Archive for July, 2024

Gilbert Gunn

I had not heard of Gilbert Gunn until, maybe six or so years ago, when I saw advertised a stack of his papers including letters that he had written and these were for sale. A woman in the lovely Lincolnshire village of Woodhall Spa had these items and I purchased them and went to collect. My interest of course was his strong connection with the film industry – the British Film Industry specifically – which I am obviously interested in.

There are probably 40 or so papers in the folder – letters from 1949 up to 1958

Gilbert Gunn

ABOVE from 1958 – it seems a Theatrical

It seems that a Theatrical Agent was attempting to get some of his actors into a Gilbert Gunn film – and there are some famous names Actors not yet in the public eye such as Maggie Smith, Patricia Marmont, Ian Hendry and Peter Hammond

ABOVE and BELOW – Letters or Memos that Gilbert Gunn wrote to various people in -or connected with – the film world. There are quite a lot of them

Gilbert Gunn

Remembering director Gilbert Gunn

Remembering Gilbert Gunn, screenwriter & director, born on this day in 1905

Screenwriter & director Gilbert Gunn was born in Scotland.

Not much is known about Gilbert Gunn, despite him directing some very popular films which are still regularly shown on channels such as Talking Pictures. It could be said that Gunn helped launch many a career in film, from directing Rachel Roberts and Kenneth Williams in their first credited film appearances, to Adam Faith in his first leading film role.

Gilbert Gunn started as a screenwriter, contributing scenes to several of the films he worked on as well as writing the screenplays of “Chamber of Horrors”, “Landfall”, and “Me & My Pal”.

After directing wartime recruitment shorts for the Ministry of Information, Gunn was enlisted by Elstree, then called ABPC, to create & compile a documentary to mark 25 years of the studios.

Over the course of three months, Gunn watched hundreds of hours of film, sometimes twice, to devise and produce “Elstree Story”, hosted by actor Richard Todd.

After “Elstree Story”, Gunn was entrusted to direct “Valley of Song“, the film adaptation of Cliff Gordon’s radio play “Choir Practice“. Gilbert wanting to use the original play title ‘Choir Practice’ but the film chiefs didn’t want that

Filmed at Elstree Studios and on location in Wales, the film marks the first credited film appearances of Rachel Roberts and Kenneth Williams. Coincidentally, Roberts & Williams both worked together in 1950 at Swansea repertory theatre under the directorship of Clifford Evans, who also stars in “Valley of Song“.

Valley of Song stylish pop art print by Art & Hue

Gilbert Gunn must have been a pleasant director to work with as Kenneth Williams, who was never one to hold back, wrote the following in his diary when he visited Elstree on the 24th of October 1952:

“To Elstree for my one line in Choir Practice directed by Gilbert Gunn. It was all over for me by 12 o’c. Very nice. My father was played by Kenneth Evans. Two Kenneths. Terribly funny really.”

After “Valley of Song“, Gunn was reunited with John Fraser to direct him in “The Good Beginning”, after which he directed Zena Marshall in “My Wife’s Family”. This was followed by the sci-fi B-movie “The Strange World of Planet X” (released as “Cosmic Monsters” in the USA) and then “Girls at Sea” which Gunn also produced.
1959 saw the release of the army comedy “Operation Bullshine” directed by Gunn and featuring Barbara MurrayCarole LesleyNaunton WayneDora Bryan, & Amanda Barrie.

Gunn also directed “What a Whopper” with Adam Faith in his first starring film role. Adam had appeared in films previously, including “Beat Girl”, but “What a Whopper” put him front and centre alongside Carole Lesley and a cast including Sid JamesCharles Hawtrey, and Wilfrid Brambell (plus an uncredited brief appearance by Amanda Barrie).

Gunn only made one appearance on film, in the 1941 production of “The Farmer’s Wife” as a pianist, presumably drafted in when the shout went up for a for a piano-player at ABPC studios.

Adam Faith pop art print by Art & Hue
Gunn directing in Wales

Gilbert Gunn died at the age of 62 on the 6th of December 1967. Whilst the body of work he left behind may not be critically-acclaimed, it certainly provided an important showcase for up-and-coming stars and his films are still very enjoyed to this day, thanks to regular repeats on television and through re-issues of the titles on DVD.

BELOW

A film that Gilbert Gunn directed and he also wrote it

OPERATION BULLSHINE 1959

One of the actors in this was the lovely actress Joan Rice

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‘The Brigand’ 1952 – with Anthony Dexter

In many ways this seemed to be a copy of The Prisoner of Zenda’ – a similar storyline.

In 1951 Anthony Dexter made his film debut in “VALENTINO”. The resemblance to the original silent screen idol was uncanny.

Columbia Pictures thought they would build him as a swashbuckler like his predecessor.

So this is the film that they cast him in – it was an adventure story supposedly based on a novel by Alexandre Dumas but with more similarities to Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda in that he plays a dual role – a wounded king and an adventurer who is persuaded to double for him.

Anothony.Dexter handles his role(s)well including exciting sword duels and several dance routines .The film is in Technicolor – always a selling point for me – and direction by Phil Karlson.

