was getting acclaim for all kinds of roles although he had  never been thought of as an action hero, but in a film in which he directed himself The Cockleshell Heroes, he is outstanding in a part that someone like Clint Eastwood would have been more identified with in later years.  Somehow though Jose Ferrer never had the Box Office appeal of Clint Eastwood.


This was one impossible mission given to the Royal Marines.  The idea is to demolish German ships in the port of Bordeaux and render the harbour useless. The problem is that Bordeaux isn’t  on the coast –  it is up the Gironde River.
In this amphibious operation the idea is for a selected bunch of Royal Marines to row kayak like canoes up the river after having been landed by submarine on the coast under cover of darkness.  So that no motors are heard on the river the plan was to use canoes. The Marines are to attach mines to the various enemy ships and  blow them up and then they would escape inland with the help of the French Resistance.

It all sounds very much like mission impossible –  but it really did happen.

This was a mission so daring and so dramatic that in 1955 the broad outline of the story would be turned into a film - The Cockleshell Heroes

The film takes us through the training and the mission - sadly most of the Marines are killed.
Ferrer the director did a good job on this movie and  Ferrer the actor and the rest of his cast - particularly Trevor Howard as his second in command  all performed well.

Above – Scenes from the film with Tevor Howard and Jose Ferrer.

Trevor Howard was always good and in this one he plays  someone who is tough but has a deep secret –  he had failed under fire just as World War I was ending and has a black mark against him. However  25 years later  he gets a second chance in another war – the Second World War.
David Lodge play a young Royal Marine who goes AWOL to try to sort out problems back home with an unfaithful wife in Beatrice Campbell.
The film bears some resemblance to The Dirty Dozen from the next decade.  However  these Royal Marines were certainly not misfits made into a fighting force- they were some of the best of that generation who went on this  mission  knowing that they most likely would not come back.   These were not specialists, but ordinary Royal Marines who were put through a steep learning curve.

Some action still from the film – above.

The Associate Producer on this one was Alex Bryce who had been a film director of some note – he had worked on some of the Walt Disney films of the early fifties as Assistant Director. He was usually in charge of the exterior action shots – and there were few better at this than he was. I had the good fortune to make contact with his daughter recently and she said that he had become ill whilst working on The Cockleshell Heroes. He died in 1960.

On another note I did work in the Head Office of Murco Petroleum Ltd which in the late 60s was at 65, Grosvenor Street, London W.1and at that time they employed a number of Services Station site supervisors who used to visit the office regularly  - one of them I met quite frequently and it turned out that he had actually been one of the Cockleshell Heroes and had lived to tell the tale. He was a very nice person. He must have left us by now I would have thought.  I wonder if there is anyone out there who worked for Murco in those offices at the time – if so maybe they could make contact through this site – I would be very pleased to hear from them.

The most fitting tribute to the real life heroes of Operation Frankton came recently when a new memorial was dedicated at La Pointe de Grave, at the tip of the Gironde estuary.

Above – Memorial to the Cockleshell Heroes at Poole, Dorset.

Despite the myth-making of the movie, there has been a feeling that the Cockleshell Heroes were not given adequate tribute. A memorial was created by public subscription, but, placed at the Special Boat Service base in Poole, Dorset but it cannot be viewed by the public.

 

 

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Joan Rice

I wonder how many readers will remember much about this very lovely star of the fifties who rocketed to fame after being spotted as a waitress in a Lyons Corner House to film stardom alongside stars such as Dirk Bogarde, Richard Todd and Burt Lancaster.

This is a fairy tale really but without the ending it should have had.

Above as  Dalabo in His Majesty O Keefe

 
 
Joan Rice  died in January 1997 at the age of 66 . She was a Rank starlet of the 1950’s and her best remembered role was that of Maid Marian in Walt Disney’s The Story of Robin Hood  (1952) opposite Richard Todd.
Hers was a Cinderella story without the glass slipper. She was discovered as a waitress at the former Lyons Corner House in Piccadilly and signed to a film contract after winning the Lyons ‘Miss Nippy’ contest of 1949.
With no formal acting training, she was sent to the Rank charm school and rushed into a stream of mostly minor roles in British films of the day. After The Story of Robin Hood she flew out to Fiji to make His Majesty O Keefe (1953)  and starred opposite Burt Lancaster  in a large scale Hollywood production set in the South Seas.   It was a very good colour film and she looked lovely in it.
Joan Rice – above in His Majesty O Keefe.
 
