Archive for March, 2014

Tarzan and the Lost Safari – 1957 Made in England

This film from 1957 was on the Sky Film Channel yesterday February 15th 2014, and I watched some of it and was impressed by the colour and the scale of the production but straight away I noticed the supporting actors – Robert Beatty, Wilfred Hyde White, George Coulouris and Peter Arne -  Yolande Donlan and Betta St John - all British actors although Yolande was from the US but had settled here and so I think had Betta St John who had married an English actor.  On checking I see that the film was made on location in Africa with the studio work done at Elstree in England. There was a lot of studio work and a lot of it is on large sets of  ‘outdoor’ jungle locations – which I have to say were very impressive.

This was a Cinemascope picture which no doubt would show off the beautiful African locations – a unit must have gone out there with Gordon Scott in order to get the wide vista shots but  not many others in the cast went I should think.

Above  - Yolande  Donlan

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James Robertson Justice – fantasist / storyteller or what ??

With his unmistakable booming voice and vast red beard, James Robertson Justice was one of the pillars of the British cinema in the Fifties and Sixties.

The star of seven Doctor In The House comedies – as surgeon Sir Lancelot Spratt – as well as playing Lord Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, this 6ft 2in, 19-stone actor was larger than life in every sense.

However  a new biography reveals, he was also a deeply contradictory and troubled man – a selfish fantasist, an unrepentant socialist who nevertheless drove a Rolls-Royce and was a friend of the Royal Family, a man with a great appetite for food and drink  and yet a man who let his mother die from malnutrition, and a relentless womaniser.

For example, Justice always said that he was born underneath a whisky distillery on the Isle of Skye in Scotland – when he was actually born in Lee, South London, and was brought up in Bromley, Kent.

Indeed, he wasn’t even christened James Robertson Justice – only adding the middle name in his late 30s in order to sustain the myth of his being Scottish.

He also liked to boast that he had a science degree from London University and a doctorate in philosophy-from Bonn University, in Germany, when, in fact, he had neither.

Despite such relentless fabrications, however, there was enough in his life to fill several biographies.

Repeatedly during his 30-year career, which included 87 films, this ebullient ginger-haired actor invented endless stories about every part of his life, loving to create mysteries, which his friends claimed was an attempt to conceal the insecurities that lay behind his bluff, rumbustious exterior.

He worked for a time as a reporter for the Reuters news agency, was a teacher in Canada, played professional ice-hockey, drove racing cars, was a member of the German police force when the Nazis came to power, and was a founder member of the late Sir Peter Scott’s Wildfowl Trust – achievements all made before becoming an actor.

A new biography reveals that Justice was a deeply contradictory and troubled man and a selfish fantasist

As his friend, the Duke of Edinburgh, says of him: “James was a large man with a personality to match. He lived every bit of his life to the full and richly deserves the title “eccentric”.”

The two men first met in the Forties and shared a love of hunting with falcons in Scotland – a passion that Justice later helped to pass on to Prince Charles.

So let us try, 33 years after his death at the age of 68 in 1975, to unravel the truth about this contradictory man.

One thing is clear above all others about the blustering, often rude, Justice – he never cared to be thought of as a film star.

“I am not a star!” he would insist, often at the top of his voice. “I am in this profession to make money.”

As Richard Gordon, author of Doctor In The House, puts it: “He preferred to think of himself as a straightforward Scotsman who wore kilts, fished the lochs, flew falcons and knew those people over at Balmoral. Every performance was himself.”

To understand the real James Robertson Justice, we need to return to his South London birthplace in June 1907, where he was the only child of a geologist who, ironically, despised everything about the Scots, even though he’d been born in Aberdeen.

His father, also called James, saw little of his son, as he was travelling the world.

By the time he returned to England in 1922, young James was already a boarder at Marlborough school in Wiltshire.

Not that Justice ever talked about his childhood. As his biographer, James Hogg, puts it: “Perhaps the absence of his father for long periods was too deep a wound to revisit.”

But this was not the only part of his life that he liked to draw a veil over.