The supporting cast are very good – Anthony Quinn as the villain, the two female leads Jody Lawrence and Gale Robbins,and Carl Benton Reid

 The King of Mandoora (a mythical country on the Iberian peninsula near Spain,Portugal and Northern Africa and not far from France)and his look-a-like half commoner cousin Captain de Largo (Anthony Dexter)are much like the Zenda characters King Rudolf of Ruritania (a country in Western Europe bordering Germanic speaking countries)and his half English commoner cousin Rudolph Rassendyll.

Ramon the evil royal cousin (Anthony Quinn) is the equivalent of King Rudolf of Ruritania’s half-brother the ambitious Prince Michael and Prince Michael’s disloyal rogue of a friend Rupert of Hentzau. There are many similarities between the stories but that hardly matters because anyone who loves classic adventure and the works of Alexandre Dumas and Anthony Hope will be happy with this

There were dozens of these made in the late 40’s and early 50’s, all done in color and looking much more expensive than they really were. Anthony Dexter, shows a variety of traits as an irresponsible king and his lookalike cousin, brought in to impersonate him after another cousin (Anthony Quinn) attempted an assassination.

The beginning of the film shows the more heroic Dexter character working as a guard for a middle eastern king, involved in a bizarre subplot involving a jealous diplomat and his philandering wife. Colourful costumes, redesigned sets from other Columbia swashbuckling (of which there were many) and plenty action are the highlights, and Dexter and Quinn are fabulous adversaries. 

The Brigand 1952

The Brigand is an entertaining and engaging costume romp that is well filmed, and features an appealing and understated performance by that much underrated actor, Anthony Dexter, in the duo-lead roles. Able backing is provided by Anthony Quinn as the treacherous and slimy villain of the piece. So many movies of this type are throw-away and forgettable, but this one has sufficient pace, as well as a good storyline, to retain the viewers interest throughout. It’s such a fine movie that it’s difficult to understand why it’s never been released commercially, and remains to this day very much of a rarity. It’s also interesting to note that it was the follow-up feature to Valentino, for Anthony Dexter, and it’s perfectly clear that only bad luck prevented him from going on to be a top Hollywood star. Far lesser actors managed to forge long, star-studded careers for themselves, so it will always remain something of a mystery as to why Mr Dexter never reached the heights.

The Brigand 1952

The Brigand 1952 BELOW – Very Interesting that a comic such as the one below was issued. Maybe it was thought that would increase the Box Office business – certainly create interest outside of the Cinema

The Brigand 1952

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Richard Todd presents a Ferguson Tractor

I had no idea what the occasion was here but the article is headed ‘Ferguson for the Highlands’ – as I looked further into this I found quite a bit more information as below

ABOVE – Richard Todd hands over a new Ferguson Tractor for The Highland Fund to Lord Malcolm Douglas Hamilton – Lady Hamilton takes the driver’s seat and Catherine Todd Richard’s wife looks on

A blown up picture of Richard Todd from that same photograph. I at first thought that he had been up in Scotland for the filming of Rob Roy but then remembered that in all the pictures at that time. he was bearded.

Looking further this photograph was from the Arbroath Journal of July 1954

Catherine looking happy and very attractive

Lord Douglas Hamilton had married only the previous year in 1953 – It was his second marriage and her fourth.

Sadly Lord Douglas Hamilton was killed in a light plane crash in Cameroon in 1964 along with his son. Lady Hamilton actually lived to the age of 103 and died quite recently in 2013, 58 years or so after her husband’s death.

Richard Todd and his wife had been in Scotland for the premier of ‘Rob Roy, The Highland Rogue’ and whilst there met an Industrialist John Rollo who had designed a tractor to cope with the steep Highland fields. The Highland Fund was a Government body helping fund the small acre farmers / crofters and Richard Todd had been asked to do the presentation of this tractor to Lord Malcolm Douglas Hamilton

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Nyoka The Jungle Girl

Nyoka was played by Frances Gifford way back in 1941 – iinitially a serial with cliff hanger endings that saw Nyoka swing through the treetops of the African Jungle much like Tarzan was doing at the same time

This film came from Republic and was a great success for the Studio

Jungle adventure abound with lots of thrills along the way

This was a good production with a lot of outdoor sequences

Frances Gifford stars as Nyoka

With Tom Neal

Nyoka was loosely based on a character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs having introduced an Asian Heroine Princess Fountan in ‘The Land of Hidden Men’ in a serial in 1931

Republic Pictures purchased the rights to Jungle Girl and Frances Gifford was cast as Nyoka – however Republic created their own storyline.

One of Nyoka’s colleagues runs like crazy through the jungle to try to say her

ABOVE – A real cliff hanger as Nyoka tied to a stake has projectiles aimed at her which are held back by a carefully placed rope, that is slowly being burned through from a fire made by her enemies

Jungle adventure abound with lots of thrills along the way


Nypoka looks scared

The rope is slowly burning away – when will it give way and release the deadly spears

On to the next and last episode of this thrilling serial

Nyoka and Jack thank their jungle friends before flying off

Jungle adventure abound with lots of thrills along the way

‘The End’ with a jungle scene. I must admit that I really enjoyed this and it is recommended

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