After she returned to England she met and married David Green very quickly and they had a son late in 1953. Her film career never seemed to get going again even after these two great roles she had.
Joan Rice never found the role that might have established her on the international scene. She dropped out of the cinema in the 1960’s to try to build a life in provincial repertory.
She claimed never to miss her movie career, and later in life, at the instigation of her father-in-law, she took up live acting to repair the omissions of youth. She toured in ‘Rebecca’ and ‘A View from the Bridge,’ her favourite play. She never attracted bad notices, but none of these productions reached the West End and she became a forgotten figure to many of the cinemagoers of the 1950’s who fondly recalled her English rose complexion and shapely contours.
After seven years she abandoned acting completely because she disliked being away from home for such long periods. She was tempted into television only once – as a contributor to a ‘This Is Your Life’ show for Richard Todd, but dried up before the cameras and had to be steered through the programme by Michael Aspel.
Joan Rice was born in Derby on February 3rd 1930, one of four sisters from a broken home. Her father was imprisoned for child abuse and she was brought up for eight years in a convent orphanage in Nottingham. After early experience as a lady’s maid and a housemaid, she left for London with half a crown in her purse and took a job as a waitress with Lyons at £3 a week.
Balancing tea trays and negotiating obstacles gave a natural poise that stood her in good stead in the company’s in-house beauty contest. The prize was a week’s promotional tour in Torquay ( a town to which she returned 20 years later in a revival of ‘The Reluctant Debutante’ at the Princess Theatre).
As winner of the ‘Miss Nippy’ contest, she was introduced to the theatrical agent Joan Reese, who went to work on her behalf and secured a screen test and a two-line bit part in the comedy, ‘One Wild Oat.’ Her first substantial role, however, was in Blackmailed (1950) – see picture below -  a hospital melodrama, starring Mai Zetterling and Dirk Bogarde, in which Joan Rice played a good time girl.

This film caught the eye of Walt Disney and he cast her as  Maid Marian in The Story of Robin Hood – the best film part she ever got.   Then she was whisked off to Fiji to star in His Majesty O’Keefe with Burt Lancaster – what an adventure that must have been in those far off days.
 Her other films included ‘Curtain Up’ (1952),  about a seaside repertory company, ‘A Day to Remember’ (1953), about a darts team on a one day excursion to France, ‘The Crowded Day,’ (1954) about the staff of a department store coping with the Christmas rush and ‘Women without Men,’ (1956) about a breakout from a women’s prison.
Only ‘Gift Horse’ (1952), a traditional wartime naval picture, had quality, yet her role as a Wren was subsidiary to Trevor Howard, Richard Attenborough and Sonny Tufts. In ‘One Good Turn’ (1954), she was wasted as a stooge to Norman Wisdom. After ‘Payroll’ in 1961, she effectively called it quits, returning for only one last picture, ‘The Horror of Frankenstein’ in 1970.
After leaving show business, she lived quietly with her beloved Labradors, Jessie and Sheba, took work as an insurance clerk and later set up an estate agent, letting accommodation in Maidenhead through the Joan Rice Bureau, though she had only one member of staff.
She smoked heavily and suffered from asthma and emphysema, which kept her largely housebound for the last six years.
She married first, in 1953 (dissolved in 1964), David Green, son of the American comedian, Harry Green; they had one son. She married secondly, in 1984, the former Daily Sketch journalist Ken McKenzie.
 
Until the last few years I had often asked the question ‘Whatever happened to Joan Rice’ and now we do know a lot more.
Please go to the site     www.disneysrobin.blogspot.com
and you will find it is a site dedicated to Joan Rice – and there is much much more detail than I have been able to include here
 
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