After Marlborough, Justice studied science at University College, London, but left after a year in mysterious circumstances and became a geology student at Bonn, where he acquired an appetite for languages, but left equally suddenly to return to England in the summer of 1927.

Still only 21, it wasn’t long before he secured a job at Reuters news agency in London, where another reporter was the young Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond.

His friend, the Duke of Edinburgh, said that Justice was ‘a large man with a personality to match’ and ‘lived every bit of his life to the full’

But Justice was useless at the job. One colleague called him “quite unsuitable” – not least for his habit of turning up for a night shift in dressing gown and pyjamas.

After a matter of months, he then set off for Canada, where he sold insurance, taught English at a boys’ school, became a lumberjack and mined for gold.

Feeling homesick, Justice worked his passage back to England by washing dishes on a Dutch freighter – or so he later maintained – and by 1931 he was playing for the London Lions ice-hockey team – another career that lasted barely a year.

Undeterred, he tried his hand at motor racing, entering a race at Brooklands in Surrey.

But, characteristically, he disappeared again – to become a policeman for the League of Nations in the Saar area of Germany.

Mystery surrounds this brief period in his life. One suggestion was that he was forced to leave after firing into a hostile crowd and killing someone with the ricochet.

Then there was his subsequent war service with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, which also came to an abrupt halt for no clear reason in 1943, although there were rumours of a knee injury from a German shell.

We next discover Justice, having married, living part of the year in Wigtown, Scotland, shooting geese and driving a Rolls-Royce.

It was at about this time that his acting career began and all the unanswered questions about his early life were quietly swept into the background.

Typically, Justice took up acting by accident after a visit to the Players’ Club in London on one of his regular visits south.

The Players’ regularly restaged Victorian music hall nights under the chairmanship of the late Leonard Sachs, who was later to reprise the role on BBC television’s The Good Old Days.

Justice managed to stand in for Sachs on one occasion, and on the strength of that performance was recommended for a part in a film, For Those In Peril, in the summer of 1944.

He was 37, and, within four years, Justice was playing a leading role – that of the headmaster in the film Vice Versa, written and directed by the then 26-year-old Peter Ustinov, who cast him partly because he’d been “a collaborator of my father’s at Reuters”.

After that, Justice was given a contract by the Rank Organisation. By then, he’d added Robertson to his name.
Ken Annakin recalled working with James Robertson Justice during the making of ‘The Story of Robin Hood’ . Justice he said could, with careful direction always be relied upon to ‘add verisimilitude’ (as he used to say) to any larger than life character. For three weeks he and Richard Todd rehearsed the famous quarter-staff fight scene on a wooden bridge built over the studio tank at Denham Studios. They rehearsed with Rupert Evans the most expert sword master and ‘period’ fight arranger in England at the time.
After a lot of lively exchanges of blows, Richard Todd was knocked into the water as scripted and Justice jumped in after him. Without a break they continued to parry and thrust, as choreographed, until Richard trod on a nail which penetrated his thin deer skin boot.

“Shit!” he yelled, and losing his balance, swiped James a mighty blow across the head.
Justice cried out “Foul, not fair!” and disappeared under the water only to reappear, spluttering “varlet!” still in character. “Have you no respect for the pate of a philosopher! If you’ve damaged the old brain box, Edinburgh University is going to lose its most distinguished Rector!”
It was true, Justice had just received a phone call in his dressing room, offering him the honour-something unheard of in the acting profession.

Shortly afterwards, he was introduced to Prince Philip.

The two men became members of the infamous Thursday Club which met for lunch in Soho in the late Forties.

Other members included David Niven and Peter Ustinov.

But it was through the club that Justice met one of the first of his many female conquests, even though his wife (former nurse Dilys Hayden, whom he’d married in Chelsea in 1941), had given birth to their son, James.

He would take great delight in parading around his young mistress’s flat wearing only a sporran while playing the bagpipes.

Justice took up acting by accident after a visit to the Players’ Club in London on one of his regular visits south

His success as Dr Maclaren in the 1949 Ealing Comedy Whisky Galore, cemented his reputation and enabled him to buy a mill house in Hampshire.

But, sadly, it was to become the scene of tragedy just a few months later, when his four-year- old son was drowned there.

His wife blamed him for not fencing off the stream that ran beside the house, but, typically, Justice would only tell his friends: “I don’t talk about it.”

By now, his career was taking off and the role of the demanding surgeon Sir Lancelot Spratt in Doctor In The House turned him into an international star.

The film sold 17 million tickets in Britain in 1954, making it the most popular film of the year.

It also helped to spawn the Carry On series, which was launched four years later.

Justice’s fee allowed him to buy a bungalow in the village of Spinningdale in Scotland, which was to be his home for the next two decades – and where he indulged his passion for collecting hawks, moths and orchids.

However the actor’s selfish streak remained.  After his father’s death in 1953, Justice’s mother, Edith, had gone to live in Hampshire, but her only son was conspicuous by his absence.

Indeed, despite his own vast intake of food and fine wine, she was to die of malnutrition just a few years later – a “very sad and undeserved end”, in the words of one local who knew her well.

Justice relished his reputation for eccentricity, taking pleasure in waking guests at his Scottish home by playing Mozart’s horn concertos on a length of garden hose which he kept especially for the purpose.

His appetite for young women hadn’t dimmed either, and, in the mid-Fifties, he pursued the painter Molly Parkin, then a young art teacher but later to become one of the most renowned fashion journalists of the Sixties.

He was almost 50, and still, legally, a married man.

Justice wanted to marry Parkin and have children – in particular, another son – but she refused, and the relationship withered.

Accepting the inevitable, he and his wife officially separated in 1958.

Justice continued to have a procession of affairs with his leading ladies – including one with the married actress Irina von Meyendorff, who’d appeared opposite him in The Ambassadress.

By 1967, the couple were living together, and the following year, during his eventual divorce from the long-suffering Dilys, she was cited in court papers.

But Justice refused to marry her, even though he called her his “great love”.

Not long after completing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968, however, Justice suffered a severe stroke, and the following year, his career was over.

As his new biographer puts it: “The boisterous, larger-than-life figure of just a few years before was gone, he was a shadow of his former self.”

He was to suffer a further series of strokes, which served only to make him even angrier. Frustrated at his incapacity, he would take his anger out on Irina.

Yet, ironically, it was his former wife who brought his final humiliation – suing him for his failure to pay the £50-a-week maintenance he’d promised. She forced him into bankruptcy and into selling his beloved home in Scotland.

Now destitute, it was his friend, Toby Bromley, heir to the Russell & Bromley shoe fortune, who saved him – offering Justice a cottage on his Hampshire estate, where the two men went on to make two wildlife documentaries about their love of falcons and trout fishing.

But by then, according to fellow actor Leslie Phillips, “his mind had very little control over his body” and Justice was suffering “bouts of depression and loneliness”. This once irrepressible figure was reduced to sitting immobile in his chair, furious at his inability to make an impact on life.

Then, in a final twist to the drama of his life, on June 29, 1975, and knowing that he was dying, James Robertson Justice married Prussian-born Irina who had suffered his selfishness for so many years.  Just three days later, Justice, a crippled, penniless ghost of his former self who was nevertheless remembered by so many with such pleasure, was dead.

It was a miserable end.

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Denham Deluxe

DenhamDeluxe1970s

The above are all pictures of Denham Film Studios – The top set are aerial views from 1946

Then we have a scene from the famous film with Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesey – I know Where I’m Going

which has a matted in top put on the studio to make it higher in the film to depict a large company office block.

As regards the Denham deLuxe below I really don’t know much about this. It is much more recent from 2008 and seems to seek planning approval to change the existing buildings into dwellings and build even more. Would be a lovely site to live at I think. Certainly for film fans such as me.

Denham DeLuxe

The DeLuxe (formerly Rank) Film Processing Laboratory is a Grade II listed building designed in 1936 by Walter Gropius and Max Fry that will become redundant when Deluxe move their facilities to purpose-built digital facilities at Pinewood. The design proposed a new residential development on the site.

The masterplan generates 62 houses and 136 apartments whilst the existing building is converted to contain 48 apartments. This project, as with the Oaklands College building conversions has allowed us to develop ways of making valuable listed modern buildings gain new life through subtle interventions that provide accessibility and energy efficiency – a ‘look no hands’ approach that retains architectural integrity of the original yet reveals a new layer within.

The scheme gained listed building and planning consents in April 2008.

 

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Ronald Colman

Ronald Colman died in 1958 at San Ysidro ranch near Santa Barbara and so came to an end an incredible career that took him from early English films to Hollywood in the silent era – on to the talkies where more than any other actor he made that transition in triumph –  to such an extent that he was able to become one of the leading stars of Hollywood in it’s golden era for almost two decades.

The Director George Cukor who directed him in ‘A Double Life’ considered him to be one of the greatest actors he had ever worked with.

Above we have TWO of the very best remembered Ronald Colman films – and it would be difficult to think of anyone else taking the leads in these romantic roles – Lost Horizon and Random Harvest.

The Trailer for Random Harvest :

The actors and the directors on each of these were top notch and well able to carry such stories.

Before this film came a classic Colman role – that of Sydney Carton in - “A Tale of Two Cities” . This portrayal captured the world-weary style of Sydney Carton and is by far the best portrayal on screen.

and “Random Harvest” a love story with  Ronald Colman again at his best – in a role he was really a little too old to play but here again his portrayal was beautifully drawn and understated.  It was said when “Random Harvest” came out, co-starring Greer Garson, that the English language had never been more beautifully spoken than in that movie.

This was an expensive MGM film directed by Mervyn Le Roy who was able to bring us – with the help of very fine actors – one of the memorable Hollywood films – and it proved to be a massive Box Office success.

Below is a Link – The Trailer to A Tale of Two Cities :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJXrkhnn3BQ&feature=player_detailpage

Ronald Colman

Ronald Colman was born at his parents’ home in Richmond, Surrey, England on February 9, 1891.
His career was at its peak in the 1930s. He was a star of the first magnitude who was able to be more selective in the films he made, like Arrowsmith (1931) directed by John Ford. Ford, never known to like actors, had nothing but positive things to say about the experience, “Arrowsmith was already cast when I went over to Goldwyn. Ronnie and I were friends, so I was delighted. Though he was the leading star of the business then, nobody ever acknowledged what a superb actor he was. They just accepted him as Ronald Colman. He did everything so easily. He never played drunken scenes or grew a beard or did any of those things which get Academy Awards, but he was the greatest actor I have ever known. [...] You didn’t have to workwith Ronnie – it was that simple. He knew exactly what to do and was word perfect when he did it.”

Colman’s most famous roles occurred during the Thirties  - Sydney Carton in MGM’s A Tale of Two Cities (1935) and the dual role of the English Major Rudolf Rassendyll and the Ruritanian King Rudolf V in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937). In that decade were also Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon (1937), a role that those who knew Colman thought the closest to his real-life personality, If I Were King (1938) in which he played the poet Francois Villon, and The Light That Failed (1939).

He later made Random Harvest (1942) and Kismet (1944).

Colman had become a father himself for the first time during the production of Kismet.

Ronald Colman and his wife had co-starred several times on the Jack Benny radio program as themselves and the audience response was so strong that they were offered their own show, The Halls of Ivy in which Colman played a University professor and Benita Hume played his wife. When television grew in popularity in the early 1950s, Colman was one of the first Hollywood stars to embrace the medium. The Halls of Ivy ran for only one season (1952-53), but Colman’s both overseeing the show and acting in it had taken a toll on his precarious health. He had always suffered from various lung ailments, but none of them, as his daughter clarified, were the result of being gassed during World War I. Colman, she wrote, had been invalided out of the war long before the Germans began to use chlorine gas.

He spent the majority of his final years at his home near Santa Barbara, San Ysidro Ranch. San Ysidro had been a retreat since 1893. Colman and  Al Weingand purchased the property in the 1930s and it became Colman’s retreat from Hollywood, and eventually his permanent home. Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh were married there, and it was the site of John and Jackie Kennedy’s honeymoon.

By the spring of 1958, Colman’s health began to deteriorate and he was hospitalised in Santa Barbara, where he died suddenly on May 19th.

Ronald Colman was buried in Santa Barbara Cemetery with a gravestone that has a theatre curtain etched into it along with these lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest:

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

 

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Joan Rice passes her driving test – we think !!!

Learner driver This picture shows Fifties film star Joan Rice photographed in 1951 alongside a BSM Austin A40 Devon. Judging by her relaxed smile she had just passed her test. Joan Rice, then aged 21, had trained at the Rank Organisation charm school and appeared in at least 14 films between 1951 and 1970.
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Hitchcock’s North By North West

I think this sequence and this shot must be as well known as any image from the world of films.

Cary Grant waits alongside a lonely country road. A very still day with nothing going on except for a light aircraft spraying crops. As we all know events will take a more sinister turn when the crop sprayer turns aggressor – and Cary Grant has to run for his life.

Just one part of a very exciting film which sees Cary Grant on the run across the USA pursued by unkown forces who seem desperate to kill him it seems – and this is a case of mistaken identity. What a nightmare situation he is in.

In some ways this film always reminds me of another Hitchcock film – and one of my favourites – Saboteur – made in 1942 with Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane. Here again the hero crosses the USA in a bid to escape his aggressors in a film set in wartime with the hero escaping from Nazi agents and the climax coming with a confrontation at the very top of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour. When I first saw this years ago it sacred the life out of me – as I have never been very good with heights – and this was really a tense ending.

Aircraft factory worker Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) is wrongly accused of starting a fire at a Glendale, Calif. aircraft plant during World War II, an act of sabotage, and believes the real culpit is a man name Fry (Norman Lloyd). Kane sets out to prove his innocence by finding Fry and pursues him throughout the film. After a fast-paced hide and seek chase, the dramatic showdown between Kane and Fry takes place in the torch of the Statue of Liberty as both men struggle high above New York harbour.

Back to North By North West though and here Hitchcock uses one of his favourite actors – and a man he knew had the ability to carry off this film – namely Cary Grant.  He was – as he always was – very good. He had great ability to deliver the quick fire dialogue necessary – something that is not done at all now – both in drama such as this and comedy which he seemed able to effortlessly deliver.

Another of Hitchcock’s favourites in the fifties was of course James  Stewart who again could be relied on to deliver a performance no matter what – with films that he largely had to carry.

Two views above of Mount Rushmore where the climax of the film occurs. Although done much later I didn’t think this was anywhere near as good as the Saboteur sequence at the Statue of Liberty though.
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Through Grown Up Eyes – Bobby Henrey

I heard  Robert Henrey interviewed on Radio 4 a few weeks ago.  He has just publised his recollections of making the film ‘The Fallen Idol’

See hisBook below – This film was actually released in 1948 so a bit earlly for this site on the films of the fifties but here goes anyway

 

Robert Henrey’s autobiography ‘Through Grown-up Eyes: Living with Childhood Fame’

An interesting read I should think – I have just purchased the book so hope it is good.

Bobby Henrey was cast in The Fallen Idol on the basis of a photograph of him which appeared on the dustjacket of his mother’s book A Village in Piccadilly. Studio head Alexander Korda passed on the photograph to director Carol Reed, who thought it exactly matched his vision of the character. The movie took eight months to film, a long time for that era, due to Reed’s exacting standards. Henrey’s second film, The Wonder Kid, was not a great success, influencing his family’s belief that he should return to education

He was the son of Robert Henrey and the memoirist Madeleine Gal and she went on to write about her son’s film career in two of her many volumes of memoirs, the 1948 A Film Star in Belgrave Square and the 1950 A Journey To Vienna.

He went on to study at Oxford University, where he obtained a degree in language and literature.

At age 25, Henrey moved to the United States, eventually settling in Greenwich, Connecticut. He and his wife Lisette had a son, Edward, and a daughter but sadly she died.

Robert Henrey was ordained as a deacon in 1984 and went on to serve as an interfaith chaplain at Greenwich Hospital after his certification in 2001.

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